One of the fantastic things about current software development trends is the increased accessibility and variety of business models available. This movement has facilitated a fantastic DIY attitude towards game development as video game engines and development tools are becoming much more approachable and affordable. This allows individual creators to create complex products with much fewer barriers to entry, fuelling a creative, competitive and sometimes lucrative indie development scene. My previous blog post, combined with some recent tweets from classmates, reminded me of a low-fi, e-learning game prototype I put together using a program called Twine a few years ago.
Twine is a tool that allows for the creation of interactive narratives that include multiple story paths and can incorporate images and audio files. It exports to HTML and uses CSS, so can be embedded and modified in clever ways. It’s simple UI and storyboarding mapping make it an intuitive and fun tool to engage with.
My own pet project was creating a branching narrative based on Dungeons & Dragons to help teach students about probability, imaginatively called Dungeons & Die Rolls. Scenarios were presented to students in the theme of Gary Gygax’s collaborative fantasy storytelling system based on die rolls. Dungeons & Dragons, while quite near the apex of maximum nerdiness, is a fascinating rule system designed to allow a ‘Game Master’ to design outlandish stories and encounters and have players interact with it and collaborate within that space using creativity and die rolls to help determine outcomes of certain actions. It has become particularly popular in podcast and YouTube form! This theme lends itself quite well to creating a branching ‘choose your own adventure’ style story, where players can engage with story-based problems and use math questions on probability to determine their possible solutions. In my prototype, students were presented with a challenge and had to work out the solution with the highest probability of occurring to advance the story.
It was an interesting exercise, as trying to create a learning tool without breaking from an immersive narrative was difficult. It needed to be written in such a way that picking the wrong answer was still entertaining and would also just reset the narrative to the original question for students to retry without breaking the narrative loop with a non-diegetic ‘game over’ message. Keeping a narrative structure and trying to write funny but engaging scenarios that had learning value, without having the learning content smother the narrative is a difficult balance and makes me appreciate the combination of mechanics and narrative immersion often used in video game design.
I would love to return to it and fully develop the program at some stage. Twine is an intuitive development tool that has helped to rejuvenate the interactive fiction scene and proves that there are many innovative development avenues available online if you can find the right content to fit!.
* Header image: https://hobbylark.com/tabletop-gaming/What-Do-You-Need-To-Start-Playing-Dungeons-and-Dragons
* In-game screenshot artworks originally from Wizards of the Coast official D&D manuals available online