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Prototyping Tools for Game Writers


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A game is best evaluated by playing it and prototyping is therefore an important activity in game development. Game writers and narrative designers are responsible for the narrative structure of a game, which may have a varying degree of interactivity to it. The aim of this paper is to analyse the role of prototyping tools for game writers. There is a limited range of such tools available, of which Twine is one of the most established. Most of these tools have a text-based programming interface for modelling of game mechanics. This paper presents Deig—a prototyping tool for creating point-and-click adventure games. In Deig, game mechanics is modelled graphically using nodes from a set of primitives. We present an interview study where game writing students reflect on their experience of using Deig and Twine as prototyping tools. The result shows that both tools have their merits and complement each other. Deig was found to be intuitive for modelling of game mechanics, which lead students to create interactive narratives. Twine was found to be more useful for experimental writing. The conclusion of this work is that there is a need for a diverse set of prototyping tools to support game writing.
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Prototyping Tools for Game Writers
Henrik Engstro
Jenny Brusk
Patrik Erlandsson
Received: 11 April 2018 / Accepted: 30 May 2018 / Published online: 5 June 2018
The Author(s) 2018
Abstract A game is best evaluated by playing it and prototyping is therefore an
important activity in game development. Game writers and narrative designers are
responsible for the narrative structure of a game, which may have a varying degree
of interactivity to it. The aim of this paper is to analyse the role of prototyping tools
for game writers. There is a limited range of such tools available, of which Twine is
one of the most established. Most of these tools have a text-based programming
interface for modelling of game mechanics. This paper presents Deig—a proto-
typing tool for creating point-and-click adventure games. In Deig, game mechanics
is modelled graphically using nodes from a set of primitives. We present an
interview study where game writing students reflect on their experience of using
Deig and Twine as prototyping tools. The result shows that both tools have their
merits and complement each other. Deig was found to be intuitive for modelling of
game mechanics, which lead students to create interactive narratives. Twine was
found to be more useful for experimental writing. The conclusion of this work is
that there is a need for a diverse set of prototyping tools to support game writing.
Keywords Computer game Game writing Narrative design Pototyping Tools
&Henrik Engstro
Jenny Brusk
Patrik Erlandsson
School of Informatics, University of Sko
¨vde, Box 408, 541 28 Sko
¨vde, Sweden
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1 Introduction
Game development is a collective activity, where individuals from a range of
disciplines collaborate to create a complex product, and where the player is involved
in the creation of the experience. Programming, graphics, audio and game design
are well established disciplines in game development. In the last decades, game
writing has been added to this list (IGDA no date; Dinehart 2011). Writing is mainly
a solitary work using traditional tools such as pen, typewriter or word processor. A
game writer however needs to collaborate with other disciplines, and the written
material is integrated into a complex game production system. The game mechanics
may be integrated with the narrative, which means writers need to handle branching
narratives. Moreover, testing is essential in game development (Schell 2008). None
of this is supported by traditional writing tools. The lack of a universal tool or
format has been identified as the biggest challenge for game writers (Francis 2015).
The complexities of game writing have been handled in a range of different
ways: from individual authors who claim they keep the model in their head (Despain
2008) to large team projects where writers and computer scientists create highly
advanced AI-based interactive fiction (Koenitz 2016). An intermediate approach,
commonly used, is to model branching narratives using Twine ( 2018)
or similar tools. In Twine, game mechanics can be modelled using a traditional
scripting language. The programming environment provided in Twine lacks most
features found in modern integrated development environments. Writers, who
typically have a non-technical background, use Twine to write less logic-driven
games (Friedhoff 2013).
The aim of this paper is to analyse the role of tools for game writers who want to
prototype narrative and mechanical elements. This is done through a case study
where Twine and Deig, a novel tool for dialog-based adventure games, are
compared. A class of game writing students at the University of Sko
¨vde have used
booth tools in different assignments. Their experiences and reflections have been
analysed through semi-structured interviews. The result shows that both Twine and
Deig were found to be useful prototyping tools but with quite different benefits.
While Twine allows for more traditional authoring, and has a potential for
innovative gameplay, the threshold to create new game mechanics was found to be
high. Deig, on the other hand, is limited to a specific genre, but was conceived to be
intuitive and very easy to learn. This made it possible for persons with limited
programming proficiency to model game mechanics. The students reported insights
into the complexities of interactive storytelling from working with Deig, which they
had not got from working with Twine.
2 Background
Almost 20 years has passed since the ‘‘ludology versus narratology’’ debate
dominated the scholarly discussions on computer games (Aarseth 2012). Today, it is
hard to find anybody who claims that computer games cannot be studied from a
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narrative perspective or that the ludic dimensions of games make them different
from non-interactive narration. Aarseth (2012), for example, presents a ludic-
narrative design-space with four independent, ontic dimensions: world, objects,
agents and events. He gives examples on how different games can be positioned at
the pure story–pure game scale along these dimensions. Game mechanics is a
central element in most games. There exist many definitions of game mechanics,
used in different contexts such as game analysis and game design (Sicart 2008). One
popular example of the latter is the Mechanics Dynamics Aesthetics (MDA)
framework (Hunicke et al. 2004). In MDA, mechanics is defined in terms of the
algorithms and data; dynamics is the run-time behavior of the mechanics; and
aesthetics is the emotional response evoked in the player. A similar perspective is
presented by Ja
¨rvinen (2008) who emphasizes that mechanics can be seen as the
verbs of the game. When dialogs are used in games, they provide conversing to the
list of verbs.
2.1 Game Writing and Narrative Design
The International Game Developers Association (IGDA) describes game writers as
‘‘ those in the video game industry who write dialogue scripts, construct
overarching narrative structure, produce documentation and articles, and a myriad
of other writing tasks’ (IGDA, no date). IGDA does not define the role of a
narrative designer but as the name indicates, rather than writing, their main
responsibility is to design game narrative structures. Dinehart (2011) defines a
narrative designer’s role to ‘champion story, craft compelling narrative
elements, and define the systems through which they will be delivered to the
player. Interactive Narrative Design is a new craft waiting to be further defined and
explored’’. Given the large interest from scholars in the theoretical understanding of
narratives in games, there is an appalling lack of interest to study game writing, as
an applied activity. In the research database Scopus (Burnham, 2006) a search for
‘Game Writer’’ returns 5 publications and a search for ‘‘Narrative designer’’ returns
6. As a comparison, a search for ‘‘Game Designer’’ returns almost 1000 articles in
Scopus. The scholarly interest has a strong bias towards theoretical reasoning and
descriptive models rather than prescriptive (Koenitz 2016). Joyce (2015) presents a
list of essential criteria that should be considered to best balance story and player
agency. This list is based on previous scholarly discussions and experiences from
playing games. The closest Joyce gets to applied writing is a brief discussion on the
need for a ‘‘drama management system’’. This refers to studies from the AI research
community where there is an interest in interactive fiction. These approaches are
experimental, involves very advanced computational models, and do not represent a
pragmatic view of game writing.
There is a need for more studies on game writing and on how game writers, in
practice, can combine narrative and mechanics in games.
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2.2 Tools in Game Development
Tools are vital parts of game development (O’Donnell 2011) and they play an
important role in the creative process. In their study of creativity within the video
game industry, Le
ˆet al. (2013, p. 55) state that ‘‘[d]uring the creative process,
technology first acts as a medium between ideas and their realization’’ and they add
that, for games, ideas have to be implemented and tested before they make sense. It
is for this reason Schell (2008) argues that developers should ‘‘pick a fast loop
engine’’ to support early testing and iterative development. In the games industry,
prototyping is commonly used in the early phases of a development process
(Kasurinen et al. 2014; Schmalz et al. 2014) and companies expect their tools to
support prototyping and allow for change (Kasurinen et al. 2013).
A distinction can be made between the full-fledged game engines used to develop
the final game and lightweight prototyping tools that allow for rapid prototyping of
ideas. In game production, the tool-chain used can be of pivotal importance
(Murphy-Hill et al. 2014). Companies create and use pieces of software that glues
together the various tools used by different disciplines. This pipeline can be highly
specialized to specific company configurations and is typically not available when
game engines are released (O’Donnell, 2011). Custom made tools for game writers
may be part of this tool-chain. It is, however, notable that Excel is commonly
mentioned as an interchange format between game writers and programmers
(Despain 2008; Francis 2015). This indicates that there is a lack of specialized tools
for game writers.
Prototyping tools are different to the production tools in that they allow for quick
modelling of specific characteristics of a game and may not be part of the tool-chain.
Nelson and Mateas (2009) present a requirement analysis of tools to support game
design and the result of this study shows a variation in requirements from different
designers. Some preferred to focus on the interface while others requested easy to
use tools for modelling of game mechanics.
2.3 Prototyping Tools for Game Writing
There exist a large number of tools for rapid prototyping of games for specific game
genres or limited subsets of games such as 2D, single player games etc. Popular
examples of such tools include GameMaker: Studio, Construct 2, RPG Maker and
Stencyl (Ciesla 2017). Most of these tools employ a combination of graphical
modelling primitives and a scripting language to enable modelling of game
mechanics. None of these tools are specifically targeting game writers and have very
limited support for dialog writing or creating a narrative.
On the other side of the spectrum, there are general purpose tools that can be used
to model narratives, game logic and user interfaces. Word processors and
spreadsheets are used extensively, as well as writing tools focusing on managing
text fragments, e.g. OneNote or Scrivener. For modelling of dependencies and
flows, tools such as Visio may be used (Despain 2008). None of these tools support
executing the modelled flow or testing the game.
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There exist a few tools that are specifically targeted towards game writers. The
most comprehensive is Articy:draft (Nevigo 2018) which support complex
modelling of hierarchical state-charts. Another example is Chat mapper, which is
targeted at dialog modelling. The mechanical behaviour in Chat mapper is modelled
using Lua scripts. Articy:draft and the full featured version of Chat mapper are
commercial products aimed at the tool-chain for game production. They are not
primarily focused to support rapid prototyping of games. Among the freely available
tools, Twine, Inklewriter and Ren’Py are examples of popular tools (
2017). Ren’Py ( 2018) is a free tool focused on visual novels and its
primary interface to create content is through scripting. Twine and Inklewriter
( 2018) are both free tools for creating interactive stories, and both
offer sufficient capabilities for prototyping such content. The graphical modelling of
mechanics is limited in these tools, but both offer scripting languages, which can
support complex mechanics. Twine is currently the primary tool used to teach
interactive storytelling at the game writing program of the case presented in this
2.4 Twine
Twine is aimed at interactive storytelling and was originally developed by Chris
Klimas (Friedhoff 2013). In Twine, a game is created as a graph of connected
passages (Fig. 1, left). Each passage is written in a text panel (Fig. 1, right) where
prosaic text can be mixed with code segments and links to other passages. The core
functionality of Twine is to create hypertexts. A passage can be seen as a page in a
choose-your-own-adventure book. Links between passages are automatically added
to the graph based on the links in text (using the ‘‘[[Label- [Target passage]]’’-
The main purpose of Twine is to provide a graphical interface for creating
branching stories. Twine does not, however, provide a smooth interface for the
programming elements. Friedhoff (2013, p. 5) writes: ‘‘Twine has an ambivalent
Fig. 1 The passage graph of a Twine game (left) and the specification of a passage (right)
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relationship with code’’ meaning that although Twine lacks much of the expected
support to implement mechanics, there is a community who creates technically
advanced Twine games. The main advantage of Twine, which has attracted a large
user base, is that it provides a ‘‘code-free’’ environment for creating games (Salter
3 Deig
Deig is a standalone Java program that can be used to model logic, author dialog,
debug and test dialog-based 2D adventure games. This allows for rapid prototyping
of games. The tool has evolved through a research project primarily focused on
including visually impaired players in a gaming experience (Engstro
¨m et al. 2015).
As part of this project, two mobile games have been developed and released. During
the development of the first of these games, Frekvens Saknas (University of Sko
2015), the developers identified a need for a tool to support the dialog authoring. A
number of candidates were evaluated, including Twine, but none were found to
feature the required capabilities. Instead, the first version of Deig was developed and
used in the tool-chain. This first version was later extended to be used as a
prototyping tool in game design and game writing courses. Deig has then been
further extended and used in the development of Marvinter (University of Sko
2017), a game produced in collaboration with the national Swedish Radio as part of
their traditional, 24-episode advent calendar series. Marvinter was developed to
include visually impaired players and hearing-impaired players. The game’s
narrative was intertwined with the narrative of the radio calendar. The total play
time of the game was on average 7.2 h and it contained 10,000 recorded voice
acting lines. As Deig aims to include visually impaired players, it uses TTS
synthesis to enable rapid prototyping and testing of dialog. Deig games can be
played directly in the editor but they can also be exported to Unity where
prototyping assets (images and sounds) can be replaced with production quality
assets (using Unity’s systems for animations, lightning, 3D sound etc.).
The version presented and evaluated in this paper is Deig 1.1. This version has
been extended and revised and is available for public download ( It
can be run on Windows, OSX, and other desktop systems with a Java runtime
environment. This free version does not include the proprietary text-to-speech
(TTS) system used in the present study. Instead, it contains a number of free TTS
alternatives and an API to add additional TTS modules.
3.1 Modelling Primitives
A game created in Deig is composed of a number of chapters (levels). Each
chapter contains a number of locations, which in turn contains a number of
interactables. When a game is played, the player is located in one of the locations
and can be in one of two states: exploration state, where interactables can be found
and activated; and dialog state, where the player can engage in a traditional menus-
based dialog with the characters of the game. The logic of the game is modelled
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using a set of flow nodes, which are used to create a graph for each interactable. For
each location, there are two special types of interactables: enter interactable and
exit interactable. These interactables are triggered automatically when the player
enters and exits a location respectively.
Figure 2shows the main window of Deig. The window has three main panels: a
list of locations (upper left), a list of interactables (lower left) and a main panel
(right). The properties of a location can be edited in the list in the upper left corner.
In Fig. 2, the location ‘Bedroom’’ is selected, and its graphical representation is
shown in the main panel. There are two interactables in the Bedroom: Bed and
Door. The positions of these interactables are marked with circles in main panel.
3.2 Modelling of Game Mechanics
The dialog and logic of an interactable is modelled using a set of flow nodes
connected in a single-entry, directed cyclic graph (Fig. 3).
There are eight different node types that form the modelling language of Deig:
Act, Dialog, Set variable, Condition, Fork, Transit, Dice, and Code (see Table 1).
Each node can have one or more input connections and zero or more output
connections (Fig. 4). When a node graph is traversed and a node has more than one
output connection, the output is selected based on user input (the dialog node) or the
node’s logical behaviour (all other nodes). If a node has no output connection, the
game returns to exploration mode. In the case of the transit node, this is preceded by
the execution of the current location’s exit nodes (if any) followed by the new
location’s enter nodes (if any). The exploration then starts in the new location.
All node types, except the fork node, have inspector dialogs where the specifics
of a node are modelled. For dialog authoring, the act node editor is used, shown in
Fig. 5.
The dialog text is written as a sequence of lines. For each line, the character name
and an emotion are specified. For the main character, the line can also be flagged to
Fig. 2 The main window of Deig, with some sample game content
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Fig. 3 A node graph used to model the dialogs and logic of an interactable
Fig. 4 A node can have one or
more inputs (arrows leading to
the node) and zero or more
outputs (arrows leading from the
Table 1 The eight flow node types used to model dialog and logic in Deig
Icon Description Icon Description
Act node—a sequences of dialog
Fork node—selects the first output the first time,
the second all other times
Dialog node—enables the user to
select a dialog choice
Transit node—changes the active location for the
Set variable node—sets the value
of a named variable
Dice node—randomly selects an output.
Condition node—selects an output
based on conditions using
Code node—miscellaneous actions related to
game state (chapter transits etc.) and multimedia
(sound etc.)
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be inner monolog. When played, emotions and inner monolog are expressed
visually through different speech bubbles (Fig. 6).
4 Case Study
The role of tools for game writers have been analysed through a case study with
game writing students taking a course on dialog systems for games. In this course
they used both Twine, which they had prior experience of, and Deig, which was new
to them. Through semi-structured interviews their experiences and reflections have
been analysed.
4.1 Respondents and Course Module
The game writer programme at the University of Sko
¨vde is one of very few
dedicated programmes in this area in the world (Sheldon and Toftedahl 2016). It is
one of six 3-year bachelor programmes within computer games development at the
University. The other programmes major in programming, graphics, audio, music
and game design. In addition to courses focusing on their major, all programmes
contain collaborative game development projects where students from all
disciplines develop a 2D game (first year) and a 3D game (second year). The
students participating in this study were all second-year students, half-way through
their education. They had taken an introductory course to procedural programming;
an introductory course to game design and prototyping using GameMaker: Studio;
Fig. 5 The act node editor
where dialog lines can be added
and edited
Fig. 6 Play testing in Deig
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and they had used Twine in previous courses. They had participated in the first game
project but not yet in the second-year project.
The course module studied in this paper is focused on dialog systems for game
writers. The course contains two major assignments. The first is an individual
assignment where each student develops a dialog-based game using Twine (version
2.2.1). In the second assignment, students in groups of 2–3 develop a dialog-based
game using Deig. The students were given an introductory lecture followed by an
individual 3-h practical exercise in using Deig. The group then had 5 days to
complete the game. The assignment was finished with a play-test session where
groups tested each other’s games. The interviews were held in direct connection to
this test session.
4.2 Method
The interviews were held with the groups that had been working together with Deig.
The choice of the small group interview format was made to create a peer
environment similar to a format already established in many courses. The interview
followed a semi-structured protocol (DiCicco-Bloom and Crabtree 2006) with three
main sections: subjects’ background, their perception of the assignments and the
tools, and specific elements of Deig (Appendix 1).
Questions regarding their perception of the tools and difference between Twine
and Deig were gradually made more and more specific. This made it possible for
subjects to raise observations regarding differences before they were explicitly
asked about it. In the end of the interview, subjects were asked if they wanted to add
All interviews were recorded and transcribed. The transcribed material has been
coded and analysed using MAXQDA 2018 (Verbi 2018). A first step in the analysis
of the interview material was to identify recurring themes, which were then used to
code the transcripts. All interviews were held in Swedish. Cited quotes from
interviews have been translated into English. Text marked with italics indicates that
a clear emphasis was put on that word in the interviews. Ellipsis () marks longer
The respondents were informed that participation was voluntary, that they are
anonymous, and that the recordings will be deleted after transcription. A written
consent was signed by all participants.
5 Results
There were 19 students who were actively taking the course and they produced 16
Twine games individually (3 did not complete the assignment in time). All groups
completed the Deig task and created 8 games.
The Deig games have a playtime between 10 and 20 min. All games have
meaningful gameplay in that there are clear goals for the player to achieve and there
are consequences to the actions made. On average, a game has 300 dialog lines and
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involves 4 characters in addition to the protagonist. Figure 7shows the logical
model of an interactable in one of the produced games.
The Twine games produced in the module are more varied than the Deig games.
A majority has a linear progression without any repeated passages. Figure 8shows
the simplest (left) and most complex (right) structure of the 16 games. Note that
these are models for complete games while the model in Fig. 7is for one of 20
interactables in that game.
The produced prototyped were play-tested by primarily other students and
instructors on the course. All prototypes were high fidelity with respect to the
interactivity but there were differences in terms of visual design fidelity. The Twine
prototypes were in general low fidelity with the major interaction through a text-
based interface. These games were played in a web-browser on a desktop computer.
These games resemble game which Friedhoff (2013) claims is typical in the Twine
community. The Deig prototypes contained both graphics and audio and were tested
in two different versions: initially these games were tested in the low-fidelity player
Fig. 7 An example of a logic model for an interactable
Fig. 8 Examples on the structure of two produced Twine games
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of Deig on a desktop computer. The final games were tested in high fidelity versions
on tablets. In this version, many graphics and audio elements have production
quality. This type of prototype has been used extensively in play tests conducted in
the production of Marvinter (University of Sko
¨vde 2017).
In total 16 students (7 females, 9 males) chose to participate in the study. The
average age of subjects were 23 years. All eight Deig teams were represented in the
material. One of the interview sessions was held with a single respondent, another
with a team of three respondents. The remaining six sessions were held with two
respondents. The duration of interviews ranged from 16 to 25 min (on average
20 min).
5.1 Themes
A general observation from the initial analysis of the material is that the eight
groups gave a relatively uniform picture. Saturation was reached after approxi-
mately two-thirds of the groups. A number of recurring themes have been identified
in the material. These themes can be coarsely clustered where the first four themes
are more geared towards the comparison between Twine and Deig, while the last
three themes are more general reflections. The first four concern: the author
experience; modelling of structure; intuitiveness; and usability. The three remaining
themes relate to: game dynamics; implications of audio-visual elements; and
programming proficiency.
5.1.1 Author Experience
All teams expressed that there was a clear difference between Twine and Deig when
it came to the freedom to write. Twine was perceived as more open where Deig is
focused on a specific genre. As one subject put it: ‘‘I want to create an adventure
gameI don’t know how to program but I don’t give a shit about it, then [Deig] is
the way to go’’ (S14). Deig was appreciated for the simplicity to write dialogs but
several subjects expressed that they lacked the freedom to write long prosaic texts.
Several subjects expressed that they found Deig to be more oriented towards games
and Twine more towards creative writing. One subject stated that ‘you use it in
two completely different ways. This [Deig] was much more towards games but
when I write Twine projects the feeling is much more that I try to writesomething
that could be in a book’’ (S7). This is in line with another subject who stated:
‘Twine is also somehow a bit more serious and this leads you to write some kind of
short story, and you just write straight away and you know that the player will
actually read this later’’ (S11).
At the same time, Deig was appreciated for its focus on dialog and several
subjects found that it had helped them to develop their dialog writing skills. All
groups reported that they felt that they had created a story in the Deig task. Some
groups discussed how the authoring process had been affected by the nature of the
tool and that it guided their creativity in certain directions. ‘‘The story came to life
by itself in some way, I think’’ (S9).
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5.1.2 Modelling of Structure
It was very clear from the interviews that Deig was perceived to be very intuitive for
modelling the structure of the story and game. All groups expressed this. For
example, when asked for spontaneous reactions to the Deig-exercise, one subject
replied: ‘‘Actually, my first reaction to this program was: shit this is actually
intuitive’ (S3). Another subject responded to the same question: ‘‘I found [Deig]
to be super agile. Especially considering we have worked with Twine previously,
which was much more complicated for creating trees and such thingsso this has
been a much easier tool to work withto understandto see the structure of
everything’ (S7). Another subject was asked to describe the difference between
Twine and Deig when it comes to modelling the logics of the game: ‘much easier in
[Deig] I thinkto have a passage with five, six if-statements becomes super
complex [laugh] in Twineandin [Deig] it feels—simpler to keep track of’
A few respondents expressed that they were aware of the potential of Twine to
create advanced game mechanics through scripting but they also expressed that it
was a complex task: ‘if you have an idea then it is possible to do it in Twine. It
may not be easy. You should probably not do it in Twine. But you can [laugh]’’
(S14). Others argued that Deig emphasised a different kind of creative expression
than Twine: ‘you can focus more on how to structuremechanicscompared
to Twine and similar [programs] where the focus is much more onlike write and
write’ (S5).
Half of the groups mentioned limitations in Deig with respect to modelling of
structure. One subject found that Deig lacked timing-based mechanics; two others
expressed concerns regarding the layout of flow-nodes when the graph grew big.
Finally, one subject expressed concerns that logical disjunctions could not easily be
5.1.3 Intuitiveness
All groups expressed clearly that they appreciated the intuitive interface of Deig and
that they quickly had learned to use it. One subject spontaneously stated that ‘‘it
feels as in each course we take we get some new program to learnbut this one
[Deig] was surprisinglyit was surprisingly quick to learn.’’ (S3). This opinion was
expressed by a large number of subjects. They also found Deig to be easy to work
with and that they quickly could create prototypes: ‘‘It is possible to do something
very quickly without any real programming experience’’ (S14). It was furthermore
perceived to be even quicker than Twine: ‘if you compare with likethe game
that we actually made now and if you were to do it in Twine. So this was made in a
couple of days’’ (S6). The same subject concluded: ‘and if we had made it in
Twine it would for sure take more than a week’’ (S6).
Finally, one clear trend in the material is that subjects enjoyed working and
playing with Deig. This is an important quality of a game prototyping tool; it should
support playfulness even in the construction phases. As one subject stated: ‘‘I
enjoyed the program [Deig] very much, it was very fun to play in’’ and he continues
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‘‘ I even sat and played with it in my spare time’’ (S9). It is likely that the
perceived swiftness when modelling games in Deig contributes to the fun. Another
contributing factor may also be the TTS, which makes it possible to hear the written
dialog with different voices.
5.1.4 Usability
Many subjects reported that they lacked features in Deig that they were used to have
in similar applications. This can be seen as usability issues. The most commonly
mentioned missing feature was support for an undo-function. Other features that
were mentioned were spell-checker, support for object renaming, support for
snapping in the node graph and better integration between Deig and the exported
Unity game with respect to text-layout. In most cases subjects explicitly remarked
that they did not consider these limitations to cause any major obstacles: ‘‘small
sources of irritation that might grow. Nothing that is game breaking. Nothing that
makes it impossible to continueat least not that I have noticed, but sources of
irritation, yes’’ (S12).
5.1.5 Game Dynamics
Game dynamics is the run-time behaviour that emerge when the game mechanics is
acting on player input (Hunicke et al. 2004). A majority of the groups reported that
the Deig assignment had given them an understanding for game dynamics. This is
something that can be gained from working with Twine as well, but it appears that
the characteristics of Deig made game dynamics more apparent to them. The
comments regarding dynamics can be divided into two types. The first type of
comments related to how introduction of game mechanics and user choice lead to
complex logical models. When questioned on what they had learned from the Deig
module, one subject stated: ‘‘I would say how quickly it gets complicated. How
quickly itkind ofa few choices make everythingextremely so much more
it not justlike writing a script for a movie where it’s just straight’’ (S7).
The second type of comments are insights on how to write for games where the
dialog is affected by game mechanics. For example, one subject stated: ‘‘It is
possible to develop Twine to be stronglyexplorative too, but it is moreit is
more complex to do it, while in [Deig] it comes naturally to have an explorative
perspective on it’’ (S11). This subject uses the term explorative to characterize the
freedom of players to give input to the system.
Another subject (S3) discussed the situation where a player returns to a character,
that she has interacted with previously. The subject expressed that it made a huge
difference to the player experience to have variations in the dialog. This could, for
example, be to have three or four different greeting lines that the game alters
between, when the player returns several times.
Play testing had an important role for subjects to realise the implications of game
dynamics. The games had been subject for frequent testing, including internal play
testing within the group as well as tests by instructors and other students: ‘‘it is
166 Comput Game J (2018) 7:153–172
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relatively quick to kind of go through what you have, and kind of test and test again,
and then invite the others’’ (S16).
5.1.6 Implications of Audio-Visual Elements
One difference between Twine and Deig that was highlighted by all groups is the
presence of graphical assets and multi-voiced TTS. There were remarks that this had
both positive and negative implications to the creative process. The TTS was
generally conceived to be constructive in the writing process in that it helped to
analyse the length and quality of spoken lines. One subject explained: ‘‘even if it
sounds very cracked and robot-like. So you still notice if it is too much or if it is too
slow or‘God this is boring to listen to.’’’ (S3). Several groups also reported that
they were inspired by the characteristics of the voices and that it affected how they
perceived their own characters: ‘that the voice also affects how you write to that
character, so I found it interesting to reflect on this kind of interaction’’ (S15).
Although most comments regarding TTS were positive, some groups also expressed
worries that it could have a negative impact on the writing and that there were
limitations to it: ‘it can also be a problem thatyou tend toit can be the
reason many choose to do comedy games just because they laugh so much at it [the
TTS]. It could be a bit harder to do more serious games in this manner.’’ (S12).
Several subjects noted that the presence of graphics made it unnecessary to write
descriptions of the environment. It was appreciated that the graphics made it
possible to quickly prototype a ‘‘real game’’, but some subjects did not appreciate
how the available graphics guided the stories towards a certain genre. At the same
time, they were aware that the alternative would be to create their own graphical
assets, which would be much more time consuming.
5.1.7 Programming Proficiency
All subjects participating in the study had taken a course in introductory
programming and a course in game design and prototyping. Still, many subjects
revealed an inability to analyse and discuss programming concepts. Boolean
variables were frequently referred to as ‘‘true or false’’ and several subjects had
problems characterizing the node graph and talked about it as ‘‘the grid’’ or as
‘dots’’. Another example is a subject who, when talking about conditional dialog
options, expressed: ‘‘If all conditions for showing is running at the same time, then
you will never have the chance to trigger the condition to remove the alternative’’
(S5). Although it may be possible to follow the line of argument, the concepts of
running and triggering a condition are not well defined. This indicates a low
programming proficiency. Despite this, all subjects stated that they felt that they
mastered the mechanical modelling in Deig to a high degree. The subjects who
exposed greater programming proficiency expressed that Twine allowed for flexible
modelling of mechanics, but they also acknowledged that it may be a complex task
to achieve, as exemplified in the quote from S14 in the section modelling of
structure above.
Comput Game J (2018) 7:153–172 167
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5.2 Discussion
Both Twine and Deig were perceived to be useful tools for prototyping games but
subjects expressed that they saw fundamental differences between them. Deig was
perceived to be easier to learn and use for modelling of the mechanics of the game,
while Twine offers more freedom for authoring text-centred interactive stories.
The group of students participating in the study had experience from a
programming course and from a game design course using GameMaker: Studio.
Still, most subjects revealed a limited familiarity with programming concepts and
many of them expressed that they found it challenging to use the scripting functions
in Twine. Even though Twine offers rich capabilities through scripting, it is in
practice unavailable to game writers unless they have sufficient understanding of
programming fundamentals. In Deig, all subjects were able to fully comprehend the
mechanism to model game mechanics in the course of a week. As a consequence,
many subjects reported that they had realised how complex interactive writing can
be and that they had realised what the consequences can be when a player is given
control of the order of actions. These are very important insights for game writers,
and it is notable that many subjects had not got it from their previous work with
An interesting observation from the interviews is that the presence of graphics
and audio, including TTS, affected the writing process, even in a prototyping stage.
This emphasizes the importance of integrating the writing process with the other
disciplines of game development. Writing in isolation may produce an expression
that makes audio and graphics redundant or dissonant.
A general observation from the analysis of the interviews is that all groups made
comparisons between Twine and Deig at an early stage of the interview, before they
were explicitly asked to compare the tools. In several teams there was no need to
explicitly ask for a comparison. This indicates that the similarities and differences
identified were not far-fetched but came naturally from experience with both tools.
The general impression from the interviews is that most subjects appreciated both
Twine and Deig for different reasons.
5.3 Limitations
The results presented in this study are based on experiences from a relatively
homogenous group of students. They do not represent actual game development
practices. It is, however, important to note that that Deig has been used by
developers with professional experience to produce games that have reached a large
audience and been well perceived (Riis 2017). The results from the interviews
resembles, to a large extent, anecdotal observations made during the development of
these games. For example, the swift creation of prototypes made possible through
Deig was found to be invaluable in the production of the 24 episodes of Marvinter.
The majority of these episodes went through several major revisions and
A limitation in the presented study is that the students had prior experience of
using Twine when they approached Deig. This will affect the learning curve and
168 Comput Game J (2018) 7:153–172
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their perception of Deig. The assignments for the respective tools also differed,
which may impact on the comparison.
The interview was conducted by an instructor in the course, which may affect the
respondents, even though they were clearly informed that the instructor had no role
in the remaining examination of the course. The students were moreover aware that
the researcher conducting the study had developed Deig. This may limit subject’s
openness to express criticism. The choice of the peer small group interview format
will however likely have increased the subjects’ openness to express their opinions
and share their thoughts. This format has been found to have this effect when
interviewing children (Mauthner 1997).
6 Conclusions
In this paper we present Deig—a prototyping tool for creating dialog-based point-
and-click adventure game. It has been used in a course module for second year game
writing students. The students have been interviewed about their experiences after
working with Deig in comparison to Twine, which they also used in the same
module, as well as in previous courses.
The results showed that students perceived the two tools to have similarities, but
a number of fundamental differences were also observed. Deig was found to be very
easy to use for modelling of game mechanics, rapid prototyping and play testing.
The subjects enjoyed working and playing with the features of the editor and they
reported insights on the nature of interactive narratives. Twine, on the other hand,
was found to be more open-ended with respect to writing, but also that modelling of
game mechanics was perceived to be complex. Theoretically, Twine can support
practically any game through its scripting language, but it was not perceived as a
viable option for the game writer students in this study. Those few subjects that
indicated that it may be possible to achieve were well aware that it would be time
consuming and complex. It appears that both tools were found to be useful but in
different ends of the ludo-narrative design space (Aarseth 2012). Deig supported
rapid prototyping of ludic-oriented concepts while Twine supports rapid prototyping
of narrative-oriented concepts. The recommendation from this study, for game
writers with little programming experience that wants to develop games that has
dialog closely connected to game mechanics, is to use Deig. The graphical scripting
capabilities of Deig has a much lower threshold than the text-based scripting of
An observation that can be made from the presented work is that the prototyping
tool has an effect on the creative process. Twine invites to write long passages of
text where Deig and its use of speech synthesis emphasises short dialogs and
interactivity. Game writers may use any of these tools to create interesting gaming
experiences but these may be drastically different. For some games, the lack of
choice and interactivity may even be central to the experience (Salter 2016).
Traditionally, games are designed to provide players with meaningful choices and
agency (Salen and Zimmerman 2004). Which tool to use may depend on personal
preference (Nelson and Mateas 2009), but it may also be affected by the target
Comput Game J (2018) 7:153–172 169
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context for the final game. For solitary game writers, the prototyping tool may be
the same as the production tool. For development teams, though, the target game
engine may be more or less compatible with the prototyping tool. As was noted in
this study, the presence of audio and graphical assets affected the direction of game
writing and geared the process towards a gaming experience where other disciplines
produce elements that contributes to the narrative. Text based tools such as Twine
offers a space for individual game production (Salter 2016), but the main stage for
game writers is in team-based production of 2D and 3D games. For those products,
audio and graphics plays an important part in creating and conveying the narrative.
A future study will focus on the role of speech synthesis in the creation of dialog-
based games. Another future work is to extend this study to include other tools used
by game writers to prototype games. Chat Mapper, for example, is a tool similar to
Deig, but where Lua scripting is used to model logic and with a different interface to
the dialog modelling and play testing. A possible approach for this comparison
would be to use heuristic evaluation and similar theoretical methods. Another
important future work is to study how professional game writers in the game
industry are working and what tools they are using. Within such a scope it would
also be important to study the programming proficiency and computational thinking
(Wing 2006) among professional game writers. Game writing and narrative design
is an under-researched area despite the large scholarly interest in the descriptive
understanding of narratives in games.
Compliance with Ethical Standards
Conflict of interest On behalf of all authors, the corresponding author states that there is no conflict of
Informed consent Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.
Open Access This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0
International License (, which permits unrestricted use, dis-
tribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original
author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were
Appendix 1: Interview Protocol
What is your prior experience of: game development; game engines; programming?
How do you perceive your role as a game writer? What tools do you think you
will use?
Reflections on the Assignments and Tools
What are your spontaneous reactions?
What are the most important insights this module has given you?
170 Comput Game J (2018) 7:153–172
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What are the strengths and weaknesses of Deig?
To what extent did you feel you created: a narrative; an interactive game?
To what extent did you feel that you master the features of Deig for creating
game logic?
Describe how you perceive the differences between Deig and Twine when it
comes to:
creating a narrative;
creating game logic.
Elements of Deig
How did you perceive the possibilities to: test and debug; play on tablet; use speech
Do you want to add anything else?
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Get a head start in your game development career with this all-genre guide for absolute beginners. Whether you're into action games, role-playing games, or interactive fiction, we've got you covered. Mostly Codeless Game Development empowers new developers with little or no previous experience and presents all major areas of game development in a succinct, entertaining fashion. Have you dreamed of making your own video game? Do you find the prospect daunting? Fear not. A new generation of game engines has emerged. Lengthy and complicated feats of programming are largely a thing of the past in video game development. To create commercially viable games you simply need the right tools, many of which are discussed in this book. A gigantic software team isn't a must-have prerequisite for success. The one-person operation is back. You will: • Master the concepts and jargon used in game creation for the beginner • Find the best game development suite for your project • Make the most out of related graphics and audio production software • Discover video game marketing essentials
Interactive Storytelling is an interdisciplinary field in which the humanities meet artificial intelligence. Collaborations between scholars rooted in the humanities and the computer sciences like the one between Brenda Laurel and the OZ group at Carnegie Mellon University have had a major influence on the field. At the same time, there are indications that the relationship is often tenuous, for example, between models of narrative in the humanities and their application in computational research projects. This chapter investigates the relationship, notes challenges, and identifies opportunities for an enhanced collaboration. Additional scrutiny in understanding context and scope of narrative models in the humanities would improve access for AI researchers to the vast space of available models and allow for the codification and re-use of adaptation strategies. Simultaneously, the work of many AI researchers could be recast and recognized as contributions to narrative theory. In this regard, film theory can serve as a potential model for a narrative theory of Interactive Storytelling.
Although the intermingling of game and narrative in digital media may seem an easy match to the lay game consumer, the relationship between ludic play and narrative play is quite complicated. Given that a key feature of play is agency, and that a key feature of narrative is the listener/reader/consumer’s position outside the text, how can the player maintain a sense of agency in the narrative as well as in the state of play? Individual scholars and game developers have been attempting to successfully balance ludic and narrative agency for some time now, but their experiments tend to yield different (though not incompatible) criteria for analysis. As a result of such isolated experimentation, little progress in this field has been achieved. Rather than contributing to such isolated scholarship and development, I intend to show that by establishing a collaborative criteria, useful and progressive data can be harvested that will aid not only in the evaluation of current digital interactive narratives but in the production of future ones as well.
Conference Paper
While many games use physical health as a metric and ask the player to become invested in “health” as a resource, emotional health and experiences of trauma, depression, stress, and anxiety are less frequently explored. Yet games represent a powerful space for exploring emotional conditions and allowing players to experiment with choices in the face of difficult circumstances. The Twine platform, a free open-source tool for making primarily text-based games, offers a compelling system for representations of this kind. Close play of games made with this system demonstrates that what is essential for emotional representation is not player agency: instead, it is the lack of choice that is most strongly resonant.