Thursday, May 9, 2013

May 2013: Branching Narrative

I recently spoke at the Writers Guild of America, East on a panel about Writing for Videogames.  And there it was, again:  the topic of branching narrative.  It struck me that this is what people think game writers do, once you make it clear that you don't actually program the game.  A PBS exec once said to me, "How in the earth do you do it?  I can't even imagine how that would be like."

Personally, I feel Branching Narrative can be a nightmare.  I was working on an ambitious game with branching narrative.  In the process of development, the game got whittled down and key portions were cut.  I remember re-writing the entire game 3 times.  If anything, I want to avoid branching narrative or at least limit it so that it doesn't become unwieldy.

Moreover, some games are actually linear stories, with the interactivity solely in the gameplay.  And some branching narrative aren't even what I would call games but interactive fiction.  Browsing through a couple Twine stories, I noticed the interactivity amounted to a Click to Proceed button since there was only one choice given to the reader (other than to quit reading the story).  Even when the interactivity is confined to small mini games interspersed in the story, I still feel unfulfilled when the gameplay is limited and doesn't advance the story.  It's like reading a chapter of the book, then playing a game of Peggle, then reading the book again.

What are your thoughts on branching narrative and meaningful game choices?  There are certainly games that focus directly on this.  How do you do this well?

I invite readers to submit an article on this topic.  Please read the submission guidelines first.  Thanks!


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