Branching Scenarios with Twine

Screenshot of a branched story created in twine.

Many years ago I heard about interactive stories, or gamebooks, that allowed readers to make decisions that would alter the course of the plot.

This idea was revised on reading Cathy Moore’s excellent blog: which in turn recommended a few examples such as this L&D specfic one:

Cathy also mentions the tool used to create them: – which is open source and cross platform.

I was suitably impressed and wanted to see what was feasible for creation of scenario or simulations online.

I set out to build myself a set of building blocks that could then be used with whatever storyline was needed. If you are familiar with flow charts this is a very similar process. (NBTwine uses the term “passage” to refer to what you could consider a page or node.)

Narrative with proceed to the next passage. A way of breaking up information so it might be as simple as:

You are in this situation. Click next to proceed

Narrative with choice. This time there is a decision to be made:

Something is happening and you can:
Do this
Do that
Do other

Where this, that and other are separate passages, which can each provide another choice to be made and options to take.

Those two components have the potential to be combined to allow our reader to control their way through the permutations of plot that we write for them.

At first glance this might look like any basic multiple choice question. The key difference is that as an author, I do not need to be constrained by a binary right or wrong answer. The option selected could determine the next situation.

But I wanted to see what other features I could incorporate. I was looking for a constrained choice. For example, you have a fixed budget and each option has an associated choice:

At the start of the year you have a budget of £10,000. 
Do you invest in:
  • Health and Safety training: £4,000
  • First Aid Training: £7,000
  • Safety Equipment: £5,000

I also wanted to be able to carry a variable across an entire story. So in the example above, the budget may be £10,000 but after you have made your first investment you will have some change remaining. You may also encounter a later situation where you either receive reward or face a fine.

I have assembled this into a functioning demo:

At this stage I have focused on the technical or functional aspects.

From a learning point of view, my next consideration would be the story. The plot is simply a way of illustrating the concept it, doesn’t have any additional goal.

Finally, the appearance of this story is the default white or blue text on black with no images. Once the technical and story aspects of the project are finalised this can be brought to life.

Please let me know what you think.

Problem solving with digital watches

…most of them were miserable, even the ones with digital watches.
The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams.

At a few times each year, a digital watch is handed to me with a request for it to be set to the current time. British Summer Time, GMT or some far flung timezone the trigger event. The owner of the watch does not know how to do it and despite several attempts, can not change the time.

But I don’t know how to complete this task.

I don’t do it frequently enough for it to be worthy of a place in my memory.

From an L&D perspective this should be a suitable case for a resource. A short set of instructions for me to follow to set the new time.

Yet it is typically completed in less time than it would take to search for and read such a guide.

So how would you develop someone to be able to do a task or solve a problem without having seen it before?

What I think I do is look for patterns:

  • One of the buttons will make one of the digits flash
  • One of the buttons will make a different digit flash
  • One of the buttons will change the digit
  • One of the buttons will stop everything flashing

Is four steps enough? Probably not. There are a few alternatives or exceptions that should be encountered:

  • It might be necessary to hold a button longer to achieve the desired result
  • Holding a button longer may make undesirable things happen
  • Not pressing any button may make everything stop flashing
  • Rather than a single press it may be necessary to press two buttons at once

Is that sufficient?

Again, probably not. Some personal attributes are necessary:

  • Be able to endure a number of failed attempts
  • To have good short term memory to prevent repeating unsuccessful patterns
  • To be motivated to compete this task with no expectation of reward

Finally, none of this would work without a well designed user interface. Because even though I can do this with the digital watch, twice a year the cooker is reset by the watch owner following the manual.