WALLPAPER has been created using what’s known as visual programming. Actually, that’s a lie: we’ve had to write several lines of code to connect things up between the reader/player and the interactive parts of the game world. But that’s it. Hand-coding (typing in reams of commands) has been completely avoided.
We’re putting WALLPAPER together in Unity 5, a popular cross-platform game engine, the personal edition of which can be downloaded for free. Unity itself doesn’t come with visual programming built in – but there are many powerful tools available as extensions for Unity that enable this.
So what is visual programming (or visual scripting) anyway?
Basically, it’s coding through a visual interface instead of through text. Scratch is probably the most popular example. For WALLPAPER, we’re using Playmaker, which is so powerful and fast that even many seasoned programmers use it to make rapid prototypes and speed up their workflow. (If you’re a coder yourself of course you can build your own actions, or tinker around modifying existing ones – a great way to actually learn code).
Encouragingly, Playmaker has helped to power several accomplished narrative games, including Sunset by Tale of Tales (who posted a great insight into their use of Playmaker here) and a PC Unity port version of Dear Esther by the Chinese Room.
Visual programming isn’t the answer to everything of course. It has its rules and limitations and knowledge of programming methods and concepts is still utterly required if it’s going to make any proper sense, especially if you want to build something complex (like we do). But the way in which commands and logic can be woven together into visual ‘states’ – certainly for us – makes creating ambitious digital stories not only possible, but enjoyable and intuitive.
If you’re interested in finding out more, come along to Uncovering Digital Fiction on September 23rd, 6-7pm, as part of Wakefield Literature Festival, where we’ll be showing hands-on how WALLPAPER was put together.
We’re also doing an artists talk about WALLPAPER on Thursday 19th November, 5.30pm-7.30pm at Bank Street Arts in Sheffield.