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Game creation for the masses: What's next for Twine

Game creation for the masses: What's next for Twine Exclusive

October 9, 2014 | By Leigh Alexander




When Chris Klimas created hypertext creative tool Twine, he never anticipated the impact it would have on the game community. Flexible, free and easy to use, Twine lets people develop text-based games without needing to code, and it quickly became a favored utility for people who never felt fully welcomed by traditional game design approaches.

It's now one of the platforms of choice for storytelling, empathetic writing and high-impact subject matter, particularly among marginalized voices. To call Twine a major component in a political sea change for games would not be an understatement; it's sparked a brand new wave of creative work, and an accompanying heap of definitional arguments about 'what games are' and who can make them.

"[Twine] might have been my graduate thesis, originally, if I had the patience to complete one," Klimas tells Gamasutra. "At the time, I had been experimenting with ways to create hypertext that were strongly code-oriented. I was studying interaction design, so Twine was my attempt to make something that would be friendly to people who were writers more than coders."

The breadth of Twine's impact and the number of uses its seen has been surprising, he adds. "I never thought it would catch on the way it has. But beyond that, the key insight Anna Anthropy had about Twine that I never did was that it's an excellent way to dip your toes into game development. I love hearing people say that they made their first game with Twine. It's just an enormous privilege to be able to create a tool that gives people their first creative experience with games."

Klimas still believes in Twine's usefulness as a tool that assists learning -- for some people, that means easy access to game design concepts, and for others, it's practice for strengthening writing. But while the lack of coding requirements makes Twine accessible, Klimas hopes it will actually encourage people to learn how to code.

"It's absolutely true that you can create a story with Twine without writing any code at all --I don't consider the markup used to create links or italicize words to be code, though I understand some would." he notes. "But I think it's equally true that moving from a codeless story to one that, say, has a little conditional logic is painless. You can add it when you're ready, and you can dive into as deeply as you like, even to the point where you are writing your own JavaScript to extend the runtime itself."

Twine just released its beta of version 2.0, through which the tool goes browser-based primarily for compatibility's sake, and some fixes are implemented to make building projects in Twine more intuitive. Klimas mostly collects feedback from user forums and public conversations -- "I think the most important thing I can do is be a good listener," he says.

"I want Twine to be accessible to as many people as I can make it. Part of that is the boring work of compatibility with a myriad of desktop and mobile OSes -- but I think it's important to think about people where technology access itself is an issue," he says. "I'm thinking about people, particularly children, whose only access to a computer is through a public library or school. I'm thinking about people who don't own a traditional computer, only a tablet or a smartphone. I want them to be able to use Twine too."

For example, going browser-based means people who can only access Twine at, say, public library computers will need someplace to save their work that isn't just linked to the browser. "We don't have a solution for that yet," he notes, "though there are a lot of interesting possibilities there."

Toward that end, Klimas only recently began accepting financial contributions to Twine ("before, I didn't even ask for money at all, which shows you how business-savvy I am") -- he says there are no plans to create a commercial-only version. "I think that would go against the spirit of the project, and honestly I'm not sure it would succeed if I tried."

That said, the lack of any person working full-time on Twine 2 means development has grown slower, and experiments Klimas would like to pursue may not be possible in the near future. Managing the practical aspects of a free, non-commercial utility that has the potential to reach so many is a challenge.

Yet Klimas is pleased with the project: "I like that it occupies this odd place where it's simultaneously a learning tool, a prototyping tool, and a full-bore creative tool," he says. "I like that it defies easy categorization, where some people scratch their heads at the output and wonder if it's a game, a story, or something else. I would prefer, however, that this debate took place with a lot less animosity."

"I would like more games built with Twine to appear in marketplaces like the App Store, Google Play, and Steam -- with all of the effort and polish that entails -- because I want people using Twine to feel there's a commercial path to take if they want," he adds. "But that's more up to the community, and perhaps market realities, than it is to me."

As for himself, Klimas has one big personal goal: "My niece and nephew are around kindergarten age right now. I'd really like to make games with them using Twine in a few years."


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