Try the StoryTime Writing Desk

StoryTime 1.4, featuring the Writing Desk, is released and ready for your creative minds.

This is where you can create your own story-games. Everything you need to write scenes and connect them is online.

To get to the Writing Desk, you have to become a StoryTime author, which is easy. It just takes a few steps.

First, you have to sign in.  Use the “Sign In” button in the upper right corner.

Choose a Google or Facebook account to use for authentication. We have to know who you are so that you get credit for your work. Also, we don’t want to let anyone else mess with your stories.

If this is your first time logging in, an account will be created automatically for you. We get some information about you from Google or Facebook. It’s safe enough, and you already agreed to share that information, like your nickname and email address.

Second, once you are signed in, click on “Account” in the header navigation. Here you can modify a few pieces of information about yourself. You can also click a button that shows you the terms and conditions of becoming an author. Click whatever you need to agree. Your account will show that you agreed to the terms, and the button to agree goes away.

At this point, you should be good to go except for one small glitch. After you click the “I Agree” button, refresh your browser window. That will force the Writing Desk link to appear.

The next time you Sign In, Writing Desk will be there without having to refresh. Also, at some point I will fix the glitch, so you may not have see the issue.

Here comes the fun part.

From the Writing Desk, you can enter your first story title and click the plus (+) button. That’s your first draft, ready for editing. Click on the pencil to the right of the draft name, and go to the draft editor.

From the draft editor, you can change the title and add a quick tag line and longer about. Be sure to click Save whenever you change something and want to keep the change. Also, see the scene titles and add more scenes.

The first scene was created for you, so you might want to edit that first. Click on the scene, make changes, click save, and so on.

On the scene editor, you will notice a button that says “Change Signpost.” Before you can add a signs to the signpost, you will need some scenes to go to from the one you are on. Use the breadcrumbs at the top of the editor to go back to the draft editor. It’s the link with the name of the story.

When you have an extra scene or two, find your way back to the first scene and change the signpost. Give it a couple of signs, each pointing to a different scene.

That’s enough to get you started. Jump in and give it a try.

By the way, if you play long enough with the Writing Desk, you will find things that don’t quite work and think of ways it could be better. Add a comment to this post and share your ideas.

Or if you would like to keep things private, you can use the Contact Us link at the bottom of StoryTime. That will use your email client to send whatever you type.

Tell me which improvements I should prioritize. Like being able to delete. How about being able to publish? A way to visualize how the scenes are connected. What else?


The Hammer and Anvil of Creation

Think back to the last time you created something new.  How long ago was it?  Perhaps it was this morning when you made breakfast.  Perhaps you are lucky enough to have a job that requires creativity.  Or maybe you have not created anything of significance in a good long while.  The act of creation can be thrilling or terrifying.  On one hand, turning our ideas into reality feels good.  On the other hand, creation comes with the social risks of criticism and failure.

For many people, life is centered around the daily grind.  Repetitive, predictable, safe, the daily grind has its place in getting things done with a minimum of mental anguish.  When the grind gets too monotonous, we daydream, which kindles creativity and relieves our boredom.

I am a maker.  I seek the satisfaction of creating something with my own thoughts and fingers despite the risk of criticism.  In fact, I frame criticism as an essential element of feedback, which is simply information about what you have created.  Using feedback, you can decide if things are good enough or need to change in some respect.  Feedback is the hammer and anvil of creation.

For inspiration, I like to think big, and mythology offers a rich supply of big ideas.  Take Hephaestus, the Greek god of fire and volcanoes.  Taking a quick look at the pictures in this article, you will notice that the primary tools of this god are the hammer and anvil.  Together they induce feedback on some item of heated metal until it becomes something useful.

While looking for pictures of Hephaestus, I learned a few things.  This god was ugly.  His face was unshaven and dark with soot.  His chest and arms were huge, but his legs were weak and his foot crippled.  This is not the typical image of a god, yet his power was in his ability to create.  While he made many items for himself, he was also generous with his creations, giving them to the gods as well as to mortals.

Likewise, the act of creation is ugly.  Early results are lacking.  Feedback is required to know what to improve.  Once enough feedback is applied, the results can be enjoyed by many.

Since launching StoryTime, a dozen people have played The Mission.  A handful have given feedback, and I have read every word.  Thank you for sharing your thoughts.  Those are ideas I need to shape my plans.

Obviously, this is early days for the game, and things are still quite ugly.  For one, there are no pictures, aside from my mugshot on the Library page.  For another, the game is still a bit rough, without enough detail to ensure that most understand what is going on.  (Hmm, what are the Golden Bars, by the way?)  Also, the game is quite short, and there’s only one to play.

So why would I release a product that still needs so much work?  Since you have read this far, you already know the answer.  Releasing gave me a chance to collect feedback.  Now, not only do I have a sample of opinions about the game, I also have information about the paths people chose through the game, and how long people spent playing.  Also the most critical feedback was whether anyone would bother to play at all.  So far so good.

Here’s a bit of fun to look forward to.  In the coming months, I will be adding a Writing Desk that will allow people to create and contribute their own choose-your-destiny stories.  I am also working on ways to add pictures.

Do you enjoy creative writing?  Are you an illustrator?  Leave a comment, or sign up for the Insiders Newsletter.  I will be looking for beta testers soon, and you will want to be in the loop.

StoryTime is Ready to Play

Yesterday afternoon, after a flurry of polishing, I released StoryTime to general audiences. Everyone who subscribes to my newsletter was first to be notified, and as of this morning, someone other than my kids has played StoryTime.  Exciting.  This is the start of something big, I can tell.

If you are reading this, you will want to try it yourself.  It only takes about 20 minutes to play The Mission and exhaust its various pathways, that is, if you can find them all.  Be one of the first to play.

When you are finished, you can complete a brief survey to share your ideas of how to make things better.

Without further preamble, I bring you StoryTime.

About StoryTime

Now that I have some new followers, today I will tell you all about StoryTime, the first online game by Happy Spirit Games.  To begin at the beginning, it all goes back to my childhood, when I ordered a book from Scholastic Book Clubs, the Cave of Time.  This was the original choose-your-own-adventure story, where you read a scene and decide what “you,” the main character, would do next.  Each choice takes you to a different scene, and eventually you either succeed or meet with an untimely demise.  Then, since it’s a book, you can start over and try again.

Edward Packard is the inventor of the concept and the author of many of the books in the series.  Lately, I discovered his latest non-fiction work, All It Takes, The 3 Keys to Making Wise Decisions and Not Making Stupid Ones.  While the book is a decent exploration of the psychology of decision making, what I find more inspiring is that Edward came up with the choose-your-own-adventure idea while commuting on the train.  He was a lawyer at the time, but he created a different line of work that was more fulfilling, and he went for it, enriching the lives of thousands, maybe millions, of children in the process.  Great stuff.

A few years ago, I needed a way to sharpen my programming skills that were getting rusty due to an excess of time spent in management.  Telling other people what to do is a great way to lose touch with how to do things.  So I spent a significant portion of my spare time working on StoryTime, a gaming system for playing and creating choose-your-destiny† style games.  (†I should mention that Chooseco LLC owns the rights to the phrase “Choose Your Own Adventure,” credit where it is due.)  The game is simple enough to play, yet the system is complex enough to give me exposure to a wide range of technologies.

Over the years, I have written and rewritten parts of the system using newer technologies.  At one point, I had both a decent story reader and story editor working.  Then entropy set in, and the technology I originally used started to fall behind.  Lately, I restarted with a new tech stack, based primarily on JavaScript.  Software is akin to the Ship of Theseus, where the parts are continually replaced and renewed.  If I replace all of the parts of the game, is it the same game?  Hmmm.

Philosophy aside, what matters is that now I have lots of time and a single focus, to get this game online and under the tapping fingers of lots of players, as well as a handful of budding authors.  Playing StoryTime is simple.  You select a story from the StoryTime Library and read the first scene.  At the end of the scene, you are presented with a number of choices.  Simply tap or click on where you want to go next, and the StoryTime Reader takes you there.  When you get to an ending, you do a little dance or take your lumps.  Either way, you can easily start over, or you can go back to the library and choose another story.  With enough stories, an avid reader can be amused for hours at a time.

For authors, things get more interesting.  An author will need to register, which involves providing contact information, agreeing to terms and conditions (such as agreeing not to plagiarize other works), and selecting a pen name.  When logged in, an author gets access to the StoryTime Writing Desk, a place to create stories, edit scenes and hook scenes together.  When the author is ready, she or he can publish, which places the story in the Library  Instant notoriety.

As software goes, the dream is a bit ahead of reality.  My intention is to publish my first story and release the Reader by the end of the year.  12 days to go, although I hope to have it running well before the ball drops at Times Square.  When it is ready, my subscribers will be the first to know.

Why not subscribe now?  Follow this link, and leave me your email address.

What inspires you?  You can also leave a comment.  (See if you can.  I am still figuring out the best way to enable comments.)