Use the Same Part of Speech
Player Choices and their elements should differ in their content, not in the way they are phrased. Always use the same part of speech for your key terms, for example three adjectives, three nouns, three verbs, or three phrases of equal structure. This makes it easier for the player to remember the possible Player Utterances.
Example 13: Phrasing Player Choices – Same Part of Speech
[Narrator] “The eye witness hesitates with his answer. It’s obvious that he does not like to talk to cops and snoopers. However, his knowledge could be very important to you.”
|Player Choice – Alternative 1 (Verbs) “Do you wish to threaten him, flatter him, or lie to him?”|
|Player Choice – Alternative 2 (Adverbs) “How do you proceed? Aggressively, amicably, or cunningly?”|
The three stated options “threaten”, “flatter”, and “lie” are not only easily remembered, they also imply the chances and risks of the three different approaches.
Example 14: Phrasing Player Choices – Phrases of Equal Structure
[Narrator] “The woman eyes you suspiciously for a moment, then she returns to reading her book. Do you wish to ignore her deliberately to catch her attention, or do you wish to approach her directly to impress her?”
The more specificity with which you formulate the Player Choice, the fewer options you should offer. Also make sure that you add these details (“catch”, “deliberately”, “attention” for ignore; “approach”, “directly”, “impress” for impress) as synonyms to the Player Utterances to make it easier for the player to remember and respond correctly.
Encourage the Player to Use Natural Language
Interactive stories are told as a dialogue between player and author. You should not only design your side of this dialogue as best as you can, but also the player’s side. Encourage them to make decisions using natural language.
It contributes greatly to the immersion and emotional effect of your story when the player voices their commands in whole sentences instead of single words.
Example 15: Phrasing Player Choices – Cause Natural Language
[Narrator] “Upon seeing you, the dragon flaps its wings heavily and lifts its head. Do charge at him with a battle cry, or do you dive for cover behind a rock?”
🗣️ [Player] “I charge at him with a battle cry!”
🗣️ [Player] “I dive for cover behind a rock!”
The elements of the Player Choice are formulated as epic and vividly as the scene demands. The way the question is phrased almost eliminates the possibility of players answering with single words like “charge”, “dive”, or “cover”. Instead, it encourages the player to loudly proclaim, “I charge at him screaming,” or, “I draw my sword and attack.” Speech recognition of complete sentences also works if only single words like “screaming”, “sword”, or “attack” have been set as Player Utterances and synonyms.
This ensures that the player strongly identifies with the story and really becomes part of its world. You can therefore use natural language to also increase the emotional bond between the player and the game world and the characters on a verbal level.
Use Multifaceted Player Choices
Player Choices should give players the feeling that they are making their own decisions and that they are being offered many possibilities to play and experience your story. If you put too many yes-no questions into your story, players get the impression that it leaves no room for them and that it is very linear. Avoid this by changing these questions into either-or questions.
So don’t ask, “Do you bow before the king?” but rather, “Do you bow before the king, or do you remain upright?” By reformulating the question in this way, you are not changing the course of the story or the amount of content you have to write, but it noticeably improves the gaming experience. Now the player can choose between two true alternatives. Before, the player had only one option which they could merely accept or refuse.
Offer Important Player Choices
Player Choices are especially good if they confront the player with a dilemma. They have to be able to recognize, understand, and weigh up the chances vs. the risks for their character. This creates suspense and draws the player into the story. It also places responsibility on them and really makes them actively engage with the story.
For example, the question, “Do you wish to save the helpless neighbor’s child from drowning?” does not actually require a real decision from the player. No one would just let a child drown. One could even argue that this is a fake choice. Although the story offers the possibility to just stand by and let the child die, the player (or player character) would, for emotional and moral reasons, be highly unlikely to pick that option.
Example 16: Phrasing Player Choices – The Drowning Child
[Narrator] “The neighbor’s child is in danger of drowning. Do you throw yourself into the perilous waters to save her or do you try to rescue her from the riverbank?”
🗣️ [Player] “I jump into the water!”
[Narrator] “The cold torrents swirl around your head as you jump into the water. When you reach the child, she desperately clings to your body and thus drags you down as well. Do you try to free yourself from her clutches or do you continue your attempt to save her?”
🗣️ [Player] “I rescue her from the bank!”
[Narrator] “The situation is extremely dangerous. No one will gain from both of you drowning. Hastily you run along the river bank to search for a tree branch to extend toward the child. After you have found a suitable branch, you look up. The girl is nowhere to be seen…”
This juxtaposition of danger and safety makes the player realize that his decision will have serious consequences, either for their player character or for the drowning child. Even if both choices lead to the child and to the player character surviving, this is not known to the player at the moment of their decision, making their choice meaningful.
Another way to make the original Player Choice more meaningful and morally clearer would be to offer several options for saving the child, each with different risks and chances of success, for example “jump into the water”, “call for help”, or “search the bank for a long branch”. This alternative will also make the player weigh up the consequences of his actions.
Example 17: Phrasing Player Choices – The Witness Interview
[Narrator] “You visit the ex-lover of the main suspect to question her. How will you introduce yourself? As a police officer, or as a distant relative of the suspect?”
🗣️ [Player] “I introduce myself as a police officer!”
[Narrator] “The woman eyes you skeptically and raises an eyebrow.”
[Woman] “A cop? If you don’t got a search warrant, I don’t have to talk to you. Just get lost!”
[Narrator] “The last you see of her is her giving you the finger, then the door is slammed shut.”
🗣️ [Player] “I claim to be a relative!”
[Woman] “I didn’t know that Frank had a cousin from Wisconsin. Would you like some coffee?”
[Narrator] “With an inviting gesture she beckons you inside. As the door closes, she scrutinizes you from head to toe.”
[Woman] “No wonder Frank never mentioned you. You look way too sweet. Well, how can I help you?”
The Player Choice at the beginning of the dialogue makes the player face a dilemma. Should they be truthful and thus risk to get fewer or no answers from the witness? Or should they lie and risk being found out which could also lead to an abrupt end of the conversation? Furthermore, the player does not really know the true extent of the relationship between witness and suspect. Would they try to protect him from the police and refuse to answer any questions? Or do they have a score to settle with him and thus would rather help the police than a relative of his?
This Player Choice gives you the opportunity to build suspense and present the player with two completely different conversations depending on their decision. These conversations can also have overlapping elements, thus reducing your workload and limiting the growth of the tree diagram.
Use Foreshadowing Player Choices
A Player Choice like, “You stand at a crossing. Do you want to go left or right?” does not create suspense. The player is missing hints of upcoming events that would allow them to get an idea or make an assessment of the possible consequences their decision might have. Thus the player cannot really choose but rather has to make a random guess. It is much better to use specific and distinct questions like, “You stand at a crossing. Do you wish to follow the path through the forest or the path along the river?” or, “Do you take the steeper path or the easier one?”