Game Link: https://lauracastrov.itch.io/paws-of-destiny
In ‘Paws of Destiny,’ you step into the paws of Lucky, a resilient stray dog, as you embark on a heartwarming journey through the bustling streets of a challenging city. Faced with choices that shape Lucky’s fate, you navigate the challenges of survival, form friendships with other strays, and interact with humans. The game explores the power of trust, emphasizing the need to be vulnerable, at the risk of getting hurt, to develop any kind of relationship. Lucky’s story also emphasizes the power of resilience, optimism, and hope. Throughout the game, Lucky is given the opportunity to be vulnerable and trust others. In some cases, this blind trust earns him friendships, which makes the journey for this ever-optimistic dog a little less lonely. In other cases, it leads to hurtful moments for Lucky, making his optimism slowly fade away. It’s up to the player to decide how Lucky approaches those situations, changing the ultimate outcome of the story.
The game has three different “endings” (and if you didn’t get to all three, maybe play again to get to them all!). The first ending is the “sad” ending, where Lucky continues to live his life as a stray. Players who decide to be more cautious and less trusting of others end up at this ending. The other two endings are the “happy” endings, where Lucky finds a forever home. Players who decide to take that final leap of faith and trust at the last encounter get to reach either of these two happy endings. Most players end up at the “sad” ending during their first play, which then leads them to replay the game in an effort to get a different outcome for Lucky. This (planned) replayability creates a game loop, forcing the player to explore and reconsider the different decisions they made for Lucky and how changing them changes the ending of the story. In the end, the real ending of the game is one of the happy endings.
Note: The version of the happy ending you get is random. One ending has an additional emotional punch, but they are both “forever home” endings. I made it random to (1) make the game more interesting and (2) add a taste of “destiny” at the end. You get the ending you were meant to get.
The idea for this game came after having the crisis that Christina predicted we would have right after making the first version of my game. After the first playtest, I realized I was not going to be able to evoke any genuine emotions from my players with the game/story I had originally come up with. So, in that moment, I started to think, what could evoke emotion from my players? The answer I came up with: a dog.
Initial Map and Premise
My initial story started out with the following premise:
In a world where the Bubble is the only sanctuary from a planet that was ravaged by a climate catastrophe, a 20-year-old woman named Elara has never known life beyond its protective confines. Sixty years have passed since the Disaster, and the outside world remains a wasteland. Officials within the Bubble speak of continuous monitoring of the outside world with the hopes of returning to the outside, yet, as Elara approaches her 21st birthday, anomalies within the Bubble begin to emerge, sparking her curiosity and igniting a journey to uncover a buried truth. In a society where the past is kept in silence, she unearths long-buried secrets and challenges the very foundation of their controlled existence, leading her to question if there’s more to life than what lives within the Bubble.
For this story, I had also created the following map of the world I was building with the story:
During this initial map and premise phase, I had thought that I wanted to focus my story on a global climate disaster and the aftermath of the world that survived. The goal of the story was still not very clear to me at this point, but I decided to continue to roll with it and give it a chance.
Prototype – Version 1
Before this project, I hadn’t used Twine or Inform, but I had a feeling that I would want to use Twine to create the story. The “branching” mechanism made me more interested in using it. However, at this point, I had not tried to play with Twine, so I made my first prototype with Google Slides. I used the “linking to other slides” functionality to simulate clicking on text to jump to another passage, in this case, another slide.
This is what that initial prototype looked like:
The purpose of this prototype was to (1) try to write out the premise of the story and (2) play with the “branching” mechanism that I wanted to use. Through playtesting with this prototype, I hoped to see if the story I was writing made sense and if the medium I chose (Twine, not Google Slides, lol) was right for me.
The initial playtest was in class, during which three people playtested the game (two male and one female player).
The overall feedback I received was that the premise of the story felt too long, that it was unclear what the goal of the story was, and that the premise seemed very cool, but it would be hard to lower the scope of the story to something more realistic to be completed within the timeframe of the project.
Following this playtest, I came to the conclusion that maybe this was not the best story for me to take on. I did not know what I wanted to get at with the story, and I realized I was scoping this out to be way too big. At this point, I decided to scrap this story entirely and start over with a new idea.
Prototype – Version 2
After entirely scrapping my initial idea, I came up with Lucky and his story. I came up with this idea when I decided to focus on thinking of something that would potentially evoke emotion, and focusing on the point of view of a dog felt like a good way to do so. At this point, I knew I wanted to explore the life of a stray dog, some of the situations that he might encounter, and possibly how his story could end.
As the prototype for this iteration, I outlined the plot of the story— from start to finish, with some empty space in between to explore later. But this is what I brought to my playtester:
Since I was starting with a new story, the purpose of this “prototype” was to outline my idea and get feedback about it. Through playtesting this “prototype,” I wanted to see if I could be moving in a better direction.
This version was “playtested” by one person in class (a female student). This is the feedback I received during this session:
- The story is so cute and emotional.
- Maybe think about how the multiple endings will be chosen. Maybe use a point system to determine if the player gets to a happy ending or a “stay a stray” ending.
- I was concerned about how I could make the player connect emotionally with the dog. My playtester suggested that during the emotional moments, not remind the player that the character is a dog (i.e., don’t mention dog body parts or habits). It might let players forget that it’s a dog for a moment and can identify more with the character.
While I was going over the story and, what I wanted to happen and how it would end, my playtester had very good emotional responses with audible “Aww” s and “omg” s. Something I did not get with the first story. This was my green light to keep going in this direction.
Prototype – Version 3
Following a more successful second playtest, I decided to transfer my idea from paper to Twine. As part of this prototype, I began to flesh out the premise, the three endings, and one of the main conflicts (finding a friend).
Here is the structure of the story for this prototype:
The goal of playtesting this prototype was to (1) confirm if the story translated well to the Twine format and (2) that the general structure of the story and initial branching mechanisms made sense.
I playtested this prototype outside of class. My platester for this version was a college-aged female student. This is the feedback I received from this playtest:
- Thinks the story is cute and has potential
- There is a lot of text in a few of the passages. Maybe break it down into separate passages?
- Adding more text when clicking on a linked work feels a little overwhelming and messes up the flow of reading a bit.
After this playtest, I was reassured that I was on the right track and that this medium was the right medium for this story. I decided that I could also probably change the links in the premise to open new passages instead of expanding the text within the existing passages. I also decided to break up some passages in the friend encounter part in an effort to make the text less overwhelmingly long at each passage.
Prototype – Version 4
Following the previous playtest, I made the following changes to the game:
- Changed the action when clicking links in the premise. They now open a new passage instead of expanding existing text.
- Made the same changes in the friend encounter section.
- Added some text fade-ins in certain passages for dramatic effect.
- Added some different background colors to signal the changing of scenes.
This is what the structure of the premise and the “friend choice” conflict looked like before and after the changes I made:
With this new prototype, I hoped to get feedback about the new transitions between passages in both the premise and passage. I wanted to know if they felt more intuitive and helped the passages feel less wordy. I also wanted to get feedback about the new aesthetic changes made to the game.
The playtester was a female student in our class to whom I sent the link to the game. Here is the link to the game at this point if you are interested in seeing it as well: https://lauracastrov.itch.io/paws-of-destiny-v4
The feedback I received was overall very positive. The playtester really loved the graphics, like the background color and the font choice. She said it matched the personality of Lucky as being optimistic and also the pet/animal/furry friend context, which is what I was looking to convey.
She said the following as well:
“The intro sequence was great! After the title slide, I got a quick but effective rundown of my name, appearance, and what I was doing in the city (living life/exploring). I felt like my decisions mattered and had a hard time figuring out what kind of dog I wanted to be (lol — in the best way)! In general, I felt your text / white space ratios were good, and I didn’t have to read super long paragraphs!”
This was great because it meant that my changes had been successful in focusing the shift for the player to the vibes of the story and away from the overwhelming chunks of text.
The playtester also gave me some suggestions for fixing minor typos, addressing punctuation issues, and shifts in the point of view from “I” to “Lucky” in a few places. She also expressed curiosity about what happened with the dog that Lucky meets and the human they encounter right after. At this point, after that scene, I immediately move on to the endings and don’t really say what happens, so that is where this comment comes from.
Prototype – Version 5
Following the playtest of version 4, I made a lot of changes to the game to get to version 5. I fixed the flow of the premise slightly, at the point where my previous playtester got confused. I added some gradual fade-ins of lines in a few screens to help with readability and dramatic effect (For example, in the screen where he says, “I think I just made a friend).
I also fixed some typos and capitalization errors. It bothered my playtester enough to mention it, so I made sure to fix that. Finally, I added new text that explains what happens after the friend scene how Lucky and Max part ways.
Here is an overview of the change to the premise:
Screen with new fade-ins:
New text that explains what happens with the other dog and other human if Lucky spent the night with them:
I playtested this prototype version with someone outside of class (a female college student). This is the most important feedback I received:
The endings felt a bit rushed, and I could tell you might still be developing them. I really want to know more about Lucky’s old human. What happened there? It has the potential to be a really emotional moment. Maybe expand it more.
This playtester did not have many comments about the premise and friend conflict but instead had more comments and questions about the endings. This gave me a signal that I should focus on fleshing out the endings a bit more for my next version.
Prototype – Version 6
For version 6, I focused on the ending scenes more. I broke up some text and ensured it didn’t feel as rushed. I also expanded the old human alternate ending to make it more emotional and provide more context. As part of this, I also added more explicit text to encourage the player to play again at the end, hinting more clearly at the fact that there are multiple endings to the story.
This is what the structure of the ending sequence looked like before and after these changes:
Since the focus of this iteration was to flesh out the endings, I mainly focused on that during the playtest. I playtested this version outside of class with a college-aged female student.
During this playtest, I started seeing more clear emotions as a direct result of the endings of the game, not just from the overall story. This was an incredible moment for me. Before, I always got audible “aww” s and “omg” s from my playtesters when they played, but mostly because I explained the premise. At this point, I started getting these audible “aww” s and “omg” s simply from playing the game and especially from the endings. This gave me a signal that I had successfully fleshed them out in a perfect way to start evoking the emotions I wanted to get at. Also, this player immediately clicked play again and went through the game, trying to see how changing her decisions would affect the outcome of the game. The more explicit encouragement to play again was very successful in getting the player to fully experience the game, its possibilities, and multiple endings to understand what I was getting at with the game.
Despite the very successful playtest, I still got some feedback I could use to further improve the game. My playtester asked, “What happens in the dark alley on 72nd street??” and mentioned that that part felt a little rushed and not as in-depth as the other interactions.
Prototype – Version 7
Going from version 6 to version 7, I decided to flesh out that “dark alley on 72nd Street” storyline more to fit more with the rest of the story. I decided to make this a negative human encounter to add motivation to Lucky losing hope in humans a bit further into the story.
This was the structure of this part of the story before and after these changes:
Following these changes, I went through two different rounds of playtesting.
The first session was in class on 10/31. I had two playtesters, one male and one female student.
The first playtester appreciated the gradient change as the scenes went by. She also said that she didn’t think I needed to make the story longer. She said, “If you make it longer, you might make it too long, and it would just make it weird to keep having the same choices over and over again.” She also really liked the ability to restart the game and the fact that because there are alternative endings, you have replayability that helps make the game longer.
The second playtester expressed very similar things as the first playtester. The thing that stood out to me the most during his playtest was that he confirmed a pattern in play between players that I was very happy to see. While playing the game, once he got to the final encounter, he trusted the human at the first choice but then took it back and decided not to trust again and ended up quickly at the sad “stray forever” ending. He then immediately played again, changing his choices, trying to get to an alternate ending, and ultimately getting one of the happy forever home endings. Once he reached this, he was satisfied and stopped playing. The way he approached the game had been the same way that the last two playtesters had also approached the game. They all ended up with the stray ending first and caught onto the game loop by replaying until they arrived at the happy ending.
Following this first session, I decided not to change the structure of the story before getting another playtest in, so I focused on making slight aesthetic and text changes to polish up the story a bit.
The second session was also in class on 11/02. I had one playtester, a female student.
My playtester started out being avoidant. She did not trust immediately and quickly made it to the stray ending. When she replayed, she changed some of her decisions, ending up in one of the happy endings.
During this playtest, the player vocalized what she thought the learning of the game was: “trust. To develop any kind of relationship, you need to be vulnerable and risk being hurt. If you’re more trusting, you can imagine that someone is not trying to get you, but you risk getting hurt. If you don’t trust at all, you can risk not making connections at all.”
After these playtests, I confirmed I had achieved what I wanted to accomplish with this game. The learning was more clear, I was getting consistent vocal emotional reactions (with lots of “Aww” s) at the end, and predictable plays—ending with the stray ending first, and once they got the hint to replay, they started making more trusting choices which got them to the good endings the second/third time.
After the last playtest, the only changes I made were to polish the styling throughout. Making sure the colors were nicely set and the transitions of text were nice and smooth.
At the end of this iteration and process, this is the final structure I ended up with:
And this is the final version of my game! Feel free to play again 🙂 https://lauracastrov.itch.io/paws-of-destiny
For P2, I created an interactive fiction game about Lucky, an ever-optimistic stray dog whose leaps of blind faith and trust lead him to a happy ending in a forever home. For this project, I used Twine as my medium, which I did really enjoy. Before this project, I did not have much experience writing fiction, so I felt very outside of my comfort zone throughout. But one thing that I learned as I worked on this project is that my writing abilities were not so much as important for this project as was the process of iterating through the prototypes themselves and the overall storyline I was creating. I struggled initially to put things together into my first Twine version, worried it was not enough to playtest. But after playtesting it anyway, it was clear that I probably should have playtested even quicker. Those initial playtests were super helpful to get me through productive iterations. Even though I went through that initial crisis that led to me scrapping my original idea, I was able to get back on my feet and put out a story I genuinely connected with and think I successfully was able to evoke emotion with. Throughout this process, I also learned a lot about patience and trusting the process. Even if I didn’t know what this would look like in the end, I trusted my playtesters and the process, and I got there eventually! If I had more time to work on this project, I would potentially add more plot points. I did not want to do that this time around because I wanted to get the ones I had just right. I also avoided making it too long to make sure players had time to replay multiple times. But with more time, I could expand it and budget for longer playtimes. I also would play around more with images and sounds to make the game more immersive and interactive. Overall, I was very happy with the final product for P2. 🙂