Twine Dev Blog 1

Twine Dev Blog Or: How Do I Get In the Game Industry? Ask a Bad Question At a Giant Bomb Panel.

Post 1: Why Depression Quest Is Secretly a Technical Marvel

Before I get into the post proper, a few things bear saying.

One: I am working on a Twine project of an incredible scale and scope. Do not take this as a product announcement, and do not take it for granted that this project will ever see the light of day. But whether it eventually comes out in some form or not, I can say with some certainty that I am working on it right now.

Two: I would not be working on this project had I not asked an ill-conceived goof question at PAX East this year. If you have depression, or even if you don't, you might understand why being hated by the entire Giant Bomb community might not put one in the best mind-state. And, not being in the best mind-state, I put together a piece of rudimentary interactive fiction using the Giant Bomb blog system to simultaneously work through and convey my feelings at the time, while also staving off any rash decisions. Being that its content was somewhat worrisome, it was quickly deleted by the mods. The desire to preserve that piece of "interactive" "fiction" led me to investigate Twine in earnest, which I had heard about before, but previously had no interest in working with.

Three: I would not be working on this project if not for Zoe Quinn. The aforementioned piece of interactive fiction was inspired by (and posited itself as an unofficial sequel to) Quinn's Depression Quest. In addition, my goals for the project I'm currently working on largely consist of following the trails that she blazed. Namely, the goal of getting the project through Greenlight and onto Steam proper. In my case, depending on how it comes together, my project might also have the budget to justify charging for it. That should be fun. Nothing bad could possibly come out of that.

It can be difficult to see why the game industry's favorite cyborg made something so special with Depression Quest. If you're a traditionalist, you may question its status as a video game. For one, there's no video. Second, it's barely a game. People who argue that DQ is not a video game are, of course, wrong, because by that measure, Zork is not a video game, and no one's qualified to make that call.

I admit, when I first played DQ in August of last year (AKA The Month Where Video Games Went Kablooey), I accepted it as a video game purely on an academic level. Yes, people who said it wasn't a video game were wrong, but I could see where they were coming from. It's not until I started working with Twine myself that I could see Quinn's technical wizardry at work. Or would it be technical witchcraft? Let's keep it gender neutral and go with technical sorcery.

The sorcery is apparent from the moment you turn the game on. If you're not familiar with Twine, it may look unremarkable, but Twine games don't normally look like that. The earlier version of that game (which I just linked to) is more representative of what most Twines look like, but the newer version doesn't look much different. When you're making a Twine game yourself, it's at the point where you try to change Twine's default look that you realize that, as easy as Twine is touted to be, it's not a cakewalk by far. Granted, it's easier if you have a background in web development, because to get Twine to look how you want, you have to learn CSS. It can be somewhat difficult to go from "What the hell is CSS?" to getting your game to look just right, though it's definitely not impossible (I was able to do it after all). For something that was said to be so easy, I expected it to have a WYSIWYG editor, but to really get major stuff done in Twine, you need to have a working knowledge of HTML, CSS, and even a little Javascript. If I polished my skills in those three areas and learned SQL and PHP, I could market myself as a qualified web developer.

The second major thing I noticed is that the game has controller support. I thought nothing of it when I played the game in August, but playing it again before writing this, my jaw literally dropped. I don't know if I can properly convey how fucking nuts it is that there's controller support. I haven't played every Twine game out there, but I feel pretty confident in saying that this is the only one to have this feature. I have no idea how it was done, but it's now something I have to seriously investigate.

The degree of interactivity is also something to be lauded. Twine is a tool for creating interactive fiction, but a lot of Twines ignore the "interactive" part of the phrase (Trigger Warning: homophobic language). Which is not to say that those stories have no value, because some of them are really fucking out there. But DQ is notable for having choices with actual consequence and impact that lead to one of multiple endings. There are variables and status effects. For all of people's whining about how DQ isn't a game, it's actually about 2-4 times the video game that most Twines are.

If you looked at any of the Twines I linked to in the previous paragraph, you may have noticed that none of them have audio. This is because, by default, audio is not accounted for by the Twine engine. There are a number of ways to implement audio in a Twine, but none of them are intuitive. However, DQ doesn't merely implement audio as an afterthought, it incorporates it into an integral part of the experience. Of particular note is the layering of synth pads onto the background piano track, which are always in key. I'm not sure if this is a function of the composition of the music or if there's actually adaptive audio going on. Whichever it is, the audio further elevates DQ from most Twines.

It's well known that DQ went through some trials and tribulations to get through Greenlight and onto Steam. Less known is that it's likely that even the road to submit it to Greenlight was full of obstacles. In order to submit to Greenlight, games need to be a standalone executable, which Twine does not export. Other than its own project files, Twine only exports a text-only file for proofing purposes, and a .html file. What the hell are you supposed to do with that? If you have a Twitter account, you can host it on philome.la, but your audio won't work. You can upload it to itch.io, but it will be embedded and not fullscreen. You can host it on Neocities, if that's your thing, or you can host it on Google Drive if you draw the right transmutation circle and chant the right incantations (I don't know how that person figured that out, but it's a great thing for everyone that they did). But none of these options get you on Steam. I haven't tested the solution I came to for converting .html files into executables, but chances are it's not the miracle program it advertizes itself as. The credits for DQ mention that someone else is responsible for the "webkit port," but even after perusing the webkit homepage, I can't really figure out what, exactly, it is.

In my research, I found a simple walk cycle animation made entirely with CSS. The demo was also on YouTube, where the comments were filled with the sentiment that "That's a shitty animation, you could do this so much better and easier in Flash." I wanted to reach through my computer monitor and shake them by the shoulders, saying "YOU FUCKING IDIOT, THAT'S NOT THE POINT." In the same way, people see a text-based game on Steam and think "WTF, that's so easy to make. That's not a real game." They say that not realizing that there was actually a lot of work that went into it. Even if DQ was the only thing Zoe Quinn made (and it isn't), based on that, I wouldn't buy the argument that she's not a "real" game developer. It's almost like there's some other reason why she's so hated.

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