Hello again, Mythcreants,
I was wondering if you have any tips for authors looking to write interactive fiction. My own sense is that it’s a whole different beast from both novels and regular RPGs.
Hey Ronald, great to hear from you again!
Assuming we’re using the same definition of interactive fiction, then I do indeed have thoughts! In my experience, interactive fiction is basically like a roleplaying campaign, except you script it entirely in advance. That has both advantages and disadvantages.
On the one hand, it means you don’t have to deal with the chaos that comes from telling a story to your group of cowriters (players) in real time. You have time to consider whether a certain choice makes sense, and when you set up an adventure hook, you don’t have to worry about PCs running in the other direction. Even better, you can always follow through on your foreshadowing! My most common regret in RPG campaigns is that I hint that something cool is going to happen, but then the story goes in another direction and the cool thing never happens.
On the other hand, you don’t have the personal energy that comes from sharing your story with players in real time. That energy helps a lot, especially when players contribute their own ideas. Standards for interactive fiction are also higher, especially if you’re charging for it. TTRPG players will accept a lot of story goofs so long as you shower their characters in candy. That effect still exists in interactive fiction and other video games, but it’s a lot less pronounced. Finally, interactive fiction requires a lot of words. Every branching path multiplies the word count, until you’re neck deep in hundreds of thousands of words.
While I can’t cover the entire genre of interactive fiction in one Q&A, I do have one major tip: the player’s choices should matter. That’s the entire point of interactive fiction, but it’s often forgotten. For example, consider Vampire: The Masquerade – Coteries of New York. It’s a really fun game where you make all kinds of exciting choices, until the end when literally none of your choices matter. Everyone gets the same ending, which is really frustrating. There’s even a moment where you have the option to use your powers, but it does nothing!
Of course, making choices matter is the main cause of interactive fiction’s high word count. If you offer the choice to kill the king or save the king, then you need two versions of the story: one where the king is alive, and one where the king is dead. But that’s what you sign up for with interactive fiction. If you don’t have the time or energy for such a big choice, then it’s fine to offer smaller ones instead.
Hope that answers your question, and good luck with your writing!