18 Rooms to Home (Carolyn VanEseltine): rooms 18, 17, 16

Carolyn VanEseltine is releasing a serial parser IF project called 18 Rooms to Home. The serial is working backwards in time: Room 18 was released first, than Room 17, then Room 16. So Room 18 represents the ending of the story, the point where the protagonist has arrived at home. Room 17 starts you in the room just before you get home, but includes the 18th room. Room 16 is a three-room game that, again, starts a bit earlier than Room 17.

This backwards, Memento-esque story structure might seem counterintuitive in IF, especially since it makes the player replay the story’s ending over and over. But Carolyn is doing something very ingenious with it. In Room 18, there is, as far as I can tell, only one way that the story can end. Room 17 introduces new information, skills, and possibilities, which in turn means a new possible outcome. Room 16 layers on yet a third (at least — it’s conceivable, I suppose, that there are even more variations I’m not aware of). Even when the player gets back to a room or prop she’s already seen in a previous episode, there are new possibilities.

This in turn does a great job of building up the player’s sense of consequence. Even when there are a lot of branches in a traditional-format story game, there’s no guarantee that the player will see all the variant endings, or that she’ll realize all the points at which branching could occur. But playing through 18 Rooms an episode at a time means learning exactly what is allowed to go differently, and why, as more and more past branch points are introduced.

As for the story itself, much remains shrouded in mystery at this point, but it seems to involve competing powers — whether superhero-style powers, or something more Nobilis-like and mystical, I am not yet entirely sure. I’m enjoying guessing, though, and staring at props in certain rooms that aren’t useful currently but that might become useful at some future date…

If you decide to play and speculate along with others, there’re a couple of related threads (hints, general discussion) on the intfiction forum. Selfishly, I am hoping that others will help encourage Carolyn to finish the project — I really want to see where it goes…

Tightening the World-Plot Interface: or, Why I Am Obsessed With Conversation Models


Framed is an interactive comic game in which you move around the panels of the story, reordering events in order to change what happens in the story. It looks really attractive, too.

Forgetting is a graphic novel with CYOA-style branching when you click on certain panels.

Forgetting is a graphic novel with CYOA-style branching when you click on certain panels.

When I first heard of this game, I was hugely excited about it. There aren’t that many entries in the interactive comic space, and this seemed to offer a slightly different set of mechanics to go alongside Dan Benmergui’s (unfinished but, to judge by the demos, awesome) Storyteller or Troy Chin’s Forgetting or the somewhat over-difficult Strip ‘Em All.

When I actually played Framed, though, I had essentially the same reaction described at The Digital Reader:

While Framed is based on a clever dynamic, the actual game is repetitive to the point that I am bored… Rather than have the user solve puzzles with different goals and different solutions, the vast majority of the levels I played all had the same goal: avoid the cops. Other than setting things up so the protagonist can either bypass cops or sneak up behind cops and hit them over the head, there’s not much to this game.

I’m maybe a little less harsh than this — I did feel that Framed was worth playing, and I know that some people did enjoy the puzzles — but nonetheless, I was hoping for something that did new work in telling an interactive story, rather than just setting up a bunch of puzzle levels. In that area it fell short. All of the puzzles are about a similar problem — one set of characters escaping another — and the stakes don’t alter much either. This makes for boring story.

The problem occurs at the world model-to-plot interface. That’s a challenging area for parser IF, too — and indeed for any game in which the player cannot influence the plot directly, but has to change the world model in order to move forward. Choice-based games vary in this regard, but probably more of them are of the directly-influence-plot variety than of the indirect-influence variety.

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Frankenstein, by Dave Morris with inkle studios

Frankenstein, written by Dave Morris and implemented by inkle studios, is an iPad app retelling Mary Shelley’s original tale in a new interactive format.

Morris’ Frankenstein follows the essential plot of Shelley’s, with a couple of key deviations. Victor Frankenstein’s experiments take place in revolutionary Paris rather than at the university of Ingolstadt; the narrative frame of the original story is peeled off, so that it no longer begins with Frankenstein meeting a shipful of adventurers in the north Atlantic, and the meeting on the ice occurs only at the end.

Removing the frame gives the story a certain immediacy. Victor’s experiments are told in the present and the horror of them is more directly present than they would have been via flashback; and flashback is notoriously tricky in interactive narrative because it often makes the reader question how she can possibly be affecting events that are, from the point of view of the frame narrative, already in the past.

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Tabletop Storygaming: A Penny For My Thoughts

A Penny For My Thoughts is a short storytelling game about trauma and lost memory. The premise is that the three players are all victims of some disastrous experience that caused them to lose their memories. Thanks to a special mind-enhancing drug, they are able to access fragments of those past events — both their own and one another’s.

To begin, each player writes down on a card three visceral experiences or sense impressions: in ours, these were things like “the smell of rotting lemons” or “vertigo.” Then the players take turns rebuilding past memories for their characters. Each draws a card from the shuffled stack and says, for instance, “I remember the smell of rotting lemons.” The other two players take turns asking establishing questions, such as “Were the lemons from a lemonade stand?” and the player who is doing the recollection must — in good improv style — reply, “yes, and…”, accepting the offer and providing an additional detail of his or her own.

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The Written World on Kickstarter

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.

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Angal Tentara; inkle’s Frankenstein

Periodically I check out interactive narrative projects on Kickstarter, whether they’re by people I’ve heard of before or not. Angal Tentara and The Root of All Evil is an “interactive animation” for iOS. It looks like it’s working with a fairly standard fantasy premise about a young person who has a destiny tying her back to an ancient civilization. Two things struck me about it, though. First, it comes with a backer reward consisting of a “storybook kit” with what look like some pretty nice-quality feelies:

Second, check out the video on the Kickstarter page — no, not the main video, the one a little lower down that’s titled “Story Telling 2.0”. The “you become the editor” model, with a conscious attention to the reader’s ability to expand or advance the narrative, is reminiscent of stuff the IF community sometimes talks about. Though the video is brief and doesn’t go into a lot of detail, this strikes me as a more mature/considered description of how the story is going to be interactive than I’ve found in a lot of interactive project proposals. Remains to be seen whether the project will actually deliver on that model, but hey.

Meanwhile inkle studios — the company formed by Jon Ingold and Joseph Humfrey — has just announced that it’s working on an interactive version of Frankenstein for iOS, published with Profile Books. Their press release is not so specific about the theory underlying the project (perhaps intentionally). Nonetheless, I’m keen to see what Jon and company come up with here.