Inklewriter Is a Great Tool for Creating Interactive Fiction

Fancy yourself a writer, more than a software game developer? A UK company called Inkle may help you bridge both worlds, and award you money to do it.

But first, let’s get into the “bridging both worlds” part. Inkle’s Inklewriter is an online approach to developing Interactive Fiction (IF). For those who’ve never played or created IF games, it’s all text based. The written commands players give affects the next  response from characters in the IF game, or digital story.

Interactive Fiction Primer

Because it’s text, IF is a game genre that works well online or on smartphones. Z-Machine interpreters, such as open source Frotz, can be used on desktops and iPhones for these games. Additionally, there are Z-Machine interpreters in JavaScript and Java applets, which allow IF to be played on the Web or smartphones.

To develop IF stories, you usually first install software and then develop a story line as if it were an application. For this, you really need the skill set of a software developer, which probably turns off a lot of potential writers.

A few, however, have tried their hand at IF, such as well-known science fiction author Charles Stross. Although he’s been able to bridge the worlds of writing and programming, as a rule writers aren’t known for being techy. IF has remained something of a niche genre.

Inklewriter Screen Shot

Inklewriter for the Left-Brain, Right-Brain Set

Perhaps Inklewriter will help both sides of the brain find their creative escape. Written by experienced games developers Joseph Humfrey and Jon Ingold of Cambridge, England, Inklewriter is one of the first products to create an online approach to developing IF. It’s easy to learn and doesn’t need much programming ability.

To prove this point, Inkle launched its “Future Voices” competition: Participants have until Sept. 15 to submit their Inklewriter story, and could win cash prizes and the bragging rights of being published in an iOS app.

Inklewriter is a lot simpler than IF systems such as, TADS or ADRIFT, and the developers have distilled the complexity to roughly the same level as Fighting Fantasy books. Purists may poo poo this, but it brings IF creation to a much wider audience.

 Got Game?

The game logic boils down to counters, variables and loops to structure your story. Inkle’s demo uses a Sherlock Holmes tale to illustrate the subtleties of changing the story text, based on the mood of Dr. Watson. Get him wound up and his responses get more heated.

The tutorials use Inklewriter itself. As a result, you’re sort of playing Inklewriter as you read the tutorials. It’s built with jQuery JavaScript library and uses simple animations for sliding in boxes. The user interface is elegant and much simpler than most modern software.

The system works in two modes: read where you are playing the game, or write where you edit it using the on-screen editor. This lets you create sections of text and add the conditions to link them.

It’s all done online, and you don’t need to be registered to develop a game. However, it’s important to keep your cookies intact in order to retrieve your game later on and continue working on it. Registering allows you to tinker with multiple games, and is completely free.

So, if you’ve been keeping the writer within you locked up, now’s the time to unleash him and publish that Interactive Fiction story you’ve long been thinking about. Or, to start thinking of one.

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