Thanks for the really thoughtful response, John. Reflecting on what you said, I guess my approach to branching narrative depends on the nature of the game itself, in two dimensions:
- RPG versus pure narrative: There are probably better terms for this, but it makes a difference to me whether the “purpose” of the game is to build and inhabit a character or party (RPG), or to tell a story (most interactive fiction). In the case of IF, it’s often true, as you said, that the expectation is that the player will experience all (or at least many) paths. In a recent indie game, there’s a hidden ending that’s only revealed if you attempt to replay, which I would’ve missed entirely if I hadn’t read about it. With RPGs, I like to take the premise at face value—that I am Lady So-and-So of the Such-and-Such and I’m going on this adventure. Replaying that style of game feels to me like breaking that illusion.
- Length & duration: Replaying a sprawling AAA game is another 60 hour investment, whereas most narrative/experimental games are far shorter. When I thought about it, I realized I did replay some RPG-ish games more than once (the ChoiceScript system is good at creating these; I enjoyed and replayed Scarlet Sails). So there’s both the fact that I’m lazy and more apt to replay a short game anyway, but also that a short RPG implies less investment in any one character, and so less fourth wall to break.
I’m intrigued by your examples of games that don’t truly reveal themselves until you’ve completed all the paths. Looking forward to exploring those!