The free open source tool Twine is designed for creating nonlinear stories. That makes it perfect for creating branching scenarios. I use Twine for planning the structure, drafting the content, and building a functional prototype.
Getting started with Twine
Note for Mac users: you may see a warning that the Twine app wasn’t opened because it’s from an unknown source. Select Open anyway to launch it. If you’re still having trouble, try changing your OS settings to allow unsigned apps.
The first time you open the application, click Tell Me More for help. Read the information and click OK for each part until you finish the introduction. The online guide provides documentation.
Click the +Story button to create a new file. (The screenshot below shows some of the existing stories, but this will be empty the first time you use Twine.)
Give your story a name and open it up. You’ll see a single Untitled Passage in the center to start.
Double click the Untitled Passage to open it.
Enter a title for your passage. Enter your first text (this is usually the introduction to the scenario).
Creating the structure
The power of Twine for branching scenarios is in the simplicity of creating additional passages with links between them. Unlike many other tools, Twine is built for nonlinear structures.
To create a link to a new passage, just type double brackets around the text of the link. In the screenshot below, [[Get started]] is the new link.
When you close the first passage, you’ll see a new passage with a link from the first passage.
You can continue repeating this process for your entire scenario. You can create the structure first; just add titles and links (plus maybe some brief notes about the content). Adding multiple links creates multiple new passages.
I usually write the ideal path first, the one showing all of the best possible choices. I write that from start to finish before going back to fill in the rest of the branches.
Building a functional prototype
In addition to the ease of creating links and new passages, the other huge time saver with Twine is that those links are functional. You can preview and test your branching scenario.
Click Play to just click through your entire scenario. Click Test if you want to use debug mode to view where links go (very useful if the link text is different from the passage name). Play mode is usually fine for basic branching scenarios.
Publish and share for review
In my experience, most SMEs have a hard time envisioning how branching scenarios will work unless they have used them before. They just couldn’t understand a storyboard in Word or PowerPoint, or they’d get lost trying to jump back and forth following “jump to slide 15” notes. Twine makes review simpler because SMEs can click through and see how everything fits together.
Select the title of your story at the bottom, then click Publish to File. Just upload your html file to a server, and your SMEs and other reviewers can play through every path.
You can also select the title and then View Proofing Copy for a copy of the text for the entire scenario. I often copy this to Word and provide this to SMEs in addition to the prototype if they want to make significant text changes. I find it’s easier to track text changes in Word, especially if there are significant text changes.
You can see a functional Twine prototype that I built for another scenario. This is just plain text, but all the links work. The scenario is fully functional.
Have you tried Twine?
If you have tried Twine yourself, I’d love to hear if it helped you. I’m also interested in learning more tips and tricks. I know I have only scratched the surface of what’s possible in Twine. Please share your ideas for using Twine to create branching scenarios.
Originally published 1/21/20. Minor updates 6/16/21.