Progress Choices: Player Progress
Progress choices refer to the player’s progress in exploring the world and developing their player character. Similar to flavor choices they do not have a huge impact on the story or the branching of the tree diagram.
Progress choices can make the player character stronger or better equip them to face the upcoming challenges in the story. Through them, the player can gain background information about the game world, the events of the story, and other characters, or they can experience the satisfaction of having made a morally correct decision. Progress choices can also lead to particularly emotional experiences by confronting the player with unforeseen events, touching them deeply, or making them laugh.
All of these have one thing in common: they make the player’s decisions meaningful and enhance your story without further fanning out the tree diagram.
Example 6: Progress Choice – The Door
[Narrator] “You reach the second floor. Do you wish to open the left door or the right door?”
🗣️ [Player] “The left one!”
[Narrator] “You enter a small room. On a shelf, you discover an old book about the eternal battle between the gods of light and darkness. […] After reading it, you continue your way through the right door which leads into a long corridor…”
🗣️ [Player] “The right one!”
[Narrator] “The door opens without a noise. Ahead, a long corridor stretches into the distance…”
As you can see, the fake choice from example 2 can also be turned into a progress choice. The knowledge about the gods is not relevant to the plot, but it contributes to the immersion and the deeper understanding of the world and its characters. This could just as easily have been scenery provoking terror hiding behind the left door; maybe a torture chamber (thriller), a secret lab (sci-fi), or a creepy museum of dolls (horror). Then the progress would lie in encountering this oppressive atmosphere and the immersion tied to it.
Example 7: Progress Choice – The Dagger
[Narrator] “Despite your haste, the footsteps of your pursuers seem to get ever closer. You notice something glinting in the bushes beside the path. Do you wish to investigate or do you keep running”
🗣️ [Player] “I wish to investigate what it is!”
[Narrator] “Despite your hunters being hot on your heels, you inspect the bushes. There is an old dagger lying on the ground. You pick it up and hurry on.”
🗣️ [Player] “I keep on running!”
[Narrator] “Whatever is lying there among the bushes, you have no time to waste. Breathlessly, you hurry on”
The Player Choice confronts the player with a dilemma. The pursuers are already closing in and any delay could have severe consequences, even lead to the death of the player character. On the other hand, the player naturally wants to know what is glinting in those bushes. The dagger they find could give the player an advantage in their next fight or enable their later in the story to cut themselves free.This acquiring of information or items, as in Examples 6 or 7, leads to the practical problem of how the game can remember these things in case you wish to make use of them later in the story. To track anything relevant to the plot, you can use so-called variables. An in-depth explanation of game variables can be found in Chapter 8: Variables.
Progress choices can lead to just a single story segment or short story arcs before joining the main path again. They serve to merge story paths without compromising the quality of the story. They can also be used to convey information to the player that puts past or future events in the story into a new light or that permanently influences upcoming decisions the player makes based on the information and items acquired.
Use progress choices to create suspense, immersion, and atmosphere, to reward the player for their curiosity, and to send them on their hero’s journey.
Story Choices: Branching Out the Plot
The tree diagram of an interactive story consists of several main story paths. Through story choices, the player can select their way along these bigger paths and decide how an interactive story progresses. They determine what happens in the game world and which part of the story they are going to experience.
Complex storylines are a great incentive for players to play the story again, exploring it from a different angle or with a different approach. At the same time, they mean more work for you since the tree diagram will have to consist of several main story paths.
Example 8: Story Choice – To the Sea or the Mountains?
[Narrator] “Your previous dates went extremely well. Now it is time for your first trip as a couple. Where do you wish to spend a romantic and exciting weekend with your new darling? At the sea or in the mountains?”
The question of the locale for the further plot leads to two different story paths, each with different events, different places, and different characters. The weekend at the sea could involve a sailing trip where the boat gets caught in a storm. In the mountains there could be an avalanche. Or a rich businessman could invite the couple to an island or to a secluded chalet.
Example 9: Story Choice – Normans or Saxons?
[Narrator] “England in the year 1193. You decide to seek your fortune by becoming an adventurer and mercenary. Do you wish to join forces with the ruling Normans or the rebelling Saxons?”
This Player Choice, too, makes it obvious that the story will follow very different paths depending on the player’s decision. As a Norman knight, they will fight with a full suit of armor on horseback and become part of the English upper class, advancing the conquest of the British Isles and probably hated by the common people. As a Saxon warrior, they could join Robin Hood and his band of robbers, participate in raids, and experience the suppression of the common folk first-hand.
Both paths can certainly have shared plot elements, like a battle the player can experience from the other side as well if they play again, with different objectives and different events.
To have the player choose between two factions with differing or opposed disposition, goals, and prerequisites is a classic approach to motivate the player to play the story a second time. But it also means more work for you as the author.
Story choices mean the writing of the story will require more effort the earlier you use them. Consider carefully whether and when to use them. In a longer interactive story, for example, it can be very interesting to position a story choice right before the final events. In this way, you can contain the scope of the new main story paths while still creating a great incentive for the player to try out the other options.