How to Write Interactive Fiction and Interactive Audio Stories – 006 – Phrasing the Player Choices

Phrasing the Player Choices

For interactive audio stories, especially for Voice, the phrasing of the actual Player Choices is very important. Words heard are more fleeting than words read. Questions have to be phrased in such a way so that the player understands:

  • That the question is directed at them,
  • What their options are,
  • What the consequences of their choices are likely to be, and
  • What utterances (Voice commands) they can use to continue the story.

 

These requirements vary depending on the target audience. For children and newcomers, narrow and simple questions are better. In contrast, adults and experienced players appreciate wide-ranging and complex questions.

Formal Aspects

Limit the Player Choices

Only use two or three options per question. Too many possibilities that are also hard to remember overwhelm the player of your interactive story. They will not be able to remember all the options or will not have sufficient time to think their decision through.

When it comes to Player Choices, less is often more. Suspense and curiosity are not achieved by the number of options but by their content and impact.

 

Separate Player Choices from Other Types of Questions

Make a clear distinction between questions posed by characters to other characters or rhetorical questions, as opposed to the actual Player Choice directed at the player. This is not a problem when reading, but since the player only hears the text they needs to be able to determine whether the question is directed at them or just part of a continuing dialogue.

 

Example 10: Phrasing Player Choices – Obscure Formulation

Passage

[Narrator] Your journey takes you into the castle. What do you wish to do now? Do you visit the king? Or rather the queen? Both have their advantage. Or do you prefer to just leave? What is your decision?

Explanation

In this example, hearing several questions before the actual Player Choice confuses the player. They will struggle to comprehend what the actual choice is and what exactly their options are. This issue can easily be resolved by rewriting the text passage as follows:

Example 11: Phrasing Player Choices – Separate the Question

Passage

[Narrator] You can visit the king to ask him for a favor. Or you can meet the queen to win their affection. Do you visit the king or the queen?

Explanation

The consequences of the available actions are presented to the player beforehand. The valid utterances can be easily deduced from the subsequent Player Choice “Do you visit the king or the queen?”.

Announcing Player Choices with Fixed Phrases

Your story will not only comprise choices directed at the player, but also rhetorical questions and questions asked between characters. This can be misleading for the player. To avoid this, you might want to use a recurring phrase to announce a Player Choice. By always beginning the sentence of a Player Choice with, “Do you wish to…” or, “Do you choose to…” you can create a clear signal for the player that a player directed question has started.

Open versus Closed Player Choices

For a particularly successful gaming experience you should use as few yes-no questions as possible. Instead, ask varied closed questions or even open questions.

An open question does not contain the actual utterances anymore. They will only be hinted at in the text. The player has to determine themselves which options are obvious and permissible.

Open questions create the impression of great freedom. But they also hold the risk that the player will fail with their reply if the author did not anticipate their answer and state it as a possible Player Utterance.

Most Voice assistants counter this problem by reading the available utterances to the player after two failed attempts. Even though invalid answers do not lead to a termination of the story on Voice, the player will fall out of the story and the flow of the game. Therefore only experienced authors should employ open questions, and only use them occasionally.

Example 12: Phrasing Player Choices – Open Question

Passage

[Narrator] Faint light enters the room through the shutters. Next to the desk stands a dusty shelf full of books. The painting of a young woman hangs on the opposite wall. What do you wish to examine?

Continuation 1

🗣️ [Spieler] The painting!”

[Narrator] The picture shows a young woman. She appears to be the daughter of the earl. […] Do you wish to continue examining the room or do you want to leave?”

🗣️ [Player] “I want to look around further!”

[Narrator] “Next to the desk stands a dusty shelf full of books. The painting of a young woman hangs on the opposite wall. What do you wish to investigate?”

🗣️ [Player] “I want to have a look at the shutters!”

[Narrator] “The shutters can easily be opened. Do you wish to climb through the window into the garden?”

Continuation 2

🗣️ [Spieler] The bookshelf!”

[Narrator] The books are written in a language you cannot read. You are not sure, but it could be Russian […] Do you wish to continue examining the room or do you want to leave?”

🗣️ [Player] “I want to leave the room.”

[Narrator] “You return to the corridor and climb the stairs…”

Explanation

The open question in this example gives the player the opportunity to mentally move through the room instead of just clinging to keywords. However, as the author you will have to set all obvious and interesting objects as possible actions, namely “desk”, “shelf”, “books”, and “painting”. And to make it even better, also the less obvious ones like “wall”, “shutters”, and “window”.

Use open questions with caution. If the dialogue with the player succeeds, they can offer a fantastic gaming experience. But they can also dampen it if the player voices commands for which no utterances have been set. In this case, the Voice assistant will tell the player that it did not understand them and will read them the available options. But immersion has been disrupted and the player has fallen out of the story.

How to safeguard open questions with so-called “default ways” in TWIST will be explained in Chapter 4.3: Phrasing the Player Utterances.

Conclusion

Consider carefully how you use Open Player Choices and how to write the corresponding text passage. You can, for instance, create situations that would allow for only a limited number of logical answers. This could be the question “How are you?” to which the majority of players will answer with “great”, “okay”, or “terrible”. To ensure the success of this dialogue you should also use synonyms for the corresponding options, like “good”, “fine”, “bad”, and so on.

The question “What do you wish to examine?” makes the player choose between the objects and items mentioned beforehand. A player will always find themselves within the specific context of a story from which they can make their choice, and thanks to existing language conventions you can assume that they will not answer the question “How are you?” with the word “telephone”.

Therefore, make sure that your player knows the context of their possibilities and that they have a rough idea of what the obvious and valid actions in the given situation could be.

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