A post-mortem of 'I am Dog(s)'
September 13, 2021 | 12:00 pm
Turns out writing a Twine narrative was less stupid than we thought.
It’s been about a week since we released it, so might as well collect our thoughts on writing our story and the response we’ve gotten!
So the process of writing this was very good for the two of us, helped us from being too occupied with some negative drama that has been circling around us lately. Likewise it helped us process some feelings around our plurality and relationship.
But most of all, it helped us connect with a whole boatload of people that we never met.
Apparently for plural and nonhuman folk, there is a dearth of media that aims at them; so having an honest and well-told narrative that reflects that experience (even if it doesn’t match completely) is exciting to the community.
Which is wonderful because this was the first piece of creative work that we have worked on, and released to the public. And we were overblown and overjoyed to the positive response we’ve received.
At first we were expecting maybe a couple dozen folks to play; mostly close friends and family. But all of those folks loved it so much that they ended up sharing it in discord and Twitter; where it went a little viral.
Currently it’s sitting at about 610 plays so far; and a ton of response (for me anyways, as somebody who has been very obscure on Twitter in the past). Every response has been positive from folks saying they loved how we used Twine to enhance the narrative; to folks resonating and sharing how accurate it feels to their experience as plural and non human folks.
Likewise with Twitter, we have recreated a twitter account for the purpose of promoting our story. And unlike all the previous times we have used twitter, it has been an intensely positive experience. From folks sharing their love of the story we have literally stimmed multiple times a day; overwhelmed by how folks love our narrative! We are being careful not to follow big accounts and curate our timeline carefully, and make sure to create as much friction using Twitter as possible to help discourage us from using it too much. We’re sure it’ll fail eventually (Anna: Nope, that’s just you Lee! :V) but for now want to make sure we use Twitter in as healthy a way as possible.
Anyways, enough about the response, and to talk about the process of creating the narrative.
Twine uses multiple formats that are mostly akin to their own programming languages and features. We used the simplest and “easiest” format called Harlowe, which allowed us to do 80% of what we wanted to using it’s own macros and features natively.
We did find that there were certain features that didn’t work too well. Setting background images using macros (in particular the
(enchant: ?page, (background:<url>)) macro) ended up loading the image late in the page’s rendering; so we ended up using CSS to set backgrounds and other stylings. Like the discord conversations (which, as you can guess, was based on Discord’s actual CSS. Though in a world where we gave ourselves more time and effort, we would have gone further in recreating Discord’s UI) and font changes.
But the stuff folks were most impressed by (i.e. the word “tail” swaying back and forth whenever it was wagging in the story) was done using Harlowe macros.
Despite what we thought, the CSS went pretty smoothly and quickly. Aside form some issues involving page transitions that we managed to fix/avoid. While Harlowe allowed us to do 90% of what we wanted with the story, the last 10% required quite a bit of tinkering and bashing our head against the limitations of Harlowe.
Lesson: Easy and limited tools tend to fight back when you stretch them.
The experience of writing it was… interesting. It was the first time we ended up with a long(er) form writing project where we experienced so many bouts of writer’s block and acted to intentional with character motivation and how the story should be plotted.
We had specific goals with most characters, and intentions of where the story would go. Compared to most of our attempts at writing involved having a basic premise and writing and plotting as we went. Whereas we had specific goals and intentions with each act of the story and what each character would do for the main character’s growth. While this did help with “write and go”, it did create moments where writer’s block hit hard.
Often we found ourselves in a point where we had a point where a conversation would kinda hit a standstill because there wasn’t a clear way that the main character or the person they were talking to didn’t have a clear way to push forward the action. Especially when a scene had a specific goal (e.g. “Get Sunny to figure out what plurality is” or “have Gold speak up during an unexpected moment”).
However, our way to solve it was to talk to friends and confidants about the narrative and the block we were having. Sometimes them bouncing ideas off of us, or explaining the issue helped kickstart our brain and figure out ways to bypass the issue; or rewrite parts to help lead towards a specific plot beat we wanted to reach.
Lesson: Pre-planned writing can lead to writer’s block; so use friends and collaborators to help fix blocks!
Editing the story was a bit of a painful but very necessary process.
Most of the readers we got were very positive about what we wrote. But one friend took it upon themselves to be a professional editor for us, which was amazing that they would put in so much effort. But likewise it made it very difficult to communicate.
An example of how it was difficult involved the very first line in an earlier draft of the story “Dysphoria is hell of a drug.”
We were happy with the line, and thought it was an attention catching metaphor that caught the reader’s attention quickly.
However, with our editor, they kept telling us to change it to “Dysphoria is a hell of a drug.” It was a minor change, but we liked the more casual reading of the former line. We ignored it in favor of more important sounding changes (i.e. major typos, and hard to parse sections).
Unfortunately our editor didn’t exactly like it when we said “we liked it better that way” when asked why it wasn’t changed.
It lead to a long and tense conversation, where it became clear to our editor that they took the process of editing very seriously and would be ashamed if the story wasn’t up to their standards.
It… was a little difficult on our end too. Because effectively we had to come to an agreement that we had to give up our poetic license to make sure the story was up to snuff for our editor. But likewise as a compromise we could object to changes, but had to work with our editor to come to a change we both would agree to.
However, in the end, that requirement of consensus for changes did lead to some painful and difficult decisions on my part. In particular, agreeing to remove stylistic flourishes we wanted to keep in order to make our editor happy. In the end while we are happier with their improvement to our story; the process was painful due to how dear our story was. It likewise often felt like our baby was being changed to a standard we felt was unfair for the story; but as beggars we can’t be choosy with whom we collaborate with.
Lesson: Having collaborators and folks helping you is invaluable for creating a good project. But inversely, the more folks who help the more your “pure creative vision” is gonna be affected and changed. The best way to avoid it is to not act so precious with your creations.
Overall, the experience was wonderful and we are planning on following it up with another project. This time we are going to go more directly into a gamedev-oriented story, and creating a small game using GB Studio. We’ll try and keep a devlog of how it goes, and hopefully keep us on track and learn how to use it sooner!