Games That Make You Read: Twine and Black Crown

and the robot horse you rode in onGames That Make You Read is an inelegant term, but it’s the one I use in my head when I think about the types of games I’ve been playing recently. These games are all quite different from each other and include the story exploration game Gone Home, the visual novels of Christine Love, games made using the Twine engine and those made on the StoryNexus platform. Inanimate Alice fits into this category as well. There are very few overt similarities between these types of games beyond that they blend playing a video game with reading. And I see the game aspect as dominant, which is why I don’t call them Digital Writings That Make You Play Games (also, this is a bit of a mouthful).

There is such variation in the games and tools to make games that I’ve mentioned above, that I’m not going to cover them all in one post. Today, I’m focusing on the Twine engine in general and on Black Crown, a specific game on the StoryNexus platform.

Twine is a deceptively simple engine that allows you to make an interactive story. You can download it from here. The story you create might be something that is quite straightforward and linear or it might be more complex in a choose-your-own-adventure way or, by introducing variables, it may be an actual game.

Twine has been around several years but didn’t take off until last year. There are now many story games that have been created using it. You can find best-of lists scattered around the web, but I thought I would put together a list of my own.

howling dogs by Porpentine has been hailed for its brilliance in story and writing, but as good as it is, I think her All I want is for all of my friends to become insanely powerful is even better. Play both and decide for yourself.

my father’s long, long legs by Michael Lutz is more a story than a game but it is a fantastic story – well-written and compelling and executed in a way that causes delight and fear. It also shows off a little more the visual and aural possibilities of the Twine engine.

Anna Anthropy’s And the Robot Horse You Rode in On is a choose-your-own-adventure story designed in the way such stories should be. The choices offered aren’t static. They can change depending on other choices you make. It’s another well-written story game but it’s worth noting before you begin that it’s also violent and sweary and sexual.

Anna Anthropy has spoken about how important Twine is as a free tool that allows people who aren’t represented either within the games industry or in the games that the industry makes, to make games of their own and have their voices heard. She has also made a very useful tutorial. I’ve become excited by Twine’s possibilities and have started to create my own game. It’s that kind of tool, if you’re so inclined, it makes you want to get involved. And it’s not daunting.

The final game in my list is Conversations With My Mother by Merritt Kopas. It is charming in its seeming simplicity but it’s also quite deeply heartbreaking.

The StoryNexus platform is something that is completely different again. Fallen London is the famous game on the platform, but I’m focusing on Black Crown because it is an experiment by Random House in interactive storytelling.

I haven’t tried to create anything using StoryNexus so I’m unsure how the platform works if you’re a game designer. But whichever game you play on it, there are some basic characteristics that are in common. You start each game with a number of free actions. Each time you make a choice, you lose one of those actions. After a certain period of time, the actions refresh. If you don’t want to wait, you can buy Nex, which is the currency of the platform, and then spend it to unlock more actions. The way this works in Black Crown is that you are given 20 actions, and gain a new one every 20 minutes (to a maximum of 20).

The game is written by Rob Sherman. You are a new clerk in the Widsith Institute. You sit at your document-laden desk and notice strange things happening to your body. The game has large blocks of text to read, followed by a series of story branches, of which you must choose one. A reasonably large number of these branches are locked, and you can only unlock them by buying Nex.

I don’t like Black Crown. I find the writing ponderous and my passage through the game unintuitive. I also find my options limited but this may be because I don’t like the game enough to buy Nex, so my progress isn’t facilitated. As a result, I play it very rarely. But I do keep checking in on it and the reason I maintain this interest is because of Random House’s involvement. It’s a big deal that they’ve launched this project and as much as I don’t like it, I hope they will continue to experiment in this space.

Black Crown has been available since May and was due to have all its content released by September, though I haven’t seen anything from Random House confirming that it is now officially completed.

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