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StoryNexus was a system designed to create choice-based narratives that existed, and were played, completely online. In 2013, a year after launch, it went into "hibernation mode"; in 2019, Failbetter prevented the creation of new stories, and in 2020 it removed all small and unpublished stories from their servers and disabled the authoring tools, preventing any further alterations to be made to game worlds. As of 2022, some of these large remaining stories were still playable, in a text-only format.
StoryNexus differed from most choice-based authoring systems in allowing an extensive list of variables (called qualities) to affect play, and providing a built-in card-drawing mechanism to add randomness to the story experience. The system allowed live editing, a monetization system, and the ability for authors to alter the CSS of their game and provide custom card art.
Qualities were numerical variables that could represent all manner of things within a game world, with categories affecting where they are displayed in the interface, how they behave, report to the player when they change, and what text and icons they show at different levels. Qualities might represent money, health, progress through various plot lines, consumables to trigger a storylet, or even items for the player to equip within another slot quality to affect other qualities. For example, a shiny medal quality could be equipped into a lapel slot quality, giving a bonus to a confidence quality and a penalty to the modesty quality.
Each game card, or storylet, was comprised of one Root Event with always-visible text, which commonly provided exposition for the situation presented on the card and/or an explanation of the choices to be made. Most cards then offered one or more branches, selectable choices for the player to make, each followed by results, which revealed the outcome of the choice and modified any qualities appropriately. Results could have separate default and success outcomes if the branch had a difficulty setting based on one or more of the qualities in effect, as well as optional rare default or rare success outcomes triggered based on a set percentage chance when the outcome of the difficulty challenge was success or failure.
Storylet cards could reside in any number of author-specified Decks, or be pinned to the screen to be always available. Cards could appear and disappear from the screen and from decks based on any quality requirements the author set for them, by a location selected by the author, or by setting (to change card availability without affecting the player's location). Within storylet cards, branches could be locked and un-selectable, or even entirely hidden from view, based on the current values of the player's various qualities.
StoryNexus also offered living stories, cards that could be triggered by player action, but delayed their results for a specified amount of real-world time before their effects were presented to the player via a StoryNexus alert or an email notification. These could be used for effects such as plants that take actual time to grow in-world, or correspondence the player could write and send with a real-world time delay before being answered.
Each game was controlled by refreshable actions drawn from a pool of an author-specified size between 10 and 100. Actions refreshed over time, at a rate set by the author anywhere from one action every ten minutes to one every three hours. Choosing a branch on a pinned card cost one action. Drawing from any deck of cards cost one action, dealing up to three cards (for which the player qualified) into any of three slots open on the screen, which then would not cost actions to play. Cards could be specified as transient, meaning they would disappear when and if the player no longer qualified for them, and/or sticky or discardable, to control whether the player could get rid of a card without needing to first select a branch on it. Actions paced players, keeping them from blazing through content and preventing them from grinding their qualities up to maximum level without any trade-off.
Players could restore their actions within a game without waiting for them to refresh naturally by purchasing Nex with real-world money and spending this currency for an action refresh. Authors could choose to make certain branches within a storylet only selectable if the player spent a specified amount of Nex. In general, Failbetter recommended that StoryNexus worlds be free to play, with occasional premium branches locked behind Nex costs which provided significant benefit as a reward. Authors were paid a royalty percentage of any Nex spent in their world, disbursed into a PayPal account of the author's choosing.
StoryNexus provided convenient ways to build new game content onto an existing world and keep it out of view from players (or locked but visible), while allowing the author and collaborators to beta test the content easily. The world tools also allowed an author to authorize multiple users to collaboratively edit or create content in a specific world.
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