Although the game I am making is going to be interactive fiction, I wanted to get the broad strokes of the story structure down before I attempted to write any of the prose that will compose the bulk of the game. This could just be another way for me to procrastinate that part of the process since I haven’t really written fiction in close to 15 years, but my game dev friends seem to agree that this is a good place to start so we’ll go with that.
I think the biggest hurdle to starting with the structure of the game was deciding how I wanted it to end. Which is how most of my game writer friends suggest you approach branching stories. I mean, ever since I’d established the concept I’ve had a pretty clear idea of what the “best possible ending” would be. But, I had yet to decide if I wanted any other possible endings, let alone what those would be. Would it be possible for the playing to make the “wrong” choice? And what would the consequences for that be? Did I want to just tell a story with the illusion of choice guiding players down different paths to the same ending, or would the player’s choices really influence the outcome of the story?
I was still pretty undecided about the whole thing when I sat down for coffee with my friend Brian. Brian is a writer and filmmaker and while discussing what we were working on he asked if it would be possible for the player to inadvertently scare off the tenant, Amanda. The idea had literally never occurred to me, and although it seemed counter to what I wanted to do with the story, I was really struck by what this outcome would mean for the playable character of the spirit. It helped me to get a better idea of that character and what was at stake for her and immediately decided to include it as an option.
This got me thinking about other possible negative outcomes, which actually helped me decide what the first player choice would be: to reach out to Amanda or not. Of course, this all happened while I was on my way somewhere, so I pulled out my phone to take notes. That’s when I remembered I’d downloaded a mind-mapping application called Mindly and thought it could be useful in this instance.
For those not familiar, mind-mapping is method for organizing thoughts and brainstorming, creating connections and branches between ideas. Since my game involves creating branches between story beats, this seems like as good a place as any to start.
I started with my tentative name for the game in the middle, and branched off the first two options. Since choosing to reach out would be the bulk of the story I left that alone for the moment and decided to focus on what not reaching out would mean, and how that would lead to “the worst possible outcome.”
While I’ve blurred out the names of these story beats to preserve some of the mystery my game is meant to have, I think you get a good idea of how these branches work. While I wasn’t able to link back to other branches in Mindly, the exercise still gave me a good idea of how choices and consequences will work in my game and organize some really exciting ideas for later.