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Exploring XR interactivity with Twine

I've recently been working on some new branching narrative scripts for Embodied Labs, a company that provides first person immersive learning experiences for caregivers.

This will be the second time I'm writing fairly complex scripts for their 360˚ VR training modules. Not complex in terms of dialogue, but complex in terms of keeping track of all the various branches and ensuring that you land where you need to be, with all your I's dotted and T's crossed!

I find it is one of the eternal questions that those of us writing for VR ask ourselves and each other - how do you format the script? I have to confess, I am still experimenting! Each project is different - some are live shoots, as in this case. Some are immersive theatrical experiences like Finding Pandora X and resemble a typical theatrical script, while still others are gaming experiences where the minimal dialogue goes into a spreadsheet, to be triggered alongside a game mechanic.

But script formatting is for another day! Let's talk about mapping out branching narratives.

Twine is an open-source tool for telling interactive, nonlinear stories that I discovered a few years ago, when Amazon's Echo was first released. I was wondering whether it would be possible to develop a bedtime story for kids with choices along the way ("Alexa! Tell me a story!"). What would happen, for example, if you followed the bears into the forest instead of following Goldilocks into their house? The resulting prototype was a resounding hit with my niece and nephew, but by then, other story apps were out on the Echo and there was no business model, and... you get the picture!

Twine is ideal for creatives who don't know how to code. Yes, you can jazz it up if you know CSS and JavaScript, but you can also use it to prototype your script and interactions with simple hyperlinks, allowing your stakeholders to "play through" the experience, and providing a map for the director and film team who will need to keep track of all the scenes.

Below is a screenshot of last year's branching modules for Embodied Labs. If you like doing puzzles as much as I do, you can imagine what a joy it was to work on this project!

Once you've pasted in all your dialogue and created all your branches with hyperlinks, you publish your file, generating an html code, embed it on your website and voilà! An elegant playable prototype. The very top box that you see on the above diagram looks like the image below once the html code has been embedded. The green titles are clickable and take you to further choices:

For obvious confidentiality reasons, I can't share the whole Twine with you, but maybe one of these days I'll resurrect my Goldilocks story and share it here so you can read it to the kids in your life. Be prepared to read it numerous times in a row, though, as each choice leads to a different outcome!


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