Category Archives: Tools

Here are posts where I talk about specific game toolsets.

#WriteMonday – Short Story Submitted!

I did it!  I actually got that short story edited and submitted!

I had a really hard time sitting down to deal with it.  I kept putting off the editing.  Finally on Tuesday I sat down and started writing whatever was on my mind (it was a free write, much like I did years ago in a writing class).  By the time I was at the end of the page, I actually felt inspired and read over the story.  It was in okay shape and didn’t need too many edits.  So I worked on those when I could and finally finished on Friday.  I ended up calling it “A Friend from the Deep;” it’s set on Imezza and deals with a kraken (which is why its working title was the ever original “kraken story.”) I submitting “A Friend from the Deep” to Martian Migraine Press’s Monstrous Outlines: an Anthology of Camouflaged Horror Friday night.  I kind of doubt it will get accepted since that anthology specializes in horror and weird fiction and this piece is probably closer to fantasy (I could have sworn it said it accepted fantasy somewhere but I can’t find whatever I read now). Oh well, the worst that happens is they say no, right? I guess we’ll see what happens.

I need to make sure I remember to free write next time I have a hard time sitting down to work on a project like this!

On Friday I also followed up with my last submission (oh my gosh, that was a year ago!) I *think* the story has been published but I haven’t heard anything from the publisher.  I’ll give more details once I hear back from them. 🙂

So with all that happening on Friday, I had the rest of the weekend for whatever.  I took the rest of Friday night to look over (and clean up) my favourites list on Duotrope.  In doing that I found a few markets that sound pretty interesting; I decided to try writing something for the Make Your Way anthology. Make Your Way is looking for pieces that the audience will have to interact with in some way; I’ve written for projects like Holdfast in the past, so I’m hopeful that I can pull this off.  So I spent a bit of time later on Friday night coming up with a really simple RPG system for use with my story, with the rest of the weekend spent plotting things off and on.

I also spent a little bit of time trying to research tools to help me make this.  I’m a fan of Articy Draft but do not currently have my own copy (I was able to use it for a project I worked on in the past; the license was provided by the company I was working with).  Twine shows some promise, but it’s the type of thing I’ll use if I ever decide to publish this story on the web rather than in a book.  So I ended up defaulting to using my physical white board to plan this out.  Well, until I discovered The GameBook Authoring Tool, which I downloaded and tried out.  I think it’s exactly what I need to link everything together as I go.  So between my white board, my trusty notebook, and The GameBook Authoring Tool, I think I’m good to go for this project!

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Working on Samples

Over the last month or so, I’ve had a couple of different people ask me for game writing samples.  I directed them to my main website, shaunakosoris.com, so they could see what I had readily available.  Unfortunately in both cases, my available samples did not meet their needs (one person requested samples with romantic dialogue, while the other was looking for non-fantasy samples). Currently on my website, I have three samples: two are character biographies that were developed for different games, and the other is made up of actual scenes from a game (mainly dialogue with a bit of branching narrative).

I have written a couple of pieces over the years that I think would have better met what these people were looking for. Unfortunately I am unable to showcase them as samples.  So I decided to set to work remedying this.  Two nights ago I went looking for writing prompts to use as a starting point.  I was specifically looking for more of a real-world idea, but ended up finding a fun romantic dialogue prompt instead.  I was going to write the sample in Chat Mapper, with the intention of exporting it as a .rtf (I was really hoping to see what the output would look like with branching dialogue).  Unfortunately I don’t currently have access to that capability, so I had to use a different program instead.  Last night I played around with TyranoBuilder a bit, thinking I could build it there, but I don’t think there’s a way to export the dialogue (and I wasn’t planning on writing an entire Visual Novel, although that might be something to try in the future).  So I ended up writing the first draft of the sample in Word. I had a lot of fun writing it (it’s currently over 900 words!) I’m hoping to get it edited and up on the site over the weekend. 🙂

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Working on Cut Scene Dialogue

So after my paper prototyping adventures last night, I felt like I was ready to actually work on a few of the important cut scenes in Memories.  The only one I have somewhat built is the one I showed you in my post about tinting the screen (and that literally has “blah blah blah” as most of the dialogue).  I didn’t feel like writing the cut scenes in RPG Maker right now because I wanted a bit more flexibility for editing.  So first I thought to try using Chat Mapper, but that wasn’t a great fit when I started (I was thinking about the mechanics of how the program worked more than actually writing).  I had the same problem with Twine.  And then I remembered: I have Final Draft!  Why not write the cut scenes with that?

Sure, it took a few minutes to remember how the program worked (it has literally been YEARS since I last used it), but that was no big deal; I was back up and writing in no time!

cut scene written with Final Draft

I forgot how easy it is to read a script for dialogue.  Final Draft has been the perfect tool for my current needs because I don’t have to think about formatting, I can just focus on writing the words right now (and I can very easily edit whatever I write).  I managed to get a couple of key scenes written before making dinner (and quickly edited one after dinner).  Once I am happy with the text, I’ll be able to copy and paste it into RPG Maker. 🙂

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Paper Prototyping Memories

Ugh, it’s been almost a month and I feel like I haven’t done anything.  That’s not true (I’ve been doing a lot of reading, which has been great), but I haven’t done any writing or work on Memories.  So that ended up one of my big plans for this long weekend – make some sort of progress on Memories.  (I was tempted to sit down and write a short story or something, but decided in the end that I really need to finish this game first).

So I made a paper prototype of most of the game so far, and started trying to think things through a bit.

my paper prototype of Memories

This has been great.  I made little tokens out of paper with the characters, whether or not they have a heart, and what their job title is.  I also made paper tokens of the keys you’ll need, and the memory triggers.  This way I can move everything around super easily, which has allowed me to change my mind as to who will be in what room (and who will have the keys you need).  Thanks to this, I’ve actually managed to properly think through some of the problems I’ve been having for the last few weeks regarding the second and third memories, which means I can get back to building the game!  🙂

I wasn’t prototyping the narrative, but sitting down and making this prototype reminded me of a GDC talk I attended about paper prototyping for your narrative design project.  I know my friends and I were disappointed with the talk itself (he spent too much time on terms we were all familiar with; it was just starting to get into the good stuff when he ran out of time and had to hurry through the stuff we were more interested in), but if you’re interested in it, I found the talk on Youtube.

Oh yeah, I’m also renaming the wizard.  For some reason, I didn’t realize his name started with an “E” when I named him.  One of the families has an “E” as the first letter of their names, and I didn’t want it to be confusing.  So he’s now going to be Godric.  I think that’s appropriate – it means “power of god” plus “”power, rule.”  Definitely appropriate for this wizard!  😉

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Event Stuck on Another Event!

I was working on another cut scene and I had the weirdest thing happen: one of my events got stuck trying to move through a second event. I ended up making a video explaining the whole thing:

If you don’t feel like watching the video and would rather read about what was happening, basically the guy on the left was getting stuck on the guy on the right.

map with events, butler event circled

The event/guy on the right happens first and then is over.  That event becomes invisible, and I made sure it’s marked as being under the player.  I assumed that a second event would be able to walk over it, too.  But that’s not the case.  Luckily it’s super easy to fix this problem.  When I made the event/guy on the left’s move route, I had to make sure “through” was turned to “on.”

Event editing with move route open - through on is circled

Make sure you turn “through” on and not “transparent” on.  I made that mistake once while messing with the settings to make the video and he (obviously) disappeared!

Like I said, it’s super easy.  Kind of like getting the screen to go back to normal after a tint…(hint – use tint screen, not tint picture!)

Oh, one important note: you have to turn “through” on for every move route on a different page of an event.  I turned it on for this guy when he walks from the left to the right, but didn’t turn it on for when he walks right to left; the first time worked fine, but then he got stuck on the event the second time! Also, make sure you turn through on at the beginning of the move route; it won’t really help you if it’s at the end of the list of commands.

You probably noticed that this video is a lot more involved than the previous ones I’ve made regarding RPG Maker VX Ace (it has voice over, multiple video clips, and some pictures!) Because I knew I wanted to show several videos together (specifically the guy getting stuck on the event, and then the guy being able to walk through it), I ended up buying myself Movavi Video Editor.  I was playing around with the trial version, and decided that it was well worth buying, especially since I keep making blog posts with videos about RPG Maker VX Ace tips.  I also just turned my last post where I talked about screen tinting into a video because I wanted to play with Movavi’s highlighting effects.  You can check it out here:

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How One Shot Helped Me with the Design of Memories

I’ve been struggling with some of the design elements of how this game should work.  I knew that I wanted the main character to be able to interact with the environment and somehow regain her memories.  But how was that going to work?  Was it going to be through some sort of battle?  I mean, I am building this game with RPG Maker, and battles tend to be part of RPGs, right?

Then last weekend I played through One Shot. (If you haven’t heard of One Shot, don’t look anything up about it, just go and play it! It’s super good!) At a very basic level, One Shot is a puzzle/adventure game made with RPG Maker.  You get to wander around, finding and using items, in a very non-violent way. Which was exactly the sort of thing I was wanting with my game, but didn’t know if I could pull it off.  But after playing through One Shot, I knew that I could. And more importantly, that I should because Memories is not supposed to be a violent game at all.

So here’s what I ended up coming up with: interacting with certain things will trigger a memory.  The memory will take you back to your house, and the screen will tint a colour as the memory unfolds.  I made a quick video so you can check it out in action:

I’ll admit, I had a heck of a time getting the screen to go back to normal.  The problem was a really stupid one: you have the option to tint the screen OR to tint a picture.

RPG Maker VX Ace event tint options

I didn’t notice this, so I kept trying to untint a picture, not the screen.  Once I realized what was happening, it was a super easy fix.

In case you’re wondering, here’s the two parts to the tint event:

red tint event

They’re running as a parallel process to other events.  The first part gets triggered as the player is transported to the house.  The second part (which restores the screen to normal) is triggered at the end of the event that has all of the dialogue between the girls.

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How Branching Narrative is Useful Outside of Game Design – Building a Chatbot

While I was at work the other day, I came across a post by the Social Media Examiner titled “How to Create a Facebook messenger Chatbot.”  After explaining some basics on what a chatbot is and how it can benefit your business, Social Media Examiner gives some basic definitions and jumps right into how to build one with Chatfuel.  This was the picture that very specifically caught my attention:

Picture of chatbot block made of the card and button.

This image is linked from Social Media Examiner’s original post. Their caption: “This is a visual representation of the placement of blocks, cards, and buttons in a chatbot.”

My immediate reaction upon seeing this picture was: “This is branching narrative!”

Don’t believe me?  Check out this example from the Storynexus Reference Guide:

An example of a Storynexus Storylet.

Storylet example that appears in the Storynexus Reference Guide

Out of the bit of branching narrative programs I have worked with, I have arguably the most experience with Storynexus; that’s why I immediately saw the parallel between it and Chatfuel.  Under the root Storylet, the branch happens, and then you program in whatever result(s) you want.  Storynexus is a little more complex, but you can still see how it has the card and button block structure.

Here’s one more example.  This is a Chat Mapper piece I put together for Apocalypse Madness back in January 2015 called “Village Woes“:

Chat Mapper output showing Village Woes

Chat Mapper output for Village Woes

Once again, you can see how it’s got the basic card/button structure (particularly at the beginning of this story, where it has the initial split in choices).

So after I had the realization that a Chatfuel chatbot is created very much like branching narrative, my next thought was “I can make one!”

And so I did!  I got permission from CILU’s Station Manager to build one for CILU’s Facebook page.

It took me about five hours to build the menu system of the chatbot, which is its basic backbone.

Block structure of the CILU chatbot.

As you can see on the left side of that picture, the bot starts out with two built-in blocks (the welcome message and the default answer).  Then you can make however many blocks you want (my current bot has 34 plus the two built-in ones).  On the right side, I’ve got the block titled “Main Menu” open as an example.  I made the card a text card (all of my bot’s cards are currently text cards) and gave it three buttons that link it to other blocks.  I wanted to have five buttons at the bottom of this menu, but Chatfuel limits you at three buttons per card.

Once that was done, I asked friends and family members to test the bot so I can refine its AI.  The AI is the one thing that branching narrative from Storynexus and Chat Mapper did not prepare me for.  But that’s okay – Chatfuel has a really easy to use interface.

AI Set up for CILU bot on Chatfuel

You click on the big red button (on the left side of the picture) to add an AI Rule.  Then you get to tell the bot what to reply with (either text or one of the blocks you’ve already programmed) when the user says something to it.  So in this example, if the user asks what’s on the air right now, I’ve got the bot set to reply with text linking the user to the CILU schedule (and also reminding them how they can listen to the station).

The AI has been quite fascinating to build.  I programmed in phrases that I thought people would say, and have been adding more and more as people have tested it.  For example, someone asked to “speak” with our station manager, but I hadn’t programmed it to recognize that command (if they had asked to “contact” the station manager, the chatbot would have been fine).  So after that interaction, I went back into Chatfuel and added more phrases to better connect people with the information they’re looking for.

Another example was the simple act of greeting people.  When I originally asked people to test the chatbot, I hadn’t thought about getting it to say things like hello or goodbye.  But now it can!

What’s really neat about the whole thing is how the chatbot has evolved over the last week.  When I first asked people to test it, the chatbot was a very rigid menu system that you click through to get to the information you wanted.  After a few days of refining, the menu system is there if you need it (which the default answer is quick to remind you of), but the chatbot is able to get you the information you want by just chatting – no menu required!

Of course it’s still in need of refinement, since it failed with its first real customer.  But the more people who test it by asking it things, the better I’ll be able to program it.  If you’re interested in testing it, or just want to see the chatbot in action, you can access it through this link (but you’ll need Facebook Messenger), or by contacting the station on the CILU Facebook page.  And feel free to leave me any comments or feedback – it’ll help me with refining the bot!  🙂

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