Adventure Games · Interactive Fiction · Resources

Tools to make narrative games

Since I have to keep up with a variety of tools for narrative games and interactive narrative, I have decided to share the list of resources that I keep. This post will be a living document, so I will update as I come across new tools.
If you have any suggestions for resources that should be included, please contact me.

Tools

Twine 1+2

Twine is one of the most popular tools to write hypertext fiction; it creates HTML files that can are easy to share online. It is very accessible and has a large of community and plenty of resources and tutorials. Very recommendable for beginners; knowing how to use CSS styles and basic programming can also go a long way.

ChoiceScript

A programming language developed by Choice of Games to create multiple-choice games, as a Choose Your Own Adventure electronic book. Don’t feel intimidated by it being a programming language: it’s based on javascript, and it’s very easy to use and get started, as long as you keep your indentations in the text consistent.

Inform 7

One of the most veteran tools for making narrative games, in this case parser-based text games (the kind where the player talks to the computer to make games). Inform 7 uses a language that uses sentences in English, which may take some time to get used to. It is also a design suite that packs the editor, compiler and interpreter all in one. I recommend it as a starting point to anyone who wants to create narrative games, because it teaches how to think stories as simulated worlds rather than branching plots. A very strong community of developers, as well as a variety of tutorials and resources makes this another good starting tool for newcomers.

Texture

An interactive fiction authoring tool online, that presents itself as an option between Twine and Inform. The interaction consists of drag-and-drop words on top of other words, rather than typing or choosing a hyperlink, which makes the results easily playable on a browser. It also allows integrating images into your game; the development focuses on writing, and provides easy menus to create conditional text – it is easy to use if you don’t feel comfortable programming. It’s all online, so your work is saved in your cache; the tool allows you to have a user account so that your work in saved on a server. A good fit for short games for mobile platforms.

Texture Home Page

Fungus

For those of you familiar with Unity (whose personal use version is free, although it’s still a proprietary tool) , it’s a free plug-in to make visual novels, although it can be easily repurposed to include branching dialogue into any Unity game.

Ink and Inky

Ink is the scripting language developed by Inkle Studios to write choice-based games, whereas Inky is the editor to create the text. It is a mark-up language, not very dissimilar from Choicescript above, although in order to release it as a game it needs Unity. So you still need to know how to use Unity in order to make a game. It’s open source.

Yarn – Dialogue Editor for Unity

A dialogue editor created as a tool for Night in the Woods as well as its companion games, the texts generated with it have to be exported to Unity. The developers acknowledge they are inspired by the Twine interface, and the program does import Twine files. Requires some programming chops to set up and connect to Unity.

Chatmapper

A proprietary standalone dialogue mapping editor. The trial version can be used to prototype conversation trees. The paid version allows creating dialogue simulations including visual and audio assets, provides visualization tools of different branching, and even generates scripts for voice actors, which can also facilitate localization. Uses LUA as a programming language, and exports to a variety of formats that can then be plugged into your engine of choice (XML, JSON, RTF, PDF, JPEG, Excel). May be best for larger projects with a lot of dialogue and audiovisuals – and also developers who have an actual budget.

Ren’Py

A visual novel engine that has been around since 2004, so that there is a large community of support as well as tutorials. Uses Python, one of the most accessible programming languages, it is also open source. One of its most attractive features is that it creates games that run both on desktop computers as well as mobile.

Adventure Game Studio (AGS)

A tool to make point-and-click adventure games. Initially created to make games in the style of the Sierra adventure games (e.g. King’s Quest), it expanded to other formats and allows developers to create their own style of adventure games. A classic tool that is now open source, counts with a good community and extensive resources developed over 20 years of its existence. On the downside, it is a Windows-only program, and requires special wrappers in order to release games for other program.

Visionaire

A proprietary tool to make point-and-click adventure games, which means that the support mainly comes from the company rather than a community. There is a free demo version that allows making games with up to 10 rooms; the indie version for a single user is not too expensive. It uses LUA as a programming language; the documentation is up to date if you speak German, but it is a bit behind in its English version.

RPG Maker

A proprietary tool to make Japanese-style role-playing games; it is pretty powerful and also has an extensive community because it has been around for a long time. The games use tile-based art, which facilitates both making visual assets as well as finding pre-made ones. It can also be used to make adventure games.

Adventure Creator for Unity

Another plug-in for Unity, also proprietary. It is a toolkit to make both 2D and 3D point-and-click adventure games. It uses visual scripting, which is a bit more accessible to non-programmers, and comes with a collection of pre-set templates to create inventories, branching dialogue, and object interactions. There is a growing community of developers.

articy:draft3

A proprietary tool that can be customized for a variety of engines. Probably best tailored for large games, it allows mapping your story and its logics, keeping databases of objects, imports screenplay files from Final Draft, and connects directly to Unity. The developer also offers cloud services to allow for collaborative writing for games. It’s a tool that is becoming popular in the professional scene, though probably the most expensive all of the proprietary tools listed here so far.
The Gamebook Authoring Tool
Another proprietary tool, it is designed to make Choose-Your-Own-Adventure games, but also works to write books.

Experimental tools
I’ve been receiving links to additional tools – some of them are experimental, some of them are still in the works. I’m sharing them here for you to try – and please report back if there’s one you particularly like!

Update 6 January 2018: Added articy:draft and Texture (Thanks to Evan Skolnick and Sarah Schoemann for the pointers)

Update 25 January 2018: Started section on experimental tools and included a couple of links that I received over email. Thanks to Jeff and Daniel for sending me their engines!

Advertisements
Interactive Fiction · News and Events · Thoughts

Games By The Book – The Making of an Exhibit

Games by the BookLast Friday was the first day of a very special exhibit at the Hayden Library at MIT. Games by the Book, curated by myself and Nick Montfort, is a small exhibit of literary works adapted to the medium of the videogame. The games in show display a variety of approaches to adaptation applied to videogames. Luckily for us, they’re all available online, so you can get to play them too.

  • The Great Gatsby is loosely based on the novel, and is presented as a lost Japanese NES cartridge, although it’s really a Flash game made in the US.
  • The Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is a new take on events on Douglas Adams’ novel. It’s also the only one where the author was part of the development of the game.
  • Yet One Word is an adaptation of a specific interpretation of Oedipus at Colonus. You would have never thought tragedy was so cute.
  • Avon takes characters and situations from Shakespeare’s plays and turns them into contrived and strange puzzles.

You can read the more detailed description of the story on the exhibit’s website. Nick has also posted some photos of the exhibit on his own blog. The exhibit will be ready at the Hayden Library until October 8th and it’s open to the public. So if you’re anywhere near MIT campus, be sure to come by and check it out.

Preparing the exhibit has been an enjoyable undertaking, and more laborious than one would think. The initial process of curation required taking into account what would be both an interesting selection and a good fit for playing in a public space like a library. I started by browsing Mobygames, which already features a group called Inspiration: Literature; I also browsed the pages of one of the new incarnations of Home of the Underdogs, which is one of my t0-go resources to find interesting and off-beat games. Part of my goal was finding games that one would not think could be adapted to a videogame. So the likes of H.P. Lovecraft and Tom Clancy were out, and in was my old friend Will Shakespeare.

The trickiest part was finding games that would do well in an exhibit. I had to be easy to set up and maintain, since the library staff couldn’t do tech support, and neither of us could be checking on it constantly.  Complex setups and special peripherals were out of the question, because the library is a public space with no security. Most importantly, it had to “play well” in a public space. Patrons would not spend hours playing these games, but only a few minutes, even if we weren’t counting on heavy traffic. That left out a lot of adventure games. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Avon, both works of interactive fiction, where chosen because they feature tricky puzzles and game over states,  which results shorter play sessions by design. Interactive Fiction is also a good fit for the library, because it has no sound, so we don’t have to worry about headphones being unplugged. The other two games, Yet One Word and The Great Gatsby, are flash games with short play sessions as well, and although they both have music, neither is loud or obnoxious. In the end, computer games were favoured over consoles, because a console would have needed a cage or custom cabinets, so people could not take the game cartridges or disks; game controllers may be tempting to abscond with, while keyboards and mice are cheaper to replace. A last consideration was keeping the computers offline, or limiting the websites that could be accessed. Patrons to the library tend to use the computers to check their email or social websites, instead of looking up books in the catalogue.

During the process of setting up the actual exhibit, I found myself using a lot of my game designer brain, because an exhibit is also an experience. Having worked on adventure games for quite a while now, the process of designing the actual set up of the exhibit requires asking oneself similar questions. Where does the visitor start? What do they see? How do they know what to do? How can this break, and how do we prevent it? The answers to some of these questions resulted in specific design features, such as using the screensaver as a prompt to attract people to the computer, or including game manuals and brief instructions. The postcards on how to play interactive fiction are part of the display, since the genre is not as intuitive as us IF lovers would like. Other things, like using parental controls to limit access to certain websites, creating direct access to the games on the desktop. The exhibit also required some handiwork. Any recognition to the idea to tie the books with a cable to the computers has to go to Nick, who also drilled the holes through the books himself. You can see how that looks like. It’s been a cheap way to keep the books in place, and so far it’s worked.

I haven’t lurked around the exhibit long enough to see how people approach the exhibit. So far, most people walk around it, look at the books, but don’t sit down to play. Maybe a stand would have been a bit more inviting, since some people may feel self-conscious about playing videogames in public, and sitting down implies a commitment. (We didn’t have money for stands, we were lucky to get one of the Library’s computer carrells.) Looking at the activity logs, people have been playing the games, from 8 to 12 people per day, most for one minute, and 4 or 5 from 15 to 20 minutes. So we do have visitors. After a decent stakeout at the library, I should be able to report more details soon.

The process of creating this exhibit has been quite enjoyable and gratifying. The overlap between curation and exhibit design and the process of making a game has enough points in common to allow me to use my background designing games. So I hope this is the first exhibit of many!