Jan 06


Tensions and Difficulties Created by the Vignette Structure

Posted by: Adam Strong-Morse | Comments (7)

While we believe that a vignette-based structure with relatively little branching lets us build strong text-based games, it produces some inherent tensions.

On the one hand, we want choices to be meaningful, but on the other hand, we want to reuse later code.  The urge to reuse code can create pressure to have choices be purely cosmetic.  Sometimes we explicitly make choices not affect the rest of the game.  Those choices are about the player’s imagining of a scene or triggering thoughts about motivations, not about affecting results.  But taken to an extreme, this could destroy the meaningfulness of the choices.  In “Choice of the Dragon,” there’s a vignette where the player’s dragon seeks a mate.  In the original version of that vignette, it was impossible to actually succeed in getting a mate, because the vignette’s author wanted to avoid any downstream effects to having a mate.  We changed that because it seemed too frustrating for players and because it made the vignette less meaningful.  Now, your dragon can get a mate, although it remains challenging.

Likewise, the more we reuse code and avoid branching, the less replay value the games have.  Imagine a game that begins with a simple binary choice and then uses entirely different text and subsequent choices for each option.  The bad thing about that is that players who choose choice A don’t see any of the work that went into the results of choice B.  But the good side is that a player can play the game a second time, choose B instead of A, and find a whole new game.

The flipside is that some of our individual vignettes have a lot of branches, and some then set variables that affect later vignettes.  Taken to an extreme, branching within a vignette and then using a variable to condition later vignettes can cause the same problem of proliferating options that makes a simple branching structure undesirable.  It can even result in writing essentially dead text—text that nobody ever sees in play but that’s there to cover the outside chance of a series of strange choices.

Ultimately, we think we struck a pretty good balance in “Choice of the Dragon.”  In part, that’s because Dan always pushes for simpler models, with more cosmetic choices, whereas I always push for more complexity to make the choices more meaningful.  He tends to rein in my efforts to make the game ever more complicated, while I make sure that choices in the mating vignette actually affect outcomes.  But at the end of the day, it’s a balance that we wrestle with and discuss over and over again, and we’d love to hear your thoughts about it.


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