Today sees the release of inkle's first project. Not the first released, obviously, but the first thing we actually did after founding as a company late last year. Entitled First Draft of the Revolution, it was written and conceived by acclaimed narrative designer Emily Short, and prototyped and produced by Liza Daly, with inkle stepping in to finish off the final development and provide the visual design.
It runs on modern web browsers, and there's also a version for Apple's iBooks. Try it out for yourself.
The story is set just before the French Revolution in an alternate, magical universe. A young married woman, Juliette, is banished to the countryside by her controlling husband but discovers a secret that questions her deepest loyalties. It's a intriguing, novella-length tale, brought to vivid life by the interactivity, which asks the reader to work through the process of drafting, and redrafting, the letters sent between the characters.
Emily's written an extensive author's statement on the project's website, but to pull out a quote that gets to the heart of it for me:
By helping to revise their letters, the reader exposes who the characters are. She doesn’t define or change them. Juliette, Henri, and the others are meant to have consistent personalities, and there’s nothing the reader can do to alter this fact. She can, however, see what constraints and concerns affect each character. Juliette and Henri each have things they’re not willing to express to the other. The reader can also how far each one could be pushed (how assertive can Juliette be before her inner censor kicks in? how warm is Henri at his warmest?).
Originally intended for web-browsers - and still at it's most beautiful under Chrome and Safari - we also extended the development to the EPUB 3 format supported by Apple's iBooks. The idea of a "magic book" that rewrote itself beneath your touch was too alluring to miss, and developing for EPUB is, in theory, the same as developing for a browser.
EPUB is still a variously-implemented format: there aren't many EPUB 3 readers on the market, and the only one that can handle the scripting necessary for an interactive work is Apple iBook's platform, which has a few quirks and idiosyncrasies of its own.
There are some features of the web version we couldn't do in the book version - most notably, passing any information from one page to the next - and the iBooks version is somewhat let down by the time it takes to load, as it loads the entire book - some twenty-odd pages - before allowing you to interact with the first one.
There's also not a lot of documentation, and it's very hard to test for broken functionality. After a while, the iBooks version became something of a labour of love, and we believe it's one of the most highly-functional interactive iBooks out there to date. (And no, it was not made using iBooks Author. That's a tool for a very specific job.)
The visual design
Still, the iBooks version of the project is what inspired our visual design for the piece. We had an image of a book of letters that you might find open under glass in a museum. Reading the handwritten pages, and with a bit of imagination, such an object can bring to mind the voices of the long-dead authors, their characters, personalities and concerns... we wanted to capture something of that ghostly feeling. It's a curious brief, a way - a collection of handwritten letters, rendered in vector fonts on the most sophisticated communications technology ever devised by man.
So our look and feel is a collection of pages that come alive as the reader works through and completes each text to their satisfaction. When a letter is sent, it becomes pinned down into place and ossified. And indeed, in the web-version, your choices are saved, so you can flick back and forth through the book that you made. (You can reset and explore as well, of course).
Take a look!
We love First Draft - it's an unusual and innovative use of interactivity, but one that doesn't get too much in the way. First and foremost, this is a story about people, and the redrafting serves to bring those people closer to the light. We're proud to have been involved. Let us know what you think!