Today I want to talk about a very particular topic for people like me making very complex, branching games with multiple endings.
As you know if you ever played any of my games (or of other developers making branching games) the story changes greatly based on your choices and usually ends in many different ways.
Now if the only point was the ending, things wouldn’t be even too bad. In path A, you become a King. In path B, you are a traveling merchant. And so on. The main issue is when the choices you take on a path don’t impact only your own character, but other recurring characters or worse, the entire world!!
Planet Stronghold 2 was particularly difficult to write (I’d say it was frakking hard!) because while the first title had only one possible ending, as I was writing the sequel I still had to take into account not just “who your romanced”, but who you sided with as well.
This is not a spoiler since it happens in the first game which was out… 9 years ago! In summary you could remain loyal to empire or become a rebel and side with the aliens. This, as you can imagine, changes everything. In every single scene you write, you need to be careful. You cannot for example write “I took refuge in an alien camp” if you were loyal to the empire. Or you can’t write “our aliens allies”. And so on.
So when an ending of a game reflects also a series of game-changing choices, things become really really complex. Thank god I don’t have to worry about Planet Stronghold 3 for now (and maybe it will never happen) but in that case, I would simply need to pick a “canon ending”.
Canon ending isn’t necessarily the only ending
I know it sounds weird, but it’s true. Unless it’s about the game world, in that case yes (otherwise would be impossible to write the story) if it’s about single characters romances/relationship, then all it’s possible.
Going more into details: as you know, you can romance many people in my games, let’s take for example Loren. If you play as Elenor, at the same time you could have romanced Karen, or Amukiki, or Mesphit, or any other love interest. Those romances/characters have no big impact to the game world (Karen was the Queen yes, but Loren would replace her no matter what happens in the end).
So, only because you played with a specific romance, doens’t mean that it was the only outcome possible! In Planet Stronghold 2 I offered different starting points for Tom and Michelle, depending on which faction you sided with (Empire/Rebels) in the first game. If you were a Rebel, Michelle goes away to work as bartender in some Marada settlement (but she’ll be back for you! <3) while if you were loyal to Empire she stays with you at the colony. And the opposite is true for Tom, going to colony Zero-Two if you were loyal and staying with you if you were rebel.
Both things are true at the same time, because this is the nature of branching stories. In a way it’s like the parallel universes theory: all paths exists, overlapping each other. In my case, as long as they don’t break irremediably the story!
In summary all my ramblings are to make a simple point: if in one ending out of 10 or more, a secondary character dies, or you romance someone or any other minor non-world breaking event happens, it doens’t mean that it’s true for all possible different paths.
At the same time it’s extremely hard to write sequels for such games unless you pick a “canon ending”, and it’s even more difficult if you want to allow players to tweak the starting conditions (like I did with Planet Stronghold 2!). Because of this, I am probably not going to do it again anymore, it’s really too complex and can lead to easy plot holes! So I’m definitely going to pick an ending and go with the canon ending in future, PS2 was an exception, but it turned out to be a much bigger effort than I could ever have imagined.