Writing Lillie and Ransome

          I am dubbing Scrivener my “official” tool of choice for writing game narrative. Previously Journler had been my go to app for organizing writing projects, but unfortunately development on Journler ceased last year. Earlier this year I went looking for a replacement and found Scrivener. Writing organization apps aren’t sexy like an IDE, or 3D modeler, so Scrivener has grown on me slowly but steadily, growing to the point where it has rooted deep in my workflow. I use it for dialog, character sketches, plot outlining, brainstorming, compiling research…. You get the idea: when writing my game’s story, I use Scrivener.
          One of my tasks in creating Lillie and Ransome, my first foray into writing an object oriented interactive fiction “engine”, has been to carve up the story into game objects. Rather than build an engine, and then figure out how to fit my game inside it, I prefer to first design the game and then figure out how to build an engine for it. So before I can even come up with a system of objects, I need to come up with a story, then break this down into smaller parts. Setting for example can be reduced to specific locations. Plot can be reduced to scenes, challenges that the characters face etc…. The ultimate goal is to determine what kinds of objects the game will need, and then later get around to defining them.
          As I break each part of the story into smaller and smaller components, I come closer to identifying shared qualities, categories for these game objects. Elements within the story inherit from the “noun” superclass / category. I will also need a “verb” object which is a super class of all the things a character can do. “Verbs” are most important for defining player choices, as the interface for these kinds of games is traditionally a stripped down sentence beginning with a verb and followed by objects if necessary. This is actually quite generic to all interactive fiction so I have been somewhat disingenuous in presenting it as an example of the solutions I have created specifically for Lillie and Ransome. Honestly I am primarily using this writing process to determine what actual “verbs” and “nouns” the game will use.
          However another consideration on my mind while writing the game is how the player will direct the story itself. What decisions will the player face and how are they presented? Step one was to break the story down into structures like plot, sub-plot, transitional scenes, etc… and then determine the base elements of these such as challenges faced by the protagonist. I am still working on what a story challenge actually is, but have an idea that they will serve as critical junctions in the story. Some can act as locked gates preventing progression of the story until overcome. Others as decisions between branches of the story. I think incorporating the choose your own adventure style of interaction in which a player chooses from an array of choices clearly spelled out for them could work well.
          Incidentally while playing Echo Bazaar I have been inspired by their particular variation of the choose your own adventure idea. Each turn the player has an array of choices. Even though each choice could be made over and over again, consequences of particular actions unlock “storylets” which enables additional choices for the player. Choices in Lillie and Ransome will of course not allow (nor require) repetition of the same choice, but the way in which Echo Bazaar suggests a broader story through storylets unlocked by consequences of player decisions is inspiring, and at the least reinforcing for me that COYA is an acceptable mechanic in a game.
          Throughout this reductive process, Scrivener has been immensely helpful because it treats a writing project as a collection of parts, or “scrivenings” in Scrivener parlance. Each of these parts can then be linked with the others in a variety of ways. The parts can be anything you want: chapters, character sketches, plot outlines, descriptions and so on. This makes it adaptable to a wide array of writing projects including game writing. Here’s a screenshot of another project I occasionally work on, a mod for NWN called Line of Succession:

          On the left of the window, you can see how I have organized each of the pieces of writing into folders. I have selected my “Characters” folder, and then in the main part of the window is a cork board view with an index card synopsis of each character. Each of those index cards represents a full text file with everything I have to say about the character. As one might do with a wiki, I link relevant files together. So a character file might contain a link to a description of the faction that character belongs to, or a file describing the character’s possible dialog in the game. (Admittedly, an actual wiki is more useful for linking bits of text to one another, but wiki mark-up is such a drag that I’d rather not use one unless I need to collaborate with a team of writers.)
          Also of note is Scrivener’s research folder. While brainstorming a plot for a game, I like to surf the web for very old stories, mythology, fairy tales and the like that share similarities with what I am working on. Line of Succession for example draws upon the ballet “Giselle”, an old story by Sir Walter Scott titled “Anne of Geiersteen”, and various fairy tales about witches. In my research folder, I have captured web archives of the material I might need to refer to often. It is much easier to click through a collection of web archives in my writing application (especially when offline) than it is to go to my browser and navigate back to those websites again. In Lillie and Ransome, I am drawing upon the medieval romance, “Roswall and Lillian”, for inspiration.
          Two websites well suited for this kind of research are Project Gutenberg and SurLaLune Fairy Tales. Please support their efforts if you have the opportunity.
          I’m not going to belabor this any further and describe how I have specifically worked my way from the broad story to individual game objects. It is difficult to discuss this clearly without using examples that would give away the story itself, and anyway since I have so much more work to do here I best return to it.