Monday 17 August 2020

Project Announcement: Twitter Game


OK so I recently deleted my Twitter and then reopened it and there was a reason and that reason turned out to be MY NEW GAME!

Play free right now here:

It's a live RPG using Twitter as both engine/dev tool and publishing platform.

The basic format is that we go on an experimental philosophical science fiction adventure, and each one lasts as long as our interest in it does, or until players choose something really dumb or massively fail a skill check and horribly die.

It's super interesting to me from a dev standpoint. But first some more on the format.

The Rules

It's super fun and I don't know what the format is yet! Basically I narrate the story, and at key moments provide a branch point. Here's the mechanics:

  • Basic narration via my Twitter replies
  • Decision points using Twitter Polls (Majority rules, I have final say in case of ties)
  • User comments for more freeform decisions (Most likes wins)
  • Dice rolls for skill checks
There is also a metastory. Basically it's Quantum Leap, each distinct adventure drops you into a new life and you need to learn pretty quick WTF is going on in this crazy scifi world. When we're done with that adventure/life we drop back into the meta and do a bit of core mystery plot stuff, then POOF we fly into a new life in a whole new world (or revisit old worlds if the fancy takes us).

The Commentary
OMG I love this idea. It hits all my needs square on:
  • No editing! Everything is live, so there's no going back and fretting over what I could have done better. We go wherever the world takes us.
  • No planning! I can't know how the decisions and dice rolls will play out, so I can't know what's going to happen next. Of course, I have some idea, but it's as often wrong as it is right.
  • Live user engagement! I'd rather write for 10 people right now on Twitter than 10 million people in 3 years time after they've spent those 3 years complaining about what I'm writing (Looking at you, Subnautica community)
  • It's mine! Okay, it's dependent on Twitter which sucks, but whether it flops or flies it's all on me. I write whatever I want. I monetise however I want (it's free to play of course). I write as much or as little as I want, whenever I want, about whatever I want.

The Challenges

I'm learning as I go.

Biggest problem of course is that using twitter polls means once a decision is made there's no going back and trying the other options. It's more like a live RPG than a CRPG in that respect. You have more agency to direct the story (since I put all my writing resources into the one selected branch), but it may feel more linear (since I don't write out the alternatives for you to explore). Further, if you missed the time slot to make the decision, the backstory is wholly non-interactive. That kinda sucks. Can I expect people to care to go back and read linear stuff? Not entirely! I could use hyperlinks instead and write out all the options but... that's what I've been doing for 15 years, time for something different. Finally, the polls are democratic, meaning no one person has full agency, and players have to put up with the will of the mob. On the plus side, this creates an inherent motivation to get involved and vote especially when the time window is short and very few votes have been cast. Fewer votes = more agency.

That's all super interesting stuff to me. I'm learning fast how to change the design to fit the tools. That's actually an overlooked wonder of games writing. No one wants a blank slate. The tools define the interaction, which defines the story. Wouldn't have it any other way.

I've been experimenting with different approaches to the polls. Some I'm keeping very short (in time), mostly because I'm eager to write but want some player engagement. These are usually more flavour than substance. It's weirdly limiting. Usually I'd flood the thing with decisions, but here every decision takes time to be made, and I'm impatient. Further, decisions usually allow me to learn more about the player, and redirect the story accordingly. Here I can't presume it's the same players voting in every poll, so at most I can only learn about the general mob, not the individual. I don't like that. I want to know - does this player want more info, or more combat, or more dialog etc, and shape things accordingly.

Then at the end of each day I try to break off at a cliffhanger and leave the poll up for 12+ hours to get a more rounded outcome. For short (10 minute) polls I've had as few as 2 votes. For the longer cliffhangers I've had as many as 35 votes. It seems I get more votes on the cliffhangers when they're easy to parse and provide clear agency. People browsing twitter are more likely, I hypothesise, to throw me a vote if they get to choose from Fight/Flee/Talk in a broad sense, than if the choice is more nuanced and dependent on prior knowledge. That's something I'll test over the coming days.

The Episode 1 Post-Mortem

I was so happy that, given a choice between past, present and future, future was the resounding preference of voters. I was like - better grab 'em early and dropped us straight into a full on laser battle.

Then I realised I didn't want to write a laser battle.

Then someone got shot in the knee and their knee turned into the actual number Pi and everything starts to turn in circles (I always remember Rincewind's discovery of the four-sided triangle).

At this stage I sat back and wondered - WTF am I writing here? And then when given a choice players opted to fire their laser pistol.

Before I knew it this story, which had no shape besides being a laser battle before, had become the story of a combat mathematician in the final fight over whether the world is basically analog or digital. Obviously it's actually both and neither, but I like the Big-Endians vs Little-Endians vibe. And even better than that: it's all just happening. Yes I've retconned the story and have some concrete ideas about how this world of psycho-algorithmic weaponry actually functions; but really it's just a flight of fancy and I can't wait to see where it takes us.

Episode 1 will conclude soon. I'm eager for this to be a first foray into the format, and to explore some different timelines in the near future, and to see what patterns emerge in the meta. Or maybe a week from now I'll be bored and never touch it again.

But I am EXCITE.

If you like what I'm doing, I now have a Patreon so you can support me: