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Twine as a Process Modeling Tool

On making games.

By Paul Ford, Co-Founder & CEO

Twine is a tool that lets you make point-and-click games that run in a web browser—what a lot of people refer to as “choose your own adventure” or CYOA games.

It’s pretty easy to make a game, which means that the Twine community is fairly big and diverse. You can play the games in your web browser, and compose them in a browser, too. Or download an app.

You can “play” this “game”

I tried Twine years ago and never really got anywhere, but out of idle curiosity I started to play with it again not long ago, with the idea that I’d make a little game that simulated what it’s like to work with Postlight. I.e.—

You step out of an elevator. Do you want to talk about

  1. Working with us as a client?
  2. Working with us as a team member?

As silly as it sounds it was fun to model the office out as a game. After an hour of messing around I’d modeled out the elevator (click a button!) and put in some basic scoring, and started to create some fake conversations between the player/reader and “characters” that included myself and my business partner Rich Ziade. Just what the world needs—a meeting simulator! If I ever finish it I’ll put it up online.

There are a lot of tools that you can use to do information architecture and to sketch out processes. Visio, PowerPoint, Keynote, or Omnigraffle, for example. In the programming world, some people use UML tools to draw pictures of how a program should operate, and then turn that into code, and a new breed of product prototyping apps are blurring the line between design and code, too. But it has always bummed me out that when you draw a picture on a computer it is, for the most part, just a picture. Why doesn’t the computer make sense of those boxes and arrows for you? Why is it so hard to turn a picture of a web product into a little, functional website?

This is a huge topic — why are most digital documents not presented as dynamic programs? (One good recent exploration of the subject is Bret Victor’s “Up and Down the Ladder of Abstraction.”) And in some ways the Twine interface is a very honest testing and prototyping environment, because it is so good at modeling choices (as in, choose your own adventure). Playing around, I made a little “game” about writing this newsletter. It took twenty minutes and is not serious—yet it made me think about schedules, information sources, my tendencies toward distraction, and the overall processes. It started as a joke but was an actually productive half-hour. I can see lots of ways to model social and business processes using the friendly, easy-to-use, and open-sourced Twine system. That the end result is a game shouldn’t distract you from the fact that the software is free and the exercise was useful.