Interactive Storytelling Today

I recently came across a technology called InkleWriter.  It is a very simple system for creating interactive stories.  I consider it to be more of a glorified choose your own adventure, but using it did cause me to rethink a lot of what I had thought about interactive storytelling in the past.

I will be honest; Chris Crawford’s view of interactive storytelling is a standard that we may never meet, and if we try, we may fail completely at making any sort of interactive story.  His book is excellently written, and he has obviously thought about it a great deal, but there are still a lot of missing components.  For example, the chapter on personality models is very good, and explains how to create a personality model, but there is no real discussion on how to put them to use.  We can give our characters personalities, but we cannot give them the ability to make choices.

This is why Chris has put the original Storytron technology on the back-burner, and is now working on a multiplayer interactive story technology.

I was very sad when I read this a few months ago.  I’m all for multiplayer interactive stories, but what has always interested me in interactive storytelling is the idea of the computer making decisions for itself, and computer characters acting of their own volition.


Let’s talk about InkleWriter for a little while.  I really enjoyed using this website, since it was easy to use, and the features were few but robust.  I was able to learn pretty much everything about the program in a few hours, but the possibilities are pretty much endless.

Basically, you start by writing a paragraph, and then at the end of that paragraph you can add as many options as you want.  These options are what the reader is allowed to choose.  Each option takes you to a new paragraph, where you can write a new branch of the story.  However, you can do more than just this.  You can link paragraphs together so that you loop back to the main storyline; you can add markers, which are basically variables, which allow you to change certain options or sections of paragraphs; you can even add pictures to your stories.

Once your finished with your story, you can send the link to your friends and they can play through it right in their browser.  It’s all very accessible and simple to use, which is what I love about it.

However, it does have its limitations.  The markers I mentioned are very nice, and they allow you to change parts of the text depending on what the reader chose earlier in the story, but they are difficult to keep track of and organize.  I had the same problem with my paragraphs.  After writing about 2000 words, I was starting to get lost in all the paragraphs and story branches.

Inkle has no concept of locations, characters, or items.  It is simply text.  This makes it very simple, but also less robust that an ideal interactive storytelling environment would be.  It was very fun to play around with, and it really got me to thinking, but it’s not the be-all end-all of interactive storytelling.

I started to imagine some features I wished InkleWriter had, such as a way to edit your stories on the desktop or offline, a way to save your progress, etc.  Mainly technical issues.  But I also started thinking of what aspects of it could be put into an interactive storytelling technology.  The main thing I liked about Inkle was that you always knew everything you could do.  The main problem, but also main advantage, of interactive fiction, is that you have to type in what you do.  In some ways this is beneficial, but in other ways it makes IF less accessible to people who have never played IF before.

I really have nothing more to say, so I will leave you to mess around with InkleWriter and cry over the demise of Storytron as we knew it.  However, I hope we can all learn a lesson from Chris Crawford’s rocky journey into the land of interactive storytelling.


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