Jean-Noël Chiganne
Jean-Noël Chiganne
Virtual Reality & Interactive Storytelling Specialist
Aug 7, 2019 5 min read

Writing Tools of the Future: Introducing Villanelle

Hi everyone, this is Jean-Noël from Immersive Consulting.

Today, I’m going to talk about an in development tool: Villanelle.

If you read my other article called “What is Interactive Storytelling”, I was suggesting that it may not be accurate anymore to talk about storytelling, and using the verb to tell.

Actually, in an immersive and interactive story, we are dealing with a player more than a spectator. The goal is for her to have an impact on the unfolding story, which is no more told to her but that she will live and influence.

Therefore, it opens questions about how to create an interactive story. And as you may have guessed, smart people are working on it! And some of these people are a team of researchers at the North Carolina State University led by Dr. Chris Martens and called POEM, for Principles of Expressive Machines.

Villanelle Main Points

This team carries on the project “Villanelle”, a tool to help authors create interactive stories. Villanelle’s approach is all about characters authoring, and aims to be accessible to authors who does not have a programmatic background.

Indeed, up until now, most of the existing tools coming from the research fields required to have at least a basic understanding of the logic behind programming. That is what is extremely interesting with Villanelle: authors are at the center of the project, which aims to make interactive storytelling accessible to everyone, without prerequisites.

In this article, I won’t go into the technical details of Villanelle (maybe in a future one!). I will rather talk to you about the tool’s philosophy and its main principles. In a following article, I will show you an example use of the software.

Villanelle’s goals

First of all, Villanelle’s main target is text based interactive fiction. It means turn based interactive stories in text mode, like Emily Short’s Galatea or adventure text games like the mythical Zork.

For the more tech-oriented amongst you, just know that Villanelle is based on a dedicated language in order to be adaptable, transferable and generalizable to any development environment.

Villanelle has 4 objectives:

  • A soft learning curve, so a beginner can quickly start to use the tool on actual work.
  • Expressivity, so the author can easily find natural ways to express the story she has in mind.
  • An ease to reason about the story we write (in order to “debug” it).
  • Scalability, so Villanelle knows how to adapt to even big projects.

For each of these goals, Villanelle proposes a concrete feature.

For the soft learning curve, Villanelle makes it so its core is comprised of a restricted set of basic features, in order to not flood the beginner with stuff to learn.

For expressivity, Villanelle offers an extensible library of composable examples, addressing the most common issues of interactive storytelling.

In order to be able to reason about the story you write, Villanelle allows you to specify it logically - in the mathematical sense.

Finally, the capacity to compose and reuse elements makes the tool a good fit even for big size projects.

How does it work, basically

I will show you a detailed view of the software in another article.

However, it’s still important to give you a more concrete overview right now!

Villanelle is centered around facilitating the creation of character’s of interactive fictions.

To do so, the author will create her universe by following these steps:

  1. Giving a description of the world, meaning the initial state of the world at the beginning of the story.
  2. Specifying *atomic* story events. By atomic, it means you cannot divide them in smaller story events.
  3. Possibly create action templates which may instantiate in different fashions according to the state of the world and the story.
  4. Writing behaviors by hand for each character.

The characters are defined thanks to Behavior Trees. Again, without going into too much technical details, it’s a way to specify an artificial intelligence which is widely used in the video game industry.

To make it simple, it allows to define which behavior our character will engage in, in relation to what is happening in the world.

We will see that in more details in another article!

A tool for authors

As I already told you, Villanelle puts the author at the center of its design. Therefore the team behind the project is working hand in hand as much as possible with authors and creators, in a practice-driven fashion, in order to guide Villanelle in the right direction!

If you are one of these authors, do not hesitate to participate! A survey is currently run in order to better understand what you want from such a tool.

Another good news, Dr. Chris Martens’ team wishes to eventually bring Villanelle to platforms widely used in interactive storytelling, like Unity and Inform7.

Let’s meet again in another article for a quick tutorial on Villanelle usage, on a very simple use case which will allow to familiarize yourself with the tool!

Thanks for reading this article. If you liked it, do not hesitate to share and like! If you need help with your project, get in touch!

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