Branching games and canon endings

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!!

one of the MANY different scenes in Planet Stronghold 2 based on your choices

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!

Conclusions

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.

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10 Responses to Branching games and canon endings

  1. Missy says:

    I’m not positive but I think for the game Infamous the developer looked at the player data and went with what the majority of players went for. I think for the sequel he wanted the evil ending to be canon but after seeing that 80% of players didn’t go that way he decided to go with the player data but was disappointed because it wasn’t what he originally intended?

    I can see a case for either going with data and for not. People are probably going to complain either way but in a game with multiple endings really every plot point can’t be canon. People should understand that. I’d say will understand but I know for the dragon age comics people complained that THEIR playthrough canon wasn’t the one the comic used even though it’s ridiculous to expect it to be.

    • admin says:

      That’s an interesting approach indeed, in my case wouldn’t be possible since the game is not online, though I guess I could use the Steam achievement stats as a good way to measure it. However I think it’s the devs/creators that should pick the ending they prefer, since after all it’s their job to create the next chapter and if they’re not motivated / happy with the choice they won’t do a good job in any case 😛

  2. Bitow says:

    Another option I was thinking for a “canon ending” is choose whatever it is you think it will make a better story, and as for the romance options from the first game, and the romance options from the first still be avaiable for the second game (if it does not mess the story up of course) and make reasons for them to not be together with the MC. As you mentioned Michelle from PS2, could be something like:

    “while Michelle gave hints that she wanted something more with you, she went to work in the Marada settlement to experience new things before knowing if your relationship would go further or stay as just friends”
    And then whoever wanted to romance Michelle can have their “canon ending” on PS2 in a relationship.

    But in the end it just won’t be possible to make everyone happy, and doing something you don’t like to try to make everyone happy and the result be worse for it does not seem a good deal.

    And to end, I just wanted to say that I have played all your VN that have yuri option because that is my thing, and i liked them a lot. ToA: Seasons of the wolf is my favorite VN of all times. Thanks for doing such a good work and good games!

    • admin says:

      Yes in the end is impossible to make everyone happy. I’d say that making the majority of people happy is already a good goal! 🙂

      Thanks for your nice words. More games with yuri will come in future!

  3. Dorian says:

    Will there be a chance you ever consider bringing your games back to google play or apple store? I ask only because honestly those are the only way I can play yours games

    • admin says:

      For Google no, since they banned me and warned me to never attempt submitting games even under a different account! For Apple, depends if my coder has time, but recently he’s rather busy. I wouldn’t count on my games showing up on mobile again, sorry 🙁

    • Cathryn says:

      It looks like you can still get Winter Wolves games on the Amazon App Store though! Unfortunately I don’t think you can download the Amazon store if you have an iPhone though.

  4. JustAGamingGeek says:

    This will cause a bit of a problem since this game will set expectations on what to expect from your sequels.

    Tbh as a developer myself I do believe that the effort that is put into doing something like you did with PS2 will be rewarding in the long run, it also makes your games stand out.

    By ignoring whatever is chosen in the previous game it will result in players feeling a disconnect from the continuity, it wont be their adventure anymore. Imagine going into Mass Effect 2 and everything mentioned there about the previous entry didnt match with what you did, at point it wouldnt be your Sheppard that you are playing as but a completely unknown adventure.

    Tbh I think this decision is going to bring down the quality of your sequels and harm you in the long run.

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