Each mystery is a Twine-powered “choose your own adventure” game in which you must diagnose the kind of issue that a software developer might, for
real. I think these are potentially excellent tools for beginner programmers, not just because they provide some information about the topic of each, but because they encourage
cultivating a mindset of the kind of thinking that’s required to get to the bottom of gnarly problems.
Twine 2 is a popular tool for making hypertext interactive fiction, but there’s something about physical printed “choose your own adventure”-style
gamebooks that isn’t quite replicated when you’re playing on the Web. Maybe it’s the experience of keeping your finger in a page break to facilitate a “save point” for when you
inevitably have to backtrack and try again?
As a medium for interactive adventures, paper isn’t dead! Our 7-year-old is currently tackling the
second part of a series of books by John Diary, the latest part of which was only published
in December! But I worry that authors of printed interactive fiction might have a harder time than those producing hypertext versions. Keeping track of all of your cross-references and
routes is harder than writing linear fiction, and in the hypertext
So I’ve thrown together Twinebook, an experimental/prototype tool which aims to bring the feature-rich toolset of Twine to authors of
paper-based interactive fiction. Simply: you upload your compiled Twine HTML to Twinebook and it gives you a printable PDF file, replacing the hyperlinks with references in the style of
“turn to 27” to instruct the player where to go next. By default, the passages are all scrambled to keep it interesting, but with the starting passage in position 1… but it’s possible
to override this for specific passages to facilitate puzzles that require flipping to specific numbered passages.
these into the written word… which is certainly possible – see Fighting Fantasy‘s skill, stamina, luck and
dice-rolling mechanics, for example! – but whether it’s desirable is up to individual authors.
If this tool is valuable to anybody, that’s great! Naturally I’ve open-sourced the whole thing so others can expand on it if they like.
If you find it useful, let me know.
If you’re interested in the possibility of using Twine to streamline the production of printable interactive fiction, give my Twinebook
prototype a try and let me know what you think.
Normally this kind of thing would go into the ballooning dump of “things I’ve enjoyed on the Internet” that is my reposts archive. But sometimes something is
so perfect that you have to try to help it see the widest audience it can, right? And today, that thing is: Mackerelmedia
What is Mackerelmedia Fish? I’ve had a thorough and pretty complete experience of it, now, and I’m still not sure. It’s one or more (or none)
of these, for sure, maybe:
A point-and-click, text-based, or hypertext adventure?
What I can tell you with confident is what playing feels like. And what it feels like is the moment when you’ve gotten bored waiting for page 20 of Argon Zark to finish appear so you decide to reread your already-downloaded copy of the 1997 a.r.k bestof book, and for a moment you think to yourself: “Whoah; this must be what living in the future
Because back then you didn’t yet have any concept that “living in the future” will involve scavenging for toilet paper while complaining that you can’t stream your favourite shows in 4K on your pocket-sized
supercomputer until the weekend.
Mackerelmedia Fish is a mess of half-baked puns, retro graphics, outdated browsing paradigms and broken links. And that’s just part of what makes it great.
If I wasn’t already in love with the game already I would have been when I got to the bit where you navigate through the directory indexes of a series of deepening folders,
choose-your-own-adventure style. Nathalie writes, of it:
One thing that I think is also unique about it is using an open directory as a choose your own adventure. The directories are branching. You explore them, and there’s text at the
bottom (an htaccess header) that describes the folder you’re in, treating each directory as a landscape. You interact with the files that are in each of these folders, and uncover the
story that way.
Back in the naughties I experimented with making choose-your-own-adventure games in exactly this way. I was experimenting with different media by which this kind of
branching-choice game could be presented. I envisaged a project in which I’d showcase the same (or a set of related) stories through different approaches. One was “print” (or at least
“printable”): came up with a Twee1-to-PDF
converter to make “printable” gamebooks. A second was Web hypertext. A third – and this is the one which was most-similar to what Nathalie has now so expertly made real – was
FTP! My thinking was that this would be an adventure game that could be played in a browser or even from the command line on any
(then-contemporary: FTP clients aren’t so commonplace nowadays) computer. And then, like so many of my projects, the half-made
version got put aside “for later” and forgotten about. My solution involved abusing the FTP protocol terribly, but it
(I also looked into ways to make Gopher-powered hypertext fiction and toyed with the idea of using YouTube
annotations to make an interactive story web [subsequently done amazingly by Wheezy Waiter, though the death of YouTube
annotations in 2017 killed it]. And I’ve still got a prototype I’d like to get back to, someday, of a text-based adventure played entirely through your web browser’s debug
console…! But time is not my friend… Maybe I ought to collaborate with somebody else to keep me on-course.)
In any case: Mackerelmedia Fish is fun, weird, nostalgic, inspiring, and surreal, and you should give it a go. You’ll need to be on a Windows
or OS X computer to get everything you can out of it, but there’s nothing to stop you starting out on your mobile, I imagine.
Sso long as you’re capable of at least 800 × 600 at 256 colours and have 4MB of RAM,
if you know what I mean.
You may recall that on Halloween I mentioned that the Bodleian had released a mini choose-your-own-adventure-like adventure game book, available freely online. I decided that this didn’t go quite far
enough and I’ve adapted it into a hypertext game, below. (This was also an excuse for me to play with Chapbook, Chris Klimas‘s new under-development story format for Twine.
If the thing you were waiting for before you experienced Shadows Out of Time was it to be playable in your browser, wait no longer: click here to play the game…