For this post, I'm going to steal an excellent idea Emily Short had and answer a question Jeremiah McCall, a historian who maintains Gaming the Past, asked me over email with a blog post. He wrote:
Since [the story format] Harlowe is the default [in Twine 2], I am using Harlowe and I understand that SugarCube [another story format bundled with Twine 2] is a bridge from Twine 1.x. I have scoured the net for a description of the strengths of Harlowe and why it is now default, but I don't seem to be able to find anything. The few comparisons of Harlowe and SugarCube seem to favor the latter -- though here and there are comments that Harlowe is more robust. I'm guessing (and hoping) that Harlowe will continue to develop and continue to be the default, but am I right in that? There seems to be a fair amount of resistance. Since I'm teaching Harlowe to others in hopes they will continue to use it, I'd be grateful for a quick insight. Right now I am under the vague impression that you and Mr. Arnott intend for Harlowe to be the standard from here on. Is that true and is there a quick reason why?
A quick explanation: a story format is essentially a runtime engine for works built in Twine. It takes the passages created in Twine and displays them in a Web browser. I intended the name 'story format' to a bit friendlier than 'engine,' and formats in Twine 1 were indeed more about formatting than behavior. In Twine 2, the situation has become a bit more complex, and thus the term 'story format' a bit dicier. Instead of choosing colors and whether clicking a link causes the story to expand or instead replace the existing text with new text, changing story formats in Twine 2 changes the entire approach an author takes to interactivity.
There are three story formats bundled with Twine 2. People tend to think of Twine and its story formats as a monolithic development effort, but that isn't the case -- each one is developed by different people on a volunteer basis. The formats are:
- SugarCube, maintained by Thomas Michael Edwards. As Jeremiah alludes to, this is also available for Twine 1, is very mature, and has a ton of documentation, official and otherwise.
- Harlowe, maintained by Leon Arnott. In my opinion, it's a daring re-imagining of how to add interactivity to text that leverages a generous spoonful of functional programming. It's a lot younger than SugarCube, which means that there isn't as much documentation on how to do stuff with it.
(By the way, anyone can create a story format for Twine, and adding one is as easy as copying and pasting a URL. I really enjoy Illume, for example, when proofing work.)
Anyway, Harlowe is the default story format in Twine 2. I decided to make it the default for Twine 2 not only because I had, and continue to have confidence in Leon's skills and vision, but I also saw Twine 2 as a chance to re-examine the assumptions Twine 1 made.
There are two things in particular that I think Harlowe gets right:
- It's succinct and readable. I think Leon has worked out a very simple syntax for code that doesn't interfere with the flow of reading passage text.
- It allows you to separate code from text. Harlowe allows you to mark a section of text as a "hook" which then can have code applied to it. This means that you can keep text and code compartmentalized -- which I find really handy, because the mindset I bring to writing and editing prose is vastly different from the one I bring to code.
Harlowe may be the default, but in my opinion, it's not a standard. I say that because there is no standard. I realize this makes Twine a little bit confusing; a system like Undum has a distinct, singular look and feel. But right now, I think the compromise is worth it. SugarCube, Harlowe, and Snowman serve different audiences, which means that Twine as a whole can be useful to that many more people.