For a long time the belief had been held that interactive stories are only good if they can make the player play through them again, meaning they would find ways to entice them to play a second or third time to make different decisions, solve unsolved puzzles, explore different places, or find treasure that they might have missed the first time around. It is certainly great if an interactive story can offer all of these, but it would require a huge amount of planning and writing. Especially for the first interactive adventure you write, less is probably more.
We believe that a vast majority of players will play an interactive story first and foremost to be able to experience their very own story. And this only really works the first time. Sure, there will always be adventurous and curious players that will play it a second time. But in our opinion, instead of trying to stuff two stories into one, you are better off writing two separate stories. There is one reasonable question you will have to ask yourself: if your player has played through your story once and has made the choices they wanted to make while ignoring any options they didn’t like, why should they play your story again if they already know a large part of it and if the only options left now, from their point of view, are the second-rate options?
Our recommendation: save yourself the effort. Instead, place your emphasis on one single playthrough and design it as best as possible. If you nevertheless want to instill a high replay value in your story, here are some tips.
Incentives for your player to play the story again could include:
- Finding out more about the world,
- Reaching a different or better ending,
- Unlocking new Player Choices
- Making different decisions to discover their consequences.
The Best Ending, or the Incomplete Solution
These are stories that cannot be completely solved in one playthrough, having the player play through them again. For example, they can only then find all evidence for a murder or discover all parts of a code needed to prevent the nuclear destruction of the world if they play the adventure several times. You do this by placing the relevant clues on different, mutually exclusive story paths. Only by playing again will the player be able to reach the best ending, in the most extreme case only after having played through every other ending. Yes, there are players who find this appealing!
Use Random Elements
Design some of the things in your story with an element of randomness, thus creating additional value for a second playthrough. You could, for example, craft secrets with the clues scattered randomly across different places at the start of the game. A valuable treasure was found in the left passage during the first playthrough? Your player will be surprised if they encounter a dangerous monster in the same passage instead!
In their escape from the local mafia goons the player had to choose between two corridors? The hot romance was only possible with either the count or the gentleman? The voyage to Alpha Centauri could be accomplished on board an old navy freighter or with a smuggler’s ship? All these options hint at the possibility of different events taking place if the player had chosen differently. If you want to make use of this element, you should plan many interesting parallel paths from the beginning. Playing through the story is an effort, too, so you should reward your players generously for doing so.
The choices your player makes can also change how they perceive the events taking place, giving them different interpretations of the story during different playthroughs. For example, one time the murder turns out to be a story of jealousy. If the player chooses differently, it could be a conspiracy in the financial world or a suicide because of gambling debts. However, all of these variations will have to be consistent within themselves, since all of them are true after all.
Story Branching Points
You can achieve a good compromise between continued play and playing again by using so-called story branching points. These are points where the plot splits into different paths. By using save points in your interactive story where the player can jump back to at the end, you allow them to make a different decision at these interesting branching points without them having to play through the whole story again from the beginning. This prevents your player from ending the story while still having unexplored story paths in the back of their mind which can feel unsatisfactory.