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The Last Birdling: Transparency with decision trees

InvertMouse

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On The Last Birdling’s website, I noted the story will feature 21 decisions and 5 endings. Today, I would like to provide transparency on what that means, and this is also a chance to discuss about the topic in general.

The Last Birdling represents all the lessons I have learned in the past 5 years as InvertMouse. By lessons, I of course really mean mistakes. Some games from my portfolio were kinetic, while others had different decision tree systems.

Here is the approach I used in Cursed Sight:

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Note: Images are from early scenes and not actual endings.

Every decision is vital and leads down vastly different paths. This is the ideal approach on paper, but in reality, it can rapidly result in scope creep:

T9Dc9Kcl.jpg

While this method can spiral into a production disaster, it is manageable if the branches are cut off early enough. In Cursed Sight, they were trimmed too early in retrospect. As my experience grows, I would like to explore this system again and produce larger scaled titles.

To avoid scope creep, I went with this awful style for Without Within:

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Every choice is a trap that leads to a bad ending. I tried to show one wrong decision can destroy your dream, but if it results in a poor experience, nothing can excuse that.

Many games boast about having x number of endings. 10 endings, 20 endings, 30 endings. Most of the time, they are usually quick bad ends like in Without Within. It is easy to misinterpret and end up disappointed as a player.

On The Last Birdling’s website, you will see this decision tree diagram:

LKllbECl.jpg

The diagram lets gamers know most of the story is linear, and it branches into five different endings during the final scene. This approach allows me to respect the players’ time and not sink resources on fluff branches.

Let’s zoom in on one of the branches:

5JhfSAkl.jpg

Whenever you encounter a decision point, there is an opportunity to obtain a “feather” for Bimonia or Tayo. These feathers are counted at the end to determine your ending. Whenever you collect a feather, you will see a marker appear on screen:

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Decision points will lead to different events, but these paths will always merge back into the main narrative. On top of this system, references are peppered throughout the script to acknowledge previous choices you have made.

When we play visual novels, we often want to know which path we are heading into. Virtue’s Last Reward, for instance, featured a flowchart system that would benefit most titles. In the past, games have obscure secrets so companies can sell strategy guides. Those days may be behind us, so we want to give players as much control as possible.

In The Last Birdling, gamers can open this progress tracker:

pBmqy93l.jpg

Through this screen, you can see which endings you have obtained, how many feathers you must collect for each one, and also how many feathers you can collected so far. This progress tracker allows you to see every ending without the need for a guide.

Players are especially savvy these days. I often think in terms of code rather than the stunning graphics on my screen, and I know there are many like me. If most of your endings are in fact instant deaths, should you boast about it? If your decisions mean nothing in the end, let’s be transparent.

Thank you for reading!



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