Twine: eaten by a grue

You are standing in an open field west of a white house, with a boarded front door. There is a small mailbox here.

> open mailbox

Opening the mailbox reveals a leaflet.

> read leaflet

This afternoon I got to do something very, very cool as part of my job: I helped two teenage girls create their first videogames, using Twine.

Twine is a really great tool designed to create interactive fiction text adventure games, like the erstwhile ZORK quoted up there. Of course, things have come along a bit since the days of ZORK. Twine is being used to write interesting, important games about society and privilege, and gender and sexuality; it's not all groping around in the dark trying to avoid being eaten by a grue any more. Of course, there are still games about bring eaten by a grue; solving puzzles and slaying monsters is deeply ingrained in the videogame milieu now. But tools like Twine are putting authorship of games within the reach of so many more people; we have more options.

Smaller games with smaller budgets and smaller audiences have the luxury of being more experimental or bizarre or interesting than 12 million dollar games that need to play it as safely as possible to ensure a return on investment. Imagine what a videogames industry that wasn't fixated on hits would create

-- Anna Anthropy, Rise of the Videogame Zinesters

If you can think up a story, you can turn it into a game with Twine. Stories are broken up into passages, which players click links to navigate between. You create links by surrounding some text in [[double square brackets]]. That's it. The Twine software automatically creates new passages for you as you create links, and so your game grows. There's a simple markup language for formatting text, and once you're ready for more advanced features, a scripting language that allows you to create puzzles and inventory and items -- almost anything you can think of.

The two teenagers I got started with Twine this afternoon made very different games. The first was a branching game of exploration, starting in a house in the woods and leading to a castle. It seemed like every other fork in the road led to an instant (and sometimes grisly) death, but there was a safe path to be found. The second game cast the player as a kind of newly-created God-figure, who had to create a new world using magical artifacts and odd books. And let's be clear -- these were their first attempts, made over the course of 90 minutes, using a tool they'd never seen before.

You can have a go with Twine online, for free, with nothing to install -- it runs in your browser. Here's all the documentation you'll need to get started. Go make a game.

programming, twine


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