The Unexpected Challenges of Writing

An unexpected challenge to Skeeter’s Grid has been the writing. I had assumed this would be of the easiest aspects of game-building… not so much because have a low opinion of writing or prose or poetry but because fiction had been my avocation of choice prior to embarking in game design. I’ve had stories published in a number of speculative and literary magazines and even won a literary fiction prize. Plus, I’ve written interactive fiction and used to be on the staff of sub-Q Magazine, a professional interactive fiction site.

As it turns out, managing game narrative against a series of complex conditionals is not easy to say nothing of the task of writing compelling prose, and yes, although Skeeter’s Grid is a puzzle game there is, in fact, a story, which changes with repeated play-through. It isn’t terribly different than writing interactive fiction (especially some of the more programmer-oriented tools like TADS3), but I made the critical mistake of composing all dialog in-engine.

Frankly, I should have known better. Not only can one find narrative tools built for Unity (i.e., Yarn Spinner), but IF ecosystem itself contains a number of powerful frameworks, any number of which I could have employed for narrative prototyping.

Consider Twine, a web-based tool providing both simple and complex branching mechanisms with little or no learning curve (for basic functionality).

Or a step more complex, consider Ink Script by Inkle, which even provides a Unity plugin (with 3rd party Unreal plugins available). For Skeeter’s Grid, Ink wouldn’t have been great, but it’s still worth evaluating and could be perfect for some games.

Others are also available… I’ve already mentioned TADS3, but the learning curve is too steep for simple narrative prototyping, and I’d say the same for Inform7.

But anyway, how are things going with Skeeter’s Grid given all of this? Not bad… I think my home-grown, in-engine solution is pretty good for what it is, and I do love the flexibility of adding a bit of code to expand the narrative functionality, but if I had to do it over again (ahem… for my next game), I will likely be using Twine…. but I’ll take a look around first.

Thanks for reading.

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