2012 was a monumental year for indie gaming. An explosion of bundles, game jams, competitions and breakthrough titles only helped increase the footprint that indie games have on the gaming landscape. Perhaps one of the most significant (if unexpected) developments of the year was the storm of hypertext fiction fostered by the use of a little tool called Twine. The latter half of 2012 saw an astonishing rise in the amount of available interactive fiction thanks to the elegant, easy to use creation tool — stories that were personal, experimental, edgy, hilarious and frequently brilliant. Now, only a couple weeks into 2013, the Twine revolution is only gaining speed as more and more indie game blogs and websites are embracing the creative output of Twine authors.
The simple beauty of Twine is this: if you can type words and occasionally put brackets around some of those words, you can make a Twine game.
Unfortunately, not everyone is yet familiar with Twine and what can be done with it. Hopefully, by the end of this article, you’ll be intimately acquainted with Twine but, more importantly, you will also no longer have anything stopping you from making games of your own.
#1: Download Twine Right Now
Right now. Seriously. Click here: http://gimcrackd.com/etc/src/ Click on the ‘download’ link on the upper-right corner of the screen. Even if you’re still on the fence and aren’t yet entirely sure what Twine is, or don’t think you’ll get around to it, download it right now. It costs you nothing but a minute or so and a few megs of hard-drive space, and it’s a tool which may change your life and what you do with it, at least for a few hours. It’s one of those programs that, like a copy of Zork, should be on the hard drive of every computer in the world.
#2: Read Anna Anthropy’s Twine Tutorial
Indie game maven Anna Anthropy, also known as Auntie Pixelante, is the Ray Kurzweil of the indie gaming scene. If she supports something, it’s probably worth paying attention to. She also happens to be one of the biggest proponents of the Twine revolution — so much so that she has created, for your perusal, a completely free and marvelously comprehensive Twine tutorial that will teach you everything you need to know to get writing, including a few advanced tricks to add to your tool belt.
#3: Learn CSS
You don’t have to be a wizard, but a little working knowledge of how to use CSS to change font and background colors will give your game an added personal touch. Plenty of Twine authors shove their stories out the door with no CSS at all, and that’s just fine — interactive fiction is about the words, after all. But a few lines of code might be enough to make your story instantly recognizable. Or maybe you just like orange links, in which case, more power to you.
#4: Nest Your Passages
It can be tempting to write out an entire scene or sequence of dialogue in one Twine passage. However, a big wall of text can look daunting to the average Twine player. Part of the beauty of Twine’s design is the ease with which it allows us to create links to other passages. Describing an object is a simple matter of surrounding a noun with brackets, and then linking it to a new passage that contains the description and a link back. The more you use nesting, the more interactive your story will feel. A good rule of thumb for veteran IF players is to imagine all of the objects in a passage that the player might ‘examine,’ and use nested passages to describe them.
#5: Leave No Dead Ends
Tip number four having been said, if you end up with a great many links over the course of your project, you might end up with a few passages that don’t lead back to the main body. Unless your goal is to create a fractal story that splits and branches like cracks in glass, it’s good to get into the habit of proofreading your work to make sure that the player can always find their way back to the main path from the deepest darkness of your interactive prose-forest.
#6: Don’t Be Afraid To Be Personal
Twine has been used to create some seriously heart-wrenching works of a deeply personal nature — personal both to the author and to the reader. Just like in the realm of non-interactive fiction, Twine stories can be about absolutely anything, and they should be. Stories about life, love, death, dreams, nightmares, relationships, sexuality, identity, failures, triumphs– all are equally as valid as stories about sword-wielding heroes setting out to slay the dragon. Twine fiction, like all fiction, is a medium of both art and communication. So communicate: speak, scream, cry, grab people by the shoulders and tell them the stories you’d be afraid to tell any other way.
Twine is rapidly gaining in popularity among indie game developers and interactive fiction enthusiasts, but it is still a relatively young medium. Creative people are still coming up with new ways to use it and there is no shortage of surprise and novelty to be found buried in its deceptively simple workings. There is a great deal yet which has never been done — so do it. Try new things, try old things in new ways. Do whatever you have to in order to tell the story how it wants to be told.
The indie gaming movement is very much a community ordeal, and Twine is no exception. Play Twine games, follow their authors on Twitter, start a blog about your experiences and use it to post your games. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. The vast majority of Twine users are creative, intelligent, sympathetic people who would only be delighted to know that more are joining their ranks. You don’t have to do your work alone in the dark.
#9: Play Twine Games
If you want to be a musician, you have to listen to music. If you want to be a writer, you have to read. If you want to make some truly awesome Twine games — and let’s face it, you totally do — then you would do well to play some truly awesome Twine games. And luckily for you, there’s no shortage of them. TwineHub (Link: http://twinehub.weebly.com/) is a running online repository for most known Twine games, and a great place to kill half an hour. Open yourself up to the experiences of others and use their work to better your own.
Here are a few to get you started:
Arcadia by Jonas Kyratzes: http://www.jonas-kyratzes.net/arcadia/arcadia.html
Walking Story by Michael Brough: http://www.smestorp.com/walkingstory.html
Memorial by Travis Megill: http://theautumnalcity.org/
howling dogs by Porpentine: http://aliendovecote.com/uploads/twine/howling%20dogs.html
mom is home by Marras: http://marrasart.net/momishome.html
The Hunting Lodge by Hulk Handsome: https://dl.dropbox.com/u/88951433/TheHuntingLodge.html
#10: Consider Yourself A Game Maker
If you have already created something in Twine, congratulations — you are a creator. An architect of the human experience, a conjurer of emotionally-saturated dreamscapes and, most prestigious of all, an indie game developer. If you haven’t yet created a Twine game, do so. Even if it’s something as simple as the dream you had last night, every Twine story you turn out is further proof that you are a capable, accomplished creator of games and stories. Don’t ever forget that, and remind yourself of it after you’ve got a few Twine games under your belt and you decide to start working on the next big project in your life. After all, there was nothing stopping you from making that Twine story that blew everyone away — except maybe yourself, and a few megs of hard-drive space.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Kitty Horrorshow (@kittythulhu) is a skittering digital bone-puppet composed chiefly of three passions: horror, video games, and creativity. He believes that creativity is the greatest gift and highest obligation of all human beings, and strives to encourage everyone around him to create. The stranger something is, the more he tends to like it. He is a prolific Twine-user and nascent game-thing-maker, and his various creatures can usually be found on kittyhorrorshow.wordpress.com. You must never feed him after midnight.