“The Adventures of Phoebe McGee” is ready for beta testing at ksu.edu/wwparent/story/Phoebe/. The support site has quite a bit of information about “Phoebe” including resources and three color maps as PDF files. There is a link to the online story from this support website as well.
Phoebe is a thirteen-year-old living in Maine in 1937 who is sent to stay with her grandfather on Acadia Island. When she arrives Phoebe discovers that Jake is missing.
I know that many of you are not fond of CYOA type stories for their chutes-and-ladders format. I think “The Adventures of Phoebe McGee” is different with its stable environment for movement. There are many variables and scripts integrated into the story. If you find mistakes you can report them here (with the page title of the problem) or send your observations directly to me.
Thanks for any assistance you can provide. If you take a look, I hope you enjoy it.
There’s a few places where the options are confusing. For instance, in the clearing, there are two identically-labeled, but distinct, paths leading west. Also, behind the burned house, it says there’s a window with access to the basement, but there’s no link. I was able to make the description of the car appear in the clearing when it wasn’t there anymore. You also sometimes end the links with periods, and sometimes you don’t (I think it looks better without them). I spotted some typos, too, so look carefully for those.
I think you should organize the conversations into trees more. For instance, you should need to say “I saw a shipwreck” in order to unlock “I saw something in the shipwreck.”
Also, maybe I just don’t know how, but it would be really nice to have an “undo” button. I’ve at least once accidentally hit the wrong link and suffered consequences for it
Thanks Katz. Fixed the double going west in the clearing. If you don’t save the bear, that west will take the reader to a rather sad location of the bear dead in the trap.
Access to the basement depends on having done something in the basement. I think I could have made that clearer.
That car issue needs to be dealt with. I thought I fixed that. Will look into that again.
Typos are hard to find in that format. I’m going back and copying and pasting everything in the story to find them. The format does not provide a single file of everything, one of the great drawbacks of using chooseyourstory.com.
I think the conversation trees is the best way to do it. Too difficult to revise now, but in the future certainly.
“Undo button”? You can hit your backspace key to go back and there is a “back” option in the top right menu.
Thanks so much for looking and posting your thoughts here. Very appreciated.
I cannot duplicate the car description problem. Once the reader goes on the ride and then returns later the car is gone. I’ll keep checking.
As far as links with periods… that was my way of visually recognizing what the links do. I could have added more info in a parens but I thought the periods would be less obtrusive. Having many different outcomes to the same link depending on variable states can be confusing for me as the writer. I will think about other ways of doing this without making it look like a mistake. At this point, I think I’ll let them be.
I have now examined the 261 pages and the 494 links in the story and hopefully corrected all the spelling and grammar errors. It also has 58 variables and 71 scripts. Whew!
I will begin the second game assuming an optimal result with the first and will note that in the introduction. I will strongly advise readers to do them in order. The swan ring will have a significant role in the second game. What do you think of managing it that way?
Also, I have been looking closely at choicescript as an alternative to what I used for Phoebe. There is no way to even come close to using choicescript to duplicate what I did at chooseyourstory.com (at least without being some programming god in the choicescript language). Chooseyourstory has some significant disadvantages, but its advantages for any kind of sophisticated CYOA are impressive.
Aside from the graphics, what are the things that you wouldn’t have been able to do in choicescript? It seemed to me that choicescript would have trouble with inventories and timed countdowns (especially ones like for the
that could expire on any page, and would send you back to that page). But I haven’t looked closely at choicescript.
In Phoebe there are both page scripts (a script that runs automatically with every page) and link scripts that run every time a link is clicked. Inventory is important and every item can be used as flags for initiating or not initiating a new page. I set it up so that nearly every page has a random 1D20 that will then trigger some random event at that page.
I am not an expert in choicescript. I am going to continue looking at it. But the documentation is in my opinion fairly poor and incomplete (I think it’s capable of doing more than what is in the two documents. For example, the forum presents code for doing something that cannot be found in the docs. Plus, I’m not a big fan of clicking a button and then clicking “Next” to move the story along. I think this can be changed too though. I really dislike not having an inventory and having to use variables in referring to inventory. Finally, the stories I have looked at seem “shallow” with minimal text.
My style for writing CYOA seems to approach what I did in I7: move around on a fairly stable stage (a set of “rooms” in nsew relationship and then events unfold in those rooms). So I always have a map in mind (and then as a PDF). This seems quite different from traditional CYOA that is paper based. Chooseyourstory seems to fit my approach. For me, their conceptual framework is approachable. I would consider myself having only moderate expertise in using their tools. There’s a lot more to experiment and use. I find that attractive.
But the disadvantages of being based only at their website are significant. It’s very difficult to see what someone else has done. So it’s not transparent at all, though there is excellent help at their forum.
I am going to start a thread discussing the pros and cons of all the development tools for CYOA. I am enjoying our discussion.
I think you’ve got something nifty going here, and deeper than most of the stories on chooseyourstory.com. I definitely like being able to freely explore the island, it did have an IF feel in that sense.
I would actually say it relied too much on IF. With the descriptive choice links, there’s no reason to load the text or choices with compass directions. Also, you can safely get rid of the choices in the text, since they are repeated clearly enough in the links themselves – things like:
IF also tends to describe things in a detached, passive voice, as in “There is a key here.” This is unnecessary and detrimental in CYOA format. For example:
Could be written much more vividly and succinctly, and centered around Phoebe’s point of view and experience (even though written in third person):
Many of your descriptions of locations and objects are similarly redundant or overdescribed, and uncharacteristic of the main character’s observations. The car, in particular.
Your story is written in limited third person, closely identified with Phoebe, and yet the voice is all over the place, with things a 13-year-old wouldn’t know, wouldn’t feel, and certainly wouldn’t say:
[spoiler]“If you keep doing that I won’t be able to see through my own tears” is funny writing, but no one actually thinks like that in an actual situation. It’s too self-aware.
Conversely, no 13-year-old is this dumb:
Phoebe thinks grimly, “I wonder what time to play means?” she asks herself. Phoebe shudders at the thought. Then she finds out.
Most of her exclamations to herself seemed completely out of place, even for 1937. Also, when talking to the angel in the glade, she develops some out-of-character snideness and attitude.[/spoiler]
You are missing commas on almost every page, as in:
“You know the way miss,” needs to be, “You know the way, Miss.”
Likewise, a number of sentences have words missing, like “She can get down the deck from here…”
As Katz mentioned, the description of the car is still there (though the choice disappears). Likewise, in the cave, something sparkles back in the web, despite having removed the key.
Also, in the opening poem, “Our champions are the 32.” Shouldn’t that be “36”? BTW, in poems and in speech, (usually) it should be spelled out, “thirty-six,” or “The Thirty-Six.”
All in all, I think you’re doing something cool, and don’t mean to discourage. The story held my interest and wanted to finish it. I think in the future, more people will be reading works that have some of the strengths of IF combined with the simplicity of CYOA. However, my strongest impression from Phoebe McGee was that of poor writing craft.
P.S. Check out Twine at gimcrackd.com/etc/src/ It is superb, simple, has a nice GUI, and does everything you did in Phoebe McGee (I think). It would also let you do the choice links in your description text, if so desired, instead of a list at the bottom. Watch the videos at the bottom of the page to see for yourself, then read the documentation. You would have to host the end result on your own webpage somehow (it compiles into a single HTML doc, with linked pictures), but as you mentioned, chooseyourstory.com has its own problems.
I don’t find anything in your post discouraging. Quite the opposite. Taking time to go through what I created and then posting suggestions is a gift that contributes to my learning. So I need to take a close look at your comments.
Grammar is always a problem. We tend to think of grammar as having a rigid set of rules. The problem is inconsistency. I will certainly take another look at my use of commas. The example of the mistake you mentioned certainly needs to be corrected. Every page though? Or should that be every page, though?
I take back my first sentence in this post. I must admit to feeling a little discouraged by
[sigh] Golly, that was harsh. But I’ll take that as a challenge to improve.
I took a creative fiction class in college and published a few shorts on paying online markets, so, actually, I know just enough to be dangerous. However, you might check out a book or two from the library on writing mechanics. Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style is very readable. Two books I can recommend for the craft of fiction: Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft, by Janet Burroway, Elizabeth Stuckey-French, and Ned Stuckey-French, and Writing Fiction: The Practical Guide from New York’s Acclaimed Creative Writing School by Gotham Writers’ Workshop. Check their sections on Point of View, Dialogue, etc.
And, really, you’ve done the hard part, which is get the thing written. It’s just a matter of editing and revising, now.
Twine might be the answer to the problems of hosting Phoebe McGee on chooseyourstory.com (and trying to correct it now!). I notice your site is “Made with a Mac,” so you’ll need the latest version of OS X (10.6) to run Twine. I don’t have that, so I run Twine on the Windows partition of my MacBook Pro.
I have written five nonfiction books, the last one on the origins of courage in children. I value the importance of stories and have conducted storytelling concerts across the states. But… writing fiction is completely new to me. Putting it on the web is a form of publishing, so I understand the merits of criticism. I have to decide how much immersion in the craft of writing nonfiction I want to make to improve beyond what I can do now.
This is a very important question for me both professionally and personally. Because there is no sense in continuing to write Interactive Fiction unless I’m willing to focus on the craft. There is another challenge too, and that’s the “interactive” part: learning the tools to bring the story to life. Also, how much work do I want to do to “fix” what I have done as opposed to working on a new story?
I have a text copy of the 260 pages in the current story. I will go through those looking for grammar errors. I will look again at Phoebe’s commentary to see if that needs to be improved. But major surgery is not likely (the risks of “breaking” the story are too great).
Thanks for responding again and your suggestions.
Curious. Why not use the Mac version of Twine? I hope Twine has scripts. I’ll take a close look later this morning.
From what I can see (and after reading their forum) Twine is broken on the Mac and may not be currently supported on any system at this point. Even if it worked properly, I would have to use Twee and its command-line interface. Sadly, I don’t see it as a viable system worth learning at this point. The documentation is very poor.
I’d love to see an alternative to chooseyourstory.com (CYS), believe me. But everything I have seen does not provide the sophistication of what is at that site. CYS has significant limitations, but at this point its strengths make up for them (mostly anyway).
You should get someone else to proofread your manuscript if you can; it can be very hard to catch your own errors. I always have my husband read through my stuff.
I mentioned earlier about continuity between games. If you just have each game assume the optimal result from the previous game, there will be two problems:
It’ll be confusing. If you play through without getting to the angel and the swan ring, that’s going to be a major continuity gap with the second game.
There’s a sense of impotence. It doesn’t matter what you do in the first game, because the second game will be the same. I feel this somewhat with your story already: Assuming you don’t do something stupid, the Shadowman fight always turns out more or less the same, especially since your health can get restored right back to full. Also, a lot of plot objects the bird, the rosary seem to disappear into Maize with no real result.
Ideally, I should think, the first game would end by giving you a save state that could be loaded into the second game. But that would be just about impossible with any game engine. However, it might be possible to have the first game provide you with a link or URL to the second game, but only if you complete it sufficiently well.
I am running OSX 10.5.7, and have a download of Twine 1.3 from October 2009 that seems to work fine and reasonably intuitively. Admittedly, I haven’t really done more than fifteen minutes of poking around at it, so it could certainly be buggy or a pain to work with for an actual project, but I did manage to arrange a simple story and output it at the time.
Katz, you are right about getting someone else to proofread. One of the great liabilities of creating at chooseyourstory.com is in the editing after creating. If I wrote the entire story and determined its links before working on the website, the proofing would be fairly simple. Unfortunately, my Muse has other ideas as I work. It is very easy to create links and content from within the site. The next time I create a story at CYS, I will be more careful to copy and paste into a “master” text file because there is no single file to examine from the website.
The continuity between games can be problematic as you point out. I do not think there is any way to prevent that feeling of what you refer to as “impotence.” All I can tell readers is to play out the first story before continuing to the next. Then I’ll have a preface to the second that summarizes what Phoebe did in the first (to achieve success). Some books in a series will do this. So I think a person could actually sidestep the first and go to the second (just like reading the second book in a series). I would advise against this but have no control over that choice.
Some of the plot items (like the dead bird) are dropped or most often given to another character. So they disappear from the inventory when this is done. Perhaps I did not make this clear on those pages.
Interesting option, Katz. I need to think about how to do this in CYS. Of course, the investment of time to create the first story of about 250 pages might be difficult to repeat. But I have some knowledge of CYS now and Maize and Phoebe are clamoring for continuation. And poor Jake is waiting.
I understand that the bird etc get given to Maize; the problem, as I see it, is that the items don’t seem to do anything important. You don’t get a bird sidekick or a rosary that protects you from evil. So it doesn’t seem to matter to the plot if you pick them up or not.You can get a bear helper, but it doesn’t seem to be that much help. With and without the bear cub, I ended the Shadowman fight with similar health.
But regardless you should definitely finish the series.
That’s a good point Katz. I need to keep this in mind the next time around.
I think all items in a story should have some relevance to how the story unfolds. Every part in the story should be there because it’s important. In “Phoebe” some items move a conversation along. Some experiences give courage and/or kindness. (But I think I should make this more clear to the reader.)
My design decision was to make it very difficult for Phoebe to die. I don’t want the reader to have to restart or restore because of some bad random die roll. In the next story, I will push that envelop more, create more risk and danger for her and her friends. And if a choice results in death, the result should be poignant.
For an example of me trying to do this, have Phoebe jump out of the tree house.
I find this process of creating CYOA a lot of fun, especially reading and learning from your comments and those of others. Gads, to do CYOA well someone has to know how to write fiction in small segments that can then be arranged and modified by variables and scripts to become a satisfying outcome. That’s a tall order, to do the writing and the programming, like a lineman in football who can do ballet. Hard to be good at both.
Thanks! That’s the encouragement I need. And the best of good fortune to you.