Under the Hood: Decision Loops & Funnels

Time for a behind the scenes look at gamebook mechanics. I’m going to reveal some of the methods to my madness and perhaps answer a question or two. Follow me, if you will, under the hood.

Decision Loops

Q: I found a decision loop!
A: Good for you. Also, that’s not a question. But seriously? I give you the power to explore the multiverse, to leap across parallel universes during the zombie apocalypse, and you use it to replay two decisions back-to-back on an endless loop? Real cool…

The above is taken from the INFECTED FAQs and represents a complaint I hear each time I release a new Click Your Poison book. Someone thinks they found an “error” because you can walk into the same room and have the same exact conversation multiple times.

Problem is…this isn’t a problem. It’s a necessary evil. At least if you enjoy a certain level of autonomy in your gamebooks.

“What gives? She keeps saying the same response each time I click the talk button! I found an error!”

Game designers have run into this since the very beginning. When Mario goes down a pipe, the room inside looks the same whether it’s his first or fiftieth journey. Those of us who grew up with SNES RPGs just accepted this as a limitation of the system, and really it’s no different in an interactive book.

It can seem odd, for sure, but it’s the only way to not have my page counts approach infinity while still giving you freedom of movement.

I would rather give you the option to, say, explore a hotel in whatever order you choose, knowing that in these separate rooms you might learn something new, but not something that would change the outcome of the conversation you’ll have the next room over. Once you’ve finished your conversations, you’re free to move on.

It ends up looking something like this in my flowcharts:

decision loop
Theoretically, you could make this your personal Hotel California and spend the rest of your life here. But why would you?


All roads lead to Rome, especially when you’re reading interactive fiction about Roman conquests. The point here, is that these books are still stories, and though they have 50-100 ways of ending, you have to get there somehow.

“Wait…you’re telling me I can’t just barge into the castle before I catch up to the game’s intended storyline? That’s bull$#!%”

That’s where funnels come in.

Funnels are where disparate storylines rejoin, giving you multiple ways to get from point A to point B. This was especially important in PATHOGENS, where the characters needed to end up just like you meet them in INFECTED. Sims has to meet Cooper. How that happens can occur multiple ways, but the outcome must be the same.

Here’s what it looks like in my flowcharts:

Huh. So it really does roll downhill…

I get that this can seem like you don’t have much choice in the story. So I try to make things unique where I can. A certain character needs to die? Fine. But let’s make the ways in which it can happen fun and interesting.

All roads might lead to Rome, but those roads can be yellow-brick, a winding maze, or fraught with thieving brigands. You pick which path to take.

Thanks for reading! What do YOU think? Fun to see under the hood? Let down after seeing the man behind the curtain? Or just disgusted by my constant use of mixed metaphors?

Leave me a comment below, and don’t forget to share and subscribe!

Behind the Scenes: SUPERPOWERED Cover

This week I cracked the 100k word milestone on the third Click Your Poison book, SUPERPOWERED. It’s happening, and soon, but every book needs a cover first.

I’m happy to announce a partnership with Brian Silveira. He’s an extremely talented comic artist, and he’s gracious enough to take a break from working on an original graphic novel to jump in and work for me. I’m crazy excited. Care to see why?

Check out our current development

Welcome to Mercury City, the metropolis where you live and work. Your home.


Here you’ll get 1 of 3 superpowers when you’re in an experiment gone awry. The other two test-subjects — will they be your allies or your sworn enemies?


Brian and I decided to give the cover a comic-book feel, even though it’s an illustration-free interactive novel.

How about some character detail?

Diamond — One of the other test subjects, Catherine Woodall, once she receives miraculous super-strength and near-indestructible levels of damage resistance.


She wears a tight, midriff-exposing black t-shirt emblazoned with a playing-card-suit red diamond logo, fingerless gloves, and black yoga pants tucked into crimson-red boots. Her face is concealed behind a red domino mask, but as she smashes through the security doors and rushes into the bank, there can be little doubt in your mind as to who this superpowered woman truly is.”

Dorian White — Subject Nick Dorian, imbued with techno-genius, Nick makes his own mechanized armor.


Computer, boot up White Ranger sequence. Prepare for Stark battle-mode.” “Dorian White voice recognition accepted. Beginning Techno-zord protocol,” a disembodied voice with a filtered, British accent replies. A panel behind one of the walls opens to reveal an enormous, ten-foot tall mechanized suit. It’s glittering white, with the sheen of a brand new sports car. Nick climbs inside and the armored computer closes around him, booting up. The limbs move as part of a systems check, and two more arms swing out over the shoulders—though these prove to be more cannons and less appendages. “All systems online,” a flitered, robo-Nick says. “Let’s go kick some ass.”

DinoSkin Mark IV — next generation bodyarmor. When you’re the flying-telekinetic, you can find this suit.


“Too expensive to be put into combat on a mass scale, but nothing else comes close. Lightweight, breathable, and incredibly durable. The scaling provides multilayer protection against gunshots or knife attack. Go ahead, touch it.” The material stretches when you tug at it, but it’s coarse to the touch. Droakam raps his knuckles against the mannequin’s torso. “A reinforced plate on the chest and spine provide added shock protection against explosives. But the best part? You should still be able to fly around in this thing because it’s so lightweight.” “Maybe your superhero name could be Terror-dactyl,” Nick snarks.

 What’s next?


There are dozens of variations on costumed characters/personas in the book, so this is just a sampling for the cover. And, as you can see, the cover art is still a work in progress. I’ll definitely post more updates as Brian continues to work, so don’t forget to subscribe! (little box over there on the left, where you’ll never find any spam).

What do YOU think? Are you getting excited? Ready to save the world? Or perhaps enslave it…? Let me know in the comments at the bottom!