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In my game, the player may run into deadends in the story, which causes the game to end prematurely. This can range from the player simply getting killed, another important character in the story getting killed or an important event happening or not happening. Sometimes, you might be in chapter 5 and realize you need to do something differently in chapter 2 to progress in the game, otherwise you can't continue to chapter 6.

Thankfully, I have a save system in place that allows the player to easily go back to specific points in the story without having to replay the whole game. If a player, for example, wants to go back to the point in chapter 2, where their character crosses a bridge, they can. When they return there, they also get a quick recap of what happened up until that point. This should allow the player to clearly separate what happened before this point and what they remember to have happened after this point, as what happens afterwards may turn out to be very different depending on what they do differently this time around.

Remembering what happened in other playthroughs is still important. Just because the story plays out differently, doesn't mean that other elements don't exist anymore. That gang you managed to avoid in your current playthrough? Yeah, they are still in the place you avoided going to, they might just get their hands on another unfortunate victim instead, drastically changing what happens in later chapters.

I am unsure if this would cause confusion for the player or get too complicated to keep up with over time. The whole point of the game is to go through many paths and find the right one, while finding out more info from playing all the different paths and putting the pieces together based on knowledge the character shouldn't have at this point, because the game keeps resetting to an earlier state. Could this be too much for the player to keep up with? What can I do to make this a comprehensible experience (such as the recaps I mentioned)?

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    It is difficult to tell whether a particular change of difficulty level is good or bad without beta-testing. Generally, you may envision your game as "easy" (only quick dead-ends) or "hard" (user may have to spend some time before realizing that it's a dead end). – Alexander May 14 '18 at 18:39
  • You'll want to research other games that have similar story telling. Siren: Blood Curse comes to mind. – Harabeck May 14 '18 at 21:57
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Maybe you could use some form of rewind technique, summarizing all the (bigger) choices the player didn't do when jumping back to an earlier point. Unfortunately, while that's easy to show when rewinding a movie, narratively I have no idea how to describe that.

Maybe, instead of directly loading a save game, the player could jump back branching point by branching point until they reach the point where they want to change.

Going forward through the game, the player will always get the usual two choices (or however many options each branch has), but when they go back through time, they get presented with a third option to undo their previous choice.

Stepping backwards through each choice would then be a good summary of what they did that, in the new play-through, they haven't done yet. Unfortunately, this only really works if there are very few branching points, and even then sounds like it could get annoying quickly.

Alternatively, if you have a visual representation of save states, you could display a summary of the situation when hovering over a save game (sorted chronologically, and probably grouped by chapter). This has the advantage that it makes jumping back to a long ago point very quick, but still leaves it up to the player to view each branching point.

In addition, you could display a summary of the player actions when skipping an entire chapter, so undoing a choice from way-back becomes more convenient.

As you can see, the solution might lie in UI or game design rather than narrative itself, so you might also consider asking on https://gamedev.stackexchange.com/

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    I've seen this done where all the story states you've experienced are presented in a tree format, and you can jump to any completed one. Of course, that could get very complex if the story branches enough times. – Chris Sunami May 14 '18 at 21:16
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    @ChrisSunami Do you have any example games? Would be very interesting to see how some of the games implemented such a feature. – noClue May 15 '18 at 12:55
  • @noClue - I think the later games in the "Henry Stickmin" series do this. – Chris Sunami May 15 '18 at 13:25
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My gaming experience is with Bioware games. In those games, choices you make significantly affect the way the game ends. Consequently, it is quite common to play multiple playthroughs to achieve the end you want, or to return to an earlier savepoint and tweak choices - that is, doing manually what you offer as an actual game mechanic (which I think is really interesting).

Bioware offer great stories, and my own gaming style is very story-oriented. However, I do not have the leisure to play every day, or even every week. Consequently, when I rollback to an earlier savepoint, I don't always remember what I've already done, which conversations I've already had, sometimes - what choices I have made on this particular gamethrough.

If you make going back to previous choices an integral part of your game mechanic, you must remember some players would be like me - committed to exploring every possibility, every nook and crevice of the game, but taking a looong time to do it. Remembering everything is not feasible, particularly if you can go changing decisions back and forth - one's got to remember which choice one made this time.

Then you have another kind of players: those who pay only peripheral attention to the story, unless you flash a neon sign that says "this is important" before them. Once they find out something in the past was important, a reminder of what happened would be useful for them too.

Of course, if you highlight the particular choices that are important for gameplay, that makes other choices become boring, irrelevant. Which is boring in terms of storytelling, it reduces your player's commitment to the story. And if your reminders are too blatant, that would become tiresome to players who plough through the whole game in a short time.

A solution I see is expending on the Bioware codex mechanic: all kind of information you find in Bioware games (character bios, letters between NPCs, in-game stories, technical manuals of spaceships etc.) go into an array of text files - codex files, which the player can browse at their leisure. Why not make such a file (text, pictures, whatever) that records briefly everything the player has done this time around, and gets updated with every new choice made? Then, if a player remembers - good for them, this isn't distracting. If the player doesn't remember, they can go and check.

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There are players for whom this structure, and the challenges it poses, might be the whole attraction of the game. If you want to cater to those kind of players, I think you just need to work to make it clear early on that this will be the structure of the game. You might do that by making sure the very first path the player chooses leads to a (very short) deadend, one that they can avoid with the information they learn on the deadend.

For instance, in order to get to any of the main part of the game, you have to pass a door with a password, but you only learn the password right before dying. That teaches the player to keep notes on things they learn because they might have to apply them to another pathway.

I have seen some branching structure games like this set up so that you can jump at will to any state you've already experienced (presented in a branching structure on a select page). That might make the game dramatically easier, however, which is good if you want it to be more of an interactive fiction experience, but not if you actually want people to play through certain parts of the game multiple times.

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I'm not a gamer but still, I've studied psychology and so I have two comments:

1 - Hardcore gamers who play games like this generally like to be challenged on many levels simultaneously and one of them is about their memory. If anything, introduce more complexity so that the challenge is deeper. If a gamer can remember what they have experienced on all the run throughs of the game then they are winning. And everyone wants to be a winner, right?

2 - If you want to cater for the more casual gamer and still give them a comprehensive experience then consider a system of inobtrusive icons in the sidebar, each one indicating an part of the game that they have experienced. You could have (space permitting) a 'this run through' set of icons and a 'all runs through' set. Consider also allowing the gamer to collect something at every part of the game as reinforcement and incentive. Perhaps to complete the game they are required to have a full set.

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