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The Refugee

The conflict between the Ferngill Republic and the Empire of Gotoro touches the people of Pelican Town but lightly. 

But across the Gem Sea war rages, destroying all in its path.


Escape the violence. Find your way home.

Content Warning: mentions of death and violence. 

Average playtime: 6 minutes.

Engine: Twine

Dev Notes 

- thoughts on the    process, documentation, & miscellany

This text-only Twine was developed out of a series of exercises from Susan O'Connor's superlative Game Writing Masterclass. -- to take a game you love and admire, and transform it into something entirely different. 

The Refugee is a narrative reimagining of what it would be like to come to Stardew Valley a stranger -- not because your kindly grandfather bequeathed you a farmstead -- but because you are fleeing war. 

This is not a cozy farming sim. It's simply a story with choices... some harder than others. 


It is also a game about hope, and new beginnings.


A walkthrough of the exercises and full creative process is below. 

Exercise One:  Build Your Story Stacks

"In this exercise, you will apply the story-stack model to one of your favorite games, and generate THREE new narrative concepts."

The Story Stack Model*:







* The Story Stack is normally organized from most to least flexible element, because Fantasy is the immovable base upon which you build the rest of the game. However, I prefer to flip the Stack to display from least to most flexible element, as this in the order in which each element should be developed. Story, the most flexible element of any game, is developed last. 

Game Chosen: Stardew Valley


Concept One:

Born in the Gotoro Empire, the war between your country and Ferngill Republic has destroyed your home. Fleeing north by ship, you wreck upon a rural village on the Ferngill coast. Here you find an abandoned farm with a note from the prior owner.


“I am an old man, I have no family, no heirs. This farm was my pride and joy. If you can love this land, and these people, as I have loved them, then this farm will rightfully belong to you. If you would accept this responsibility as your own, grow the turnip seeds I have enclosed in this letter, then venture into town and speak to Mayor Lewis.”

Supports the rest of the stack in that you are still a new arrival in a tight-knit community with a farm to run however you see fit. Fantasy, action, economy, and world remain unchanged.

Concept Two:

Filthy rich and totally friendless, you are the arrogant heir to the Joja fortune. One cold winter’s night, an old woman comes to your mansion door seeking shelter for herself and, of all things, her potted plant. You scornfully turn her away. The woman reveals herself to be a witch.


“You love nothing, not man, not nature, not even yourself. And cursed you are.”


You feel your body twist and change…


You awaken on the floor of an abandoned farmhouse. Words echo in your beastly head.


“Learn to love your fellow man. Learn to care for and nurture the land. Only then will you become your true self again.”


A packet of turnip seeds lies on the floor by your tail.

Supports the rest of the stack in that you are still a new arrival in a tight-knit community with a farm to run however you see fit. Fantasy, action, economy, and world remain unchanged.

Concept Three:

You are a homeless orphan living on the dirty streets of Zuzu City. Your list of delinquencies is longer than your gangly arm. Busted once again for petty theft, you are hauled up before the same judge as usual.


“The court notes you will be 18 next week. Happy Birthday. The court further notes that your face is too familiar to us. You have run out of chances. You have not a friend in the world. Not an honest penny to your name. And so feckless…”

“I bet you couldn’t even keep a plant alive,” the bailiff chimes in.

“By law, you should spend the next five years rotting in a prison cell. But how will the future look for you then? No. You need fresh air. Hard work. Friends. One last chance, to grow… if you can,” finishes the judge.

A week later your parole officer drops you off in a dumpy old farmhouse. There’s an envelope on the table. In the envelope is a packet of turnip seeds. On the packet, a message is scrawled:

You reap what you sow.

I will come again at the beginning of the 3rd year to see how you’ve grown.

Do well, and it’s yours.  

-          A friend.

Supports the rest of the stack in that you are still a new arrival in a tight-knit community with a farm to run however you see fit. Fantasy, action, economy, and world remain unchanged.

Exercise Two:   Create A Simple Flowchart

"Pick a story concept you want to flesh out. Focus on player interactivity. Create a flowchart."

Concept Chosen: Concept One, Gotoran War Refugee

Flowchart, Iteration One:

My Thoughts on Flowchart, Iteration One:

I'd focused on offering the sort of choices that you would get if you were playing Stardew Valley, and never stopped to ask myself how interesting those choices were when devoid of everything but text.

By the time I got to anything narrative, I'd maxxed out my freebie usage with Lucid and had to stop building. I could have rebuilt at this point, but I already knew I'd goofed and needed to take a few days to rethink things. Fortunately, I'd gotten some great feedback on the chart itself from the clever human Kevin Human, and Jack Ford was kind enough to talk to me about his own process making Frequency.

Let's be real: 

Flowchart, Iteration Two:

My Thoughts on Flowchart, Iteration Two:

Better! But this has a glaring flaw, considering I'm about to build in Twine... 

 We don't do cutscenes here in Twinetown.


There's no music or art or V/O work. Whoops!


I could just start the game with a chunk of text, a written cutscene, but I'd be running afoul of the classic adage:




I could have skipped the cutscene and started on the beach, but then the player wouldn't feel what the Avatar was feeling, and choices built on interaction with "enemy" NPCs wouldn't present much of a dilemma. Not an interesting choice.


If I wanted the player to feel it, then I had to game it out.


 I also realized I wanted character creation, as well as an early exit option, for those who weren't in the mood for the experience I intended to provide, which at this point was radically different from Stardew Valley.


So I wrote those things in. 

- In the next Iteration...

As a narrative experience, I'm satisfied with this game as it stands. But it's also just a beginning. Day One, of Year One. What would happen on Day Two?

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