Downwellling is a piece of interactive fiction about exploration and hubris. Play the game on itch.io!
Setting and Characters
The story takes place at a fictional sinkhole, called Clearwater Well, similar to the real and deadly Jacob’s Well. The story is told in the second person, with the main character being young child who is at the Well on vacation with their mother. The child explores the Well with varying degrees of success on each attempt, until they are able to successfully reach the bottom, resurface, and tell their mom about it.
I expect the player to charge ahead and immediately dive into the Well without preparation or close observation of their surroundings. I expect the player to have excessive self-confidence and display hubris. I want the consequences in my story to humble the player a little and come back better prepared on their second attempt.
Choices and Consequences
As the player swims down the Well, there are many ways that they can die. The player must rent the scuba gear from the scuba store in order to have enough oxygen to make it to the bottom and back up again. In order to rent scuba gear, the player must talk to their mom first and ask her for money. The player also cannot take the treasure that they find at the very bottom of the Well; otherwise, they will lose oxygen faster and not have enough on the way back up. There is also a false exit on the way back up, and the player has to be able to find the correct exit, which is written in very light font and is easy to miss.
While there are many ways the player can die, the game never allows the player to truly lose. Each time the player dies, they are transported back to the beginning of the story with a new opportunity to make the right set of decisions that will lead to the true ending. All of the choices and consequences are meant to illustrate to the player the importance of paying attention to their surroundings, being prepared, and knowing to leave something alone when it is unattainable or too dangerous to obtain.
In my first iteration, I did not have something to surprise players at the bottom of the Well. I fully relied on “reaching the bottom” to be the goal in and of itself. My playtesters thought that this version of the story was too boring and did not feel satisfied after they reached the bottom. There also wasn’t a motivation for the player to try to reach the true ending when they died many times. However, a positive thing that playtesters noted was the way the background color changed to reflect the player’s current depth in the Well. They thought this element of the game was immersive.
Iteration 2 (Final Version)
After I made necessary changes, the new version was well-received. I added a treasure at the bottom of the Well so that the trip down felt worth at least something. When the player died, they were automatically transported back to the Well’s entrance, with their previous “death” lingering as kind of a hazy memory in their mind. By transporting players back to the start, I forced the game to continue. Playtesters reported that this time, they felt compelled to try to reach the true ending.
This was my first time using Twine, so I spent a lot of time trying to figure out the intricacies of the “Enchantments” and such. I had a lot of trouble with coding conditional statements for each possible state, such as the state when the player has already rented the scuba gear and tries to ask their mom for more money to spend in the gift shop. However, it was really fun customizing the look of my Twine game to match the story.
The hardest part of writing Downwelling was definitely coming up with the climax of the story. Most of the time, in real life, people don’t really have a reason to explore some place, other than the allure of the unknown. There also isn’t usually a big exciting “thing” at the end of that exploration either. However, having nothing at the bottom of Clearwater Well would not give a satisfying climax for readers. I think the “thing” at the bottom of the Well in the current version of the story is still not that exciting, but it’s better than nothing. Christina also gave me the suggestion of weaving a mystery throughout the different levels of the Well, and while that is a brilliant idea, I did not know how to execute it.
For future iterations, I would add more ways to kill the player on their journey down. I would also want to make the “thing” at the bottom of the Well be more exciting, or I would weave a mystery throughout the different levels to increase the intrigue. This mystery could even remain unsolved if I really cannot think of an ending.