Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Interactive text-based stories



First of all this is about text-only stories, pretty much like Gamebooks. I could have just called it "interactive stories", but that would be misleading since visually intense computer games can be considered interactive stories as well. So no high-def at 60 fps. These stories take place in the cinema of your mind.

There are many names that can be connected to interactive text-based stories, like for example Hypertext fiction, Interactive fiction or Text Adventures.
This article looks at the tools in regard to prototyping stories as text-only interactive media. For me written text is the fastest way to draft a story, except maybe telling it to someone directly.

The tools


Twine

Twine is an easy to use desktop utility to create interactive texts developed by Chris Klimas. The software enables you to organize your story graphically in a node based flowchart. It is quick to export and compile your story, have a read, then go back again to editing it.
The final story page is based on a one page javasript wiki engine and looks nice and organized. Since it's a single web page, with basic html scripting knowledge you can change the looks of your story easily.
Twine can also include conditional text, so "if you have a yellow key" will give you the possibility to "open the yellow door", while as you don't have the yellow key you can't open the door.

Here you can read some Twine stories by the author himself: http://gimcrackd.com

There is a google group, but it mainly consists of code and software related issues: Tweecode

The Author, Chris Klimas, made some neat video tutorials to show how twine works. Here's one of them:

Finishing Touches from Chris Klimas on Vimeo.

Twine is an impressive tool and defintely recommended. Even more so for prototyping.

Get twine here: http://gimcrackd.com/etc/src/

City of If

The City of If is an online community for storygaming. It's more like classic Roleplaying Games, where players and authors experience a story together. Basically it's an online message board with different sub-forums where users write threads for their stories.
I remember City of If from a while back and it's still around. As far as I can tell it's been online since 2002. So there are a lot of stories to read trough, sorted in different categories. And polls are held for "Best Storygame", "Best Supporting Character" and so on.

With an active community the site sure is worth looking at. Still it is not really useful for closed story prototyping, but if you want to share, and see how your story develops with the aid of players interacting with it, this is a great start.

Collaborating online on a story reminds me of my R-Tech System, a creative tool for writing screenplays.

Look at City of If here: http://www.cityofif.com


Quest

Quest is a program for text adventure games. It helps users to create complex text adventures without requiring programming know-how. Quest comes in a restricted free and an unlimited pro version.

Quest seems like a very interesting tool for creating text adventures, but it is also very much optimized to do just that. Hence it's a bit much for doing normal interactive story prototyping, but maybe the complex possibilities are just what you need.

You can get quest here: http://www.axeuk.com/quest/
Here are more screenshots: http://www.axeuk.com/quest/qsshots.htm
A collection of textadventures created with quest: http://www.textadventures.co.uk/

Inform Fiction

Inform is a tool to create interactive fiction. The created source code of Inform reads like native English sentences, making it accessible to non-programmers. What makes Inform stand out is its ability to

Aaron Reed, the creator of Inform, has created an extensive introduction tutorial for Inform:

Inform 7 Introductory Screencast from Aaron Reed on Vimeo.

A cool timelapse video shows the Aaron working:

Interactive Fiction Time Lapse from Aaron Reed on Vimeo.

Inform is a very complex, but easy to learn software package. It can be used for advanced prototyping and story tweaking, since it can track the path a player took.

Inform Website: http://www.inform-fiction.org
Current version http://inform7.com/

Conclusion

There are quite a lot of tools for writing interactive adventures, but if it is about ease of use and quick prototyping that is beyond flowcharts I would recommend Twine. Also the ability to simply share a single html file makes it stand out.
If you want to experience a story in a collaborative effort, something like City of If might be a good start. A while back I wrote the R-Tech System, a creative tool for writing screenplays by using a Roleplaying Game. With some minor modifications R-Tech can be used for interactive stories as well.

Further Resources

Further info and an even more detailed glimpse into the world of interactive text-based stories can be found at the Interactive Fiction Wiki.
There's also a lot of historical information about Interactive Fiction in general on the Inform website.
Someone even made an interactive fiction game about the GDC: http://www.gamesetwatch.com/gdcgame/

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