Storydeck is a system by Ian Millington and Emily Bembeneck, using the concept of Doodle God as a mechanism for storytelling. You play by accumulating story elements and combining them to unlock new storylet events, which in turn give you new elements to combine. In Doodle God those elements were things like “fire” and “water” combining to make a “steam” element; in Storydeck elements are instead characters, locations, artifacts, and so on. There are two Storydecks in current release, a Steampunk deck about a clockwork Victorian mystery and an Ella deck that appears to be a recasting of Cinderella. They’re prettily-made things, too, with evocative, mysterious illustrations for each of the story element cards.
This sounds great. I enjoyed Doodle God. I’ve enjoyed other games that were to some extent about combining narrative elements in inventive ways, often using some kind of card mechanism: Once Upon A Time, Gloom, Daniel Benmergui’s recent Storyteller game (not to be confused with his earlier game of the same name).
But the Storydeck games aren’t really clicking for me as interactive experiences, and the reason is — paradoxically — that they’re not generic enough.
The Written World is a computer-mediated interactive storytelling game (additional details available here). The authors describe it as an interactive fiction MMO, but it’s also not completely unlike a library of Fiasco-style playsets.
The game provides assets — characters, character goals, possible events — embodying a story concept, but each actual experience is a two-player exchange between a Narrator player and a Hero player, a bit reminiscent of Sleep Is Death. The players participate primarily through writing, by creating descriptions of what happens next. If either of them doesn’t like what’s been done by the other, they can spend some Force to override the decision; Force is in turn earned by writing particularly compelling content. The aim of the exercise is not essentially competitive, but mediated cooperation aimed at producing an interesting story.
The Written World chief Simon Fox was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about how the mechanics work.
Here is Liza Daly (Threepress) talking at Books in Browsers 2011 about an interactive epistolary story I’ve been working on for and with her.
Liza’s talk is about the possibilities of interactive narrative, her background with IF and hypertext, and what we’ve done together with this story in specific.
As you may gather from the screenshots, “First Draft” is not parser-based, but also not CYOA: the interaction is all about revising the letters between the various characters and then choosing when to send them. So there are lots of small, parallel choices submitted at once rather than a sequence of large choices submitted serially — an effect I am hoping creates some of the texture and exploratory feel that I often feel is missing from CYOA. It’s set in the universe of Savoir-Faire and Damnatio Memoriae at the cusp of that world’s French Revolution.
There will be a public release of this project when it’s done, but I do not yet have a date for that.
Return to Camelot is a fantasy pastiche game loosely combining hardboiled detective tropes with Arthurian characters. It’s fairly sizable, and I ran out of time before completing it (though others might not).
The Guardian is a fantasy story with very little puzzle content and lyrical writing, taking probably less than half an hour to play through completely. Feelies and music are included.
I’m partway through the actual book The Night Circus now, after having played Failbetter’s intro game quite a bit. It’s a curious experience on two fronts. First, the book has a number of short passages written in second person present tense, describing “your” interactions with the circus — pieces that fit very well into game narration terms. It feels as though the book were tying into the game as well as vice versa. And second, because I encountered the game first, that experience has a sense of primacy. It’s pleasing and reassuring whenever I read something in the book that I recognize from the game, and I think, “oh, yeah, here’s the ice garden” or “finally I found the living statue.” The world of the Night Circus feels more… for lack of a better word, more fully-dimensional than fantasy worlds in books typically do, because the game has given me a sense of the spatial and tangible existence of the circus.
Which I guess is a roundabout way of saying that I feel like the game has actively added to my enjoyment of the book, and not just in the marketing sense of making me aware of the book in the first place (which is true also).