Three different paths, from start to finish. It sounds like a lot, but it’s nothing compared to the last episode of Ashen Skies. I wrote 8 totally separate paths for that, practically 8 episodes in 1, with more than 16 endings. I haven’t written anything this large so far for Fragmented, but I am excited to get into the larger, more branching, more complicated paths that make up the last half of the series. Fragmented Episode 15, “A Ghastly Affair,” is the real start of that.
Picking Up the Cliffhanger
Episode 14 left off exactly where episode 15, “A Ghastly Affair,” picks up. Since I stopped in three different places, I wanted to improve replayability by making each have important differences, or even be completely different. There are also other aspects of the player’s journey that come into play. Whether or not the player took care of themselves, for instance, keeping their lifeforce high, impacts what happens and what interactions are possible. I’ve toyed with this so far, but now the importance of lifeforce hits home.
At the same time, I didn’t want to make a low lifeforce completely detrimental. So, there are relationships to explore and characters to learn more about in those branches. Richard’s life is much more complicated than one thought, and Vivian, though a bit brash, may surprise the reader. In fact, there are heartbreaking tradeoffs that are possible, ones that hurt now but pay off toward the end of the story.
Solving the Cliffhanger
The outcome of the choices made in episode 14 is clear in each path. Marjorie had a hard choice to make. One that would impact the Peele household immensely, good or bad. Sacrifices were made by separate characters, but were they for naught? I believe each choice has its value, no matter what happens, but that does not mean that the characters will agree. That they won’t struggle. That there will not be consequences.
What excites me most about this episode is how the outcomes may be controversial for some. I refuse to shy away from the path my characters lead me, no matter how difficult it may be. Life is not easy, so why should fiction be polished as such? Conflict arises, and although characters may accept what’s happened, they will not have total peace with it. It will linger. Marjorie’s feelings about what she did will eat away at times, even if she feels it was ultimately right. After all, her decision was not a long, well-thought one. It was quick, an immediate knee-jerk to solve the suffering she saw.
While writing this episode, I realized that I was missing so much of the “under the hood” type of tracking and branching I used in Ashen Skies. Yes, I’m tracking how many people Marjorie kills, the creatures she meets, and her relationships with others, but things are about to get messy. Also, they’re leading into the end, an end that, if I want to create variety and multiple endings, I need to prepare better for. So, I plan to go back through earlier episodes and revamp the invisible variables that I am tracking. Everything the player does will impact how their story ends. After all, I want choices to matter, from start to finish. Not that they don’t now, but why not make it even better? Pushing yourself for improvement is fulfilling, in my humble experience.