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Branching Stories

Discussion in 'Game Design' started by Not_Sure, Jan 17, 2017.

  1. Not_Sure


    Dec 13, 2011
    Hey everyone!

    Don't worry, I'm not getting myself side tracked on another tangent project. I'm just killing some time on my lunch break.

    Anyway, I have a story that I I've been more or less picking at since I was a kid and it's actually mutated in something worth a damn over the years. The only problem is that I'm not sure how to approach the narrative because there is so much going on with so many different starting places for different characters.

    For the longest time I was trying to shoe-horn all the stories onto one character passing through them, but another thought crossed my mind.

    What if I just had multiple starting points and let the player choose where to pick up and drop off?

    If you've ever played Secret of Mana 2 you know sort of what I'm going for (if not, shame on you! That game is a masterpiece!).

    What I'm thinking is there's an opening cut scene, then you get a screen with all of the characters in a picture (with characters who have not entered into the story yet blacked out). Then there's a menu that shows different blocks you can select with various characters in them.

    When you select a block, it goes to their story.

    Then whenever you reach a checkpoint you have the option to change to another group.

    Once you hit a certain point, lets say you meet another character who is in another group, the current group is no longer available until the other group progresses to that junction.

    Think about that for a second.

    You reach an inn and there's a character from another group who's shaken and the others aren't with him. You ask them what happened and BOOM you're playing out the events, knowing that something terrible is going to happen.

    Or you could play both sides of a conflict.

    And all the while the story starts to come together to the finale.

    Think about how epic it would be if you experienced each of these different stories come together with their own backgrounds and lead up to something cataclysmic.

    Anyway, do you think this would work?

    Or do you think it would be too much for players to follow?

    Is there a better way to handle multiple stories?
    JoeStrout likes this.
  2. TrueGota


    Dec 3, 2016
    That's a pretty good idea - but I believe it would contain tons of work. In case of the player, I'm not quite sure. It could get complicated but there a lots of ways to make it easier to follow. Like something like a "timeline" in the upper area of the screen. When you select a certain point it shows when it plays in comparison to other ones. Knowing what happens when can be a help. There could also be summaries for stories/paths that are already completed and if you play a group again after some time there could be a re-cap on what happened with that group.
  3. TonyLi


    Apr 10, 2012
    I think it would be possible to write it so players could follow the interwoven stories. Pulp Fiction, for example, weaves together separate stories in an interesting way, and a game could do the same. Linear stories with only limited branching would probably make it more practical to design. Perhaps a visual novel, or Twine/Ink even.
  4. AndreasU


    Apr 23, 2015
    The Telltale Game of Thrones does that, like the books.
    Well, it doesnt allow the player to pick which character he wants to play but just has the chapters in a given order.
  5. LMan


    Jun 1, 2013
    This reminded me of Arrested Development season 4- each episode focused on a specific character through the same period of time.

    I think this kind of branching storytelling requires that each of the "main" characters spend significant amounts of time apart. They will occasionally touch base with each other, and the actions of one will often relate to the events in another, but it's important that each path be distinct.

    The other thing that occurs to me is that often the main characters' lack of shared experiences results in conflicts when they do come together through the story- one character sees things one way as a result of their path, the other sees things the opposite way, and they have to find a way to resolve those differences.

    A much MUCH better example of branching paths would be the show "Stranger Things." Each storyline features a distinct group of characters and distinct conflicts and character arcs, while all of them maintain the same overarching goal- to find Will Byers. This guy goes into some depth about how each storyline provides different things to the show.
    Not_Sure and TonyLi like this.
  6. EternalAmbiguity


    Dec 27, 2014
    What if I don't care at all about your "interesting" character and want to stick with the person I'm following?

    The way Sonic games tend to work is that you only have Sonic available at the beginning of the game. At some point or another you meet the other "heroes" (usually in battle, because Sonic). After that you continue with Sonic's story, or you can start the story with that other character from the beginning. A great example is Sonic Rush.

    I think that's the way to do it, rather than dropping in random characters and forcing the player to switch to them. You can still have the other characters, but it doesn't feel like they're random characters added for a moment's diversion. And it will create a more coherent-feeling narrative, since you're not bouncing between the aspirations of multiple characters in a single "playthrough." Unless your plan is for there to literally only be these little chapters you have to go in and out of from the main menu.

    Of course the problem with my idea is that if characters are together a lot, you'll wind up playing through the same stuff a lot of times (though that's kind of a problem for your idea too).

    It's a bigger problem if the gameplay changes significantly between characters.
  7. Not_Sure


    Dec 13, 2011
    Hmmm... I can see what you're saying that at a certain point players are going to want to put together their own party rather than have one forced on them.
  8. Not_Sure


    Dec 13, 2011
    Ugh, sorry but Stranger Things was a four groups of people running around and inexplicably not talking to one another for no other reason than to serve the story. At one point the shop lifting mom was like "why didn't you tell me?" and that kid that looks like Dwight Schrute was like "I don't know!", well yeah! Why DIDN'T he say something? Why didn't ANYONE say something? Just because they themselves acknowledge the plot hole, doesn't mean it's not there.

    To me, it's only popular because every set is hosed down with 80's nostalgia. But, like 80's nostalgia from someone with a hindsight retrospective and is trying to make themselves cooler than they actually were.

    Also, why do the kids need to shout at each other for EVERY. SINGLE. LINE?

    By the end of it I was grimacing whenever it cut over to them because I knew that they were going to do more needless shouting at one another. Just shouting for no reason all the time.

    Well, the opening is really cool. I'll give them that.
    Last edited: Jan 18, 2017
  9. EternalAmbiguity


    Dec 27, 2014
    It's not like you can't do it. But if you do it probably needs to be central either to the overarching narrative, or to some "sub-playthrough" whatever the heck you would call each progression. Like if you had a path that crossed over between three different characters, but it focused on characters capturing/losing the McGuffin.

    Witcher 3 had occasional breaks to Ciri, and it was a very different type of gameplay from Geralt. But his entire goal for the first "half" of the game is to find her, so it makes sense. It isn't like you get transported to the Bloody Baron's past when he found his wife with another man (aka totally unrelated to the main narrative).
    Not_Sure and LMan like this.
  10. Kiwasi


    Dec 5, 2013
    A bunch of games have done it.

    Warcraft 3 and Starcraft come to mind. In both games you played a set of missions in a set order, but you would often alternate between the various sides of the conflict. Warcraft actually had missions where you alternated between chasing down the demon hunter Illidan, and then actually playing as Illidan trying to escape your pursuers.

    Halo ODST also ran with multiple characters. The 'main' arc was playing as a rookie who had managed to miss the main conflict, and was just trying to find everyone. At regular intervals you would find clues about your squad mates, at which point you would take on the role of that squad mate. Eventually you amassed enough information to figure out where your squad mates had ended up and regroup.

    From a design perspective you have several things to consider:
    • Playing multiple characters means that the player will be less attached to each individual character.
    • Each time you change characters there will be significant dissonance. You will need to put effort into grounding the player in the new character each time they switch.
    • You can set up circumstances where the player doesn't care about significant arcs of your story.
    I would also delve into general novel writing material on this. Novel writers have said a lot about using a single viewpoint or multiple view points. And most of it will be applicable to game design. Random Google search.