Converting prose into interactive fiction
An experiment of sorts
I’ve been reading Inkle’s wonderfully succinct and forgiving user’s guide to their narrative scripting language Ink. While reading I’ve been putting together various mini-experiments to test out some of the features of Ink, most of which will remain behind closed doors for now.
Last week I tried something which I thought might be of interest to the sorts of people who read this newsletter. You know who I’m talking about. Tinkerers.
The experiment’s concept was simple: what would happen if I tried to convert a section of my prose novel Tales from the Triverse into a more interactive form? I selected the opening section of this chapter to play around with:
I suggest opening that up in a separate tab for comparison. And now, here is the link to the interactive version of it: https://simonkjones.itch.io/kaenamor
It runs neatly in your browser, you don’t need to download anything. It’s very short, too, so you’ll play through it in a minute-or-two.
Simon K Jones writes is a reader-supported publication. To support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
A few notes on the design of this thing:
There is no actual branching. It’s very much giving the illusion of choice, with constant forward motion. The player cannot alter the trajectory of the narrative.
The ‘choices’ provide additional flavour text, filling out additional details and giving the player/reader the feeling of being actively involved in the storytelling.
It is not possible to read everything on a single playthrough. Readers won’t miss out on anything crucial, but their choices will subtly influence their moment-to-moment experience.
The player/reader is subtly nudging the focus of the story with their choices, rather than the events.
Technically, this is a simple Ink script using choices, weaves and gathers. There are no knots and diverts are not used, so it all takes place within a single scene. This is something that the Ink language is especially well equipped for.
In terms of the end result, I’m undecided. Does the interactive version feel more engaging, or more intimate, because the reader/player is able to take part in the unfolding narrative? Or does it simply feel disjointed, as if the narrative is being constantly interrupted?
One aspect I did note is that there’s a slight awkwardness in the narrative perspective. Tales from the Triverse is told in a third person subjective viewpoint, but games tend to operate in a first person or second person view. In the case of this little interactive sketch, it’s unclear who you, the player, is supposed to be. Are you the narrator? Are you listening to the story and prompting the narrator for more detail? You’re certainly not Kaenamor himself, and there are no other characters present to act as witness. It’s an interesting quirk of the format shift.
I’m also curious about whether this would work better on mobile: I can imagine reading this on a train or bus and clicking through the simple choices to be quite satisfying, in a way it might not be when reading at home.
I didn’t want to drastically convert the original prose into something highly interactive - at least, not for this experiment. Introducing actual consequences into the choices would be fascinating in a very different way, and a significantly more complex project. No, this is intended more as an experiment in an alternate way of telling the same story as the source prose.
The key thing I confirmed while poking at this project is that Ink is a wonderful tool for writers. It’s the first interactive fiction language I’ve used which prioritises the writing experience above all else (while still being hugely powerful).
Please do let me know what you think of it. And if you want to have a go yourself, you can find out about Ink here.
If you’re curious about what I did here, you can examine the project file here and load it into the Ink editor Inky. You’ll find it’s surprisingly easy to parse at a glance, even if you don’t have any experience with Ink itself.
Oh, and if you have no idea what any of this was about, you might want to check out my intro to interactive fiction:
Simon K Jones writes is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
Before you go! I have a book giveaway to share with you. It’s called The Rise of Technofantasy, which is rather exciting. Do check it out - Triverse is in there somewhere, along with a bunch of ebooks from other authors.