interactive storytelling for video games chapter 9 : branching path stories

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Interactive Storytelling for Video Games Chapter 9 : Branching Path Stories. Josiah Lebowitz Chris Klug. What is a branching path story?. - PowerPoint PPT Presentation


  • Interactive Storytelling for Video GamesChapter 9: Branching Path StoriesJosiah LebowitzChris Klug

  • What is a branching path story?Branching path stories have multiple decision points throughout the story, allowing the player to make a series of decisions as he progresses through the game.Some decisions may have little to no effect on the main plot while other can cause it to branch off in a different direction entirely.Unlike open-ended and fully player-driven stories, branching path stories follow a rigid writer controlled structure of branches and decision points.When written well, they form an excellent balance between writer control and player choice.

  • Choose Your Own Adventure BooksReleased by Bantam Books (1979 1998) and Chooseco (2005 on).The most well known use of branching path storytelling.Readers are frequently prompted to choose between multiple options, turning to different pages depending on their choice.Stories are relatively short and simple due to the numerous pages needed for each branch and ending.The vast majority of endings tend to involve the hero dying or giving up.

  • Creating Branching Path StoriesAfter creating the basic story structure, examine it and decide where its going to branch and what purpose each branch is going to serve.Ensure the different branches arent too similar to each other.Each branch should provide an interesting and entertaining experience.Story length can grow rapidly as branches are added, greatly increasing the amount of time and money needed to finish the game. Its important to always keep time and budget constraints firmly in mind.

  • The Types of BranchesBranching path stories make use of three different types of branches. Minor Branches: Quickly rejoin the main branch (only offering different versions of a single scene) without any serious impact on the main plot.Moderate Branches: Eventually rejoin the main branch, but take their time doing so (offering multiple scenarios which lead to the same eventual outcome), without seriously impacting the main plot.Major Branches: Break away from the main branch entirely, forming new main branches with their own sets of minor and moderate branches.

  • Minor BranchModerate BranchMajor Branch

  • FRONT MISSION 3Released by Square in 2000 (PS).Minor branches are used to offer alternate battles.Moderate branches lead to different sets of battles and affect which characters join the heros party.The two major branches feature many different characters and set the heroes on opposite sides of several conflicts, offering very different perspectives on the events of the story.

  • Deciding Where to Place BranchesMinor Branches: Looks for places where the hero may face a small decision that wont seriously affect the main plot (such as what to say in a conversation or how to spend his afternoon).Moderate Branches: Look for places where decisions the hero makes could cause him to go off on different paths that will eventually rejoin (such as stealing a magic artifact, bargaining for it, or earning enough money to buy it).Major Branches: Looks for places where the hero must make a choice that will drastically change the progression and outcome of the rest of the story in unique and interesting ways (such as choosing which of two opposing armies to side with).DONT add pointless branches. Make sure each one is unique, entertaining, and adds something to the story.

  • How many branches should a story have?The number of branches depends heavily on the type of story being told and what key factor differentiates between the branches (who the hero loves, who he sides with, whether he becomes good or evil, etc).Dont include branches that are repetitive, boring, and/or dont add much to the story.Keep time and budget constraints firmly in mind and plan the number of branches accordingly.

  • Japanese Visual Novel GamesVisual novel games are a popular genre in Japan but hardly any receive English releases.Visual novels are released primarily on the PC by small independent developers.Theyre essentially very long and complex branching path stories written in a first person novel format with accompanying visuals, sound, and music.Visual novels contain some of the deepest and best structured uses of branching path storytelling in the industry.Fan translations of a few popular titles can be found online.

  • Fate/Stay NightReleased by Type-Moon in 2004 (PC).One of the most popular visual novels of all time.Has a higher word count than the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy.3 major branches (based on which girl the hero teams up with).5 full (good) endings.40 bad endings60+ hours of gameplay.

  • The Strengths of Branching Path StoriesProvides the player with a large number of choices of varying importance.Allows the writer to maintain careful control over the structure and pacing of the story.Lets the player explore many different possible progressions and outcomes of the story.Offers the player a chance to experience the story from multiple angles and perspectives.The best synthesis of traditional and player-driven storytelling.

  • Heavy RainReleased by Quantic Dream in 2010 (PS3).Contains a compelling story of four people searching for a serial killer.Plays like an interactive film or extended quick-time event.The story continues regardless of the players performance, adjusting the outcome of events accordingly.

  • The Weaknesses of Branching Path StoriesEnsuring that each branch provides a unique and compelling experience is very difficult.Reusing too many locations, characters, quests, etc across branches can make them feel repetitive and dull.Highly shocking and emotional moments can lose much of their impact when the player knows he can simply go back and make a different choice.It can be difficult for the player to tell which choices will lead to the desired outcome.Most players only complete game once, causing them to miss out on a large portion of the story and content.Branching path stories are expensive and time consuming to create unless the branches are short and repetitive.

  • The BouncerReleased by Square in 2001 (PS2).A beat em up with a strong action movie vibe.Allows the player to choose between three characters, each with their own story scenes and endings.All three paths are extremely similar.The game is very short.The player must complete the game multiple times in order to fully understand the story.

  • Things to ConsiderList several games youve played which use branching path stories.Pick two of the games from your list. Make a simple flowchart of their branching structure. Mark each branch as minor, moderate, or major.Pick one of those two games. Are there any branches that you consider to be boring and/or unnecessary? Explain your reasoning for each of those branches.Did the presence of the different branches make you want to replay the game so you could see the other outcomes? Why or why not?Do you think the use of a branching path structure significantly enhanced or detracted from the games story? Explain your reasoning.