Tag Archives: narrative

Beginner’s Guide to Inklewriter

by Hap Aziz

I developed this brief tutorial to help people get up and running in Inklewriter fairly quickly. (If you’re not already familiar with it, Inklewriter is a web-based authoring tool that lets you create Choose Your Own text adventure games. It can be used for many purposes, especially prototyping simulations based on branching choices.

Introduction

Inklewriter is a web-based software that is used to create Interactive Fiction in the Choose Your Own Adventure (CYOA) format. Interactive Fiction (IF) is a type of computer game that lets the player read a story and make choices that can change the direction and outcome of the story. Using Inklewriter for education purposes, abstracted (text-only) simulations may be created for a variety of learning assignments.

Because IF games are mainly text-based, IF games were among the first kind ever written for computers. CYOA games are a type of IF that give the player specific choices at the end of each section These types of games are also a form of branching scenarios. The player chooses what he or she would like to do, and the branching scenario moves forward based on the player’s selections. Although no longer at the height of their original popularity, CYOA branching scenarios are still quite engaging, and they can be used on their own, or they may be developed as proof-of-concepts for more graphically-intensive simulation.

There can be many different outcomes in an CYOA branching scenario, or the story can lead the player to a single ending. It is up to the creator to decide what the player is able to accomplish. To direct the player’s path through the scenario, the creator must develop a “map” of the story. The map is an outline of the story narrative along with the decisions a player is allowed to make and the places in the story that those decisions may be made. More instruction on this will be provided later in this document.

Inklewriter is freely available. To get to Inklewriter, all you need is a computer with access to the Internet using a standard web browser. You will go to the URL http://www.inklestudios.com/inklewriter/ and your screen should look something like this:

Click on the Start Writing button. When you do that, another tab will open up in your browser, and you will see this on your screen:

You will be able to create your own account by clicking the “sign in” button to get to the following screen.

Here, you will click on the Create New Account link.

Once you sign into your Inklewriter account, you will see the screen below.

This is your “blank sheet of paper” for creating your branching scenario. You will learn how to create a basic scenario using Inklewriter, but first we will talk about planning the scenario. It is very important to have an outline of how you want your scenario to “flow” and the choices you want the player to be able to make.

How to Design a CYOA Interactive Fiction Game

The key concept behind creating a CYOA branching scenario is that you must give players the opportunities to make choices during the scenario. These choices should in some way change the actual flow of the scenario. In a traditional story (such as in a book you might read), the story flows in one direction (linearly) from start to finish, like this:

There are no choices to be made, because the storyteller, author, or instructional designer has already decided what will happen and in what order everything takes place. In a CYOA branching scenario, however, certain places in the story allow the player to choose the direction.

The above diagram is an example of a story that branches after the beginning into two different paths. The player may select one of two options, and the result be a different ending. It is possible to have many options in the middle portion of your branching scenario, and this may result in more possible endings. Below is an example.

We see that after the beginning branches into two paths, those two paths branch into two more paths before getting to the four possible endings. You can imagine how big this map could become if you added several more levels that branch in between.

Your map can be as simple or as complex as you like. And it is even possible to have the branches of the scenario come back together instead of always separating. On a map, that might look something like the following:

You can see in the above diagram that there are multiple paths that will take the player to the different endings. Although this is a more challenging scenario to create, it is often the most satisfying to play because of all the choices a player may make.

Planning the Story

When planning your story for the scenario, you will need to do the following things:

  • Gather your materials, just as you would for a formal report or presentation. You will want to find good sources, especially those that might depict a narrative regarding the subject matter you expect to cover.
  • Since your scenario will be in the form of a story, you may want to identify key figures with whom your scenario player might have “conversations,” such as an HR manager, professor, or characters from an historical event.
  • You may want to think about a particular event or activity for your story, such as an employee review, a meeting between colleagues, or even a past war.
  • You will want to decide the location in which the events of your game takes place. That location may be inside a building like a library, a government building, a city, or even a combination of places.
  • You will want to identify objects that might have significance to the story you want to tell. For example, there may be a set of forms that contains information you want your game player to know, or there may be a policy manual to be reviewed.
  • You should create a navigation map on paper first, outlining the story and the action choices where the story branches. Index cards might be a good tool for you to use.

As you write your branching scenario, the places where the story branches into different paths are where the player chooses different actions to take. For example:

You are in a field of rolling hills on a sunny day. Not too far in front of you, you see a jet fighter that has crash landed. The canopy of the jet is open, and the pilot was able to get out of the plane safely. He is sitting on the ground next to the jet.

  • You ask the pilot what happened.
  • You turn around and run to find help.

The paragraph of text “sets the stage” for this part of the scenario. This particular scenario might be about describing historical actions taken during the Six Day War. After encountering the pilot, the player has two choices to make:

  • You ask the pilot what happened.
  • You turn around and run to find help.

For each choice, you must decide what happens next. Let’s look at how to do this in Inlkewriter.

On the “blank” Inklewriter page you would type a title for your scenario (“A Pilot’s Tale” in this example), your name, and the paragraph of introductory text. Then you would click on the “Add option” button to type in your action choices:

  • You ask the pilot what happened.
  • You turn around and run to find help.

To enter text that should be connected to the particular action, you click on the arrow button on the right side of that action. That will bring up another text box for you to enter the next section of your scenario.

To continue the story after the choice of “You ask the pilot what happened,” you should think of the next part of the story and compose the text in a way that makes sense. For example, this could be the next section (as shown above):

The pilot looks up at you and says, “We saw that Egyptian forces were being built up on our border along the Sinai Peninsula. Our air force was given the command on June 5th to launch a pre-emptive airstrike.” He pauses for a moment, and you notice that his lips are chapped.

  • You offer the pilot your canteen.
  • You ask what happened to the Egyptians.

As you build out the different areas of your scenario, you may want to check the progress of your navigation by clicking on the “map” link at the top of screen. This will bring up a visual representation of the flow of your scenario such as the one below. The map that Inklewriter displays as you create your scenario should closely resemble the outline you first made when developing your scenario idea.

From here, you will continue to add branches and narrative blocks in the same manner. You may add as many branching choices as you like to each section, but more than three or four choices becomes difficult to manage. You will continue this process until all your branching paths lead to a conclusion in the scenario.

We have only touched upon some of the most basic functionality within Inklewriter so that your first experience using the system is straightforward. There are a number of resources for Inklewriter available, and within the Inklewriter authoring system there is a “tutorial” link in the top menu bar that provides a lot of helpful information.

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Filed under games, gamification, Hap Aziz, Inklewriter, instructional design, narrative, play, simulation, storytelling, text adventure, text adventure games

Engaging Learners through the Power of Narrative

foxnews

Narrative as a framework for learning is one of my favorite topics. I few weeks ago I had the pleasure of presenting on this topic for the Florida Distance Learning Association at the University of Central Florida. Feel free to take a look here: https://ucf.adobeconnect.com/_a826512158/p7sfo087at2/?launcher=false&fcsContent=true&pbMode=normal.

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Filed under education technology, Hap Aziz, Interactive Fiction, life-long learning, narrative

More Avatars: Playing with Gender in Simulation and Narrative

by Hap Aziz

In considering the “classic” definition of the term “avatar” of vessel for God on Earth, we are immediately put into the frame of mind of a one-way relationship or control, much like a puppet-master and marionette: the one pulling the strings while the other gives expression to direction received. However, in the play environment, we find that there is a more sophisticated relationship between gamer and character. When the gamer becomes immersed in the simulation environment and the narrative unfolds, he or she sees events from the perspective of the avatar. It is as though these events exist for the avatar’s life, separate from the gamer… and as though the events would continue even without the gamer’s participation.

Steven Poole argues that gamers learn to care for their characters to the point of feeling grief at their loss. This may be driven by the fact that gamers see events through their characters’ perspective most often (Poole, 2000). This phenomenon is not limited to computer games; Gary Fine found that table-top role playing gamers became very invested in the “lives” of their characters to the point of cheating to protect the favorites (Fine, 1983).

So we see that there is a relationship that changes or affects the gamer in potentially significant ways. This becomes even more interesting when we consider the willingness of many male gamers to “try on” female forms in the games they play. Carol Clover considers this process a way to play with pronouns, so to speak, during the course of a narrative (Clover, 1992). And we do see this quite frequently: the Tomb Raider series of games features a female character, while the Virtua Fighter series is nearly half female characters — and both games are played predominantly by males.

Yet there is a disconnect between the simulation and the narrative where the willingness to swap genders ends.  In considering the original Battlestar Galactica versus the remake, we see counter-example: a large number of males who were unwilling to accept the Battlestar Galactica remake cite that the characters Starbuck and Boomer were originally males as reason for their reticence.

Gonzalo Frasca argues that “unlike traditional media, video games are not just based on representation,” and that, “even if simulations and narratives do share some common elements,” they are essentially different (pp. 221-222). This is a key distinction, and one that explains why while a boy might play as Lara Croft in Tomb Raider, he likely would not want to play with a Lara Croft doll. There is some difference, it would seem, in the way gender is considered in simulation versus narrative.

Which leads me to the question: What are the boundaries of those differences, and how might we leverage that knowledge in utilizing avatars to educate and promote awareness of gender roles in the real world?

References:

Clover, C. (1992). Men, women, and chain saws: Gender in the modern horror film. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Fine, G. (1983). Shared fantasy: Role-playing games as social worlds. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Frasca, G. (2003). “Simulation versus narrative.” In Wolf, M. & Perron, B. (Eds.), The video game theory reader (pp. 221-235). New York: Routledge.

Poole, S. (2000). Trigger happy: The inner life of video games. London: Fourth Estate.

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Filed under avatars, games, gender roles, narrative, simulation