In interactive stories, the narrative pace plays an important role in the balance between creating suspense and ensuring listening comprehension. By varying the narrative pace and keeping the flow of the narration dynamic, you can create great tension.
At its core, narrative pace means the ratio between the actual duration of events (narrated time) and their presentation in the story (narration time). The more detailed the events, the setting, and the characters are being presented, the slower the narrative pace will be. However, if the actions taking place predominate the narration, the narrative pace will be higher. There are basically three possibilities.
The ratio between things happening and their presentation is balanced. If you are using time-congruent narration, the events taking place are told in real time. This is mainly the case for dialogue.
This is the extended presentation of things (slow narrative pace, “slow motion”).
If you are using time-stretching narration, then pauses or decelerations slow down the narrative pace, bringing events to a halt while you are giving a detailed description of a room, an action, or a character.
In interactive stories, time-stretching narration should only be used if it serves the plot or the comprehension. This can be for the implementation of back story, the framework plot, or flashbacks. Very often you will also have to describe a place or character in more detail in which case the narrative pace will also slow down.
This is the sped-up presentation of things (high narrative pace; “fast forward”).
If you are using time-tightening narration, things are accelerated by summarizing events and leaving out anything irrelevant. The omission of unimportant time stretches is usually accompanied by phrases like “soon after that” or “several days later”.
Time-tightening narration is best used if you want to quickly progress the plot.
The types of Player Choices:
- Fake choices in which the chosen option is subsequently denied to the player should be avoided by all means.
- Flavor choices ask the player how they wish to perform the action you want them to perform. Many fake choices can easily be transformed into flavor choices.
- Progress choices add value to the story by allowing the player character to upgrade, by sharing background information about the world, or finding items. Information and items gained in such a way can be picked up on later in the story by using variables.
- Story choices branch the plot and can lead to vastly different story paths. Story choices require additional work from the author. By using such choices at the end of your story, you can reduce and limit this additional work.
- Lead the different paths from Player Choices back onto the main story thread to contain the size of your story and better control it.
Phrasing efficient Player Choices:
- Player Choices should be formulated in a clear and comprehensible way. Players should understand which Voice commands they can use to progress the story. For children and people new to Voice, Player Choices should be kept very simple.
- Do not offer more than two or three options per Player Choice.
- In closed Player Choices you tell the player exactly what their available options are. In open Player Choices like, “What would you like to do?” the player will have to deduce the available options from the situation presented. Such open questions have to be designed very carefully in order to work properly, but they offer great immersion.
- The Player Utterances should all be embedded into the Player Choices with the use of the same part of speech (adjective, verb or noun) or equally structured phrases. This makes it easier for the player to remember them.
- Encourage your players to answer using natural language instead of using single words.
- Present the player with specific and distinct Player Utterances instead of only using yes-no questions.
- Player Choices should be meaningful and offer Player Utterances of equal value, confronting the player with a dilemma or a moral challenge. The player should be able to understand or at least guess what the consequences of the different Player Utterances are. Only in this way will the player be able to make conscious decisions instead of choosing blindly.
Limitations and assistance:
- Speech recognition is able to recognize single words in the player’s reply if they have been stated as a Player Utterance or a synonym.
- Avoid similar words for different Player Utterances as well as words that are hard to pronounce. This will enable speech recognition to correctly assign the player’s reply to the correct option.
- Built-in Voice commands in the Voice assistant system (like “Help”, “Alexa”, “Google”, “Start”, “Stop”) cannot be set as Player Utterances. Numbers as answers should be stated both in word and numerical form.
- Make use of the possibilities of tools like TWIST:
- Adding synonyms to Player Utterances allow speech recognition to handle variations in the player’s reply.
- Hidden Player Choices / Player Utterances enable you to incorporate riddles and secrets without the Voice assistant reading the hidden option to the player.
- Default ways catch all player replies that cannot be assigned to any of the stated Player Utterances.
- A feature for yes-no questions makes your work easier since you do not have to determine Player Utterances and synonyms.
- Your story should begin with short text passages and three to five quick (but meaningful) Player Choices to immediately draw the player in. Great scenarios for a fast and gripping beginning with many possibilities for varying choices are dialogues, dreams, action scenes, a quiz about the character’s life, or moral dilemmas.
- For “gamers”, who frequently want to make decisions, the intervals between two Player Choices should not be longer than 90 seconds. For “listeners”, who prefer to listen to your story on the side, the intervals between two Player Choices should be 150-220 seconds long.
- Interactive stories for children should have a playing time of 12-20 minutes. Interactive stories for grown-ups can have a playing time of 50-60 minutes, but should be divided into shorter episodes of 15-20 minutes each.
- Your story should have different endings, at least a bad one and a very good one. All of your endings should be satisfying since they will have a great influence on the players’ rating of the skill. Avoid premature endings, illogical endings, and incomplete endings.
- If you have a story with several episodes, each episode should feel complete but also end in a cliffhanger.
- Use time-congruent narration for dialogue and action, time-stretching narration for the description of scenes and the conveying of background information, and time-tightening narration to make time jumps and move the plot forward.
Closed Player Choice: the available options are explicitly stated to the player.
Open Player Choice: the player has to deduce the available options from the scenery or situation presented to them.