A text-based adventure game, like HRO, requires a lot of writing — this is probably not a surprise. What was a surprise was finding a new tool to generate, edit and integrate the lots and lots of written bits into the Unity engine to make an actual playable game. That tool is INK, a free text-creation tool developed and distributed by our friends at Inkle Studios — you probably know them for "Heaven’s Vault" or their recently released “Overboard” which is getting a lot of well-deserved critical attention at the moment — it’s a gem and a must-have if you love murder mysteries.
After fifteen years of writing, finding a new process is not an easy thing. But Ink’s advantages made it well-worth scaling the small learning-curve. Yes, at first glance it looks like a programming language, and there is some architecture to get used to. But once you have the basics down, Ink streamlines the writing process, especially editing, to the point where I’m not sure we could have created HRO without it. Branching text — like conversations — can be easily read and edited because Ink allows you “play” the scenes in a separate window while viewing and editing the code in real time — an intuitive, natural reading process that is also a tremendous time saver.
Ink also facilitates integration of the JSONs you create into your Unity framework by allowing the author to set flags that trigger actions in the Unity game. So the animation of a character you’re having a conversation with will change facial expressions in coordination with the dialogue, or buttons on the player’s console can be made to light up at the appropriate time, that sort of thing. Plus there’s a robust and clear system of flagging errors within Ink, so it’s easy to troubleshoot and tougher to construct files which don’t work at run-time — though I have managed that several times thanks to my own coding terribleness.
Yes, we’re officially fanbois. If you’re a creator of interactive fiction, we highly recommend checking out Ink.
Worthing and Moncrieff, LLC is an independent developer of video game stories founded in 2015.