It's all about good tools...

Pen and inkAt inkle, we have a catchphrase. Actually, we have quite a lot of catchphrases, but the one I wanted to talk about now is "it's all about good tools". Because, you know, it is.

This is something we learnt the hard way in the mainstream console industry. Making something flexible and non-linear, like a game, or an interactive story, is hard. Making sure it doesn't break, even in obscure ways, is really hard. Making it in a way that, once you've made it, you've any idea at all how it worked a month later is almost impossible.

But most importantly, making it in a way that frees you to think creatively is crucial.

<!--more-->Making stuff is all about good tools. Tools that let you get your ideas down expressively, and that let you do the useful, fiddly stuff in a way that doesn't feel fiddly. With a good tool you should never think, "I ought to that, but I won't, because it's just too much a pain and I don't want to break anything..."

The best tool for writing, ever, is the pen and paper, and here's why:

  • because paper can be re-ordered at will
  • because you can throw selected bits of it away
  • because you can pick up the thrown away bits and reinstate them if you change your mind
  • because pens can write words but can also draw doodles, diagrams, underlines, asterisks, notes, shopping lists...
  • because pens run out of ink every now and then so you have to take a break to get a new pen
  • because paper is easy to search through (it is, you always know where on a page a word you wrote is)
  • because it forces you to redraft
  • because it doesn't give you back- or eye-strain
  • because you can use it anywhere
  • because paper doesn't update automatically in the background with tidbits of distracting news
  • because paper doesn't interupt my creativity to tell me I've spelt interrupt wrong
When we were designing our inklebook format, we were also designing our tool. The question was: how do we make writing an interactive story feel like writing, and not like programming?

We've drawn on a lot of inspiration: Inform 7, for its inline substitutions, ChoiceScript, for its compact mark-up and flow, Undum, for its entry-points. We've added a lot of power, a lot of flexibility, and then smoothed the lot down so it all sits well together. The result, as Dave Morris remarked on Twitter, is a "clean machine".

Then we took two steps back and made it even better, with something we call the "weave format", which turns writing interactively into just writing... almost. But enough for now...

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