Why Twine?

As an indie developer and interactive fiction author, I’ve worked in Unity, Unreal, GameMaker, Construct 2, and Inform 7, among other systems.

I’ve done more with Inform 7 than anything else. I’ve written quite a few games and a quick-start tutorial, and I’m currently running a competition called ParserComp, which exists to promote parser games (such as those written in, say, Inform 7).

But when people come up to me and say, “I want to make a game, but I’ve never made a game before,” I recommend Twine.

twine logo

Why Twine?

As a game development platform, Twine excels in three ways.

1. The intuitive interface makes it easy to play games.

As game developers and gamers, we build up conventions about how to play games. Consider the simple task of navigating a gameworld with a protagonist.

  • First-person shooter on PC: move with WASD, look by moving the mouse
  • Adventure game: click the mouse on a location, wait for the protagonist to walk there
  • Standard roguelike: move with arrow keys
  • Parser game: enter compass directions (N, E, S, W, etc) or object names (go door)
  • Platformer with controller: move with D-pad, except for jumping, which is the A button (or equivalent)

These are not intuitive! They are not wildly unintuitive – but they are dramatically different from one another, and attempting to use the wrong schema for a given game type is entirely ineffective.

The list above examines only one facet of games, for a narrow set of games – but what is the convention for

  • …dropping a Tetris block?
  • …establishing a trade route?
  • …agreeing to fulfill a Sim’s wish?
  • …repairing the oxygen?
  • …activating overdrive?
  • …planting a Wallnut?
  • …setting up an orange portal?

Most of these have no innate convention. They seem intuitive to experienced players of each game in question, but only because they have been taught how to play. One of the greatest challenges in game design is teaching players how to play.

Twine games, by contrast, are intuitive. The conventions of Twine games are the core conventions of the Internet: Twine games work on hyperlinks, exactly like the Internet does. People who can recognize and use hyperlinks can play Twine games.

2. The portability of the browser format makes it easy to distribute games.

Distribution and access are the first hurdle in acquiring players.

If players literally can’t play your game – because of OS conflict, because of download size, because of system requirements – then you lose those players automatically.

Then, looking at the subset of people who can play your game, you lose people based on how many hoops they have to jump through and their hoop-jumping tolerance.

Downloading a game is a hoop. Downloading an interpreter is a hoop. Installing a special plug-in is a hoop. Fiddling with DLLs is a hoop. Deactivating virus warnings is a very, very worrying hoop. Each time you ask people to do one of these things, you lose the players who say “no”.

Twine games require no downloads and no plug-ins. They are playable in all modern browsers, which covers not only most computers, but many mobile devices and probably some consoles. Making a Twine game available for players is as easy as taking the generated HTML file and putting it on a website – and free Twine hosting at philome.la removes even the need for the a website.

Screenshot of philomela website, with login, upload, and "name your game"

3. The streamlined visual interface makes it easy to create games.

Game design, writing, and coding are three different skills. The indie game dev scene, and especially the interactive fiction scene, conflates them to a certain degree – after all, when you’re the only person on your project, then you have to be responsible for all three.

But knowing how to code is an artificial barrier to game design. It’s like having to pass a trigonometry test before painting a landscape. Yes, trigonometry can be used to describe the shapes of hills and trees – but the skill sets are entirely different.

At AAA studios, the workforce is large enough for the disciplines to be separated. Coders are responsible for coding, writers are responsible for writing, and designers are responsible for designing. Designers may have to master engine tools for design, but they are not required to write those tools from scratch. Engineers may contribute a few great lines of dialogue, but they are not invited to rewrite quest flows. The workforce of an AAA studio allows people to specialize.

Before the advent of visual scripting engines, an aspiring indie digital game designer had two choices:

  1. Learn to code.
  2. Hire or recruit a coder.

Being a digital game designer was a restricted privilege. The only people who could create digital games were people who could afford, in time, money, or social capital, to fulfill or circumvent the artificial barrier of coding.

That isn’t the case any more.

Twine isn’t the only visual game engine. Construct 2, GameMaker, Gamesalad, Blueprint for Unreal, and Playmaker for Unity all provide visual scripting systems for game creation. These are all valuable, powerful tools, and for a graphics-focused game, any one of them would be a more logical choice than Twine.

But Twine allows anyone with access to the Internet to make a game. The Twine 2 IDE runs in a browser, requires no download, requires no payments, requires no coding skills, and has a core interface that is even easier than Microsoft Powerpoint. More people can use Twine than any other engine, which means more people can make games using Twine than any other system.

Thanks to Twine, anyone can make games – and that’s a good thing.

(Apart from this, Twine is a great gateway to coding. But that’s beside the point.)

In sum:

Twine allows more people to make more games that will be played by a broader audience.

I believe that games are a core artistic medium, like painting, prose, poetry, and music. I believe that games are powerful and important tools for expression. I want everyone to have access to this medium, not just a privileged few.

I am proud to champion Twine. It says something about who I am and what I stand for.

You read this article, so you presumably have some interest in game development and easy ways to make games. If you’ve never made a game before – why not give it a shot?

You can start today.

twine heart

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  1. I would also recommend Inklewriter as worth trying. Inklewriter is less flexible–you can’t do inline links (and forget about macros, though for the beginning gamemaker that’s a good thing)–but it has most or all of the same advantages you mention in the post. It does push you to narratives where the links are actions (like the CYOA choices at the end of the page) rather than Twine’s more free-form link style.

    The big disadvantage is that you may have to host your stories on inklewriter’s servers (or maybe there’s a way to export them that I don’t know about), though that does mean you can host them without having to have a Twitter account!

    I also find Inklewriter’s interface more intuitive once you play the tutorial game, though Twine 2 has made leaps and bounds over Twine 1. OTOH when I was playing with Twine 2 just now I accidentally made three new passages in a row while trying to link back (because I forgot that links are case-sensitive), so there’s still a hurdle for me… and Inkle has a graphic thingy for setting up variables, which is nice (at least in Twine 1, using variables gives me a bit of an ice-cream headache).

    One big advantage that Twine has is that it’s more accessible to the Twine community, of course.

    • Graphics for variables would not be a bad thing!

      I still haven’t worked with Inklewriter yet, but I’ve been meaning to give it a shot. I ought to put my money where my good intentions are. Twine is the best system that I’ve personally used – but that doesn’t mean there aren’t better ones out there.

      (I liked Varytales, too, but it seems to be on indefinite hiatus.)

  2. I know this post is rather old, but I’d also like to point out the existance of Twee, Twee 2, and Tweego (mostly for those who are visually impaired, but also for those who are used to coding something like html, although I understand the majority of this article applies to non-coders.)

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