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Branching Narratives in Interactive Fiction: Day One

Who remembers Infocom’s Zork? The classic text adventure from 1980 that started it all. What? You never played it? You can play it for free here. 147 KB of pure fun and imagination. Adventure deep into the Great Underground Empire and collect the nineteen treasures of Zork. Mind you, that was before you could hop on a website and download a guide or a map. Who drew squares on paper in an attempt to map out the madly branching world and narrative of Zork? You did, didn’t you?

While Zork was written in MDL, today you would maybe use Inform 7 or Ink or any of the other tools for creating interactive fiction, such as Twine or Inklewriter, to name a few. You can also deep dive into the Zork source code and see how it was made. Fascinating!

For this exercise, I chose Twine’s story format Harlowe to create a simple branching narrative, nothing as masterful or complex as Zork. I wanted to include a health bar, some stats, and randomized combat, plus some Easter eggs, which players can discover after repeated visits or clicks. Nothing too complex. You can also add graphics and sound, but then you may want to use inky with Unity integration, instead.

In order to be able to re-use passages, I set up header, footer, and stats routines which are called using the (display:) macro in each passage. In a full story or game, you will have many more subroutine passages to be reused throughout the story. You do not want to have to edit hundreds of passages because you need to change or add something in the stats, header, or footer section. Depending on your project, you may need to pick a specific story format, as well.

What does a simple five-minute-long branching narrative in “Day One” look like?

“Day One” Branching Narrative in Twine

The green rocket icon marks the start of the story. You can see the three subroutines to the left without links. The rest of the passages are branching all over the place and some even link to themselves, e.g., the Attack passage, since the player will have to resolve the fight (win or lose). You will notice that many passages loop back to the beginning of “Entrance”. This is on purpose, to let the player try again, making different choices each time, and discover things previously missed. It’s not linear. Some choices are dead ends, some lead to certain death, and others will unlock achievements. And then there are those deeds, that will result in negative karma, which you then could use to define how NPCs will react further into the story, akin to alignment in role-playing games. The possibilities are endless.

Pretty simple, right? The Twine desktop app keeps your passages organized. You can start writing with zero coding knowledge, thanks to the excellent tooltips and debug features. Of course, if you want to get the most out of it, you will want to visit the Twine Cookbook or explore the many stories available and look at their code. IF tools are also great for prototyping ideas or plotting out your story beats.

You can download the Day One Twine file here.

Turkey City Lexicon, anyone?

The Turkey City Lexicon, edited by Lewis Shiner and Second Edition by Bruce Sterling, focuses on the special needs of Science Fiction writing and is intended to help workshop participants recognize and discuss common SF problems. Even if you are not going to a Turkey City workshop, it still is an entertaining and informative read and well worth your time, and you probably know it already.

Here are three to get you wondering:

White Room Syndrome

Show, not Tell

Plot Coupons

Someone should make a comic strip out of those 30+ hilarious pitfalls most published and unpublished works are filled with. Yes, Fantasy authors “call a rabbit a smeerp” all the time and SF authors fill their stories with “ontological riffs” to the wazoo, here’s looking at you, Dick. Which means? Well, you may want to make sure it’s not all from the Ol’ Baloney Factory, otherwise, do your thing.

Now, don’t let me put a Squid in the Mouth, unless you want an Eyeball Kick from a Whistling Dog, offering Bogus Alternatives and trying to sell you a Jar of Tang. In any case, You can’t fire me, I quit!

Happy reading and good luck with your workshops, wherever they are.

The Green Bunch

Writing Prompt: Write a scene in a supermarket from the POV of an object or person (1st, 2nd, or 3rd person narrator) without revealing too many details about the narrator. Guess who/what the “narrator” is. No more than 200 words.

Here’s mine:

The Green Bunch

Oww, I’m sore lying ‘ere all day.

Watch out. Customer incoming!

Oh, woe. She took de Carrots family in aisle two!

Grim. Can ye see her? Where she now?

In de bread section. What’s dat noise? No! Bernd! She put him in de cutter. He’s gone.

Poor Bernd. I hope she leaves us alone. Please, no, I’m too young to be taken. Let me ripen a wee bit more, get that noice yellow touch.

Aye, we be fine. Surely she won’t touch a green bunch like us.

Ye never know. Shhh, quiet. Here she comes. Act normal!

(100 words)

Face to Face – An interview with C. G. Jung

I read “Archetypes” ages ago and found it fascinating. Recently I started to refresh my memory on all things narrative, structure, plot, and character and its archetypes. While watching another video on Existentialism (Albert Camus), this interview appeared in my suggested feed. Highly recommended.

“Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.” — Carl Gustav Jung

Mapping “Dr. Strangelove” to Yorke’s Roadmap 

As part of my creative studies, we recently discussed story structure in class and its importance.

If, for example, we take any movie, we stipulate we can map its structure to a “template” such as John Yorke’s 3-D roadmap of change from his book “Into the woods” (see below).

How can we then map “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb” (1964) to this structure? If you haven’t seen that movie, I can recommend you do, so you can stop worrying about not having seen it. Stop reading now, watch the movie then come back and discuss, or read on if you don’t mind getting all the spoilers.

The film was directed by Stanley Kubrick, stars Peter Sellers in three roles and is considered a masterpiece, remarkably fresh and undated. A satirical black comedy on the Cold War fears of a nuclear conflict between two sovereign nations, here: the Soviet Union and the United States.

The New Yorker said this about it: Almost Everything in “Dr. Strangelove” Was True

The movie script is available here for educational purposes: Jan 27, 1963 revisionfinal version.

NB: The final version of the script is a transcript and hence only has 55 pages. For the sake of the “page moments” terminology, the scan of the 1963 version was used since it retains the original formatting, albeit has undergone substantial changes in its final version, which no doubt warrants careful study.

Dr. Strangelove’s Roadmap of Change

Act 1

[Page 3 Moment, page 3]
No knowledge: VO about secret Doomsday device developed by the Soviets.

Inciting Incident: (00:05 min) General Jack Ripper, gone insane, orders Plan R, a nuclear strike on Soviet Russia, commanding Officer Mandrake (Sellers) to execute said plan.

Growing knowledge: B52 Pilot Major King Kong (Slim Pickens) receives the Plan R code and verifies General Turgidson gets the phone call about Plan R, Officer Mandrake suspects General Ripper has gone crazy.

[Page 10 Moment, page 32]
Awakening: (00:19 min) Mandrake finds a radio, General Turgidson briefs the President in the War Room.

Act 2 (00:20 min) 

Doubt: Mandrake listens to the radio playing music, indicating no Soviet attack. Russian Ambassador Alexi is invited to the War Room, and together they contact Premier Dimitri.

“One of our Generals went a little funny in the head and went and did a silly thing…”

[Page 30 Moment, page 44]
Acceptance: Initial reluctance but eventual acceptance of what needs to be done since they can’t recall the planes. Work together to shoot them down. President: “I’ll accept that.”

Act 3 (00:45 min)

Experiment with knowledge: Go all in, nuke the Soviet completely, and hope to minimize losses on the US side. No. Try to reach mad General, sending in troops to take the base and contact Premier Dimitri with help of Ambassador Alexi.

[Page 45 Moment, page 94]
Midpoint: DOOMSDAY DEVICE revealed.

Experimenting with knowledge: The base is attacked and taken, General Ripper rants about a Commie plot “Fluoridation” of water and starts shooting back with MG from inside his office.

Experimenting post-knowledge: Ripper: “I deny them my essence” / shoots himself. Mandrake needs to find the recall code on his own.

Act 4 (01:01 min)

Doubt: Mandrake tries to figure out the recall code, hindered by Col. ‘Bat’ Guano. Meanwhile, the plane is damaged by a missile but not shot down, bomb doors won’t open.

Growing Reluctance: The pilot tries everything to open bomb doors, and Mandrake tries to phone the White House to give OPE recall code (phone booth scene, doesn’t have the coins…)

Regression: All planes were recalled, four were shot down by Soviet missiles, and the crisis was averted.

Act 5 (01:14 min)

Reawakening: One plane not shot down! (The B52 piloted by Kong); Plane crew faces accelerated fuel loss.

[Page 60 Moment, page 117]
Re-acceptance: With the remaining plane only damaged, the President (Sellers) convinces Premier Dimitri that they need to shoot down the rogue plane, the plane crew chooses a new target of opportunity due to the rate of loss of fuel.

Total mastery: (01:27 min) Major Kong manages to open the damaged doors and rides the bomb in this iconic scene:


The Americans decide – as advised by Nazi scientist Dr Strangelove (Sellers) – to go down to the mines for 100 years. However, mind the “mine gap” (missile gap reference), “Russkies” may take over their mine shaft space.

Moral: Mankind has learned nothing.

Consequence: (01:34 min) The Doomsday device goes off, followed by a multitude of nuclear explosions to the iconic WWII song “We’ll Meet Again” by Vera Lynn (1943).

The End.

Disclaimer: During the mapping to the Yorke roadmap, I did not have the “page moments” in mind as it was done prior to the class session, after which I went back and assigned the five moments and correlated them with Yorke. Anyone who is using this “page moment” terminology, I would love to hear from you.

Distant Shores

I made an account over at Nightcafe the other day and started to play around with the Stable Diffusion Model trying some phrases from my stories. This one turned out quite decent I’d say. I added the titles in Gimp afterwards.

Fascinating topic, endless possibilities, and it will only get better… or worse… depending on your POV.

Check out the rest of the creations on my profile here.

bird by bird

“bird by bird – Some Instructions on Writing and Life” is a short book by Anne Lamott that essentially recaps her life as a writer, her challenges, failures, successes, and lessons learned. She is funny at times, and most of what she says will sound familiar to anyone inclined to put words on paper. Is it a way to a bestseller? Certainly not, you may even decide not to write anything because you are tuned in 24/7 to “KFKD radio” and you can’t turn it off. Well, Anne has been there, she can turn it off and so can you. You can find your “broccoli” (Mel Brooks in “The 2000 Year Old Man”), and you can quiet your distractions, be it through rituals or whatever works for you, like focused breathing as my Apple Watch reminds me just after getting up.

I like to do “morning pages,” getting a cup of coffee, sitting down with my A4 notebook and Sailor fountain pen and letting the ink flow onto the page, watching it form words as if by magic. I usually don’t revisit these pages for months, if ever. It’s not a diary. It’s a warming-up exercise. You may or may not need it. Whatever works for you to get going.

Anne Lamott gives some advice in her book. None are new, and you probably have heard them all before, and if not, it doesn’t hurt to hear them again: Short assignments, formulas like ABDCE (Action, Background, Development, Climax, Ending), index cards or an app (e.g., “Day One”) to jot down ideas. Also, consider giving yourself a daily minimum quota (300 words), have someone read your draft, know your audience and so forth but most importantly, get out of the way and let the writing happen.

I would say it’s not about the advice as much as it is about her truth and the way she tells it. You can enjoy that and in the end, it may not help you with your writing, but maybe it will help you to regain your buoyancy and that is a good start.