Choice of Games have released a free web-based multiple-choice game called Choice of the Dragon. It’s basically an RPG pared down to the most meaningful choices. Imagine half-an-hour of random combat and exploration between each of the choices, and you’ve got Mass Effect or Fable.
It’s a striking design choice, which works well – the text is terse but witty, and the choices reveal character…forcing you to decide whether your dragon is cruel or merely disdainful. And the consequences of your choices play out later in the story. My only real criticism is that with such concise vignettes you have little time to develop empathy with any of the characters your dragon meets – but that may also be because you’re a dragon, who doesn’t have a whole lot of empathy anyway.
The best thing is that they are working to make the scripting language and interpreter available to anyone. It’s not just a branching tree of options, they have support for simple variables so that extra choices can be made available based on past actions, or the success of a given choice can depend on your previous experience. I hope we’ll see a whole crop of games exploring the strengths of this minimalist format – anything from intimate character dramas to epic tales of world domination. I can even imagine major games studios prototyping their plot arcs in this engine.
The interpreter has been ported to several mobile phone platforms too, so you can download Choice of the Dragon for free for your iPhone or Android phone. And finally, they have a blog discussing the finer points of creating games in this format, which is well worth a read.
So, why not go and write a game?