A Report on Software Tools for Interactive Storytelling

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Several months ago, I invited game writers from all backgrounds to participate in a web survey about software tools for interactive storytelling. The survey was part of a larger effort to evaluate four tools — articy:draft, Chat Mapper, the Dragon Age Toolset, and Excel — on how well they support the unique needs of game writing. Now, at last, I am happy to present a report of my findings, complete with survey results, comparative analyses, recommendations, and extensive commentary.

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I must apologize to some of you (especially the survey participants), as I had promised to finish this report by mid December 2011. The project turned out to be a much bigger undertaking than I expected.  At the same time, because of the delay, I believe I was able to produce a more refined product with the most up-to-date information. I hope you’ll forgive me for spending a little more time to be as thorough and polished as possible.

Abstract

Video games with non-linear stories pose unique challenges for game writers and designers who want to select the best software tool for their work. While there are software tools that have been specifically designed to support interactive storytelling, there are few resources that offer a detailed evaluation of such tools’ strengths and weaknesses. This report therefore presents an evaluation of four tools used to author stories for video games: articy:draft, Chat Mapper, the Dragon Age Toolset, and Microsoft Excel 2007. The evaluation involved a literature review, web survey, hours of firsthand experience with each tool, and an extensive scoring process. The report contains visual summaries of results, quantitative scores for each tool, a detailed discussion (along with relevant screenshots), recommendations, and an in-depth commentary. Ultimately, the results revealed that articy:draft is the most promising tool, with Chat Mapper placing in second, the Dragon Age Toolset in third, and Excel in fourth. Recommendations are given on which tool is the most suitable tool to select depending on factors such as cost, integration with other technologies, learning curve, and feature availability.

Key words: game writing, interactive storytelling, narrative design, software evaluation, articy:draft, Chat Mapper, Dragon Age Toolset, Microsoft Excel

Acknowledgements

Thanks to all the writers, designers, programmers, and students who took the survey that informed this report. Your time and thoughtful input allowed me to calculate weightings for my criteria and take a more objective approach to my analysis. The content simply wouldn’t be the same without your participation.

Got Feedback?

I wrote this report using the best available information to me at the time. However, we all know that software changes, documentation evolves, new versions are released, old features go away, and new ones are implemented. If in the course of reading the document you notice an error or an inaccurate statement about the technical capabilities of any of the tools I’ve discussed, please feel free to contact me directly (richard.rabil@gmail.com or dialoguejunkie@gmail.com) to request an update. Or, leave a comment below.