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?

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