Never Let Go Of
Text adventure created in Twine 2 ◦ 3 months ◦ 2016
In initial planning for this project (PDF), my goal was to emulate an experience similar to existing narrative-heavy titles on the market in terms of how choices are presented (further elucidated under game design). In keeping with popular narrative-driven games, this game follows a branch a bottleneck structure, with all choices funneling down a linear narrative. It's divided into five chapters, the first two setting up a lot of complex backstories, the second two leading the characters into dramatic circumstances, and the last one ending the story.
Each chapter is separated into six passages of varying lengths
Small sub-branches bottleneck back into the main story branch
As a writer (and general thinker), I have a large affinity for the Myers Briggs personality scale, and understanding how people's personalities are driven is a big part of my daily thought process. With this cast of characters—a bunch of paranormal analysts sequestered in a research compound—I wanted a group of intuitive introverts. They're each a little awkward in their own way, but when they come together, these kinds of people tend to be in their element.
Myers Briggs: INTP
Concrete Problem: Holding onto a tragedy he could not stop; fearing he does not understand enough to protect people.
Abstract Problem: Holding onto his obsession with trying to understand the incomprehensible.
Characteristics: Theoretical, Curious, Emotionally Detached, Dry
Career: Former Particle Physicist, Current Agency Paranormal Analyst
Theme Connection: He is the playable character, and how much he holds onto the past, present, or future during the events of the story is determined by the choices that The Reader makes.
Myers Briggs: INTJ
Concrete Problem: Holding onto a tragedy he inadvertently caused; fearing he will repeat the past.
Abstract Problem: Holding onto his obsession with his own imperfection.
Characteristics: Ambitious, Impulsive, Obsessive, Sarcastic
Career: Former Aerospace Engineer, Current Agency Grey Projects Engineer
Theme Connection: He focuses entirely on the future, ignoring the importance of the living in the present or of acknowledging the impact of the past.
Positive: Focusing on future leads to significant growth and development in some aspects of self.
Negative: Forgetting the present allows for too much anxiety of the future, forgetting the past leads to not learning properly from mistakes.
Myers Briggs: INFP
Concrete Problem: Holding onto the loss of her parents; fearing that she can't help everyone at The Agency.
Abstract Problem: Holding onto the idea that she can't ever have a normal life.
Characteristics: Grounded, Careful, Empathic, Witty
Career: Former Psychology Student, Current Agency Psychological Counselor
Theme Connection: She focuses on the present, trying not to think of difficulties of the past or worry about the future, but overall wanting to experience peace and comfort in the now.
Positive: Embracing the present leads to enjoying experiences as they happen.
Negative: Ignoring the past creates unresolved mental and emotional issues, ignoring the future means not properly preparing for it.
Myers Briggs: INFJ
Concrete Problem: Holding onto the loss of his husband; fearing the tragic nature of the life he's living.
Abstract Problem: Holding onto his anger at why bad things happen to good people.
Characteristics: Tenacious, Focused, Individualistic, Boisterous
Career: Former Novelist, Current Agency Archivist
Theme Connection: He focuses on the past, unable to let go of the tragedies that he has witnessed, stuck on the idea that every bad thing that has happened must be recorded, remembered, and understood.
Positive: Trying to understand the past allows us to learn more from it.
Negative: Neglecting the present makes it harder to enjoy life, neglecting the future leads to difficulty in growing and developing as it comes.
Theme: How One Considers "Time"
As explained in the Game Summary, each episode of The Path focuses on a specific theme, and this episode focuses on "time." This could mean a lot of things, obviously, but it becomes quite clear in the first chapters that the story poses the question: "which phase of time do you focus on?"
People often have a tendency to focus more on the past (nostalgia and regrets), the present (enjoying the "now" while ignoring other concerns), or the future (determination and anxiety). Each of Kennelly's three friends in this story focuses on one of these (as shown above), and it becomes clear by the dramatic conclusion (further explained under game design) that each has its own pros and cons.
While the three friends focus on one spectrum of time, they acknowledge their feelings towards all of time in general throughout their discussions and the conversational choices that The Reader gets to make for Kennelly. This plays into the "attitude level" mechanic, where the language and behaviors of each of the friends changes depending on their attitude towards Kennelly throughout the evening.
Themes: Dreams and the Unknown
A few other themes permeate the text adventure, but the primary two are "dreams" and "facing the unknown." While technically two separate topics, they play into each other very well.
The subject of dreams comes up prominently in two obvious plot elements. First, Natalie is an Agency "dream therapist," which is a fictional practice wherein the subject is put into a psychic hypnosis and then prompted to explore their inner struggles through dreams. Second, the characters get trapped in a place called the Dream House, a location that earns its name through the surreal events that occur inside.
The more subtle element of this theme ties back to time, as the story is very much about the dreams, aspirations, and desires of each of Kennelly's friends. Those deeper motivations become transparent in the trials that the Dream House subjects them to, turning the problems of each character inside out as literal metaphors that play out for The Reader.
The more subversive element throughout the adventure is "the unknown." Paranormal science fiction is classically about people trying to explain things that defy explanation, and that is the exact motivation of this story's protagonist. Kennelly is very much under the assumption that he can explain anything, but the trials of the Dream House laugh in the face of his hubris.
The story opens with a paradoxical McGuffin, a red box that seems pointless but ends up being the core connection between The Reader, the villain, the Dream House, and the four Agency personnel—its purpose is somewhat clear as a plot device, though its nature is not clear at all. The last moments of the adventure suggest that there is a larger "explanation" to why the Dream House trapped Kennelly and his friends. The beginning and end ultimately hint that the red box is an object that allows The Reader to control Kennelly throughout the story.
However, nothing is explicitly spelled out in the end. The story tells The Reader that not everything can be explained, but it leaves room for The Reader to make his or her own assumptions about what happened and why.