All good stories begin with an idea. This is true for interactive stories as well. In this chapter we will present different ideas and approaches for your own brainstorming process.
A captivating premise has the advantage that it can easily be conveyed to the player because it builds upon things they are familiar with. It can be presented with just a few words and offer great orientation both to the player and to you yourself. Such a premise could be the simple term “fairy tale” since everybody knows these kinds of stories and their unique characteristics which enable the player to quickly get into a fairy tale mindset. But you can also come up with a premise of your own, for example:
- The main character gets hit by a mysterious beam and suddenly is as tiny as an ant.
- A person from the main character’s circle of friends has been kidnapped.
- The main character awakens in a locked room without knowing how they got there.
- A ghost possesses the main character’s sister.
At the moment, Voice mainly serves as casual entertainment. Suspenseful, serious, and epic stories will certainly work, too, but maybe you just want to write a funny story. For this, an unreliable narrator can be very helpful. Classic examples for such narrators are the tales from Edgar Allen Poe, H. P. Lovecraft and Franz Kafka. In their stories, we find a first-person narrator who himself is deeply entangled or involved in the events so that the reader cannot be sure whether he is always telling the truth or rather reporting from the biased viewpoint of a character.
Successful examples of such stories are “Iron Falcon” or “Heldentum für Anfänger” (“Heroism for Beginners”) on Amazon Alexa. In both stories, the narrator or Voice assistant intervenes by commenting on the story, making fun of the player’s decisions, or navigating them into awkward situations, albeit with mostly good intentions. But the narrator could just as well ignore the player’s choices and explain why they’re calling the shots now, or they could be somewhat deaf, always misunderstanding the player’s answers. Such narrative passages could look like this:
- “Of course! Let’s just attack the dragon. That’s the quickest way to end this story!”
- “So you wanna attack the dragon… Well, I can see that you thought this through very carefully. I mean, it’s not like someone just offered you three different options and you just picked the first one at hand!”
- “So you want to attack the dragon… I get you. I was young and wild myself once. But never that crazy. Look, let’s just talk to him for now. If we survive this, we can still attack him. Agreed?”
- “Attack the dragon? Wow! Did you ever consider how they might feel about this? I mean, what if they have family? Children? Or someone who really loves them?!”
- “Hahaha, nice joke. Attack the dragon! With your bare hands, huh? I really appreciate your humor, but seriously, what is your decision?”
- “Okay, so you are attacking the princess…”
As you can see, there are many different ways to have an unreliable narrator comment on your story. If you make use of this concept, however, you will have to use it consistently throughout the story or even make it its focus. This will show the player that it is an intended element and will allow them to build a rapport with the narrator or the narrating character. The narrator can be a character in your story but can also an onlooker.
Congruent Player Character
In interactive stories, players experience the story through the eyes of the main character. This character usually has his own life story and name. But you can also design your story in such a way that the player is playing themselves, namely, a character not determined by you.
In our interactive audiobook series for children, “Der Zauberwald” (“The Magic Forest”), this is the case. The player enters this magical world as themselves. This of course increases identification and immersion, but also leads to a problem with Voice since you cannot replace the voice of the player character with that of the player. Instead, have the player character only use indirect speech or summarize what they’re saying. Otherwise this will disrupt the player’s ability to identify with the main character. Still, this concept remains very appealing.
Ideas for Stories
If you like any of the following ideas, feel free to use them for your own stories.
House of Horrors
This interactive horror story takes place in a manor. The player is a teenager who, together with five friends, is trapped on the premises, each of them in a different place. Then a serial killer comes onto the scene and the player has to try to escape and in the process rescue as many of their friends as possible.
The kicker is: each of the player’s decisions will change the situation in the other rooms. If, for instance, they rescue John in the kitchen by causing a short circuit, it will then be harder to save Mary in the cellar because it is dark there now. Or they bolt the back entrance in the kitchen from inside to save John’s life. But this would block one of Steve’s escape routes who is hiding in the garden. This forces the player to carefully think through each and every decision since their decisions will not only have short-term but also long-term consequences. Through these coupled Player Choices, a nail-biting game of cat-and-mouse will ensue. Especially if the players try to leave the garden through the back entrance of the house until they realize they bolted it earlier.
This idea can even be expanded upon by adding further narrative elements. Who’s to say that the player has to save all of their friends? Maybe they really don’t like some of them. This opens up new possibilities, for example, by having certain characters bow out of the story in an innovative way. And the player will have more options and freedom, depending on how they wish to act or what kind of personal goal they want to achieve in the course of events.
This interactive audiobook makes use of different chapters and locations as well. The player takes on the role of a character who has the ability to shapeshift. Apart from the usual decisions the player will have to make, they can also choose at the beginning of each chapter whether they want to play it as a human or a werewolf. Depending on their choice, the player will of course be presented with different events and Player Choices.
For example, before entering the village, someone could warn the player that its inhabitants are rather hostile to strangers. The choice, whether the player enters the village in human form or as a werewolf, will then harbor different risks but also chances. Appearing as a human, it should be easier for them to avoid conflicts or solve them in a diplomatic way. Turned into a werewolf, they would have the edge in a physical conflict or could just intimidate the villagers into helping them.
For you as the author, this means that you will have to create almost all of the content in two different versions. This, of course, is a huge amount of extra work; on the other hand, does a story like this offer significant narrative potential and are you likely to delight a great number of players with this innovative concept?
Traveling the World with $100
Books from globetrotters and backpackers have been growing a lot in popularity over the past years. Readers are especially fascinated by the exciting and adventurous journey of the author. At the same time, COVID-19 has made large vacations or trips nearly impossible. The perfect time to address this growing wanderlust and put your players inside an interactive travel story where you send them around the world as backpackers with only $100 in their pockets. Along the way, they will have to decide which countries to visit, which means of transportation to use, how they approach and react to other people, and which adventures to embark on.
The player character’s budget can be tracked via variables. You can include achievements and rankings for who was the most economical with their money or who made it the farthest. An interactive story like this is a great opportunity for players to get to know foreign countries, cities, and cultures and to visit them via Voice. You can even offer traveling tips or information about these countries so that your story can be used as actual preparation for going there.
Ranking: the player can compare their game success to the success of other players based on a certain game metric (e.g. money collected, time needed, enemies defeated).
Sports games for computer, console, or smartphone are very popular. Even big publishers like Electronic Arts have recently announced that, in the future, they want to account for one of the greatest wishes of their players: instead of just managing a club or playing a whole team, some players want to have their own personal career as a pro soccer/football player.
Therefore, an interactive audiobook where you offer exactly that has great potential. Just write a story that portrays the career of a young sportsman from a youth team to a major club through to the championship. Not only will your player have to make many decisions on the field, for example whether to kick into the left corner or the right corner, risk dribbling or pass the ball, tackle an opponent or play defensively. There are many conflicts off the field that also require a decision from the player:
One of your teammates has pinched your girlfriend. How do you behave towards them during the training? Your coach has benched you for the top game because he claims that your last training session was terrible. Will you prove during the next training that you got his message, or will you show up extra late and drag yourself across the field to show your dissent? Your teacher tells you that your grades have dropped noticeably. Will you invest more time into school or will you gamble everything on your sports career? These are interesting and multi-faceted Player Choices that demand your players’ attention and suck them deep into the story.
And let’s be honest: who hasn’t dreamed of scoring the winning goal in the championship decider?