Collect Feedback on Branching Scenarios with Twine and Pastel

When I present about branching scenarios, one common question is, “How do you collect feedback on branching scenarios?” That’s especially true when I talk about Twine. While I love how much time and effort Twine saves me in planning, writing, and prototyping branching scenarios, the review process has always been a little clunky. What I really wanted was something similar to Articulate Review: a way to give my reviewers a link where they can review the branching scenario and give comments in a side panel. I recently realized that I can accomplish that by using a tool for reviewing websites. The marketing and website review tool Pastel works with stories published in Twine, simplifying the process of collecting feedback and making revisions.

Collect Feedback on Branching Scenarios with Twine and Pastel
Text overlaid on a screenshot of a branching scenario with a comment in Pastel

What I used to do: A clunky process

In the past, when I sent branching scenario prototypes built in Twine for SME and stakeholder review, I sent four things.

  1. A link to the functional prototype (like this example)
  2. A screenshot of the branching structure in Twine
  3. A Word document with track changes on that includes the plain text export of the scenario
  4. Instructions on how to review the scenario (e.g., “Click through the prototype a few ways first”) and provide suggestions in Word

This process has worked, but it’s always been a little clunky. SMEs sometimes got confused between the multiple versions. The plain text export in Word makes tracking changes really easy, but my reviewers sometimes struggled to follow the story. Even if they followed my directions to click through the prototype first, they had to find the corresponding text in a multi-page document.

Proofing formats in Twine

Proofing formats in Twine are designed to provide functionality to help with reviews. In theory, this should be the solution, but in practice, nothing quite worked the way I wanted.

I have tried some proofing formats in Twine. For example, we have used poof in my Build Your Branching Scenario course. Poof can track changes and export comments, so it definitely streamlines the process. However, that requires that the reviewers all have Twine. That’s doable within a branching scenario course, but not really a viable solution for SME and stakeholder reviews. It’s too complicated to ask them to install Twine.

I like the Illume proofing format as well. That has the advantage of exporting a review copy that doesn’t require reviewers to install Twine. The features are great for experienced reviewers, but I think it’s too complicated for most SME reviews.

Pastel: An easier solution for reviews

I’ve been looking for an easier solution for reviews for a while. Last week, I tried Pastel for the first time, and I’m really happy with the results so far. (Note that this isn’t a sponsored or affiliate post; I’m not getting a discounted license or anything else in exchange for writing this.) Pastel is a tool for marketing teams to review websites and other content. You can try it for free, and they have a “free forever” plan with limitations (more on that later).

I made a quick screencast on how reviewing works within Pastel. If the video doesn’t appear below, you can watch it on YouTube. (Please excuse my lack of polish in the video.)

Tips for using Pastel for branching scenario reviews

  1. Browse vs Comment: Make sure your instructions for reviewers explicitly tell them to toggle between Browse to click through the scenario and Comment to leave feedback. Several people who helped me test this were initially confused by this. Once I explained it, everyone was able to leave feedback on multiple pages without an issue.
  2. Twine hosting: In order for Pastel to show a live version of your scenario, it has to be hosted online. You can use AWS or Google Cloud for hosting the published Twine file and any multimedia assets. You could also try itch.io, a site for free hosting for games. Itch.io works well with Twine interactive stories. You can even set a password on itch.io if you need to protect the content.
  3. Naming conventions: I don’t typically use naming conventions for each passage in Twine because the software makes the structure fairly easy to build without a set naming convention. However, it might be helpful to have a passage name visible on screen during reviews so the screenshots have a clear label. It might make it easier to match the text in a screenshot to the text in Twine when you make the edits.
  4. 3-day commenting window: While Pastel does have a “free forever” plan, it’s limited to a 3-day commenting window. I know how hard it can be to get reviews turned around that quickly! If you need to give reviewers a longer time to respond, you need to upgrade to a paid plan. However, you do have the option of paying monthly, so you can pay only when you need it.

Why not use Articulate Review?

You might be wondering why I’m going to all of this trouble with another review tool when I have Articulate Review available. While I love Articulate Review for Storyline reviews, it unfortunately doesn’t work as I’d hoped with Twine. You can embed a Twine file directly into Storyline as a web object, and the story functions fine. Unfortunately, Articulate Review only takes one screenshot of the web object with the first comment. After that, any comments are captured fine in Review, but with no indication of what part of the scenario they were in at the time.

Other website review tools

While Pastel was the first website review tool that I found that works with Twine, I’m sure other similar tools can do the job as well. Any tool that can review live websites could potentially work. The one thing to watch for is whether it captures the screenshots accurately. Some review tools guess at how a page will be rendered, and I’ve found that isn’t as accurate as the tools that grab actual screenshots.

If your marketing department or web development department already use a tool like Pastel, I encourage you to test it out and see how it works.

Thanks for help testing!

I was lucky to have help from several testers who tried out Pastel with me. Thanks Catherine, Fátima, Yvonne, and Victoria!

Have you tried it?

If you try out Pastel for reviewing branching scenarios (or other assets), let me know! I’m interested in hearing from others on how this works.

2 thoughts on “Collect Feedback on Branching Scenarios with Twine and Pastel”

Leave a Reply