So I completed my first solo weekend game jam games at Dames Making Games (@DMGToronto) at the Snacktember members jam! It was a lot of fun, and definitely a test in self-judgement and self-reliance. Prior to this, I have completed Ludum Dare 26 (themed “Minimalism”) as a floater and the Oculus VR Jam (3 weeks long slow jam for the Oculus Rift) as an Art Lead. Snacktember’s theme was “tropes, especially inspired by Feminist Frequency’s Tropes Vs. Women”.
I figured Twine would make a great starting point for me to really flex my design muscles of out how narrative games really works. This would be a great way for me to figure out how to design for my real baby, Project Babel, to have naturalistic narrative progression in interactive game form. I have never learned Twine until this jam. Thankfully, my initial impression is true: It really proved to be a great exercise in not just creative writing, but also in game design.
Mind, it’s a prototype, built and learned in a cumulative 16 hours. Yes, minor grammatical and sentence structure gripes.
I also really wanted to pay respects to the theme. After significant questions marks popping up all over the space above my forehead, I figured I’d go with something that is both a familiar narrative theme to me, but also a challenge to write. I wanted to subvert the damsel in distress trope by putting the player in the role of a woman who is under house arrest for a politically motivated charge. It’s also a story about friendship and redemption. Yes, you are actually being put in the situation of “Peach in a Castle” in the style of pragmatic realism, not a male-oriented fairytale. When I say that it’s based on familiar themes, it is because I take to reading both polisci analyses and political film thrillers.
What I really enjoyed:
- Taking the time to write out a comprehensive storyline summary (about 5 pages long), suggesting the relationships of characters and their environment ahead of time.
- How CSS really isn’t that hard, even though I probably shouldn’t have prioritized at all, but it was fun to make the Twine look unique and fit the storyline.
- Seeing the Twine build get updated and then seeing how all the “scenes” flow together.
- I liked my own thematic take on subverting the damsel in distress.
- How basic Twine is so easy that I was surprised by it. Simple but powerful.
What could be done better:
- Oh my gosh, so much. I had a loss of faith on the second day that I was spending way too much time in areas of the game that the protagonist is “alone”. But it turned out that it was my best writing. Thankfully, I didn’t axe any of it. (What Henry Faber (@henryfaber) said is right: Don’t change your direction halfway through the game jam. Stay the course.
- I had not had the time to do 66% of the game. I honestly thought that I would be able to get maybe 75% of the writing done, if not all of it. Writing well takes longer than expected, but now I know how to time myself. I need to basically start thinking of it as I do with anything like a 3D game:
- Create a something akin to a greyboxing but in Twine, laying out all the branches of the story. I was so enamoured by Twine that I started writing chronologically; I fleshed out the descriptions and felt so connected to the story that I was emoting it. Even though emoting is actually kind of harmful to happiness and stamina for a project like this.
- Then, figure out which pieces of the story are the centre stage pieces, the ones that are the high points of exposition in the narrative. That’ll give it better flow, just like in a 3D level.
- Good texturization is important, though, because it helps sell the atmosphere as realistic and suitable for the world that it’s meant in. Same for 3D level design as it is for interactive novels. I should have approached it more strategically, maybe working out some of the dialogue parts out of chronology, but only after the skeleton/”greyboxing” has been established.
- I actually haven’t tried the above method yet, but when @HenryFaber mentioned it, I was like like “oh”! I just talked about this in a presentation! Hahah, spot on.
- Related to the above point, I actually didn’t have enough time to flesh out the exposition via dialogue as much as I had hoped (Part II). It’s rushed and I know it, and empathy for my characters therefore takes a nosedive. It’s because they’re not three-dimensional enough for me to implicate what their motivations and contradictions are.
Like all game jams, I learned a lot and had a lot of fun doing it. Dames Making Games is such a welcoming community for me to explore more unusual game content such as a story about a woman’s gradual agency even in the most limiting of circumstances. I’m very blessed to be part of such a community and to receive such positive feedback and thoughtful advice from the members and coordinators there. Thank you for making it a great experience! Special thanks to @alexalksne for reading through some of my first Twine passages and letting me know that it hit the right tenor.