Working With Digital Interactive Story Software (Twine)

Last semester, I took a class where I was introduced to Twine, a free, open-source software that makes it simple to produce HTML coded interactive fiction. I didn’t have a lot of time to play around with it during the school year, so now that I’m on my break before grad school I decided to open it up and work with it again.

My homage to Supermassive and Dontnod, whose games focus heavily of the Butterfly Effect and introduced me to the concept.

I think I’ve mentioned this previously, but I have a special interest in video game writing and choice based stories. I was a huge fan of the choice based gamebooks (like Pick Your Path, Give Yourself Goosebumps, Choose Your Own Adventure, etc) when I was growing up, and then ultimately fell in love with those types of video games as well. I love Supermassive’s horror games like Until Dawn, The Dark Pictures Anthology, and their most recent release The Quarry, where the choices you make heavily influence the story, how long the game is, and which characters live. I also am obsessed with the Life is Strange series by Dontnod/Deck Nine, another series where your choices majorly impact the plot and ending. These all kind of had an influence on my decision to delve into a choice based narrative. I pay homage to them by way of the opening screen referencing the Butterfly Effect, which was a huge point of Until Dawn and the original Life is Strange game.

The game I’m producing is tentatively titled Roanoke, and is based on a short story of the same name which I wrote for the creative writing club’s Halloween literary reading when I was attending community college. The original story followed a girl and her fiancé who get lost on a hike and encounter a monster, but the Twine version will expand on that and add additional characters you can follow through the story. I am currently working with three characters whose stories can be read individually or altogether as a linear narrative where the decisions from each person will have much more effect on the others.

The instruction page I have formatted in Twine2, explaining the two game modes.

I’m excited to share some of the progress I’ve made in the short time I have been working on learning how to format the narrative and designing the game. I’m working with a very rudimentary understanding of HTML, mostly from my time using it on the NaNoWriMo YWP message boards when I was 13-15 years old. Twine provides a lot of tools to help you get a grasp on the HTML or take shortcuts to avoid intricate code from simple things like doing bold text, but you’re still gonna be looking at more complicated coding if you want background music, images, or fonts for example. I’ve found the Twine tutorials by DigitalExposureTV on YouTube to be very helpful so far. The way it maps out each passage for you and connects them is also very easy to follow and get right back where you are going.

A look at how Twine works. I don’t have much of the story coded yet, so this is mostly menus.

As far as the digital illustrations go, I am working with MakeHuman and Blender, which are both free, open-source programs for indie game designers. I’ve been using MakeHuman to design my characters and Blender to put them into the environment. In the picture below you can see one of the characters, Allison, being stalked by a monster. MakeHuman is great, easy to get started, and has a lot of CCO or CC-BY downloadable content to further customize your characters. Blender has been a bit trickier for me to learn, so far I’ve learned how to make grass from this video by PIXXO 3D and trees from this video by The CG Essentials. I’ve found that it’s one of those things that’s super daunting when you open it up, but easy once you get the concepts down.

A (very rough) render from Blender. I just learned how to create trees and grass, so I just wanted to render and see how it looked with my models. I haven’t decided how often an illustration will show up, or if it will simply be featured as chapter illustrations or throughout the story.

I’m hoping I will be able to finish the game before grad school starts and release it this fall. During my undergrad studies, particularly in 300- and 400-levels, I was able to focus a lot on digital technologies. I’m very interested in how these digital technologies impact the future of literature, and I am excited to work with it. I’ll post updates here when I have any major progress, maybe every couple weeks or once a month or so?

Let me know in the comments if you’re interested in updates, or if you have any questions or tips for using Twine.

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