A Twine/CYOA style poll/discussion: explicit or implicit decisions?

Greetings and salutations. To rephrase the thread title: when playing/reading a CYOA story, particularly one made in Twine, do you prefer links to new passages (decisions) to be explicitly described to the reader, or left a bit more subtle and implicit?

I wrote up a sample paragraph to provide examples.

Here is the “explicit” example:

And the “implicit” example:

Here is a Strawpoll, so that I can have some data (even from lurkers) on the matter: Do you prefer "explicit" or "implicit" decisions in a Twine-based CYOA... - Online Poll - StrawPoll

As a writer, I favor “implicit”, but of course I do; that’s easier to write. I know what the results of a decision will be, and besides, I feel that having a block of decisions trailing the text disturbs the flow of the writing. But I’m a snob with literary aspirations, so maybe the typical reader doesn’t care.

I’m curious about the community’s thoughts.

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For what it’s worth, I have to answer your question with a question - do you have the “go back” button implemented?

Because if it is, the implicit option flows better - but the actual implications of some of those choices can be missed, and people don’t like it if they click on something thinking that they’re doing one thing and it turns out that choice actually meant something completely different. (The example which most immediately springs to mind is in Wolf Among Us by Telltale Games, which uses the slang term “glass him” as an option when talking to somebody in a serious scene at a bar - people unfamiliar with it thought it meant “buy the man a glass of booze,” when it means “hit him in the face with a glass.”)

If you don’t allow for players to go back and choose differently based upon what actually follows from the choice taken, the explicit option will result in less annoyance on the players’ side by telling them EXACTLY what each link means in the narrative.


do you have the “go back” button implemented?

I’m such a brainlet dilettante that I don’t know how to disable it, though I have noticed that annoying “feature” in other works. I wouldn’t disable it in anything I made.

glass him

I, too, fell victim to that. I guess I just haven’t been in enough bar fights. SEASON 2 FUCKING WHEN AAAAHHHH
Ahem. I’m aware of that type of ambiguous phrasing, especially colloquialisms, as a possible problem with the implicit style, which I tried to incorporate into my examples (ie, “cradling” acting as a hint that the teasing would specifically be about a foodbaby).
Still, diligent editing (and “beta reading”) could probably catch these sorts of problems, if a writer were to insist on implicit decisions.


Personally, I prefer it when all the choices are laid out in front of me in an orderly fashion after the passage I’m supposed to read, rather than me having to read through the passage once and then read through it again (possibly multiple times) to determine which blue link I should click on. It also hearkens back to the original format of choose your own adventure stories where you literally had to turn to a different page of the depending on which choice you made. “If you want to do this, turn to page 69, if you want your character to do this, turn to page 420”

There’s also the matter of the LA Noire/Bioware problem of making a choice and having your character do something wildly different from what you expected like TheWell-Being mentioned. What is supposed to happen when I click “candlelight dances” or “two-thirds empty”? Why does clicking “cradling her overstuffed gut” make me tease her rather than just give her a sensual belly rub?

I also don’t like the “wikipedia” look of the implicit example from an aesthetic viewpoint as well. It makes me feel like I should be opening a bunch of tabs on TV Tropes or something.

I understand how it might feel more… poetic (Is that the word I want?) to be able to just click on a word in the story and have it take you to a related passage. I myself have seen it done well in quite a few Twine games, the best example I can think of are those are made to play like old school “Thy Dungeonman” text adventures where you click on the words to go “North, South or Dennis” or be able to click on “Ye Flask” in order to try and get it, rather than a CYOA Story where you’re meant to make decisions that you don’t have all the info on (if you’re not cheating and reading to the end that is). Hmm… the text adventures might actually be a bad example because even those games tend to add choices at the bottom of the page for stuff like Inventory items and checking your statistics.

The point is that nothing breaks a user out of an interactive experience faster than having to fight with a User interface, unless an obtrusive interface is the point, like QWOP or something. And sometimes the best way to make a UI element unobtrusive is to keep it simple and visually distinct from the rest of the game. I can’t read and immerse myself the story if I’m stopping at each blue word to figure out what’s gonna happen if I click it.

Actually now that I think of it, what the implicit example really reminds me of are those old MySpace/Ebaumsworld era websites from the 90’s where they just dumped text and pictures all over the screen without any concern for spacing and placement because they had no idea how to format it for every single monitor and resolution at the time. It’s like the difference between reading an article with properly spaced paragraphs for each thought and getting that one email from someone who grew up before the internet that wrote everything that happened to them last month in one solid wall of text in a justified font.


The way I would usually read implicit decisions like those would be seeing optional scenes that may affect the outcome of the overall interaction, so you could choose one of those implicit decisions that changes some opinion/statistic/whatever then move onto the next scene with an explicit decision at the bottom. Progressing through the story with options partway through a paragraph isn’t immediately obvious that you’re choosing from a set of diverging paths.

Then there’s the ambiguity of those decisions, you need some pretty clever writing to both fit the story and convey what would happen if you clicked on that section of text. For example, I would never have guessed that “candlelight dances” would equal “compliment her beauty”, or that “she hesitates” is code for “take her fork and commence force feeding”. Not only is it easer for the user to understand clearly written options, it’s easier on the developer too as you don’t have to constantly brainstorm how to word every choice perfectly.


Sometimes explicit decisions just reveal too much, and while that’s good for transparency and makes the player absolutely sure what they’re choosing, I can’t help but love how implicit choices make you think about it more. Especially in your example, the highlight on “She hesitates” is probably the most effective of the ones shown. It’s vague enough not to reveal what clicking it will do, but the phrase itself is ingrained in the fetish enough that you can make a pretty good guess, and the anticipation of what the choice actually is can be very effective from a reader’s perspective.

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I’m going to say it depends a lot.

Many Twine games use the “implicit” style for revealing additional information or a picture, especially where the linked text is a noun or an adjective-noun phrase. So for example if I clicked on “her bovine bust” I’d typically expect the paragraph to change (or another paragraph added) to detail it more, or reveal an image of same. It’s just part of the typical Twine UI experience. I wouldn’t expect it to advance to another passage.

You can’t really mix an implicit-link style with implicit reveals. So that’s a point against.

Another reason for not doing it is accessibility: devs choose colours for links that can be hard to read, especially against a background if the player has some kind of colour deficiency. Keeping the choice links at the end at least makes it clear what they are and avoids having to hunt for them (and potentially miss some).

Explicit is also closer to, and nostalgic of, traditional interactive fiction - just with the parse prompt replaced by a list. Obviously guess-the-verb was/is an issue with those, but I’d hate to see that frustration replaced with find-the-link (or guess what it leads to).

Having said that, I’d like to see the implicit style done well. Unfortunately, trying to force passage links into the text usually ends up in the text reading awkwardly.


My take: Use implicit-style for just looking, and explicit for doing. So, if you’re using implicit, the version of the passage the player first sees should be short and to the point, but also mention all the things the player might want to hear more about, so they can click on what they’re interested in.

But they should feel free to do that, so stuff that can have an effect on the state of things, especially if it causes time to pass or goes to the next part of the story, that should look like a choice.

If this sounds like too much work, then pick a inking style and use it for everything.

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