My third post about interactive fiction, we now take a closer look at ChoiceScript! This is the creation of the talented team at Choice of Games, the leaders of the new wave of popular IF. I first discovered them when some of their games became available on Steam, and they were quite a hit! Choice of Games (lets abbreviate that to CoG) produces finely written, narrative-focused games that feel a little bit like the old choose-your-own-adventure books. They read almost like novels, with different choices presented at the end of the text (or for each page). The writers at CoG include many published authors, and they all have at least some experience in writing top-notch IF.
What indisputably puts CoG titles in the “games” camp is the ability to program stats, skills, or qualities into the character that you play. This feature has been implemented in different ways for many of the games I’ve tried. Most of them have a basic set of abilities that are tied closely to the game’s world. In Choice of Broadsides for example (certainly one of the best), you have a range of skills including Sailing, Gunnery, Tact, and Honor. Another of the most popular and well-reviewed titles is the Heroes Rise Trilogy, which uses this subsystem to measure the strength of your relationships and connections to powerful groups, as well as your ability to be a badass superhero. Unlike Storynexus, these abilities are not used in contests of chance (Storynexus games are like rolling dice). You make an investment in a certain ability, and it opens up new paths in your story. Consistency is almost always rewarded.
I’ve played a lot of CoG titles, and I think they’re worth a little more space for reviews than I gave for other the other IF programs. So, without further ado –
- Choice of Broadsides (Adam Strong-Morse, Heather Albano, Dan Fabulich)- As I mentioned before, this is one of the best, and I have enjoyed several play-throughs. It’s an alternate history tale of naval adventure and intrigue. You are the commander of a ship in the navy of a thinly-disguised United Kingdom. The game follows you over the course of years as you rise through the ranks, and battle the cunning naval officers of “Gaul”. For a fun twist, try playing the game as a female, and see the roles reverse as you join your fellow ladies of the sea in defense of the matriarchal Queendom of Albion.
- Choice of Romance: Affairs of the Court (Heather Albano and Adam Strong-Morse) – This one is a full trilogy, and it’s also one of my favorites. Similar to Broadsides, it takes place in a fantasy setting that is very much like Western Europe (in this case Spain). It also features magic, although it’s pretty low-key and serves the plot well. The characters are well-written and complex, and the intricacy of court life and politics will keep you fully engaged (hopefully, if not, beware the guillotine). I also found myself very invested emotionally in my character, in a way that I didn’t always find with other CoG games (I guess the title says it all).
- Creatures Such as We (Lynnea Glasser) – This is one that really stands apart from the rest of CoG’s milieu. You are a tour-guide working at a base on the Moon. You have to entertain a group of game designers as they visit for a special retreat. This is game has a real philosophical bent, and the fun comes from getting to know your clients and figuring out how they tick (and falling in love with at least one of them). There are plenty of interesting dialogues involving games, media, the relationship between player, game, designer, and what one owes to the other. By the end I was thinking deeply on subjects I had never really given much thought to before. And I was impressed with the writer’s open-minded approach to subjects like gender identity and trans issues. This is one of the few games you’ll find that includes a diverse range of genders available during character creation, although I wished it had a bigger effect on the story.
- Choice of the Vampire (Jason Stevan Hill) – I’m including this one, even though I didn’t like it as much as I thought I would. I was drawn to it because I’m a big fan of Vampire: the Masquerade, and this story was described as being heavy on intrigue and politics. It has great mood and atmosphere, and the scope is epic (you live a vampire’s un-life for nearly 100 years). The problem I had with it was the same problem that was endemic to many VtM campaigns: you often feel like your choices don’t matter, and there’s nothing you can do to affect the story. I finished the game feeling like a complete screw-up of a vampire, and no matter how many times I replayed it, it didn’t get much better. Still, I enjoyed it overall. The sequel was, unfortunately, even more disappointing.
Honorable mention goes to: Psy-High (the first one I tried), the Heroes Rise Trilogy, and Tin Star. Most of these games you can at least demo on the website (some of them might be free). Try them out! If you have a tablet or even a smartphone, there’s nothing better than curling up with one of these games, and walking the many paths.
See you next time!
Image is Creative Commons, courtesy of James Vaughan