IF Comp 2012: Valkyrie (Emily Forand)

Valkyrie is a CYOA in Twine. As usual, the jump will be followed by non-spoilery comments; then if I have anything spoilery to say, there will be spoiler space. I don’t know that this had beta-testers, but because the Twine format makes it more difficult to test for that, I’m being a little lenient with the choice-based pieces.

Valkyrie begins with three scenes of funerals where a mourner in the background appears consistently from situation to situation.

It then asks, with no obvious connection to any of these funeral scenes or the characters (briefly) introduced so far:

Choose what you have trained in
Mistress Thief

That first screen captured most of my experience with this game. The story doesn’t entirely seem to know what it’s about; spelling and punctuation are not necessarily to be relied on.

The prose gave the impression of having been written down as fast as it was thought of, by an author (or authors) who wanted to write something but weren’t quite sure what. Characters exchange lines of dialogue, but too often this dialogue does no functional work and doesn’t move the scene forward. Events occur, but their implications are discarded a few sentences later. The CYOA choices are often selected without any very serious attention to whether those are interesting choices to be making or will take the story where the authors want to go — because there doesn’t really seem to be a plan. It basically looks like a CYOA form of free writing, where you just sit down in front of a screen and type what pops into your head and see what happens.

That can be a useful exercise, but it generally doesn’t produce output that is of value to anyone other than the person who created it. Sometimes free writing can, after a bit of time, take the writer to some interesting ideas or a plot hook or a powerful image — but then the thing to do is trash all the meandering material you created en route and start over again, now that you actually know what your story is about.

4 thoughts on “IF Comp 2012: Valkyrie (Emily Forand)

  1. “The prose gave the impression of having been written down as fast as it was thought of, by an author (or authors) who wanted to write something but weren’t quite sure what.”

    All these great new accessible tools seem to bring in a lot of new people wanting to try their hand at IF, but then not really knowing what to do with it, or how to do it, or what to shoot for. Would you consider giving some tips for these people after the comp? I myself am sorely tempted by all these new tools, have a lot of ideas that I’d like to run with… but then they seem to be too thin to base an entire game on, don’t offer the interactivity that makes IF games fun, or (honestly) turn out to be a lot more work than the tools make you hope it will be. What do you start with, how do you measure if you’ve got something good, and what’s an honest estimation of how much time you will have to invest in order to make something good?

    • Probably not, for the following reasons:

      — I don’t use Twine myself, so I’d feel like an idiot trying to give advice about it. (This is probably not true any more, but in the past when I tried to install it on my Mac to try it out, it did not work for some reason. I know people have worked on it lately and I would guess that any problems there have been fixed, but I haven’t had time to experiment again; and certainly will not have time in the next few weeks to install it and write a piece with it in order to learn its capacities.)

      — How much time it will take to make something and how to know whether it’s something good are both highly variable with the skills, intent, and standards of the authors. Even for experienced authors, it can be hard estimating their own time expenditure on a task they’ve defined themselves; much harder to take a guess for someone else on an unknown project.

      — There’s a ton of great CYOA/quality-based narrative analysis and advice out there by people who have spent a lot of time thinking about this. I’d look at Failbetter’s blog if you want to write with StoryNexus or Varytale; or, if you’re leaning more towards Twine, ChoiceScript, or inklewriter, then perhaps Choice of Games’ advice and Sam Kabo Ashwell’s CYOA reviews would be good places to start. If the question is improving prose quality specifically (which is mostly what I took issue with in this review), then that’s a skill for which there are way more resources than I could possibly catalog, to be found on the web or in libraries or conventional bookstores.

  2. Pingback: Valkyrie « you find yourself in a room

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