Storylines in Twine

March 3, 2017

Whenever I’m working on a story I tend to have ideas ranging from very general high-level story concepts to specific thoughts on individual scenes or even lines of dialog. As I’ve been plotting out the overall narrative for Robyn HUD I’ve also been doing some work on scripting (in the screenwriting sense, not the game making sense) specific sequences in the game. In particular I have a few very clear ideas on how I currently want the game to start. I say currently because, as the rest of the story evolves, it’s more likely than not that I’ll revisit and rework the start of the game.

Unlike a traditional narrative, such as a novel like my Satin & Sutherland book, which proceeds from beginning to end in a linear fashion, Robyn HUD will offer the player various choices in the story. These choices will allow the experience to vary in the same vein as a classic choose your own adventure book or one of TellTale Games’ so-called “story games”. This poses an interesting writing challenge as the game script can’t be written in a similarly linear fashion since there are places with the narrative branches and then comes back together.

To help better write and structure the script, I turned to the simple text-based computer game making tool Twine. At the most basic level Twine allows for the easy creation of simple text adventures that are exactly like the aforementioned choose your own adventure books. You write a passage of text and then create choices at the end of each passage that allow players to go to other passages. Getting a little more advanced, Twine can also be used to track the decisions players have made earlier in a story to affect later parts of the story. From a branching narrative point of view it’s a decent tool for both writing a rough draft of a story and incorporating the “game state” within that story due to player choices. The only real down side is that it doesn’t provide for proper screenplay script formatting, which would have been nice.

The beginning of the story for Robyn HUD is mostly linear, with just a few choices to make that don’t really impact the start of the story but that will combine with other choices later on in the game to shift the narrative and the relationships with other characters one way or another. This can be seen by looking at the overview for the introduction within the Twine application, like so:

[General structure of the Robyn HUD intro.]
General structure of the Robyn HUD intro.

Starting from the left, each box represents either a scene in the game or a point where the player can make a choice. The player choices are the areas where the linear narrative splits into several alternate paths. As mentioned above, the intro is mostly linear hence the reason why the different threads all come back to the main storyline.

One of the nice things about Twine is that it generates games as HTML. That means Twine stories can be posted online and viewed through a web browser just like any normal web page. Want an early taste of Robyn HUD? Click the link below to load up the intro sequence. Do note that this is very much a rough draft at this point with, admittedly, some quite dreadful dialog in places. Still, it’s a good indication of how the intro is currently set to progress and shows how Twine can be useful in addressing the scene specific writing of a branching narrative.

Play the rough draft of the Robyn HUD introduction.