Bundling choices with Twine

Hey there my dusty old blog! It’s been too long since I last put some information out here. I am still actively involved with IAM at OU, still teaching at Liberty, and still doing things like watching Doctor Who and playing SWTOR. I was recently selected to be the Higher Education coordinator for the Identiverse 2018 conference in Boston and I am very proud to be making some efforts at getting presenters and content available. But what else have I been doing? Would you believe that I am writing programs again? Well… sort of.

For this to make sense, I want to back up just a few months. I have never been that avid of a mobile gamer. I have two phones (one for work and one for home) and certainly keep them on me frequently. I have a few fun time wasters like Subway Surf, SongPop, and Bejeweled Stars. But beyond a brief foray into Game of War: Fire Age (which I had to quit because it was an extensive waste of my free time), I really did not do much in the way of games. That is, of course, until an Ad in SongPop showed me a game called “Choices” by Pixelberry Studios. If you are old enough to remember the “Choose your Own Adventure” books where you read a section and then, decide to either turn to page 301 if you fight the giant or go to page 29 if you ran for shelter in the caves, then you will have a taste of what Choices is like. Basically, the game is really a meta game with many ‘stories’ included (many of which are frequently having new chapters added weekly) where you get to read text, make a choice, and the game reacts accordingly. Add the fact that you have some very nicely done artwork and cool (if somewhat predictable) music, and you have a game that is very interesting.

I started playing through the game “The Crown and the Flame” which is a medieval fantasy RP about a princess and her childhood friend who are attacked by an evil empire and ousted from their home. You play the estranged Princess (well, ahem, Queen) Kenna in parts of the story and in others you play her rough and tumble “person of unknown history”TM friend Dominic Hunter. There are some incidentals where you play other characters but these are usually short term. The story unfolds across 3 books that are at least 12-15 chapters each. I couldn’t get enough of this game because every choice I made allowed me to do new things and see this grand tapestry unfold.

After finishing the series, I jumped from “The Crown and the Flame” to “Endless Summer” which, by the cover art appeared to be a ‘spring break party’ story and ended up being what I lovingly call “Lost: The Video Game”. However, with its air of mystery, catchy soundtrack, and deeply troubling storyline, I was hooked hard core. I have since completed the entire Endless Summer series but was woefully unhappy that you can’t really ‘win’ the game if you aren’t willing to pay. Many games have ‘freemium’ features that are designed to make the game more interactive or fun, but they usually do not prevent you from completing the game. That is not the case in Endless Summer. I spent hours glued to the game trying different choices and occasionally opting for premium features, only to get to the Epilogue and find out that I can’t actually see the full end of the game unless I pay 60 credits to recover six items that are needed to see the full ending. I still haven’t paid this and I feel lied to. Now I am on to “High School Story” which is another two-parter but so far I have played through one book without any issues with the paywall.

So what does this all mean for programming? Well, as you all know, I have been an RPG fan for years, I even run a Retro Gaming Blog where I talk about various RPG’s from the Nintendo, Super Nintendo and Sega. However, I am also an avid tabletop gamer… or at least I was until my personal and professional life made time for tabletop gaming virtually impossible. I have created many different games in my years as a teenager and as a young adult that I played with my friends. In some cases, I even wrote an entire RPG system (called the Realm Wars system) connected to my original homebrew series, Realm Wars. I have also served as Game Master (GM) or Dungeon Master (DM) depending on your vernacular in popular systems such as BESM 2 and 3, Dungeons and Dragons 3rd, 4th and 5th Edition, Rifts, and several systems my friends created including the Super Anime Wars (SAW) system and many others. As if my nerd flag was not raised high enough, I originally created a nautical-themed Multi-User Cyber Kingdom (MUCK) with a nautical theme from which my original web server, Darkseas, earned its name. Even more? Yes… there’s more. I am also a closet writer who has created many stories, books, and poems over my life. I find that writing stories is extremely enjoyable work and I often viewed the various RPG’s that I ran with my friends as forms of creative story writing, just with a team of people instead of on my own.

Surely you see what this is leading up to… right? Well… I am bundling all that together (see the title). There is a neat program called “Twine” that I was exposed to as a technology used at my university employer to help “Gamify” learning material. It is basically a technology that allows you to create self-contained webpage games that let you… MAKE CHOICES! Ultimately, you can make your own adventures with a very simple language that includes elements of HTML (something I learned to hand code in my early college years). You can also make it very creative by either writing your own JavaScript modules/code to help you program things or use the built in functions of one of Twine’s built in languages (Harlowe, SnowMan, and SugarCube). If you know some Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), which I learned enough to be dangerous with but never particularly excelled at, then you can make this game very shiny and interesting. That’s what I have started doing!

Now, I should say that I am still learning the more complicated aspects of Twine thanks to several awesome YouTube videos, but I can spin up a very basic game without much trouble. In fact, you can sample this by checking out my first full game that was a modified version of the Space Explorer game I learned to code on YouTube. I call it “Space Jump” and you can go out and give it a go if you’d like. As I get better at programming in Twine, I hope to take many game ideas in my brain and turn them in to fully playable Twine games. Maybe you’ll see one of my stories such as “The Meranite Chronicles” or “Osiris” turned into a Twine-based game. We’ll see.

That’s it for now! I am diving back into coding with Twine!