Using Twine for complex video scenario design

For a recent scenario-based course in health care, my client was very keen to work with video scenarios. After a deep needs analysis, we established that the scenarios would provide the learner with conversation simulations. The learner would make a choice of ‘what to say’ and a video of the patient’s reaction would provide a consequence driven feedback.

In a previous blog post, I described how I constructed these scenario stories to align with the learning outcomes.

The next piece of work was actually writing out the full interactive stories and conversations. Each conversation choice made by the learner would either lead to immediate feedback or a consequence video, from where the next conversation choice would be presented to the learner.  The question was how to make them easy to write and easy to review for the SME.

As the final product needed to be in Articulate Storyline, quick prototyping in the software was my first idea. However, if you have ever made really complex branched scenarios in Storyline, you will know that this is quite a labour-intensive piece of work. The story view of your scenes stops being helpful when it becomes too small to read and the arrows between slides are really hard to follow. So I felt that quick prototyping in Storyline would be very time consuming, with a lot of frustration making changes afterward.

Alternatively, I could write it all out in a classic storyboard. However, in my experience, SME’s have real trouble following how branched scenarios will work if you write them in a Word storyboard with indications of A goes to C, B goes to E etc. They just lose track, and honestly, so do I when trying to write it this way, I just end up with copy/paste errors.

This is why I decided to use Twine for a first write up of all text and video content, so the SME’s could review an interactive version, before full development in Storyline.

Briefly – about Twine

A small part of the story view of the scenarios

For those unfamiliar with Twine – a quick introduction. Twine is a free software which allows creating interactive fiction. It’s easy interface lets you write passages of text, make links to other passages so the ‘reader/player’ can follow a path of choices. The syntax to create those ‘branches’ is easy to learn: [[Text to click->name of passage]]. If you create a link (‘jump’), Twine creates a new passage to work with.

With Twine you can quickly write branched scenarios or text-based games, a lot of amazing examples exist in the world of IF – or interactive fiction. For an instructional designer, it allows to make an interactive storyboard, so your SME’s can imagine how the course will go.

I also love the Twine story overview, where you can easily follow the paths of your story and see missing links (shown in red). On top of that, you can move the elements around on the screen without losing the story structure, so you can organise the screen as you like it.

Passage types

I just love writing stories, and Twine just lets me get on with things without worrying about formatting, making new slides etc. I decided to make a few types of “passages” (as they are called in Twine).

  • Video description – to be filmed. I simply put (video x) on top of my text – so I could recognise them easily on the Twine story overview to copy/paste afterward and create a full video script for my actors and the video producer.
  • Feedback passages (either ‘what happened’ if the choice was not a good one, or a word of explanation when they made a good choice)
  • Choice passages: the 2 or 3 conversation options presented to the learner.

I was extremely happy with the choice of tool when it turned out the total number of passages was 105 and a word count of 12000. So glad I did not prototype in Storyline … no copying slides or using master slides, creating links on each slide. It was also extremely easy to share with the SME. As Twine simply exports to an html file, I uploaded it on my website and shared this page with them. This allowed them to review to their heart’s content before we ‘set things in stone’ for the videos and the Storyline build.

While the final product is really good with great actors – I feel like the Twine text-based versions are at least as immersive. If your budget does not allow expensive video production, well-written stories with solid decision options and believable characters are a very valid alternative.