thedeadparrot (thedeadparrot) wrote,

an ode to Twine

So I've spent a bunch of time with a few other interactive fiction engines. Notably Ren'Py, a visual novel engine, and Inform, mainly for parser-based Zork-style IF. I may take a look at ChoiceScript at some point as well. They're all fine tools, for sure, and maybe I'll actually build real cool things with them some day, but they haven't stuck.

The one tool I keep coming back to is Twine.

I've posted a little bit about it before. It's pretty easy. You construct your interactive fic as a series of passages with links between them, and the software tracks which passages lead to which other passages so that you get these nice tree-like structures, making it easy to visualize the progress of the fic.

There are people who claim that Twine doesn't involve programming. This is a lie.

There are people who claim that Twine is for people who find 'real' programming intimidating. This is probably true.

Twine's syntax is far more esoteric and full of strange characters than something like Inform's attempts at mimicking natural language (which I have a beef with, but that's another post), but that's not why people like it, I don't think. Twine is simple. It does simple things very easily and it makes more difficult things possible, even if they are more difficult than they would be otherwise.

But what I think makes Twine so appealing to me is that it's probably the most writer-friendly tool out of all of them.

What do I mean by that?

The biggest thing that I had to learn to do when writing interactive fanfic was to let go. With simple text, you control the interaction. Sure, there are ways for readers to subvert it, by skipping around or reading things backwards or what have you, but interactive fiction is an explicit dialogue with the reader. It asks the reader to step into your world and interact with the words you put on the screen. Writing interactive fiction made me aware, in a way that I'm not often made aware of things, that I am at the mercy of the reader's time, attention, and interest. To make a story game-y is to put up barriers, to force people to put in effort and make decisions and interact. As a writer, it's your job to guide readers through a story. As a game designer, it's your job to guide readers through the story and also make it seem like it was their idea in the first place.

With Twine, I feel more like a writer than a game designer. Twine allows you to build things in more complicated ways, to create virtual worlds to explore, but I think it's real power is in taking static text and making it tactile, to invite people to play with the words you've put on the page. To be fair, this is mostly a result of the macros that were built for Twine, the ones that will let you build out cycling links and have words that disappear and reappear and replace other words.

So many other tools are about the game part of things. I love Twine because it's about the text. It's about letting you write the way you've always written, guiding people through a story, but adding another layer on top of it instead of having to change the paradigm entirely. World model? Twine doesn't need a stinking world model!

This might be a sort of a weird thing to champion, a looking back instead of a looking forward, but I like that Twine exists in this weird niche, halfway between straight prose and the adventure games that we've played and loved. I hope I get to explore it more.

Oh, and there's a pretty great New York Times article about the Twine community, which I think is pretty damn cool.

Sidebar: The Uncle Who Works at Nintendo

I don't like horror as a rule. I don't like being scared. I don't quite understand what people enjoy about it.

That being said, I kind of loved The Uncle Who Works At Nintendo, which is a Twine work of interactive fiction that mostly exists to scare the pants off you. It pulls out all the stops. There's some background art. There's sounds. There's different endings (one of which is unlockable). There's some pretty great use of Zalgo text.

It's also kind of about #GamerGate. But also kind of not.

Sidebar #2: Tutorials and Resources and stuff

It's hard not to start out this section without the pretty excellent HOW TO MAKE GAMES WITH TWINE, which is still applicable to the 1.4.x versions of Twine available on the website.

There's also a quick slide-based tutorial that could get you started as well.

If you are looking for a good story format to use, I hear SugarCube is excellent and much better than the default SugarCane format. It certainly looks like it. It might now be included by default in the regular Twine releases.

Twine 2 is so new there aren't any good tutorials for it, and it's still kind of unstable in a lot of ways. I might try to write one myself. There is a pretty extensive reference on Harlowe, the default story format.

I kind of wish there was one for Snowman, too, which is the story format that is more flexible about writing straight Javascript.

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Tags: interactive fanfiction, twine

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