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Video games with genuinely, totally branching narrative choices prior to the end?

CarpeGuitarrem

Blogger and gamer
Validated User
On the surface level, yeah, it appears like an impossible numbers issue. Offer one single choice, you now have to make content for two stories from that point forward. Add a second choice, now you're building four stories of content from that point. And so on. The closer to the end the choices are, the less divergent material you have to write, of course.

But I think there's ways of viewing the problem that get around this. E.g., the Alpha Protocol solution is to use many of the same levels, but to change what happens in them, and to change the meaning of character actions. Assets can be reused even with truly divergent narrative if you write them properly and lean into the protagonist as the point of divergence.
 

mpswaim

Emo Dad
RPGnet Member
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There was a web based vampire choose your adventure game that started in the early 18th century, and ended in the lat 19th century, I believe. Episode 1 was free, and 2 was paid. The original plan was to keep going, but the developer said that it had gotten too complex for him to keep going. (I think that it was Choice of the Vampire.)
 

Cenobite

Whiteside Pawn 909
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Front Mission 3, for the original Playstation, had a single meaningful choice, but that choice sent you on two entirely different campaigns, working against the people who would be your allies in the other path.
Similarly, the PC game Shogo: Mobile Armor Division had two choices. One just potentially leads to some funny dialogue, but the other radically changes the last several missions of the game, and the ending.
 

Ulzgoroth

Mad Scientist
Validated User
On the surface level, yeah, it appears like an impossible numbers issue. Offer one single choice, you now have to make content for two stories from that point forward. Add a second choice, now you're building four stories of content from that point. And so on. The closer to the end the choices are, the less divergent material you have to write, of course.

But I think there's ways of viewing the problem that get around this. E.g., the Alpha Protocol solution is to use many of the same levels, but to change what happens in them, and to change the meaning of character actions. Assets can be reused even with truly divergent narrative if you write them properly and lean into the protagonist as the point of divergence.
How important this is depends a lot on what kind of assets you're looking at using.

Text and even story-writing is fairly cheap, so things that are built on that like interactive fiction can afford high branching factors relatively well. Scripting is too, so something like a Wing Commander mission (which has no real environmental assets to speak of, just re-used sprites and clips) is probably not a very big deal one way or the other either. Voice acting and custom modeling and (back in the day) FMV clips on the other hand, those are big-ticket items that you probably can't afford to produce in lots of variations.
 

Vorpeseda

Floof
Validated User
True Crime: Streets of LA had a best story path, that twice branches off if you haven't done well enough. Each separate branch has entirely new events, dialogue and levels.
 

Njorhg

Active member
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Anyone recall the original Age of Wonders' campaign? It was a fantasy strategy game that came out in 1999 and had two parallel starts, one where you're tasked by the dark elves to assassinate the reigning high elf queen, and the other which starts with the high elves just as the queen has been assassinated.

But from there the plots branched, overlapped, and towards the end of the campaign it was entirely possible for your character to have ended up at the polar opposite of where they began. The story felt especially strong because the motives and narratives changed considerably depending on where you came from. The ones fully orthogonal from your start (from dark elf to the archon-like Highmen and high elf to undead) were especially memorable, I still remember them in particular now nearly twenty years later.

Edit, all six different endings are available here if anyone is curious and doesn't mind the spoilers.
 
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manwhat

Thoroughly mediocre GM.
RPGnet Member
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Does Detroit: Become Human qualify? Although I've not played the game personally, but I've watched several Let's Plays on YouTube and it seemed to offer plenty of choice, many which had immediate as well as lasting consequences.
That's a good point, actually. There's not quite as much choice as the game appears to have (some chapters are almost entirely linear) but having three storylines with protagonists that occasionally intersect means there's a decent amount of variation, with Connor's fate probably being the most divergent depending on what else has happened throughout the game.
 

Loew

Registered User
Validated User
I'm playing Dreamfall Chapters at the moment. It claims to have a lot of branching in the storyline. Is suspect that at least some of these branches are just different ways to reach certain story points, but there are definitive ways to lose or gain allies and friends...

I think this will be a game that I play again and try different choices early on, even if they are not what I would usually chose, just to see how big the differences will be
 

petros

Registered User
Validated User
On the surface level, yeah, it appears like an impossible numbers issue. Offer one single choice, you now have to make content for two stories from that point forward. Add a second choice, now you're building four stories of content from that point. And so on. The closer to the end the choices are, the less divergent material you have to write, of course.

But I think there's ways of viewing the problem that get around this. E.g., the Alpha Protocol solution is to use many of the same levels, but to change what happens in them, and to change the meaning of character actions. Assets can be reused even with truly divergent narrative if you write them properly and lean into the protagonist as the point of divergence.
Then that's the art of it, how do you make the branches of a branching story as meaningfully different as possible while using the least amount of new material?

If they make more Black Mirror episodes like Bandersnatch, I mean if the same team takes another bite at it, I think we'll see them develop on this. Their montages were pretty on point at showing you the small differences and reminding you of the similarities in each new branch.


And on the gripping hand, are we making stuff expecting people to play it more than once? in a group? as a couple? This all influences the kind of new content you'd want for each branch.
 

Jay

Pow!
Validated User
Since we're counting single choices, the tie-in game for James Cameron's Avatar has a choice that drastically changes the story and how you play the rest of the game (around 3/4 of it.) One choice is a 3rd person sci-fi shooter with RPG elements, and the other is a melee-heavy action RPG (which reminded me a lot of the combat in Kingdoms of Amalur), based on who you side with, and each choice has a different set of maps. I only wish that the Risk inspired world domination mini-game tied in with the overall story.
 
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