It is your first day as an Intern at the Night Vale Community Radio Station. You know it may be your last. But the show can’t proceed as normal until you recapture The News.”
So begins your mission as an Intern in Astrid Dalmady’s new Twine game, Investigative Journalism. Inspired by the insanely popular Welcome to Night Vale podcast, Dalmady’s game takes users on a wild goose chase to find The News, which has been taken (or has it escaped?) from the not-quite-cozy Night Vale Community Radio Station.
For fans of Night Vale, Dalmady’s game is another welcome avenue into the weird, sleepy desert town filled with terrifying librarians and deadly dog parks. As the radio station intern, you get to explore everything from the semi-dangerous station itself all the way to the Desert Flower Bowling Alley and Arcade Fun Complex. Users can click various options and travel throughout Night Vale, gathering clues from Old Woman Josie and others as they try to avoid certain death. Rest assured, if you croak on your mission, you have the option to come back to life again.
Dalmady has been a fan of Night Vale for a couple years now, having stumbled across the podcast around the time of their one-year anniversary episode. “I can’t remember how I found it, but I know I clicked with it immediately,” she says.
She loved the world of Night Vale so much that she ordered the new Welcome to Night Vale novel before it even hit the shelves. “I loved it,” Dalmady says of Joseph Fink and Jeffry Cranor’s book. “Not only did it have all of the weird charm from the podcast, but I really loved how the new medium let them dig deeper into some new characters in a way the podcast isn’t always set up for.”
In fact, it was the book that really inspired her to dive even deeper into Night Vale’s universe and create Investigative Journalism.
Inverse got the lowdown from Dalmady — a writer, game designer, and podcaster — about what goes into making a literary-tech game like this.
What drew you to the plight of the poor Intern looking for The News?
I knew I wanted to make a Welcome to Night Vale text game since they announced the book. That news got me thinking about how the show, which gets so much of its charm and identity from its audio, could be translated into text, which is a silent medium.
That spark coincided with the restlessness I was feeling as I waited for the judging period for this year’s Interactive Fiction Competition to end. I was pretty burned out from the rush of the competition, but I also knew I needed to keep busy. This game ended up being the perfect project, where I could just unwind and play in someone else’s sandbox (or sand wastes) for a while.
And as for the interns, I remembered reading the old Goosebumps choose-your-own-adventure books as a kid, and how easy it was to make a mistake and die in those. When it comes to Night Vale, I don’t think anyone is in more danger of dying than the interns.
How did you get your start in interactive fiction?
Before I started writing interactive fiction, I wrote pretty much everything else: short stories, poetry, novels, scripts. I’d always had some interest in game writing as well, but it wasn’t until I discovered Twine (by way of the amazing The Uncle Who Works for Nintendo) that I found a platform that was easy and accessible for it.
Twine was just easy enough that I could get started without a lot of programming knowledge, but it’s also just customizable enough that I can make it my own now that I know more. That low barrier to entry was what let me get started on my first game, You Are Standing at a Crossroads, pretty much minutes after discovering it.
How long does it take to create a game like this in Twine?
From first words in the document to last code check, I’ve made a few games like Investigative Journalism in about two weeks. However, with most of my other projects, I do spend a long time brainstorming and storyboarding before I write anything at all — usually up to a few months. This game just had a much shorter timeline than most since I already had the solid Night Vale base to build on.
What kind of plan do you have going into making something like Investigative Journalism?
I definitely storyboard first. Interactive fiction can be very different from writing static fiction because you have to take the reader into account. You have to ask yourself “What kind of choices am I offering the reader?” and try to find a balance between story you want to tell and choices you want to offer. But if you do find that balance, the two mesh together to deliver a single cohesive experience, and man, it can really be amazing.
Your games feel very literary in their scope. Do you see these types of interactive fiction games as kind of a bridge between writing and technology?
They can be. Interactive fiction doesn’t always need technology — choose-your-own-adventure books have been around for a long time — but it can add an extra element to the interactivity. We’re used to being able to control the way we interact with our technology, so it’s not a huge leap to ask readers to interact with stories in the same way. It eases that transition between “I am reading a thing” to “I am doing a thing,” and it helps puts people in a different mindset — they feel more involved with the story because they feel like they can affect it.
Your game Arcane Intern placed 11th at this year’s Interactive Fiction Competition… What do you have planned for future games?
No more interns for a while, that’s for sure. My next project is a short game about a young girl and the day after she’s saved the world. And after that, I’m going to try and build some larger, more exploration-based projects that have been sitting on the back burner for a while.
If there’s one thing I’m not afraid of, it’s running out of ideas.