Blog

Mar 17

2017

Hosted Games Life of a Wizard and Life of a Mobster Now on Steam

Posted by: Dan Fabulich | Comments (0)

To celebrate the launch of The Lost Heir 3: Demon War, we’re also announcing that two of Mike’s other games in our Hosted Games program, Life of a Wizard and Life of a Mobster are out now on Steam!

Write an archmage’s autobiography in this 80-year 130,000-word interactive fiction. Play good or evil, man or woman, as you bring peace to the kingdom or take over the world with your sorcery. Brew potions, raise the dead, summon mythical beasts, control men’s minds, and blast away your enemies.

Life of a Wizard is an epic interactive novel by Mike Walter where you control the main character. In each chapter, your choices determine how the story proceeds.

Will you find romance, get married, or have children? Will you become the arch-mage, grand bishop, nature-loving druid, hardened battle-mage or even an undead lich? The choice is yours!

Join the mob and rule the city! Will you become a celebrity mobster, or rule from the shadows?

Life of a Mobster is a thrilling 145,000-word interactive novel where your choices control the story. The game is entirely text-based–without graphics or sound effects–and fueled by the vast, unstoppable power of your imagination.

Will you betray the five families to win the heart of a good-looking FBI agent? Will you end up as a prisoner, a senator, or FBI director? The choice is yours.

Mar 14

2017

Author Interview: Amy Griswold and Jo Graham – “The Eagle’s Heir”

Posted by: Mary Duffy | Comments (0)

Choice of Games’ latest release will be The Eagle’s Heir by Amy Griswold and Jo Graham. The Eagle’s Heir is a steampunk alternate history game of political maneuvering, airship adventure, and romantic intrigue. Will you bring liberty to France, or plunge Europe into bloody war? I sat down with the authors to learn more about their game and their experiences writing interactive fiction. Look for The Eagle’s Heir later this week, releasing on Thursday, March 30th.

Eagle’s Heir is an alternate history or uchronia, in which Napoleon actually won at Waterloo. There’s also a bit of a steampunk flavor to it, because in this world there are airships used in combat situations. It’s a very fun, very exciting world. Tell me what drew you to invent it.

Jo: I’ve been writing in this period for a long time with my Wars of Revolution series of novels, The General’s Mistress, The Emperor’s Agent and the forthcoming The Marshal’s Lover. Madame St. Elme (grandmother in The Eagle’s Heir) is the main character of that series. As I work on it, I asked the inevitable question “What if they’d succeeded? What if Elza and her friends had won?” One thing that was clear to me in telling her story is how very close they came to winning. It only takes a tiny tweak here or there.

The point of departure in The Eagle’s Heir is that on the second day of Waterloo, d’Erlon reinforced Reille at Hougoumont Farm, forcing Wellington to withdraw from what had become a trap for him. Wellington pulled back before Grouchy arrived, allowing Ney to defeat Grouchy when he came up unsupported. Wellington then retreated to the Channel, as British Expeditionary Forces do, allowing the French to take Brussels. This caused a crisis in Parliament and Castlereagh’s government fell. A Whig Prime Minister was asked to form a government, and he signed a more favorable peace with France than the Tory government actually did in 1815. Consequently, Napoleon has remained Emperor for twenty years. He has embraced technological superiority, including giving free rein to the inventions of American Robert Fulton, which has caused a leap forward in steam power. As the game opens, France, England and Austria have been engaged in something of an arms race to the air.

One of the things I love about this world is that it’s not fantastic at all. It’s our world with tiny, plausible changes. Many of the main characters, like Alexandre, Victoria, Conroy, Madame St. Elme, and Franz, are all real people. Many of the others are based closely on real people as well. For example, the fascinating and romance-able Julien Lamarque, the news reporter, is based on young Alexandre Dumas, author of The Three Musketeers. I hope players will enjoy this visit to a world that might have been.

Amy: I’m always fascinated by the Victorian era and its mix of the entertainingly strange and the frankly awful. Here we’re at the boundary between Regency and Victorian, with Princess Victoria about to ascend to the throne (or not, depending on some of the players’ choices!) –the period of early Charles Dickens and the setting of Les Miserables. There’s a tremendous amount of energy devoted to the idea of “progress,” and a great deal of flailing around trying to define what progress might look like and what price should be paid to achieve it. Playing in an alternate universe lets us explore some different ways that people might have tried to change the world.

Also, it lets us have the heirs to Napoleon’s empire battle it out in airship combat over the Tuileries, which was just too much fun to pass up.

As a writing team, how did you divide up the work? Do you prefer writing with a partner and how did you decide to do this project together?

Jo: Amy does the coding and we divide up the writing by chapters and scenes. For example, the country house party is Amy and the pirate attack is me. The theater scene is Amy and the scene with Napoleon is me. (I love writing Napoleon, and I’ve written him quite a bit before.)

Amy: In the early chapters, we divided the writing up into larger chunks (as Jo says, I wrote almost all of “Lions of England,” and she wrote almost all of “The Old Eagle on His Crag.”) In the later chapters, there are some individual choices where some branches were written by me and some were written by Jo.

Jo and I have co-written a number of times before, particularly on the Stargate Legacy series of tie-in novels for Fandemonium Books, and I enjoy it. It’s great getting to bounce ideas off each other and work out a story together, and I think we both brought our own strengths to this project; I’m more comfortable with the coding, and Jo’s experience writing and running tabletop role-playing games was very useful in our game design.

What did you find challenging about the process of writing in ChoiceScript/our game design?

Amy: There was definitely a learning curve involved in learning ChoiceScript, and I’ve gotten intimately familiar with pretty much every error message ChoiceScript can produce (plus the error messages I inserted to check for certain persistently recurring bugs, like “You shouldn’t be buried if you haven’t died!”) In terms of game design, experience with tabletop RPG campaigns where early decisions can lead to numerous possible states for later situations was very helpful. Probably the biggest challenge was making sure that there weren’t “wrong” choices – that every choice a player could make had advantages (and, usually, also disadvantages).

Are you a fan of interactive fiction in general? Any favorites you’d like to share?

Jo: I love a bunch of Choice of Games stories, and I’ve been playing a while. My absolute favorite is Choice of Alexandria! I also love Affairs of the Court (which I’ve played through twelve times!), Choice of Broadsides, Choice of the Rock Star, Hollywood Visionary, and Saga of the North Wind.

Amy: I also particularly liked Affairs of the Court, but I’ve enjoyed a number of the games from Choice of Games, and I find Twine games generally interesting. In terms of narrative games defined more broadly, I’m a longtime player and fan of Fallen London and its Victorian space bats.

What are you working on next for Choice of Games?

Jo: Our next story is called Stronghold, and it’s high fantasy.

Amy: It’s a game about defending a town, finding a family, and building a community, and we’re excited to be starting the outline stage again with this project!

Mar 10

2017

How We Judge a Good Game—Part 1

Posted by: Rachel E. Towers | Comments (1)

As part of our support for the Choice of Games Contest for Interactive Novels, we will be posting an irregular series of blog posts discussing important design and writing criteria for games. We hope that these can both provide guidance for people participating in the Contest and also help people understand how we think about questions of game design and some best practices. These don’t modify the evaluation criteria for the Contest, and (except as noted) participants are not required to conform to our recommendations–but it’s probably a good idea to listen when judges tell you what they’re looking for.

If these topics interest you, be sure to sign up for our contest mailing list below! We’ll post more of our thoughts on game design leading up to the contest deadline on January 31, 2018.

Since we announced the contest and posted our game design guidelines we’ve received a number of questions that show some folks interested in entering the contest are having some difficulty understanding the connect between our judging rubric (below) and the game design documents.

  • Original, Interesting Characters, 15% of score
  • Original, Interesting Setting and Plot, 15% of score
  • Conflicting Goals with Satisfying Endings, 15% of score
  • Balanced, Intentional, Interesting Choices/Options, 15% of score
  • Inclusivity, 10% of score
  • Prose Styling, 10% of score
  • Creative Stats, Consistently Applied, 10% of score
  • Length and Coding Efficiency, 5% of score
  • Overall, Judge’s Choice, 5% of score

In order to draw that line a little more closely, consider the following analogy: our guidelines are like a recipe. You need to stick to the recipe or the cake will fall, or won’t cook through. Now, that doesn’t mean every game is alike: some games will be almond cakes, some will be sachertortes, some red velvet, some will even be babka or Boston cream pie. But almost every cake is made with flour, sugar, butter, right?

So too, with our guidelines. In determining the winner of the contest, each game will be scored based on the judging rubric above, and while there is a lot of variation in the types of games that can be submitted, games which don’t hew to our guidelines in some very basic ways will likely receive a 0 in the category they fall short in. Such a score in any one category is enough to ensure your game will not win the contest, because the game will have failed in such a way that no amount of high scores in any other categories would allow it to win.

First, you should study the guidelines document closely before you begin writing your game, but to supplement that over the next few weeks we’ll be giving you the concrete ways in which the Guidelines connect with our Judging Rubric. For this week, we’ll begin with a couple of the most commonly asked points, Inclusivity, and Length and Coding Efficiency. We’ll also cover one of the earliest design decisions in a game, the Setting and Plot.

Inclusivity (10% of score):
To be inclusive games must, at a minimum, not be gender or orientation locked. That means that a player must be able to play as male or female, and gay or straight if either are at all mentioned. It is, however, an option to omit these things (i.e. never mention the player character’s gender and/or have no romances). If a game does offer romances, they should be equally satisfying no matter the player character’s gender and orientation. Games that offer trans, nonbinary, romantic asexual, aromantic, polyamorous, and other gender and orientation options can score higher in this category.

Additionally, non-player characters should have a mix of ethnicities, genders, orientations, and other other marginalized groups. They should also not play into stereotypes of race, gender, ethnicity, etc. For instance, leaders shouldn’t all be men and shouldn’t all be white; nurturers and victims shouldn’t all be women; criminals shouldn’t all be people of color; same-sex romances shouldn’t all end in tragedy; women shouldn’t appear only as motivation or reward.

The details of how this is expressed of depends on the game, of course. If your game is set in feudal Japan, for example, the absence of characters of African descent is not a problem. Likewise, if your game is in a setting that was historically single-gender (as in the case of Choice of Broadsides), then it’s possible to have the majority of NPCs be the same gender, so long as there’s an option for the PC to genderswap the environment. However, unless there is a specific, compelling reason not to do so, games should include substantial diversity.

Games which include plenty of robust, inclusive characters can score higher in Inclusivity, while games which do not make a substantial effort to include diversity are likely to score low in this category. Games which force the player to play as a preset gender or orientation, or which reinforce negative stereotypes, will receive a 0 in Inclusivity.

Length and Coding Efficiency (5% of score):
To understand what we mean by length, you need to first know what we measure the total length of a game by the number of words in ChoiceScript files, including code. (This is the “length” we use in most places.) We then also measure the average number of words that players read each time they play; we call this the “playthrough length.” We’ve found one of the biggest factors in how well a game is received, is just how long it is. Players simply tend to rate our bigger games more highly than our smaller ones.

At a minimum the total length of your game must be 100,000 words without repeating large swaths of text. Games that are longer without repeated text, and that efficiently use *goto, *gosub, *fake_choice, and *if/*else commands to ensure that text is not repeated unnecessarily can score higher in this category. Games which are longer without feeling drawn out, or that otherwise feel as though they are precisely as long as they need to be to tell their story, can also score higher in Length.

Of course, this is all about how much different text a player can possibly see, so while longer games will tend to score higher, a game which repeats large amounts of text or code, or has large amounts of code that adds little to the story, will tend to score lower, and may possibly receive a 0 in this category depending on its total length. Games which are under 100,000 total words will receive a 0 in Length no matter their playthrough length.

Setting and Plot (15% of score):
The setting and plot of your game should have a certain level of originality and creativity without becoming inaccessible to a larger audience. A good way to measure this is by seeing if you can give an “Elevator Pitch” of your game. Try to condense your game down a single sentence, and see if it’s both understandable, and still feels interesting. If it’s extremely easy to explain your entire game in a single sentence, or you can do it by just pointing to a genre or another story, it’s possible your game may be lacking originality. If you simply can’t, then your concept might need to be simplified a bit.

Consider the following examples: all of these games’ elevator pitches are creative, but grounded enough to be understood with a single sentence pitch.

Creatures Such As We: You play a tour guide on the moon who is obsessed with a video game.
The Orpheus Ruse: You play a psychic spy who can inhabit other people’s minds and bodies.
Versus: You play an alien who can travel through time and space, and absorb others’ powers in a game of intrigue.
For Rent: Haunted House: You play a real estate agent who must rent a haunted property or risk losing their job.

Sometimes games may embrace the tropes of their genre, but even then they should still find distinctive stories within those frameworks. For instance:

A Midsummer Night’s Choice: You play a Shakespearean-style child of a nobleman who escapes to the forest to find true love.
Psy High: You play a high schooler with supernatural abilities who foils an evil plot.
The Hero of Kendrickstone: You play a novice adventurer—warrior, wizard, rogue, or bard—just setting out in the world.

Games with a gripping premise make readers curious (without confusing them!) and which execute that idea well, with good cohesive plot development and a clear, well developed setting, are likely to score higher in Setting and Plot. Games which are very difficult for the player to follow, or which are devoid of engagement and creativity, are likely to score low in this category. Games that lack any real setting (such as collections of short stories, or mechanics based dungeon crawlers) may receive a 0 in this category.

Next time we’ll continue explaining our Rubric by seeing how a baseball cap will help us to explain Creative Stats, Balanced Choices, and Conflicting Goals with Satisfying Endings.

Mar 05

2017

New Hosted Game! The Great Tournament by Philip Kempton

Posted by: Dan Fabulich | Comments (4)

Hosted Games has a new game for you to play!

Play a young peasant boy who becomes squire to a legendary knight. Travel the realm competing in jousts, archery, and melee competitions. Train hard in order to become a powerful knight and eventually compete in The Great Tournament to decide the fate of the realm in this medieval story.

The Great Tournament is a 180,000 word interactive fantasy novel by Philip Kempton, where your choices control the story. It’s entirely text-based—without graphics or sound effects—and fueled by the vast, unstoppable power of your imagination.

  • Enjoy the story of a young boy’s rise from lowly squire to powerful knight in this epic story that takes place in medieval times.
  • Choose your attributes and train your skills in order to win in tournaments.
  • Become a hero of the realm or use your power to take control over the kingdom.
  • Unique combat and character generation ensures no one game is the same.
  • Fight for glory, love, or power in the Great Tournament.
  • Multiple endings with different story lines.

Philip developed this game using ChoiceScript, a simple programming language for writing multiple-choice interactive novels like these. Writing games with ChoiceScript is easy and fun, even for authors with no programming experience. Write your own game and Hosted Games will publish it for you, giving you a share of the revenue your game produces.

Mar 05

2017

New Hosted Game! Spacing Out by Ivailo Daskalov

Posted by: Dan Fabulich | Comments (2)

Hosted Games has a new game for you to play!

Explore the planet of nightmares with your small team of warriors. Retrieve a powerful artifact from the claws of adversaries or die trying. Meet an enigmatic race of insectoid beings and befriend their hybrid queen, helping her bring peace to a captured hatchery. Get assisted by a powerful Pleiadian woman who mingles with the structure of time itself. Claim the artifact and embrace the options it gives you to forge a future of your desire.

Spacing Out is a 50,000 word interactive fantasy novel by Ivailo Daskalov, where your choices control the story. It’s entirely text-based—without graphics or sound effects—and fueled by the vast, unstoppable power of your imagination.

  • Enjoy a personal tale of exploration, intense battles and reestablishing yourself in a world of your choice.
  • Lead a small team of futuristic warriors.
  • Evolve your expertise at sniping, close-range combat, melee combat, healing and forcefield generation.
  • Get saved by a beautiful Pleiadian woman.
  • Meet the enigmatic race of the insectoids and befriend their queen.
  • Claim a powerful artifact and decide what to do with it.
  • Play as male or female, gay or straight.
  • Choose between 3 optional romances.

Ivailo developed this game using ChoiceScript, a simple programming language for writing multiple-choice interactive novels like these. Writing games with ChoiceScript is easy and fun, even for authors with no programming experience. Write your own game and Hosted Games will publish it for you, giving you a share of the revenue your game produces.

Feb 23

2017

Runt of the Litter — Steal and raise a baby war gryphon!

Posted by: Dan Fabulich | Comments (1)

We’re proud to announce that Runt of the Litter, the latest in our popular “Choice of Games” line of multiple-choice interactive-fiction games, is now available for Steam, iOS, and Android. It’s 25% off until Mar 2!

Steal and raise a baby war gryphon! Will you fight dragons together to save the empire, or defy the empire and lead your people to freedom?

Runt of the Litter is a 150,000 word interactive fantasy novel by Kelly Sandoval, where your choices control the story. It’s entirely text-based—without graphics or sound effects—and fueled by the vast, unstoppable power of your imagination.

The gryphon keepers hold all the power in the Empire of Vaengrea. They make the laws, patrol the borders, and only give gryphon eggs to their chosen heirs. As a poor stable hand, a “thrall,” you know you’ll never have a chance to prove yourself.

But then, you find the egg. Small, neglected, nudged out of the nest by a disapproving mother. But you can feel warmth growing inside.

Now your gryphon is in terrible danger, both from the other gryphon keepers and from a deadly plague that’s wiping out the Empire’s gryphons. Can you keep your gryphon safe? Where will you hide your new hatchling? Are you skilled enough to hunt its food or clever enough to steal it? Which of the gryphon keepers can you trust? How will you shape the young gryphon’s mind?

Wyrm riders invade from the north on their fire-breathing dragons, the natural enemy of the gryphons. Will you and your gryphon fight in the war, seizing your place among the elite? Or will you defy the empire and lead your fellow thralls to revolution?

Can you keep a runt gryphon safe with the whole world against you? The life of your gryphon, and the fate of an empire, is in your hands.

  • Play as any gender and as gay, straight, or asexual
  • Choose from a variety of unusual gryphon breeds
  • Raise your gryphon with a gentle hand or demand obedience
  • Find romance among your fellow thralls or steal the heart of a gryphon keeper
  • Rise to the rank of gryphon keeper or lead your fellow thralls to freedom
  • Battle fire-breathing wyrms to protect your empire
  • Find a cure for the devastating gryphon plague

We hope you enjoy playing Runt of the Litter. We encourage you to tell your friends about it, and recommend the game on StumbleUpon, Facebook, Twitter, and other sites. Don’t forget: our initial download rate determines our ranking on the App Store. The more times you download in the first week, the better our games will rank.

Jan 20

2017

New Hosted Game! Evertree Inn by Thom Baylay

Posted by: Dan Fabulich | Comments (5)

Hosted Games has a new game for you to play!

A mysterious tavern with a deadly secret! Check-in to this magical tale of murder and mystery where not everything is as it seems. Explore the tavern in secret or in style, meet and mingle with guests and staff, wield weapons and magic and uncover clues before the killer strikes again!

Evertree Inn is an immersive 265,000 word interactive experience by Thom Baylay, where your choices control the story. It’s entirely text-based–without graphics or sound effects–and fueled by the vast unstoppable power of your imagination.

What will you do when an overnight stay in a highway tavern turns into the biggest mystery of your life? Will you rise to the challenge, or will you resist your destiny? Are you in it for the money, for the thrill of the chase or are you secretly hoping for romance? Enter an open world, where the choices you ignore matter as much as the ones you explore and where every interaction has a reaction. Choose your path as elf or dwarf, human or halfling or even the elusive brownie and find out if you have what it takes to survive the night at Evertree Inn?

• Immerse yourself in the fully open and explorable tavern where your actions have real consequences.
• Play as any one of five races, each with their own unique abilities and dialogue options!
• Overcome obstacles with brute strength, keen perception, natural cunning and even magic.
• Battle with any weapon you can imagine or unleash an impressive arsenal of spells.
• Boldly confront guests and staff or lurk in the shadows as you uncover clues.
• Make enemies and friends and maybe even find true love.
• Play as male, female or non-binary.
• Play as gay, straight, bisexual or asexual.

Thom developed this game using ChoiceScript, a simple programming language for writing multiple-choice interactive novels like these. Writing games with ChoiceScript is easy and fun, even for authors with no programming experience. Write your own game and Hosted Games will publish it for you, giving you a share of the revenue your game produces.

Jan 13

2017

Choice of Games LLC Supports the Affordable Care Act

Posted by: Adam Strong-Morse | Comments (2)

With Congress considering whether to repeal the Affordable Care Act (the “ACA,” sometimes called “ObamaCare”), the partners and staff of Choice of Games feel the need to strongly state our support for the ACA and to explain its importance to the creative community. The ACA enables our work in two important ways:

  1. Choice of Games is a small company, with 6 staffers, spread across 5 different states. It’s essentially impossible for us to get group health insurance for our partners and employees at a reasonable price. We’re too small and distributed. The ACA allows for an effective affordable individual market for health insurance, even for our employees with serious pre-existing conditions. That allows us to pay our employees some additional salary that they can use to secure adequate health insurance in place of providing health insurance directly. Without the ACA, some of our staff would likely be unable to secure health insurance as individuals, which would mean that they would have to work for a larger company that could provide them with group insurance instead of working for Choice of Games. And because some of our staff have serious pre-existing conditions, even a brief period of being uninsured without the ACA could mean bankruptcy or death because of inability to pay for necessary medical treatment.
  2. In addition to its staff, Choice of Games depends on a large number of creative independent contractors—the authors of most of our games, artists, even copy-editors. We’re like most publishers in this regard. As independent contractors, our authors and artists don’t receive health insurance from Choice of Games. We’re not directly privy to their health insurance decisions, but it’s very likely that some of them also rely on the individual markets enabled by the ACA for their health insurance. Without access to that option, they would have to find another way to secure health insurance: giving up writing as a full-time business so that they could get health insurance through an employer, perhaps, or remaining dependent on a spouse’s job for insurance regardless of whether that makes sense for them. The ACA allows independent contractors like our authors and artists to get health insurance while continuing to pursue creative efforts as a full-time business. That’s critical to the continuing functioning of Choice of Games and many other creative businesses.

Without the ACA, Choice of Games and its independent contractors would face terrible choices. Some of our staff and contractors might have to abandon their creative work to instead take other jobs, simply to secure health insurance. If they chose to continue to pursue creative work, some of them would risk bankruptcy. And the inability to pay for life-saving treatments could literally kill some of our staff or authors.

The ACA isn’t the only, or even necessarily the best, solution to these problems. Many of us would prefer a single-payer system of health care, paid for out of general tax revenues. Nonetheless, repealing the ACA without another system that would guarantee access to health insurance, regardless of employment or pre-existing conditions, would be a disaster for Choice of Games, for the creative writers and artists we contract with, and for the United States. If you care about Choice of Games and our work, please contact your Representatives and Senators to urge them to oppose any repeal of the ACA that does not preserve the ability of all people, regardless of employment or pre-existing conditions, to secure affordable health insurance.

Dec 22

2016

How to Write Intentional Choices

Posted by: Becky Slitt | Comments (0)

As part of our support for the Choice of Games Contest for Interactive Novels, we will be posting an irregular series of blog posts discussing important design and writing criteria for games.  We hope that these can both provide guidance for people participating in the Contest and also help people understand how we think about questions of game design and some best practices.  These don’t modify the evaluation criteria for the Contest, and (except as noted) participants are not required to conform to our recommendations–but it’s probably a good idea to listen when judges tell you what they’re looking for.

If these topics interest you, be sure to sign up for our contest mailing list below! We’ll post more of our thoughts on game design leading up to the contest deadline on January 31, 2018.

One of our core principles is that choices have to be meaningful. There are several dimensions to a meaningful choice: for instance, it has to have consequences; and it has to have emotional resonance for the player. Underlying those ideas, though, is the idea of intention. In order for a player to feel emotionally invested in their choices, they have to know why they’re choosing it, and they have to have some idea of what the consequences of that choice might be.

A standard practice in old choose-a-path gamebooks was to offer the options “Go right” or “Go left” without any more information about what the reader might find in each direction. The reader would have to choose randomly.

Then, they’d probably fall off a cliff.

More seriously, though, in a choose-a-path gamebook, you can easily flip back to start over, or peek ahead to see what happens with each option. That’s not possible in a Choice of Games game. The player needs to live with the consequences of their choices, and may feel very frustrated if they make a choice with one intention in mind only to discover that the actual results are different.

So intentionality is important in general. It’s especially important in a few particular circumstances. Specifically, when the potential consequences of an option are negative; and when different options within the same choice have different difficulty levels.

In these cases, it’s up to the author to make sure that the player has all the information they need to make the choice that they really want to make.

In practical terms, this means that before a choice, you should try to signal:

  • the potential story results for each option
  • which stats might be tested, if the option leads to a stat test
  • the relative difficulty of each option, if some options are harder than others.

There are several ways that you can go about this.

One of the simplest and most effective methods is to communicate information about stats, story results, and difficulty in the text leading up to a choice. Here’s an excellent example of this kind of narration from Mecha Ace:

The PC is the pilot of a mecha – a giant robot spaceship – and they’re facing off in combat against their archrival Hawkins.

You examine your options as the Imperial mecha lunges forward. In any other situation, the obvious choice would be to be aggressive, counter-attacking and forcing your opponent onto the defensive. But with a pilot as skilled as Hawkins, you’re not sure if that would prove to be the best thing to do.

Of course, settling for a more defensive posture would prevent you from doing any damage to the enemy, but it would also mean that you could probably have a better chance at avoiding damage to your own machine, provided you kept calm.

It also occurs to you that you could use Hawkins’s verbosity against her. If your opponent is too busy monologuing to put all of her focus into the fight, it would be a lot easier to fend off her attacks.

Lastly, if you are fast enough—or lucky enough—you might even be able to withdraw from close combat, putting yourself out of the reach of the enemy ace’s monosaber.

And here are a few snippets of the code that follows, so that you can see how the text points to the stats that are being tested:

*choice
    #Fight aggressively to cripple or destroy Hawkins's machine.
      You lunge forward to meet the Imperial pilot's attack.
       *if piloting >= 4

    #Keep calm and fight defensively.
      *if willpower >= 3
 
    #Keep Hawkins talking to prevent her from focusing on the fight.
      *if presence > 2

    #Attempt to withdraw to keep out of reach.
        *if speed >= 7

So, withdrawing tests speed: “if you are fast enough.” Taking up a defensive posture might be easier than attacking or trying to withdraw – ie, the stat test is lower for this than for either of the others – but it means that you’ll sacrifice the opportunity to do damage to your enemy. It’s implied that fighting aggressively will test your piloting, since the text cautions you that you’re facing “a pilot as skilled as Hawkins.”

The text clarifies the potential risks and rewards of each option, shows the relative difficulty of each option, and hints at the stats that might be tested for each one – in other words, it allows the player to make the choice with full intentionality.

To show why this is important, here’s a look at the choice on its own, without the additional text:

These options all make sense for the situation, and the text of each option tells the player exactly what their character is going to do. That’s a good start.

But the player doesn’t necessarily have enough information to choose the right one for them. What are the risks of each potential action? Is one option harder or easier than the others? What strengths and weaknesses might come into play with each one – or, to put it in game-mechanics terms, what stats might be tested? Does the first option test the PC’s piloting skill, weapons skill, or both? Does the last option test the PC’s speed, piloting skills, or both?

That’s why the text before the choice is important: to make sure that the player has all the information they need to take the action that best fits their goals.

Another way to convey this information is to put it in the text of the option itself. To take a lower-stakes example: here’s a scene from Psy High, in which the PC is choosing what to do on a date with their girlfriend Alison. This is how it would look if the text of the option only had the activities themselves, along with an abbreviated version of the code so that you can see the stat effects of each option:

What have you got planned?

*choice

*selectable_if (money >= 50.00) #Dinner and a movie.
*set obedient %+15
*set rel_ali %+15
*set money -50.00
The movie you've chosen is a drama you know Alison has been dying to see ever since production was announced, and she practically jumps up to hug you when she sees which theater you're heading towards.
*goto alipriority
 
#Walking around downtown where everyone can see us.
*set popularity %+15
*set rel_ali %-10
 
The closer you get to the center of town, the more teenagers you see—at this time of day, half of Kingsport High is downtown. As you approach each cluster of people, all eyes turn towards you, and a ripple of gossip and greetings rises up as you pass by.
 
Alison shrinks away from all the stares and whispers, holding tighter to your hand for support.
*goto alipriority
 
#A walk on the beach.
*set altruistic %+10
*set rel_ali %+20
Alison smiles radiantly as the wind whips whips blonde hair. Solitude, nature, romance—this is exactly the kind of date that would make Alison ecstatically happy.
*goto alipriority
 
#Just hanging out behind the school.
*set obedient %-15
*set rel_ali %+10
This isn't Alison's usual scene, but when you suggest sitting on the hood of your car and listening to music through the open windows, she shrugs, grins, and follows along. "It doesn't matter what we do," Alison says contentedly, "as long as we're together."
*goto alipriority

Because Alison is very shy and very romantic, it makes sense that certain activities will appeal to her more than others. She won’t be happy if she’s in the middle of a crowd; she’ll like the simple beauty of a walk on the beach. It also makes sense that each activity has different benefits and drawbacks for the PC: going out to dinner costs more than going for a walk on the beach. Therefore, each potential date activity has different effects on the PC’s personal stats and on the stat that tracks their relationship with Alison.

But before making their choice, the player would see only:

It’s just a list of activities; the player has no way of knowing the effects of these choices, either on their relationship with Alison or on their other goals and stats.

Some players will want to be able to choose the activity that would make Alison happiest, but they have no way of knowing which one that will be, so they might be unpleasantly surprised if they choose one that makes her unhappy instead. Or, they might be willing to make a sacrifice in one area for the sake of a benefit in another area – but, again, they can’t tell how to do that, or even that the possibility of a sacrifice exists. A character who’s very concerned with their own social status might think that making Alison a little unhappy is worth it to increase their own popularity. Likewise, a character who’s strapped for cash might not want to spend $50 – or, they might think that expenditure is worth it to make Alison happy.

But in order for the choice to be intentional and meaningful, the player needs to know that they’re making those tradeoffs.

Therefore, here’s how that choice actually appears in the game:

The bolded text points the player towards some of those tradeoffs: the extra cost of going out to dinner, the increase in popularity that some players might like, etc. Now the player has all the information they need to make the choice they want, and to advance towards the goals that they want.

In conclusion, one of the best ways to make your choices meaningful is to make them intentional. To do that, give clues in the text about the potential story effects and stat effects of each option, and indicate when one option is easier or harder than the others.

Good luck!

Dec 16

2016

VERSUS: The Elite Trials — Infiltrate the Elite gods, or turn double agent?

Posted by: Dan Fabulich | Comments (0)

We’re proud to announce that VERSUS: The Elite Trials, the latest in our popular “Choice of Games” line of multiple-choice interactive-fiction games, is now available for Steam, iOS, and Android. It’s 25% off until January 2!

Will you infiltrate the gods’ Elite Courte, stealing their superpowers, or turn double agent and join them, taking your place among the divine?

VERSUS: The Elite Trials is a thrilling 140,000-word interactive novel by Zachary Sergi, author of our best-selling Heroes Rise trilogy. Your choices control the story. It’s entirely text-based–without graphics or sound effects–and fueled by the vast, unstoppable power of your imagination.

In this sequel to VERSUS: The Lost Ones, as one of the prisoners trapped on planet Versus, you must vote for who will fight in deadly gladiatorial battles. Thirteen prisoners have formed a voting bloc, the Elite Courte, to ensure that they choose who lives and who dies.

But one of their so-called “gods” has a plan for revolution. Your power to steal superpowers and memories makes you the perfect spy–or the perfect double agent.

MemoryTravel through time and space–keeping one step ahead of the enforcer agents who want you dead. Play the gods against each other in games within games. Design your own planet in the halls of the gods.

On Versus, nothing and no one is as they seem, perhaps not even you.

  • Play as male, female, or non-binary
  • Create a planet and culture in your own image
  • Romance one (or more!) of ten different characters
  • Subvert the corrupt Elite Courte, or join them to suppress rebellion
  • Learn the shocking truth about your home planet, Prisca
  • Rejoin Lady Venuma, Grog, and Breeze; meet a new cast of alien characters

We hope you enjoy playing VERSUS: The Elite Trials. We encourage you to tell your friends about it, and recommend the game on StumbleUpon, Facebook, Twitter, and other sites. Don’t forget: our initial download rate determines our ranking on the App Store. The more times you download in the first week, the better our games will rank.

Subscribe by E-mail