My Time with Interactive Fiction

I’ve been fiddling around with Twine for about five days now, spending the little free time I have reading tutorials and watching how-to videos on YouTube. Twine is one of those interactive fiction creators that requires almost no coding, but to create a more immersive experience, I’d suggest having some knowledge about CSS and HTML. I played around creating a scene from one of my favorite literary works, H.P. Lovecraft’s A Shadow Out of Time, where the character finds a lost city in the middle of the Western Australian desert, deep beneath the sands.

 

I decided to set my interpretation many, many years afterward, with my main character being Arthur Peaslee’s grandson, who receives his grandfather’s journal at his funeral. He then decides to set out and discover what his grandfather found all those years ago, and in the lost library city of Pnakotus is where my work begins. At the beginning of the work, I wanted to put some kind of sanity mechanic in place once the character begins to read the works of the library, these tomes containing hundreds of stone pages of recorded history from all points in the universe at all moments in time. As the player begins to explore the manuscript more and more, which I could continue to add entries to as my knowledge of actual history and capacity to invent something Lovecraftian both improve, there would be subtle things at first to suggest that maybe they’re reading something they shouldn’t be. Maybe the knowledge they are accessing has been hidden away for a reason, which would be reinforced by the appearance of flavor text such as, “You swear you hear a whisper in the distance,” or perhaps clips of eldritch symbols flashing across the screen. Eventually it would reach a point where the player character would be eaten by a shoggoth, another creation of Lovecraft’s, and the player would have to start over, hopefully navigating the manuscript more carefully. Ideally, I also would have like to add some kind of special ending that would be unlocked by reading specific entries from the interactive manuscript and using that knowledge to go down a different path. But, Twine has its limitations, and the low barrier to entry of coding knowledge has proven to be too much for me. Computer science has never been my thing, and it showed when I tried to add more complex paths to my story. Another important thing to mention is that Twine saves all records of your story to your web browser, so when you have a weekly dumping of that info, you might find yourself having to start from square one.

From the work I’ve done, I’ve discovered that the designers that make more intricate pieces of interactive fiction, such as Telltale’s The Walking Dead video games, there are so many deeply webbed and interconnected points in those stories that I can’t even begin to comprehend. I became confused just from Twine’s interface that eventually becomes a massive sprawl of passages and possible outcomes. I can’t imagine how commercially successful pieces must have several whiteboards of connections at their respective companies. This idea I have is something I’d like to revisit in the future, but I’d like to have a more tech savvy partner working with me, to help implement the system ideas I have when I have a bit more free time on my hands.

For those future wannabe-interactive storytellers, I have a few pointers:

  1. Don’t think too big for your first story
  2. Keep the cookies in your browser
  3. Develop your knowledge of CSS and HTML before diving in

 

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