What I've always struggled with when it comes to multiple choice text adventures, as opposed to input types, is how you make a game where a player's journey is heavily influenced by their decisions. In other words, making their choices matter .
The basic idea of most adventure games is to get from point A to point B without dying, but if all we can do as game makers is give the player several different routes to point B, then it essentially matters not what choices they make.
I want to avoid the obvious 'Door A leads to safety, but Door B leads to death' format, because I think killing players is largely unpopular.
Any tips or advice on how to successfully and effectively give players choices that really matter, would be very much appreciated.
In a Bioware game most choices you make don't matter past the next sentence or two, and are mostly about what kind of attitude you're taking toward what someone says. They don't matter in the sense that you get one of 4096 endings at the end, but they put you in the seat of the character. They make the person on screen feel like you because everything they're saying is how you're feeling, and makes you feel like you're in that game world, talking to these people, living this story. Do those choices not matter?
What about in a conversation where you choose what topics to talk about. This tailers that conversation to the content the player is interested in and makes the experience more engaging as a result. They don't have to read about two people talking about whale hunting if archery is more interesting to them. Do those choices not really matter?
The game I'm working on right now in Twine has a first person narration with a pre-defined character. She thinks through everything that's happening and presents the choices she could possibly take. The process of picking which one she eventually does is a process less about picking an ending but learning about who this woman is through the kind of things she thinks she should do. I think that process matters.
The best example though, by far, I think is the Inkle game 80 Days. You try to travel around the world in 80 Days by choosing your own route. Each city you visit has its own little micro-story in the format of interactive fiction. You interact with people and make choices, but ultimately you leave the consequences of those choices behind when you leave. Otherwise, your main choice is choosing where to go next. The route matters because it gives you the experience of strategizing and choosing priorities: do I try to go fast with risks or slow and safe? Do I choose to go somewhere because it's a benefit or because I really want to visit? In the end, even though the choices in the cities in regards to these small stories don't matter in a consequence sense, they still build up this narrative on what happened to you on your trip around the world. Something to think about, I think.
the activities or the narrative
When that proves too difficult, I turn to this as an outlet.
I hasten to add, though, that this is no suggestion that writing a good GYAG is by any means simple.
Checkout this one for an example.
Over time you'll build up a set of tools you're comfortable with for your preferred story format. In the meantime, plan your adventures carefully to keep your learning curve manageable. KISS is your friend here - look for ways to do things simply. You're writing a story, not a computer program.
I'd even say that learning new things and seeing the system do what you want it to do is actually a pretty nice motivation, at least for me.
However, this is quite difficult to do... simply because it takes so much time. There's a reason AAA studios create choice-based games that really have little to no effect on the world and rather just change the ending slightly - it would take forever and a day to make 1000 changes for each decision you made, or otherwise give a large impact to every decision. I am sure you could imagine it in Twine as well: links going everywhere on your passage web. It'd be insane to manage.
The other option is make the player care about the decision they made, regardless of its physical effect on the world. If they had to choose between shooting a shopkeeper and shooting some friendly hobo, both of which you met ~5 minutes ago and know basically nothing about and will never meet again... your choice doesn't really matter (even if the author is trying to lure you in with a "well the was really nice so you should feel bad, but you'll lose access to that store if you choose the shopkeeper."). So instead you need to build up a situation in which the player cares about the results, because they've developed a real relationship with the hobo or shopkeeper over the course of that story/game segment or even the entire thing.
One final, unrelated point is I would suggest thinking really hard on the results of a choice you want to create impact for, and make it a natural choice for the player and not a economic one. What I mean is... with most games that have an "interactive story" (think Mass Effect, Witcher, etc) the player gets roped/forced into making a decision not based upon their own personal choice or their character's RP choice, but rather which choice will net them the best results. Players usually want to win, so they pick the choice that will get them the alignment points of their preferred playthrough and the one with the biggest gold/reward payout.
Therefore I suggest you dish out results that are at least semi-logical and not overly punishing for choosing the "wrong" choice (otherwise the player, instead of thinking about what they would do, thinks "Hm, what is the dev getting at here? What choice do they want me to make? How have similar decisions in the past resulted?"... or they just save and reload if the result isn't to their liking).
I must admit I've lost a lot of my enthusiasm. Before finding Twine I'd been using Quest to build parser-based text adventures, so Twine felt very simple and I really thought I'd be able to get a lot further with my projects.
However, if anything, Twine's UI is proving to be even more complex than Quest's, and the tangle of passages that are growing on my grid are very off-putting. I have link lines stretching everywhere, crossing over each other, and it's getting very difficult to see what's what. I know I can reposition the passages by dragging them, but that only works for so long. Eventually it becomes impossible to avoid lines crossing.
I'm my own worst enemy, really, insisting on location's having two descriptions, just in case the player visits them twice. I know I can remove this as an option, but it seems illogical to prevent a player going back and forth.
I think in truth, my heart is with parser-based adventures, and I'm trying to make Twine's gamebook style play like one of those, for which it was never intended.
For example, the starting scenes in my latest tale:
Intro (1 passage)
Meeting Balthesar (4 passages)
Gathering your equipment (8 passages)
Learning spells (6 passages)
Map Room (1 passage)
Examining the bag (5 passages, scene reused twice later in the story)
Encounter with Balthesar (3 passages, reused once)
Meeting with Telmir (2 passages)
Yanduke Village (4 passages)
The White Wyrm (4 passages)
Climbing the Tolman valley (4 passages)
Adds up, but each scene has a distinct purpose and is as small or big as it needs to be. Think about what goes into each scene. If it doesn't contribute to the story (even as a deliberate red herring), don't waste your time coding it.
I'll typically block the adventure out using 1 passage per scene, just giving a scene synopsis. This lets me work on the overall flow and some of the details before I start fleshing out the scenes in greater detail.