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Month: October 2022

How to use Twine for Player Experience Narrative

Play Lilys Choices in your browser here.

Game writers use Twine to write stories. It’s a great tool and pretty easy to learn. I have learnt during my certification course at The Narrative Department. This week I am prototyping a new feature for Lily’s Garden, so that I decided to use this new tool to test its effectiveness also in terms of feature prototyping.

You can play the Twine prototype here: we have the feature, Lilys Choices.

Final thoughts

  • Twine is a great tool to create a proper Player experience narrative for a new feature.
  • The idea of having an extra resource to start extra Dramas is not new, but it is very important that the dramas end up with a surprise for the Players. Also in terms of concrete rewards!
  • It is important for this kind of games not giving to the Players choices that exclude specific branches. First of all, produce all this content has a cost. Second, some Player may feel frustrated and may want to try the other way around. This thing is not possible in those games.
  • The narrative should be focused on a true fan of the game. At this stage other profiles in the team will probably find risks and flaws to the designs, so be prepared! It is very important to push things forward boldly.


From the idea to the prototype

This week I am prototyping a new narrative system for a puzzle-renovation game like Lily’s Garden. I generated lots of ideas and then I selected the best ones. Now it’s time to translate those ideas to a prototype.

Goals and features

Before of starting sketching a flowchart for our Twine prototype, it’s important to understand why to prepare a prototype in first place. A prototype is not something ready to go out. It is not a product. A prototype is useful to:

  • Persuade the stakeholders that this step is necessary and invite them to think in its ROI
  • Align the vision of all the team members that will work on the feature
  • State all the assumptions, useful to prove with data and analytics the feature’s success
  • Inspire roadmap updates to fix the feature’s development in the pipeline.

I have very few time to do a proper prototype, I am doing this exercise for “ikigai” (= to do something I enjoy for the sake of it). I need to put some limitations, so that my prototype will feature:

  1. Only 1 event to show how the Player’s journey changes meaningfully thanks to the feature
  2. Player’s development across the journey
  3. Maximum 3 valuable binary choices, in order to avoid too many outcomes. In fact with 3 choices we will get 2^3=8 endings.
  4. The prototype should not be minimum. I am against minimum viable things. The prototype should show all that’s necessary to truly unleash potential, instead! That is why I will use the main idea and the two secondary ones described previously.

Prototype definition

Important for this kind of games is to keep things very linear and straight. Those are not RPG games full of options. The only options that the Player has at every moment is either to start a new task or play a new level.


  • Lilys: the new feature will be called Lilys. Lilys are a resource that the Player accumulates based on creating special tiles (combining 4+ tiles) and/or getting and using power-ups, which are special tiles at the end of the day.
  • Lily Branches: every Day has a set of choices. Some choice are cosmetic, those are already present in the game. Some other choice can be meaningful story branches. In order to take some of the options, the Player should use Lilys.
  • Choice Points: Every time the Player makes a choice gets Choice Points which are useful to unlock extra rewards at the end of the day.
  • Variable Rewards: every time the Player completes one Lilys branch, there is the chance of getting a power-up. Variable rewards are useful to foster engagement. The Players in this way will have reasons to make Lilys Choices.
  • The Player can choose to Play a level or start a Task
  • During the Level, the Player will get and use power-ups
  • At the end of the Level the power-ups and special tiles will be counted and converted in Lilys
  • During a task, the Player will have to make a meaningful choice
  • One of the branches will involve the use of Lilys
  • All the branches will give choice points, useful for the end of the Day to get extra rewards
  • if the Player uses Lilys, a random reward will pop-out: 30 minutes infinite lives. It is important that the Player feel that there is a random factor there.

Now I can proceed in developing the proper prototype!

How to map and select ideas

This week I decided to prototype a new narrative system for Lily’s Garden using Twine. After deciding the right problem statement, which is:

How can we engage more the Players more interested in the story, rewarding every effort they make to reach better outcomes during the puzzle part?

I passed to generate a lot of ideas on my notebook. Then I filtered out the best of them.

Ideas classification

Now it’s time to map the ideas in a proper chart. The X axis will represent the engagement, the metric to improve. Engagement is measured with session length and average sessions per day. Those are the KPIs.

On the Y axis consider the motivation to stay longer and open the game more during the day. This article by The Games Refinery will help us.

The two main motivational drivers for this genre are Mastery and Expression. So that we have two possible charts to map out the outcome of our brainstorming.

I classify the ideas in both those maps and see if we spot something in common. Usually this process is a team process and takes time and discussion. Again, in my case is just a quick exercise.

Against mastery we can see that we have 3 possible ideas to build:

  1. Choose your Story: creating and using special tiles/power-ups during the puzzle match, you get points to invest in story branches.
  2. Day Perks: Once a Day ends according to what you used you can get extra rewards (boosters, power-ups, infinite lives, ingots)
  3. Rewards Missions: playing the game and performing positive actions such as buy lives, get extra movements, return every day, you unlock a special currency which can be converted in boosters and power-ups.

Mapping ideas with expression in mind, a single idea is in the hot spot.

We have then selected our main idea: Choose your Story. Secondary ideas: Day Perks and Rewards Missions. On this base we can build our prototype!

New narrative system ideas

This week just for the sake of ikigai I am prototyping a new narrative system for Lily’s Garden. Today I focused my efforts to the idea generation. I wrote down hundreds of ideas and preselected just some of them, which will be shown here.

The narrative of Lily’s Garden

The story is divided into large day arcs with subplots. Each day involves renovating a specific location. In order to do that, the Player has to beat puzzle levels earning Stars. Stars are useful to start tasks.

In the course of the game’s renovations, Lily collects items like keys and photographs, builds her relationships with other characters, and discovers more about the estate and her family history.

We will use those terms in this post:

  • Day: set of specific tasks that complete a story arc. We can consider a day like a sequence of an episode in TV series.
  • Positive action: use power-up/boosters, lives refill, use extra movement, complete a goal also if not beating the level, and so on.
  • Perks: boosters, power-ups, infinite lives, stars, ingots.

Reviews analysis

In order to better select the ideas, I’ve spent 1 hour reading reviews. allows you to filter favorable and critical reviews.

The game let’s you decide the style of your house and decorations. It is fun and easy to play. The perfect experience for when you just want to relax. Engaging and full of power-ups to beat hard levels that you can create on the board or get by using ingots and completing tasks. The main character Lily reacts to everything and completes tasks.

The new system should be built on those strengths. Maybe it is better to have something more specific towards power-ups and tasks completion.

Many levels are hard to beat and some Player feels stuck. The day’s storylines have not always the same quality, probably because of different kind of writers involved in the project. Players lose what they got at the end of some event. Some Player may feel that the game is too greedy in monetizing the puzzle part (extra movements and boosters).

Our system should be able to mitigate the puzzle limitations. The Player should not feel stuck and if they are doing all the efforts to beat a specific level, that should be rewarded somehow.


I took some notes on things used in other games with a narrative component. I didn’t looked at top competitors, I just took notes on type of games that I already worked on in the past. This because one of the requirements of this task is agility.

Episode: Choose your Story: Premium choices for premium paths. Great for re-playability, usually something that is not considered in puzzle-renovation games because the days cannot be replayed.

It is interesting to be able to unlock an extra path during a Day, also if some Player may want to get to other outcomes. Branches should always connect again before of the end, to avoid this effect.

Tales: Choose your own Story: Trials and paths according to stats accumulated during the Story like in a roleplaying game. It would be great to connect the puzzle and the story somehow. Maybe associating each character to every level and let them accumulate statistics according to the power-up used and more in general to the positive actions done.

From the other side, this can complicate too much the system and it may become hard to balance and monitor the Player’s progression on the long term.

Fallout Shelter: There are characters to whom the Player can assign specific tasks to get more points and currency. What if during a specific day you can put your characters performing extra tasks to get extra perks?

This adds an idle/farming layer which may be not suitable to the core audience of this kind of games.

Project Makeover: Customize the aesthetics of avatars in order to make them successful for the end of the episode (day). Maybe the characters of a specific day set can strive to arrive perfect to the end of the arc, in order to the ending be more satisfying.

The risk is to fall in the trap of misogynic and racist narratives, thou. While makeover is great, it should be carefully designed to not offend anyone. Especially when something works out and translates to UA creatives it enters in a dangerous territory. Is that what we want as designers? I don’t think so. Complete missions and get an extra currency, useful to be exchanged with other resources during a season. It’s a pretty common practice among casual games and gives lots of agency to the Players.

The problem comes when the event end because Players may accumulate a resource and then they lose it or it’s automatically converted in something not valuable to them.

Selected ideas

I wrote down hundreds of ideas and, since I am doing this alone, preselected some of them. The format I use is: title, wireframe and short description. It is the best way of taking them the day after and decide what to do.

Remember the problem statement decided in the previous article.

How can we engage more the Players more interested in the story, rewarding every effort they make to reach better outcomes during the puzzle part?

Accumulate perks during a day and collect them based on the positive actions done at the end of the day. Each day has a limited numbers of perks that can be achieved and unlocked at the end.

Everytime you create and use a power-up (selecting it in level intro or creating it during the match), you accumulate points useful to take specific paths. If you want to take a specific path, then, you should create use more boosters in the puzzle game.

Start specific tasks by performing positive actions and get extra perks on completion. If the day ends, all the tasks are immediately completed.

Achievement system for positive actions with special resource to collect and use for special choices during the story.

Obtain extra personalization options if you manage to perform a certain number of positive actions.

At the end of an event, recount all the positive actions done and give extra perks according to the milestone. Giving the premium currency can be extremely valuable for the Players, but it may influence the monetization.

If the Player uses X boosters/power-ups/extra movements to beat a level and still loses, he is allowed to postpone that level for a while.


In a real context with a real team, all this process would be a workshop. Also, the study of top competitors is very important. This exercise is good to keep my mind fresh and to quickly play with narrative techniques I learnt in past weeks.

New narrative system for Puzzle-Renovation games

Puzzle games with renovation mechanic are on top of the charts. They success is tremendous and they are clearly a red ocean market. Many companies try to swim that ocean, so that this week I have decided to make an experiment to celebrate that I got a certification from The Narrative Department.

hooray! I did it! 🙂

The narrative system of Puzzle-Renovation games

The experiment consists of a design iteration to improve the narrative of puzzle-renovation games. I will consider this experiment completed once I have a playable prototype made in Twine featuring the result of this process.

One of the reasons why the Players churn is that they get stuck at some point. The progression curve of levels always goes up, so that with the time the puzzle part gets harder and it’s more difficult to progress through the story.

The issue comes because those games consider a positive outcome the fact of beating a level, but they do not consider all the efforts the Players make at all.

  • At the start of the level, the Player may decide to use a power-up to get help for the level. The first time, the Player will not know how is the layout. Which is why new games warns when there is a hard level.
  • The Player needs lives to start a level. In case they have no lives they should wait or get a lives refill. In order to mitigate this friction, most modern games use lives as an engagement tool. Give the Players infinite lives for X minutes and you will get longer sessions.
  • Puzzle levels are based on a limited number of moves. When they end, the Player can get 2-5 extra moves to beat the level. There is strategy here, in fact the Players study the status of their goals and decide. When the Player is near to the win condition is generally more willing to get extra movements. In order to reach the sweet spot, the number of moves is data driven.
  • During the level the Players may decide to use boosters which are like power-ups but “live”, because they can be got and used on the fly. The Players know the status of the board when they decide to get and use a booster. Boosters add deepness and strategy, they a great driver for monetization.

The Lens of Problem Statement

When the Player completes all the goals, the story continues and the house can be renovated. If we study this flowchart, thou, we can see that the Players can do a lot of things that can be considered positive toward that goal.

They can use a power-up at level start. Get a lives refill. They can get extra moves if they are near the win condition. They can use boosters. All those things are hardly rewarded by the renovation narrative of those games. This is the problem statement for this week:

How can we engage more the Players more interested in the story, rewarding every effort they make to reach better outcomes during the puzzle part?

  • Target: puzzle renovation Players more interested in the story
  • KPI engagement: average session number/day and average duration / session
  • What: create new rewards that help the Players get interesting story outcomes based on puzzle efforts

The game I will use for the exercise is Lily’s Garden, by Tactile Games.

Head-mounted based VR

In the next few years Virtual Reality is going to offer memorable experiences to the World. I am pretty sure of that, because a lot of money is being invested in the development of those technologies and the most brilliant minds are gathering to work on that.

But I am also pretty sure that the Virtual Reality based on head-mounted displays will never be as big as some tech leader is expecting. It is not because of the price of those, it is not because the motion sickness that will be progressively solved.

It is because as humans we have the survival instinct. Which is why we play games, too. We play games to improve our chances of surviving in the envirnoment. We play to improve our skills. That is basically what we mean when we use the expression “having fun”.

Survival instinct involves many things, among them keeping our body safe. A lot of us smoke cigarettes, that is definitely not keeping our organ safe. But we are doing because the damage is on the long term, so that we live in the illusion that “it can happen, but also not”.

With an headset on, instead, we are covering our eyes. Our instinct will always be to feel unsafe. That is no solution for that, apart from leaving the environment visible with glasses. That is why head-mounted display based VR will never have a massive reach.

My learnings on leadership

I am thinking on my past with the lens of “why that thing didn’t worked out?” those days. It is an useful exercise to do at times. I have a diary and I like to take old entries and read them with my new point of view.

Finding a good leader is a gift from God. Very often we have to deal with creative leaders that are not creative at all, managers that repeat your job and in general people that want to impose their (often wrong) views.

Enabling others

A great leader almost never says “no”. Best leaders you can find out there, in fact, are capable of taking any of the proposals and discussions from the team and use it as an opportunity for the growth of the entire team. Let’s say I am working on Super Mario Bros 4 and I have the “brilliant” idea of putting long dialogues between level and level. That’s clearly wrong, right? Why is it? A good leader can reason with me simply making me describing well the idea. Then is myself that can realize “ok, not a great one”. The same is valid for very tiny questions.

A bad leader believes that the job is “know when to say no”. When you meet someone like this, believe me: this person will probably make the whole project fail. No one knows when to say no, in fact. The no from a leader is a way of shut down a communication and gives no opportunities to grow. What are the best assets for a company? Teams are! Do not cut them off with a NO. Never.

Being honest

A good leader recognizes when the house is on fire and try to put the focus of the whole team on the problem. The team or part of it must extinguish the fire. Otherwise the house will. It’s very important maintain the calm but being honest at the same time. In case of fire, every member should participate or at least stay aware of it. Try to burn the smallest number of people.

A bad leader shows that everything is great at any meeting. The important thing for them is to stay positive. That person is not interested in the team and the product at all. That “leader” is just interested in taking the salary each month and having the title on the resume. Saying that is all good, until everything falls down. Then they will have the perfect excuse: the project was great, but the company shut down. Not my fault. New companies will see their resumes and see that they were in a leadership position for a while. Someone will hire them again, probably.

Renovation Mechanic

According to the Cambridge Dictionary the renovation is the act or process of repairing and improving something, especially a building so that it is in good condition again.

Industry experts don’t stop talking about the trend of renovation mechanics in casual games. Why do they work? According to this brand new video, because they are a driver for Player progression.

Game design disciplines

Renovation mechanic is so popular across teams because gives work to all the design team:

  • Narrative design plays a critical role in delivering a memorable story
  • Level designers can use the environment to convey the story (environmental storytelling)
  • UX Designers are key to deliver a smooth experience, making the switch between puzzle match and renovation as smooth as possible
  • Systems Designers help find the right economy to support all the actions according to the Players’ session daily number and duration.

Acting for the renovation

In casual games, the act of renovation consists of:

  1. choosing a task to complete
  2. use one or more stars to perform it
  3. introductory dialogue
  4. select a style for the furniture
  5. renovation cutscene
  6. story dialogue
Town Story: Renovation Match-3 Puzzle Game

The story is usually delivered as a consequence of the act of renovation.

Repairing and Improving

Have you ever asked yourself WHY is this mechanic so popular among casual games? To me it is because those games are about putting things in order.

  • In match-3 games you put things in order, in line
  • In popper games you clean the patterns that you spot
  • In merge games you make space on the board

All those games have extra goals that consist often of an obstacle. The frustration of not beating a level for that obstacle is a driver for monetization but also of churning out, as this brilliant LinkedIn post by Yasin Hatiboğlu.

All those levers fit perfectly with repairing and improving, with the metaphor of renovation.


Last but not least, in service games for mobile phones there is something very present in Players’ minds. You have a world waiting for you that you are helping build somehow. You don’t just have a game to complete, those games are infinite.

The fantasy of free-to-play games, the aspirational aspect of those, almost always contains this: it’s your help and your choice that help build the World you have in your pocket.

New narratives for mobile casual games

I loved this NoClip documentary on the making of Dishonored.

I believe that in terms of narrative there are a lot of interesting aspects that can be taken from this concept. Take the match-3 with decoration genre for a moment. You earn a star beating a level and you use that star to complete the next task. A cutscene with dialogues is shown and then new tasks are opened. You have to play more levels and see how the story goes on.

What if:

  • we can make the environment speak more about what’s happening
  • we can let the Players explore better and interact with environment discovering where to use the stars to fix things
  • we can deliver the story reacting to the Player’s actions instead than stop it to show a cutscene or a dialogue

Why I do like stories in games

I am completing this week the fall edition of The Narrative Department, by Susan ‘O Connor. Each Wednesday we have a writing prompt from her. I want to share with you the result of yesterday’s writing prompt.


Write about why you like stories in games! You can talk generally, talk about a specific game, talk about what you like about writing, etc. Think of it like talking with a friend who shares your enthusiasm.


I like stories because they make me connect with the activity that I am doing while playing. Every game, also Tetris, tells a story to me. But when I see a written story I can appreciate the dedication of human beings behind that craft. I appreciate that because I admire other human beings like me at the end.  I believe that these abilities are Gifts so that make me connect more with God and all creation.

When I see a bad story or a story badly delivered, somehow I am happy that the story is still there. For example, in the mobile games that I play often I skip dialogues entirely and I feel that I lose part of the story somehow. That feeling can be a little frustrating, too. I do it anyway, but with the sensation that something is missing from my experience. Which tells me that the story is still important to me.

I am playing Horizon Forbidden West now. At the start I followed all the branches in dialogues with NPCs, now I want to complete the game so that I am skipping most of the optional dialogues. I have to say that part could be improved a lot, because the dialogues do not add too much to the experience. I like more when a dialogue has a meaning and delivers me something apart from just more context. Often it is better to deliver a story with less words, to me. Also if I imagine that there is a type of Player who likes to read everything and hear a lot. I respect that, but still I think that there is a margin of improvement. 

I like when the game is delivering you a story, because oftentimes you are not interacting with the game during the delivery itself. In dialogues, cutscenes and so on. It’s a way to distress my brain, and I like to have that moment of breath. A game to be memorable should offer many levels of intensity at any moment. 

I remember in The Last of Us the feelings that I had moment to moment. Appreciating all that work was great, made me love even more video games. Made me feel more engaged with the team that made that game.