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?