Paul Nelson, a passionate writer and blogger, wrote up a short article, one in a series of nineteen, titled Designing Branching Narrative. In it, he explores how deep and intricate writing for branching narratives can be, and gives a lot of resources to make the process easier.
Quite a few of these involve coding mechanics, which some people may not be familiar with, but I will link them here.
I have a substantial amount of coding experience for story driven modules such as this, so whenever he mentioned sequences like CharacterA_Dead=true, it wasn’t lost on the reader. Most people should be able to figure out a lot of the coding mentions just by examining context.
In the article, he mixes a lot of gaming language and storytelling, referring to his own experience with both video game sequences and pen and paper writing. He talks a lot about the idea of World States, an ever changing canon of the reader/player depending on what choices they make. Any number of people can interact with the story and have different outcomes, whether that be through dialogue or large, world changing decisions. Having different World States allows for customization and replayability, people can go back to the story to experience it in a different way. It allows the reader to be more in control in larger environments. It also can allow the reader to ‘mess up’ the World State and have sudden endings if they make the wrong choice.
Each choice branches off onto other choices, but usually they come back together in certain sequences in order to give the reader pertinent information on the subjects. In classic choose your own adventure books, a lot of the choices would take you to one or two unique pages and then set you back on the path that all the choices would converge on. It not only helps to deliver information for the story, but also helps to ground the author when writing it when you can have an image like above, instead of an image like below.
In this system, you would have an ever expanding section of choices that you would have to uniquely take care of, instead of having a few branching points that eventually converge.
Nelson also talked about the idea of Storylets, tiny sections of story that a reader can unlock depending on their choices. Some readers would not see these unique scenes, because they would not be pertinent to them and their canon of the story. In the article, he includes very specific steps on how to engage with the process of branching narrative in a very approachable way.
Branching narrative is something that I’ve always loved engaging with. Many of the video games that I play employ this technique and I believe that they are a more personal experience for it. I play games for a story, the narrative is a very important part of that as I see them on par with movies and television for entertainment value and story. I think that being able to create something like this is an art, it takes so much time, effort, and care to make sure that all of the world states are properly fit into each other and that they all make sense, but it’s such a gratifying result.
I want to engage with some of the tools I found from his articles, they all serve various purposes, but it looks like fun to try and learn the ins and outs of them. I definitely want to come up with something and create an example program.
After reading through this particular article, I actually read quite a few of his interactive storytelling posts, as they are all filled with very useful links to similar articles and excellent tools. Overall, I really liked how well he explained the steps and references to help the reader also achieve with these tools.