Coloratura Twine (and other parser/CYOA considerations)

I would like to share something with you. It’s my impressions of the Twine version of Coloratura by Lynn Glasser. Uncomfortable with posting this publicly in IntFiction at the time, I PMd this to Lynn; as I think I had a few insights into what I think is the greatest strength of the parser - the fact that we’re communicating, and that the responsability of typing down an action to be carried out is wholly different than clicking a link where it’s spelled out - I’d like to share this, in hopes of generating an interesting discussion about the individual best points of the parser and of CYOA.

Or about whatever the heck y’all want to talk about.

Warning: some spoilers below. Best read if you’ve played Coloratura. Oh what the heck, it’s a great game, go play it anyway

First off, I don’t know if you’ve read my review of Coloratura when it
was still up. Basically, I loved the heck out of your game (BTW, I
recently discovered a game called Legion. Did you play it? Was it
inspiration for Coloratura? They’d be a nice “double feature”; it’s
different enough from Coloratura that they sort of complement each
other, being different takes on a similar concept. Anyway, I digress).
It was beautiful, it was deep, it was fun, it was surprising, it was
very well written, it was amazingly polished.

I tried the Twine version. I have to confess to some disappointment.

I think it’s a wonderful thing that you’ve done, to port the game. I
think someone would HAVE to do it someday, at some point, and it might
as well be you with your brilliant game. I seem to be in the minority,
but ah well - in the Twine version, I just see text with hyperlinks,
which completely fail to draw me in. There is no wonder, there isn’t
even the sense of exploration because there’s no spatial references

And I mean, Coloratura got me hooked in the very first
couple of turns; in what other game can you EXAMINE UNIVERSE? That’s
gone, too.

What the Twine version retains is the story, and the
concept, and the writing, and these are all great. But the sense of
agency, I feel, has been greatly diminished. Therefore so has my
participation, my agency. I feel detached. I feel I don’t even have to
make an effort to understand the nature of the PC; eventually I need
only click links and I’ll get somewhere.

I can’t tell you, for
example, the thrill of starting to colour someone’s aura, or of
realising I could take on different properties, or enter the machine
near the beginning. It was as though the game world kept expanding, the
possibilities opening up. In Twine, it’s all part of the same mechanic -
click. Click. Click.

I mean, in one bit of the game - you’ll
realise which - I was delighted to see that what I typed was accepted by
the game. It was >LET ME GO. This is completely outside of IF
conventions, but it felt the most natural thing to write. And the game
understood it! That was an absolutely amazing feat, proof that the game
deserved all of my trust, that I was able to meaningfully communicate
with it and it was able to communicate back…

…which is what I
feel is the difference between the parser and CYOA. If you type, you’re
constructing sentences. Like it or not, it’s an act of communication,
and it’s inherently meaningful. And you get the feedback in exactly the
same way. Clicking can mean any of a million things, and therefore it’s
inherently meaningless. The choices are splayed out to be clicked on; as
opposed to they existing conceptually but taking a conscious decision
on your part to act upon them. It is the difference between clicking
"Kill lizard" as it appears, and between realising that you have to take
the conscious decision to perpertrate this act, so you actually have to
spell it out, every letter, and with every letter you tap you confirm
that it is your intention, that YOU have decided, to kill this animal.

There we go.
Again, it’s a wonderful thing that you’ve done, as an experiment, and it
solidifies in me why I always thought parser games were more to my

…or it could just be that Coloratura was too good in
parser form to be as enjoyable in Twine; or it could just be that it had
been originally designed for parser and its strengths, and the perfect
Twine Coloratura needs some redesigning, I don’t know; because I DO know
for a fact that a game that’s designed to BE a Twine game will probably
always be better in twine than a parser adaptation…

thank you for having done it, but most of all, thank you for having made
the original Coloratura in the first place, and having made it so

Funnily enough, a few days ago I played “Creatures Such As We” and I had no such issues about CYOA. I thought it was a great game (I didn’t finish it because it didn’t allow for game-saving). Which I guess just proves that a parser game is designed that way from the ground up, and a CYOA is designed that way from the ground up, and they’re both excellent but they probably shouldn’t try to be ported without some deep, deep design changes.

I once tried to make a game that was partly CYOA and partly parser, where the CYOA bit were where the character would go through his daily routine as sanctioned from a higher authority and the parser bits were more confused moments where for a brief while the PC had more liberty of choice than he ever had in his life, and during the course of the game the CYOA bits would become sparser and sparser.

Ah well, if Morpheus/Daniel has a computer room similar to his library of unwritten books, my game is probably there somewhere (if you don’t get this, read Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. Heck, go read it anyway)

Yes, a fruitful start, will write when I free up some time today. Thanks for that :slight_smile:

Looking forward to it, but I just realised I had something to add.

It’s just that, when I spoke about the need for a spatial reference and how cardinal movement in parser games easily give me that reference (which they don’t for everyone, I know)… I was directly comparing the parser and Twine versions of Coloratura, and the difficult I felt in relating to space, to the various rooms, to the overall ship, in the Twine version.

I did not mean to say, of course, that CYOA suffers from not having cardinal directions, that’d be preposterous. Most CYOAs are built in an entirely different manner; even when they do implement a world you can freely walk around in (some Fighting Fantasy books spring to mind, more so than Twine. Go figure), and maybe backtrack and try exploring a new place, it’s constructed like a narrative, always going forward. So Twine games do not need cardinal directions, and I’d like to make clear I wasn’t implying they should.

Just, y’know, to clarify beforehand.

Constructing CYOA as narrative is one of the important things to think about when you write CYOA, to me. It’s not that much of a given, really. As I said in one topic at, I see less difference in underlying game state and more in interface (which of course is plenty of difference).

Choices aren’t hidden. Choices aren’t a whole lot all at once (unless you wanna kill your chances of anyone playing your game of course). The latter I don’t see as a problem, since even in parser-IF that’s good design more often than not. The fact that choices aren’t hidden, however, puts a different burden on them. They need to be engaging; well-written; all, to an extent, need some nail-biter element to them.

In parser-IF you have a world that you put into motion. Otherwise it’s just sitting there, waiting for you to interact with it. CYOA can’t have that luxury. It needs to have a hook in virtually every bit of output, needs to make its stakes clear enough that you both see what you’re choosing and want to choose all the options but have to make do with just one. Simply put, all the choices have to feel essential.

Choice of directions/locations to visit I could well accept being relegated to some sort of a map interface: few things annoy me more than “Bold Adventurer, a momentous Choice lies before you: left or right?” Same goes for “You’re at the N train station. You can either take the train do destination N + 1 or you can visit an old friend of yours that would conceivably know something about the murder of Mrs. Fannypot. WHATEVER SHALL YOU DO?”

Actually, CYOA could take a big leaf out of parser-IF’s book and think long and hard before offering the interactor any sort of coarse-grained choice, then think long and hard whether that choice shouldn’t really be (much) more fine-grained. I’m definitely with Jon Ingold here who advocates short output (up to 150 words at most) and fine-grained choices. The best CYOA I’ve read has more or less kept to that. (Unless, like FF gamebooks, it combines both completely inert and unengaging short text with trivial choice “Search the chest, or search behind the curtain?” Basically, a sort of crippled parser-IF setup.)

All of that said, I’m also rather partial to experimenting with a more “bare”, approach to text, not so much driven by momentum and story as by. One of the coolest things I’ve read in parser-IF was the changing mechanical garden in Moonlit Tower, where the layout and structure of the text was the same across all four possible states, but the content of the garden was different. The sameness of the sentence structure actually highlighted the differences that much more and hightened the vividness of the scene. Porpentine’s randomly generated epithets go in that direction as well I think, sort of an inadvertent poetry.

But also, I think it could be use in place of graphical “textures”, given the modularity of the English language and how prevalent structures like free modifiers are in good writing (they could easily be the target of random generation around a steady, recognizable core of “set” sentences). More on free modifiers and the rhetoric based on them.

By the way, there is something that many consider a strength of CYOA: the possibility for internal monologue. Personally, I’d stay away from that in output text, save it for some of the choices maybe, and even then I’d rather describe a piece of gesticulation or an expression, not actual feelings.

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I say, great post!

They need to be engaging; well-written; all, to an extent, need some nail-biter element to them.

few things annoy me more than “Bold Adventurer, a momentous Choice lies before you: left or right?”

it combines both completely inert and unengaging short text with trivial choice "Search the chest, or search behind the curtain?

That’s my qualm with a lot of the choices in CYOA that does not do it right (of course, if they do it right, it’s awesome): unappealing options, that as far as I know have all the impact of tossing a coin; options that I have no way of deciding between, it’s not strategy, it’s just a coin flip; and even options that I have no idea what they’ll do: will they advance the story or stop to examine an object, or a thought, more carefully? If I choose this option now, will I be able to select one of the others later? Some CYOAs are very honest and straight-up about this, and they make for great playing, and others muddle it all up (more often than not) and I lose interest very quickly because the game isn’t playing fair with me.

I’m also quickly growing bored of games that exist solely to tell a personal painful story, a growin trend in Twine, but I guess maybe those games were written for a specific group of people and I’m butting in. When that game is a GOOD game, I learn a lot from it - dis4ria, Cis Gaze, and others - so I’m not saying they should stop being made. But it’s starting to make me uncomfortable. I don’t know these people, so playing the games feels voyeuristic. Unless I transform those stories into fiction in my head, which defeats the purpose and takes a lot of the punch out of the story, leaving it bland and ho-hum (may sound callous, but there you go - sad stories all follow the same patterns, they’re easy to get bored of).

Then again, I have the same reaction to people posting pics of their private life in Facebook. Maybe I’m just from another era altogether.

I’m definitely with Jon Ingold here who advocates short output (up to 150 words at most) and fine-grained choices.

Funny you should mention him. He recently had a very long blog post where he argued CYOA served IF much better than the parser. I certainly understand his arguments and where he’s coming from, and in games like Sorcery! and Frankenstein I definitely agree. It’s the difference between small choices and big choices. Will my game be about manipulating objects and unlocking doors? Parser. Will it be about social interaction, making big decisions, making alliances, travelling through a vast land in a narrative which hardly, if ever, doubles back to a previous point? CYOA. Well, in broad strokes, at least.

not so much driven by momentum and story as by.

Forgot the crucial word there. :wink:

But also, I think it could be use in place of graphical “textures”,
given the modularity of the English language and how prevalent
structures like free modifiers are in good writing

That’s something that Twine does that is sincerely awesome and parser IF, in its current terminal-based interface, can’t replicate: editing the actual output. Mind, we can trick it, by clearing the screen, it would be relatively trivial; it’s all about knowing the machine you’re using. But yes, there are various Twine games that allow you to modify certain nouns and adjectives. Badly used, it’s just boring, and most people just overuse it. But occasionally it makes a real difference; not in terms of gameplay, but in terms of the story that you’re constructing. The player also becomes the author in these games, which I’d think some theorists out there would be VERY interested in; Victor Gisjbers has a number of games on that very subject, if tackled differently, and Aaron Reed has been experimenting with it in 18 Cadence.

Hah, verily I missed a word, or a phrase, there!
"…as by a changing world state signaled by modular changes in the text."

As to the dynamics of choices, it’s a matter (again) of structure and writing skill: they could make it clear they’re mutually exclusive by phrasing alone, or by the text that’s gone before them. Then structuring could be a matter of offering choices A, B and C in passage 1 and then, if you chose C, in passage 2 you have A, D and E, only A is somewhat different than what you had in passage 1 since your choice of C changed the game state somehow.

I also don’t have the slightest bit of problem with some of these choices appearing “game”-y if they push the player to roleplay and get involved with the story WHILE gameplaying. (Instead of min-maxing stats, paying little to no attention what story that creates for them.) They would have to be well-written at sentence level in any case though, otherwise I’m out pretty quickly.

As to personal stories, most of them I’ve encountered did actually do some (or even a lot, as in Porpentine’s stuff) real-world distortion/masking. I think it’s the only way to put enough distance between yourself and the issue, so you can actually write something that will touch people (on the particular subject). It’s not a matter of hiding something behind the fiction’s conceits, it’s about using them to be able to say anything in the first place. Still, maybe I’ve come across the more decent crop of such games. I do know what you’re talking about though, I read a lot of amateur prose and poetry that does this; couldn’t say I’m uncomfortable, rather a bit sorry that because they’re making people uncomfortable they’re hamstringing themselves, not reaching people but pushing them away. In game-making, as in all art/craft, there’s the matter of learning to work with your tools first and foremost.

On small/big choices: I also see outright choices as a better tool for character/plot development, but the times are such that a smidgen of graphics is almost a requirement; that’s why I said that more trivial/fiddly interactions could be handled by an abstracted visual system (i. e. travelling on a map), saving text for when it’s needed. The last one is re: doubling back. Plotkin-puzzles though would get tedious in choice-based, true.

I’d say modular replacement of description as characterization and worldbuilding technique could really be something that interactive text could develop more and even as a recognizable aesthetic. Not that poets in the vein of William Carlos Williams and Ezra Pound haven’t done the imagistic “pure juxtaposition of images” thing, but it just combines pretty well with interactivity to boot.

Here’s, btw, a favorite poem of mine, Edwin Morgan, Spacepoem 3:

the golden flood the weightless seat
the cabin song the pitch black
the growing beard the floating crumb
the shining rendezvous the orbit wisecrack
the hot spacesuit the smuggled mouth-organ
the imaginary somersault the visionary sunrise
the turning continents the space debris
the golden lifeline the space walk
the crawling deltas the camera moon
the pitch velvet the rough sleep
the crackling headphone the space silence
the turning earth the lifeline continents
the cabin sunrise the hot flood
the shining spacesuit the growing moon
the crackling somersault the smuggled orbit
the rough moon the visionary rendezvous
the weightless headphone the cabin debris
the floating lifeline the pitch sleep
the crawling camera the turning silence
the space crumb the crackling beard
the orbit mouth-organ the floating song

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Aaaah. It makes perfect sense with what you go on to say on the rest of your post, too.

Agree. I can understand why some people would like to minimize game-y choices, but frankly - and this is purely subjective - if I don’t even know that my experience through the game could be totally (or, hey, slightly) different, I’m not going to play it again. Replayability goes out the window, when maybe the author intended it to be replayed. Making the “game” aspect invisible has its advantages, but I think it’s best when some choices allow others to appear in a normal fashion.

Let’s say that, by virtue of the PC becoming closer and closer to another character, you have an option - that you wouldn’t otherwise - to save that other character, by sacrificing yourself, when that OC’s in danger. Maybe the “sacrifice yourself” option doesn’t really end the game, maybe something saves you, but you intended to sacrifice yourself, and that would impact some things in the story, just as you had to make your own impact in order for that choice to be visible in the first place.

The path to get to this situation can be overly “game-y”; it’s clearly state-tracking, and can be crunched to numbers. It doesn’t bother me in the least; the overall work will profit, I think, by it.

True of everything. :slight_smile: “Everything’s allowed as long as it’s well made”.

Hit the nail on the head, that’s exactly what I’ve been experiencing for the past few Twine games I happened to play. Hardly representative of Twine as a whole, but you know, when you get a few in a row you get real tired real quick.