Gamebook Writing Style?

EmmaCreative

I'm starting to write my first CYOA gamebook. I love creative writing, so the game will have the feel of a novel or short story. I think to make it an enjoyable game I need to offer as many relevant choices as possible, and avoid "Click to Continue". However, I'm a little stuck on how to write the player's actions in the story. It's better to avoid telling the reader how s/he feels about something that happens, or what s/he is thinking, right? For example, should I leave the bolded part out? Just stick to "You say" and "You ask"?

"Joe, you need psychological help. I'm calling 911."

"NO!!" He roars. His eyes flare with rage. He grabs your cell out of your hands and smashes it to the floor. "Doctors can't help me!! Don't you understand?! I need YOU to help me!! You're the only one I trust to do this!"

You take a step back and stammer a few seconds before you find your voice. "Umm... OK... well, let's say for a moment that I do believe you. Isn't there a cure?"

As a creative writer, I'm used to describing what the main character is thinking, feeling, how s/he reacts. Should I avoid that in a CYOA story? Allow the player the freedom to react and feel however the story makes them feel? It feels weird to me as a writer to just put the dialogue the player says without any description at all, and it feels to me as the writer that it makes the story less enjoyable. Is that just me being a control freak of sorts, and not giving the reader enough credit?

I've actually been reading a lot of interactive stories via the "Episodes" and "Choices" apps. Most of the time as the player, I get to choose which direction the story goes, but the writer does describe player reactions.

Also, should I add environmental descriptions, like what the inside of the cabin looks like? Or just cut to the action of the story?

Thoughts and advice, please?


R2T1

If I were writing this, I would use the bolded text as a clickable link and have the response on the new page with the story continuing from there. Then also have another reaction as a second choice to branch the story. Something like Stunned, you look at your damaged cell lying in pieces on the floor. Possibly a dead-end but its your story to take this branch wherever.

Environmental descriptions are always good to set locations/scenes. They don't have to be long-winded but should give enough to assist the reader/player to get perspective.

Keep in mind that this is your story and you can write it as you please. If it gives you pleasure to read it back, then most likly others will obtain similar pleasure.


Jay Nabonne

I think it might depend on how well defined the player character is. If the player character (PC) is just "you", no name, no gender, no description of any kind, then the author doesn't want to tread too much on that image of the PC as the person playing. But if the player character is more well defined, perhaps even having a name, attributes, etc, (e.g. sociopathic Superman) then I think the player experiencing things vicariously through that PC makes more sense. In fact, you can have some interesting dynamics where the PC and the player are so different that the player feels conflict with his/her own in-game character due to the choices and PC's reactions. :)


OurJud

I can't read novels written in second-person - few that they are - it feels totally alien to me, and for the same reason I wouldn't like to see it in a TA. That said second person is the standard POV for TA and I can just about get on board with this when the descriptions are limited to telling me where I am and what I can see, but beyond that no thank you.

For the above reasons I recently created a game which didn't use a single possessive pronoun in its descriptions. It was harder than you might imagine.


EmmaCreative

Thank you for your replies, it's a lot of good advice to consider. I've been thinking about what everyone said, and it's lead me to a few more thoughts/questions.

As Jay said, for my story the PC is just "you" - I want the player to feel as if the story is happening to him/her, whoever s/he may be (or want to be as they read.) So it is better to avoid telling the player how they feel or think about any specific event? Which leads me to wonder, would describing the PC's outward actions without emotion attached be appropriate, like the descriptive narrative R2T1 suggested?

Something like "Stunned, you look at your damaged cell lying in pieces on the floor."

Or should I minimize that as well, in case the PC's action conflicts with the player's experience? (ie The player is feeling sad about something that has happened in the story, but the PC's actions are more appropriate to being happy)

Jud's reply also leads me to wonder, how many TA/Gamebook players actually like reading? (I love reading!) It seems to me that gamebooks are more about creating an interactive reading experience, and text adventures are more about directly exploring and discovering, solving puzzles, etc.

Personally, text adventures with minimal descriptions really irk me. And there are a LOT of those types of TAs here on this site. Is Quest maybe the wrong place for the type of game I'm creating? Do the majority of Quest users prefer minimalist TAs? If this is the wrong place, could anyone please suggest where my game would be more appropriate to the "audience"?


OurJud

Jud's reply also leads me to wonder, how many TA/Gamebook players actually like reading? (I love reading!) It seems to me that gamebooks are more about creating an interactive reading experience, and text adventures are more about directly exploring and discovering, solving puzzles, etc.

I'm an avid reader, but that's not why I play TA. I'm not interested in 'interactive stories'. Put simply, if I want to read I'll grab a favourite paperback.

Also, unlike yourself, I prefer minimal descriptions. All the classics from the 80s employed this technique - but that was then, and unfortunately very few modern day TA capture the simple magic of those classics.


hegemonkhan

Also note that quest is probably one of the most user-friendly (easy to learn) software/engines, which is a great thing, but it comes at a cost too:

everyone can make a text adventure game, or game book / CYOA game, which means there's a lot of trash (or testing game) quality games being made...

whereas, harder to learn software/engines, drives away all the casual interested people, leaving only the dedicated and serious people, who will be making much higher quality games/stories, than all those casually interested people.

quest has some great games and great stories... but unfortunately they get buried/lost by all the quick-trash games being made, due to quest being so (relatively) easy/quick to learn and to make games, especially compared to most other software/engines.


there's actually a discussion thread on this very subject on what/how to showcase the good/great games, and not have them get buried and lost in obscurity by all of the quick-trash games being made.


Jay Nabonne

(I hope this isn't too long. Sorry if it is!)

It's a more general problem, and I don't know if there is a simple, straightforward answer. I think you're going to have to work out what makes the most sense for you as an author and then make it stick as a design philosophy. A really good way (if you haven't already done so) is to try some that others have created and see what works for you and what doesn't.

To give an example, you are focusing on the text bolded above, wondering if giving the PC a physical reaction indicating emotion would possibly be in contradiction to what the player is feeling. But two lines above, you have the line "Joe, you need psychological help. I'm calling 911." You have already put words in the player's mouth. And the player may not have either made the judgment that Joe needs help or decided to call 911. In other words, the problem goes beyond emotion. When you even speak for the player, you are, to some extent, making them a puppet. I don't know of an easy answer for that.

That is a big distinction with traditional TA games. In the "old school" text adventures, as you say, it's more about exploring, solving puzzles, etc. It's about doing, and the game is responsible for giving the player the things to do. (The player might have a challenge working out what they can do, but that's a different discussion. :) ) When you get into more "choose your own" types of games, especially if you want to emphasize the story, I think it becomes more difficult to keep the player anonymous (or, at least, feeling like they have agency and are themselves), because the needs of the story end up at odds with a player being able to control things. The player has limited control - hopefully they're not powerless - but the focus on story and the inability to provide an infinite number of possible story directions means that the player is going to be swept along to some extent no matter what you do.

One thing you haven't shown is what sorts of choices the player can make. If it's "make a choice and then read a bunch of text", then the player will have only limited points of control. The story will fill in the rest. A possibility: at those points where the player might have a reaction, let the reaction be the choice. Make the choices more fine grained. Make the beat smaller.

For example, if the player has the choice of whether to say the line, "Joe, you need psychological help. I'm calling 911." or something else, then they will have chosen the one that has the emotional impact they desire (hopefully). I have seen this done well in the game "80 Days", where your choice is actually the beginning text for what comes next. So before the bolded text above, you might have choices:

  1. You take a step back and stammer a few seconds...
  2. His anger only serves to intensify your own...
  3. You stand stoically before replying...

The choices then allow the player to direct the emotional content of the response. They don't even have to end up in a different place. It's all about the illusion. Now, it's much more work for you as the author - you have to work out what the little variations in choice mean - but it gives the player more of a sense of control over how the PC responds by having finer grained steps.

If you're going to go with larger beats, where a lot happens in between choices, then you're of necessity going to have to fill in the gaps for the player, and there's no way to avoid conflicting with what they want, since they won't have the opportunity to express it themselves, and different players will have different thoughts and feelings. I really don't see a way around that if you want to go the "you are the PC" route with great swaths of text between choices.


Jay Nabonne

For an elucidation of what I was referring to (by the man himself), check out this video:

http://gdcvault.com/play/1021774/Adventures-in-Text-Innovating-in

If you want to skip ahead, you could probably click on the "Choices/..." bit on the side, but I'd at least start with the "Frankenstein" section.


EmmaCreative

HK, thank you, that's a good point. I will keep that in mind.

Jay, thank you for the link! And no, your reply was not too long, I'm glad for all the info and advice.

Before the game starts, I have the player enter their name, so that the other characters can talk "directly" to the player. ie:

"Help us, {player.alias}. You're our only hope." --Princess Leia, Star Wars IV: A New Hope

The excerpt that I used as an example in my original post is the result of a choice made by the player, the choice to believe Joe's secret or not - above is the result of choosing not to believe his secret. I've also created a flag for that choice, if they choose to believe it or not, which will affect some of the conversations later in the game:

{if belief: "Joe... I can't. No! I won't! You're my best friend, I am not going to kill you!"

"PLEASE." His eyes water up with frustration and anger. "Don't you understand this is the only choice I have?"

"Isn't there a cure...?"}{if not belief: "Joe, you need psychological help. I'm calling 911."

"NO!!" He roars. His eyes flare with rage. He grabs your cell out of your hands and smashes it to the floor. "Doctors can't help me!! Don't you understand?! I need YOU to help me!! You're the only one I trust to do this!"

Stunned, it takes you a few seconds to find your voice. "Umm... OK... well, let's say for a moment that I do believe you. Isn't there a cure?"}

"No," Joe says flatly.

(For the record there is more text after what I've posted that will lead to the player's next choice. I'm just trying to keep Joe's secret until I'm ready to publish the story. Is that silly? Especially since he reveals his secret by the end of the first page? LOL! BTW the story is not about Joe's secret. It's about the repercussions for the player after learning about Joe's secret.)

I'm also keeping in mind the physical CYOA books I used to read as a kid - most of the time the text was only a page long before the next choice. I plan (hope) to keep the story text to a few paragraphs at most between choices.

Jay wrote:

For example, if the player has the choice of whether to say the line, "Joe, you need psychological help. I'm calling 911." or something else, then they will have chosen the one that has the emotional impact they desire (hopefully). I have seen this done well in the game "80 Days", where your choice is actually the beginning text for what comes next. So before the bolded text above, you might have choices:

  1. You take a step back and stammer a few seconds...
  2. His anger only serves to intensify your own...
  3. You stand stoically before replying...

The choices then allow the player to direct the emotional content of the response.

I had thought about doing that, but I wasn't sure how that would affect the reader's experience -- Now I know it's a good thing, lol! Thank you. =) Going to check out the video now.


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