“Have you ever loved a book so much that you wanted to step inside it?” So begins Writing Interactive Fiction With Twine by Melissa Ford. It’s the only book you’ll need to tell your story with Twine, an interactive fiction computer game. Think Choose Your Own Adventure book, but, with the magic of technology, it can become much, much more. I stumbled across Twine about a year ago, found the concept intriguing and downloaded the software. I made one simple game, but I wasn’t confident in my abilities to program and never went farther. I figured I’d just play around with it someday and learn, but I never did. That’s why I was so excited about Ford’s book; hopefully, it would be my guide to what I knew was a great way to tell all the stories I have. And that’s exactly what I found it to be.
It’s a big book, so I was daunted at first. Would I need to read it all before making a game? No. In fact, I was encouraged to make a quick game from the very start. Learning by doing is an integral part of how Ford teaches. Plus, it is visually easy to navigate with various boxes that point to important stuff or where you have a tutorial (similar to Idiot’s Guide to… type books.) There is no need to read the entire book to get started. In fact, that’s not the purpose: it’s a great tool to get you as far into Twine storytelling as you want.
The introduction gives a succinct overview of what Twine can be for a storyteller and gets you ready to start a story. Chapter one leads you in downloading the program and creating a game. “Using Twine is a lot like playing with Legos. It only takes a few seconds to learn how to snap Lego bricks together and build a simple house. Spend a little more time with Legos and their instructions, and you can put together a set. Spend a lot more time with Legos, and you can design your own projects that utilize engineering concepts.”
You can write a story online (saved in your browser history) or download the software and save it on your computer. The book tutorial follows the online visuals exactly, while my downloaded version had a slightly different look. I was able to figure everything out, though. In ten minutes I was able to download, open, navigate, create a game, and play test it. The next few chapters are equally about how to use Twine in more and more complex ways, and how to tell a good story. “Create choices that allow players to feel that their decisions actually matter.” I was led to create lots of short games in the first few chapters, which taught me how to use simple coding, navigate Twine, and understand how to create a storyline that players will enjoy. It was a fun way to learn, and because each tutorial was a new story game idea, I was constantly being creative. This let me relax about making the “perfect” finished product. Instead, I was just having a good time thinking of things off the top of my head to fulfill the simple directions for that chapter.
I had a laugh during the tutorial for learning how to make links back to various sections of the story while practicing world-building skills. The directions were to create a story called “Vacation” and describe destination choices a player can make. Each destination should have links within it to passages that describe objects or surroundings, this way a character can spend as little or as much time exploring their surroundings. I found it similar to a role-playing game where you enter a room and ask the GM if there is anything to note. It could be a clue, a treasure, or just a way to flesh out the world. In my “Vacation,” I made all these wonderful places the player could visit and then detail links on random things they would see or were given, including a cooler with all their favorite snacks or a staff member of the hotel that was the most gorgeous person they ever met in their life. Ah-hem.
The first three chapters teach you to create basic games with mazes, mystery clue stories, fast-paced adventures, exploratory worlds, and more. You learn about outlining, creating vivid settings and moods, fulfilling choices and endings, and using what you know in real life combined with your imagination to write successful interaction fiction. The next several chapters take you to another level with detailed puzzles, layered quests, richly designed role-playing games, understanding story arcs, making believable characters, and fine-tuning your coding skills in Twine. The final sections of Ford’s book get into more and more detail on world building, storytelling, and serious game creation. I marked up my pages with ideas I have for utilizing the tools Ford laid out. At the very end, she guides you on how to successfully share your finished games to an audience of players waiting for the perfect interactive story!
I highly recommend this book for anyone with a story to tell and/or a lover of games. Twine seems like a great melding of both, and Ford’s book is your guide to being part of it.
GeekMom received a copy of the book for review purposes.