Have you played The Temple of No? Ahhhhh! It's so good!
The dev team built this game in Twine, which I know is is a tool that not everybody loves. Some people think of Twine as cramped and limited and compliments are sometimes backhanded, as in "oh it's good - for a Twine game."
And the devs even acknowledge that Twine hate, right from the jump.
And when you click:
But this game isn't "good for a Twine game." This game is good, period. These guys embraced the tool and made it work for them (and for the player, too).
How did they do it? Here's what I see (and love) when I look at this title through game-writer goggles.
They took charge, and let the player know they're in good hands
On most games - especially AAA games - there's a heavy focus on player agency. We have to give the player freedom! Lots of freedom! They have to be able to do whatever they want, and we have to follow their lead.
The power dynamic there is that the player is large and in charge. They hold the reins, they have the power. And that's great - for a big, sprawling game full of animations and responsive code.
But in a Twine game, the player is NOT powerful. In fact pretty much all the player can do is click on links.
Which means the power dynamic shifts from the player to the dev. And the entertainment burden shifts to the dev, too. The player can't just make their own fun, they're relying on the game to do most of the heavy lifting - to surprise and delight and keep the player interested.
And Temple of No does exactly that, while still feeling making the player feel like a part of the action.
For one thing, the writer William Pugh (Stanley Parable) creates tight, funny feedback loops that rein the player back in. Smart! Because players are fidgety. They're looking for something to do. So the devs gave the player a chance to click on something almost right away, right there in the third word:
But when you click "story," they make it clear you're wasting your time - and theirs.
This call-and-response is something we've seen before. We've seen improv comedians and lounge singers take a little input from the audience and then run with it (or shut it down in order to take charge of the room).
And I mention "lounge singers" because it gives me an excuse to use this Bill Murray clip:
They reminded the player how much fun it is to listen to a story
We've been hearing stories our entire lives. It starts with fairy tales, and it never ends. We LOVE listening to stories. As Carl Alviani writes, "Human beings have been telling stories as long as there’s been a language to tell them in. We think in stories, remember in stories, and turn just about everything we experience into a story."
But for a story to work in a game, the player has to be willing to follow along.
So how does the game cue the player to settle in for a good story?
In a couple of ways, big and small. Early in the game, they use campfire sound effects. And what do we do around a campfire? We tell stories.
They build anticipation.
Finally, they show. (A book is a big cue, to all of us.)
Does that mean the player becomes a passive consumer of the story? No way! After all, when we listen to stories around the campfire, or listen to our grandpa read bedtime stories to us, we don't just sit there quietly. We ask questions. We interrupt. We even argue or criticize or complain a little. Like in this scene from Princess Bride:
And that back-and-forth is part of the fun. When we hear that campfire or see that storybook, we're ready to play along.
Speaking of Princess Bride, it's a safe bet the dev team has seen that movie once or twice:
They let the player find their way to the golden path
There's a story in this game. William Pugh wrote it. So technically there is A Story they want the player to hear. But players love having options. They love to explore. So the team lets them explore. For example:
When you decide you're brave like a bear:
And here's what you get:
In other words, bye!
But if you click Yes, the adventure begins. First, you choose your character.
If you choose a woman or a bloke, a bunch of goofy stuff happens. But if, at some point, you decide you want to be the frog, here's what happens:
Don't you want to play this game now? I do.
I've only scratched the surface of The Temple of No. I didn't even mention the sing-a-long, or Raiders of the Lost Ark. But I hope I've said enough here to inspire you to check the game out for yourself.
And maybe go watch Princess Bride again, too.
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Susan’s first job as a game writer was for “a slumber party game - for girls!” She’s gone on to work on over 25 projects, including award-winning titles in the BioShock, Far Cry and Tomb Raider franchises. Titles in her portfolio have sold over 30 million copies and generated over $500 million in sales. She is an adjunct professor at UT Austin, where she teaches a course on writing for games. A long time ago, she founded the Game Narrative Summit at GDC. Now, she partners with studios, publishers, and writers to help teams ship great games with great stories. She is dedicated to supporting creatives in the games industry so that they can do their best work.