Company: Gim Crack'd
Pros: Simple interface. Shows story layout graphically. Free.
Cons: Customization requires programming skill. Key file is missing, resulting in an error on startup
Twine is a free and simple application for Mac and Windows for creating non-linear 'choose your own adventure' stories in a similar vein to Ian Livingstone's classic Fighting Fantasy books – though readers no longer have to turn to page 90 to get eaten by a dragon or page 76 to run away screaming, it's all handled in HTML. Though aimed at fiction writers, it's not hard to see how this could be adapted to create a story-based element within a branding campaign or experimental interactive design project.
Twine is free and compact, but presented a stumbling block when I set it up on Windows 7: When I tried running it, it wouldn't start, instead popping up an error complaining that a DLL file, MSVCP71.DLL, was missing. As it turns out, this is a known issue, and isn't hard to fix. I had to manually track down this file online, download it, and put it in Twine's directory – at which point it started working.
The bulk of Twine's screen space is dedicated to the story overview display (above). Interactive stories are composed of many small snippets of text interlinked in interesting ways. In Twine, every such segment is shown as a little square, similar to the card view in professional writing tool Scrivener. Arrows connect each section to one or more other sections, so you can see exactly how the story comes together. You can freely drag and drop sections on the canvas, and the arrows will stay connected.
Interlinked sections making up a whole: Sounds like a wiki. And indeed, once you're done composing a story, Twine compiles it into a TiddlyWiki, a single-page interactive wiki that runs in any modern Web browser, no server needed. That's why you compose the story using simple wiki syntax. Links are just words surrounded by double brackets, bold text is surrounded by asterisks, and so on.
When compiling your story, you can pick one of two TiddlyWiki templates created for Twine, both of which make for a compelling reading experience (two other templates, included for compatibility, are not as good). Since the story is all contained in just a single file, readers don't have to wait for pages to load, and navigation is quick and effortless.
Twine's beauty is that it makes creating complex interactive stories much simpler than I would've previously thought possible. You can just get this free tool, figure it out in ten minutes, and let your imagination run wild.