Friday, 22 August 2014

August Open Thread: Twine

A few people on this blog have noted the growing use of Twine, mainly based off the mini-comp entries. Thus I feel like the obvious topic for discussion is what are the pros and cons of Twine as an engine. I'm primarily focusing on it from the author's perspective, as in what the reasons to use it/not use it compared to other platforms, but player perception is obviously an important part of that.

I looked at Twine awhile back, didn't like it because I didn't think it did enough, and then started playing around with it again based on the mini-comp usage and was impressed with how much could be done. While it comes off as a 'simple' engine for CYOA games, I think you could make many AIF games that are out there via Twine.

So why should, or should not, authors use Twine?


  1. With support for javascript and CSS, there isn't much you CAN'T do with Twine.

    Obviously the big drawback is that it doesn't have the built-in framework to 'easily' create traditional Infocom-style AIF like Inform, TADS, and even Adrift. That's not to say it's impossible, though.

    The advantages of Twine are many including but not limited to the ability to create complex, branching narratives; cross-platform compatibility without an interpreter; easy online hosting of game files; state-tracking; and CSS aesthetics.

  2. I'm not opposed to people using Twine, but in the con column: I've noticed that having a list of available commands (as in hyperlinks) helps to break the illusion of freedom and choice in AIF. You might have the same number of sexual interactions, but it can seem like less to the player just because they are all laid out in front of you.

    1. Another point, this one in the pro column: the presentation of Twine games can potentially be very nice.

      Another pro: Everyone's got a web browser, so it's easy to start playing.

      I've never actually programmed anything in Twine, so I don't know much beyond what I've seen from other people's work.

  3. It's very easy to grab a stylesheet online and customize it to your liking even if you don't feel like writing CSS from scratch. You're right, some great-looking games can and have been created in Twine.

    The transparency of the available actions in a CYOA-type system such as Twine is the primary reason it's such a challenge (and arguably a waste of time) creating traditional AIF. With that said, CYOA's ability to introduce meaningful decisions to AIF more than offsets this limitation, in my opinion.

  4. twine games have less interactivity than parser based games (not the same thing as having less meaningful interactions)

    for better or worse, this means the player doesn't inhabit an avatar in the same way.

  5. Yeah, it is sort of a confusing thing. Just about 'feeling' the part and the interactivity. Despite the fact that many, many AIF games using a parser could be spit out into a Twine environment with the same amount of actions, it just feels different.

    I mean, I am typing x dresser, open dresser, search clothes, get bikini -- is that really all that better than click on the word dresser, then drawer, then clothes, then bikini?

    For whatever reason, it just *feels* better to me. There are a handful of more secretive commands that might be harder to hide in a twine game, but otherwise I don't see a huge difference.

    I guess there is also the peripheral being used. For whatever reason, most games feel better when I am using a keyboard or both in combination. Lazily laying back and clicking my mouse SHOULD be more relaxing and better. But having to roam my mouse from one side of the screen to the next then back over to pick an item seems more annoying than just banging it out on the keyboard. Maybe that has to do with typing speed as well, but worth mentioning.

    Finally, it could just be that I feel this way because of the games released so far. Maybe in the future a Twine / CYOA will really wow me. Sometimes they have nice enough stories, but they end up feeling more like reading a book than being the person or as others have mentioned that false sense of freedom.

    It could just be that a Twine game of a high enough caliber hasn't been released yet. I don't recall many people getting excited and playing through one tons of times to try different things out and see what happens. Most are a quick run through, and it is never heard of again. I can't think of any that remain 'legendary' or memorable in the same way some parser-based games have been.

    Whatever the case, I can say at this point I like them less, but not that I want them to go away. They are a neat way or presenting a story and whether it comes from simplicity, that they like the style and presentation, or whatever - I look forward to both sorts of games.

    1. So, I got ranting there on what I thought and missed the main question completely. Whoops.

      So why should, or should not, authors use Twine?

      I figure they should if they feel it is the right way to present their story. If it is easy to get into and they don't have the time or inclination to get into a parser-based system (or, they just feel Twine is altogether superior!), they should go for it.

      It may make it a less appealing choice to those of us that prefer the other style. As we found this year it also made us question the minicomp and how that should go about. But all that is fine.

      I feel it will be less of a loss for the old parser-based games and more of a surge of a new style. Who knows, a couple people who write the old text games may give up on them and move to Twine, and others still might just try it and move back, but either way I don't see it as a 'killer'.

      That said, if people try out Twine and don't like the feel of it, or feel they could get more done with a parser or just like the style more, then I urge them to try those as well. Whether it be the much easier to understand Adrift, the language-oriented Inform, or the more programming-styled TADs, I urge anyone who feels a desire to give them a go.

      Maybe it works out, maybe it doesn't. You release a crappy game, start one and never finish, whatever - but please give them a shot!

    2. I certainly don't see Twine as a traditional AIF "killer", but I think we will see more and more movement away from the likes of TADS and Inform, especially as AIF draws in a new generation of players who are unaccustomed to the restrictions of parser/interpreter-based gaming.

    3. Yep, the choice of interface definitely makes a big difference.

      I wrote a post last year comparing Something's In The Air (an R-rated visual novel) with The 39 Steps (a digital adaptation of the John Buchan story of the same name). Even though the latter barely qualifies as a game, it was the one I found to be more involving. I put that down to two things: a better story and writing, and the fact that it requires more thought to actively perform a mouse gesture than it does to passively choose something from a list. By the same token, even though they're effectively the same thing, I generally find HTML dating games to be more interesting than CYOA because finding the right link requires more thought (the visual representation doesn't hurt either).

      For that reason, I think that the less involving your interface is, the more interesting your story and characters have to be to make up for that. That's one reason why I don't think CYOA should try to emulate text-parser style games, since the strength of CYOA is that it's much easier for an author to tell a coherent story. You don't have to worry about the player missing important facts, or learning things in the wrong order. However, the risk is that the author will end up (figuratively) tying the player to chair in order to should the plot at him (to paraphrase Graham Nelson).

      Anyhow, I also agree that CYOA and text-parser games can co-exist, since they have different strengths that appeal to different people. That said, I would be unsurprised if CYOA games were more numerous since they have a much lower barrier to entry (both for authors and for players). The mainstream IF community went through something like this two or three years ago, and Twine ended up being one of the two main authoring systems.

  6. I dislike twine...or at least types of games that have been created on it so far, but not necessarily the games themselves. And maybe I'm too old school--I fondly remember playing the old Zork text adventures when I was a kid--but the interface of clicking on your actions (especially when they're embedded into the text) instead of typing them in just feels...wrong to me. And often I don't feel like they're challenging enough. Many times I feel like I can click my way through the game in ten minutes are so, and then I'm left feeling like I have a case of gaming blue balls.

    When I play AIF, I like games that make me feel immersed in the role, and give the illusion that I could do almost anything that I wanted in it. With the limited options that you're forced to choose from, that illusion is shattered and I become much less interested in playing. I also feel that to make up for this deficiency, the story has to be lights out amazing, otherwise it just falls flat.

    I'm loathe to discourage experimentation that could potentially help improve how we approach AIF. And I can see how attractive Twine can be for those starting out, but I have a hard time seeing a 'game-changing' AIF adventure being produced on it anytime soon, just a few kinda good ones. Maybe (or hopefully) someone will prove me wrong and we'll have one more shining facet in the jewel that is AIF, or maybe just having some more kinda good AIF games is alright too.

    And perhaps my knowledge of Twine games is too limited. Does anyone have any AIF or IF examples that they've played and enjoyed (outside the minicomp ones)?