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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

New ideas - on how to 'tell' interactive stories

So, while its been fun working on the light leaks and the free goodies or exploring previous projects - its also good to get back to new ideas, the best-est free-est of all goodies! And the cornerstone of this blog.

The new idea that's wrestled me to the ground and won't let go - is interactive stories. New ways of telling stories is kind of what I'm all about - it's interesting to me and its how I paid; whether that's for scriptwriting for games, creating e-learning, or producing videos for games companies (which is on the increase right now). And of course, I have a POV feature film which also explores a kind of middle ground.

With new forms of narrative, like interactive stories, there is still a bit of pioneering to be had - all the rules aren't in stone yet. Cool. So to recap. Interactive stories, they could be my kind of thing.

HOWEVER, I really, really dislike the branching story as a format in itself, bummer. Not my kind of thing. Perhaps that is why I spoofed it in this bit of fun interactive adventure for Mr Vista. I'm not 100% sure really why exactly I dislike it. I think because it seems so artificial, so logical. People make decisions on emotions, rather than outcome-focused actions. Branching stories are a very mechanical method. Yes, there is fun is exploring the mechanics of the engine and how it works, but not really losing yourself in the characters and story.

It is an often stated opinion that games (as the most popular form of interactive story) don't really 'move' you in the same way as other formats. I'm a game fan, but I also know what they mean. It's rare. But does it have to be like this?

All this was rolling around in my head when I got a link to an article that explores all this, via Rudolf Kremers - a writer and games producer. The short article is called The Self, Presence and Storytelling and is by Thomas Grip, who made this game - Amnesia.

To paraphrase his whole work (and all the errors that come with such a task) he concludes two things:
  • The main purpose of interaction is to create presence (in the story world).
  • Keep systems simple, and extend them using imagination.
In other words, interactivity should be there to create mood and not just the plot - PLUS leave room for the imagination, just as other forms of media do. Well, that's what I took away. In true interactive style, read it and pick up your own gems.

The article mentions a couple of examples. The clip at the top of the post is from Dinner Date - a game where the lead character is stood up for a date, and what runs through his mind (mood, not plot). The other example I liked was the Mr Vista-esque Every Day The Same Dream (all mood, no plot)

The most up to date example that I found is today's (as I write this of course) XKCD cartoon. It's about exploring. It's big. It's amazing. Check it out first.

Just about everyone, as soon as they use it, wishes for a mapped version. "Hey, wouldn't it be great if we could navigate around this easier, zoom out, see it all". So someone did it (yes, in the same day!) and made this. BUT, the experience has gone.

The fun was in exploring, of finding. As JJ Abrahams says, the fun is wanting to know what is in the box - see the clip below. The original version of the experience leaves holes for our imagination and focuses on mood. I think there is something in all this.

I'm meeting up with Rudolf next week to see if there is a practical outcome. Maybe.

If you're interested in all this on any level and are going to the London Screenwriters Festival then a/ myself and Rudolf are on a panel together, so come along. And b/ try to get on Steve Ince's practical workshop on games writing. He isn't chatting about it like I am - he'll be making you do it! Now THAT's properly interactive.

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