Image Image Image Image Image Image Image Image Image Image | January 17, 2018

Scroll to top



Game Idea Wish List #1: Interactive Fiction |

Several recent games have been using decision trees and branching story lines. The branching story lines were some of the most entertaining parts of the game, but they are usually a small add-on to the core gameplay.

How about a new, full production game that focuses purely on an interactive fiction experience, omits all action game elements, and takes the branching story line mechanism and really runs with it? Here is my wish list:

  • “Deep” Branching If you drew out the branching story structure of most games in a tree format, it would look extremely linear. I’d like to see a game that has a hyper-complex branching structure. The purpose is to deliver an end-user experience that is exotic and mysterious rather than predictable and transparent.
  • Unique Stories Almost every game has a single primary story “trunk” that is non-interactive. The user may be allowed to choose among little side-quest “branches” or choose the ending, but there is generally one core fixed storyline with a pre-set sequence of chapters or levels to play through. I’d like the user to be able to discover entirely new story lines rather than merely a different ending or an extra side-quest.
  • Complex And Subtle The consequences of the user’s decisions should be complex and subtle. Decisions made at one point in the game would often affect other parts of the story later in the game. Again, the goal is to keep the player wrapped in mystique. If the implications are too clear or too easy to discover through use of a game-save or by looking on the Internet, then the sense of immersion would be lost. The branching logic shouldn’t be transparent enough for the player to see through and the player should never have the safety of knowing whether or not they made the “right” decision.
  • Allow the player to get lost in the story If there aren’t enough branching points, or there aren’t enough alternate story lines, or if it’s too easy to use game saves or walkthrough guides to win, the user will feel like they are watching a story rather than experiencing it.

Branching story lines employ a very simple logic and they are a very old mechanic that is often associated with the the adventure game genre, which dwindled from a full-production, mainstream genre to a very narrow niche. Tons of passionate hobbyists are writing interactive fiction, but mostly as simple, zero budget text games.

The time is ripe for an interactive fiction come back. The audience is ready for it and the technology has matured dramatically since the peak of interest in the adventure game genre. In addition to the obvious advances in client hardware, game dev tools, middleware, and asset management software is far better today. Rather than focusing on technology issues, studios could really focus on story telling and game design issues.

What do you guys think? Is interactive fiction simply another historical dead-end of video game evolution? Or is this under-developed territory ripe for exploration?

  • Actually, I would love to have the whole adventure genre to make a comeback. But I am not sure many people have patience for those games.

    I remember back in the eighties, when I coul play a word adventure game for weeks making maps and being frustrated because I couldn’t guess the right word to get further in the game. That was actually fun.

    I know, that you’re not asking for text adventures, and I don’t think that they will be played outside of a very small cult following.

    But what I would like to see is perhaps a merger between rpgs and graphic adventure games. that is rpg battling and levelling up, but with the classical problem solving from the adventure games.

  • Meh, I don’t care too much about storytelling in my video games. As long as there’s enough there to glue the game together, that’s about all I need. I never got into adventure games or text adventures like ZORK.

  • mcloki

    It’s the business plan that needs the work. A Never ending story like the one you propose would need an never ending supply of cash. So the game you propose would need to be a subscription game. WOW seems to be what you are asking for. OR am I not getting the gist of it.

  • For deep branching to work, you’d need extremely good AI (behavioural AI, not just path finding) which is almost fully autonomic, along with it state of the art animation system, and superb speech generation, because you can’t record every possibility. It can happen in 10 years, then again my imagination is scarce!

  • darrin

    Zork is lots of exploration, inventory management, stat fights, and puzzles. WOW is completely different: stat building, stat battles, heavy community elements, and very mass market friendly pulp fantasy. I want to see something that focuses on narrative and elaborate branching storylines: More like a high-tech ambitious choose your own adventure style game aimed at an older audience.

    Obviously creating tons of content requires tons of resources, and studios don’t like to do branching because that means a lot of their costly content isn’t seen by most players. But it seems completely feasible to me: studios spend tons of resources on action mechanics and customized action-centric art assets. I would think that a branching story line game could be done on a reasonble budget and with the industry so focused on innovation and new ideas, a good proof-of-concept could easily secure publisher funding.

  • mcloki

    Darrin. I think that to have this work you would need to take a world that had already been created. Asset wise and rework the AI engine. Maybe a better example would be GTA. The city is there. All the assets are done. It would just be a story of Niko One year later. Or add a few more character stories. Like a Jacob DLC.
    On the WOW front It’s the heavy community elements that fit your requirement.
    Mysterious and transparent. Could be better.
    Unique stories. Your party number varies from group to group. The people you interact with vary. Each story is unique. Your’re still in the WOW world, but it is your unique story.
    Complex and Subtle. Armoring up is complex and subtle and has an effect. Don’t and you die.
    I think what you really want is going to always be a bit out of reach.

    What you really need is a persistent world. This was a good question. I’m thinking about how it could be done. Take care

  • darrin

    Great ideas, mcloki. If I was independently wealthy or if I had the writing and video editing skills, I’d get this game made myself 🙂