We’re busy getting ready for our appearance at PAX East next week (yikes!) and as part of that, we’ve put up the first screenshots from Sorcery! The shots show the main game interface, along with the spell-casting, combat and map in action.
Down Among the Dead Men skin design continues.
We’re starting to develop our visual design pillars. In particular, we’re trying to move away from illustrations for this one, and more towards real objects to represent the events and locations in the story. So, where there would’ve been an anatomical drawing in Frankenstein, here we have a real skull buried in the sand.
We’re also really keen to push more vibrant colours into the design of Down Among the Dead Men. Expect more treasure in future images! Yaaaar.
As the design matures, we start to lay out the elements horizontally as they would actually be in the final inklebook. This starts to give us a feeling of the flow and hierarchy. Clearly, there’s still a lot of work to be done here - the map doesn’t quite make sense in this particular layout.
Although you could certainly imagine an inklebook where you travel from location to location and chapter to chapter by choosing points on a map! The structure of Dead Men’s story could perhaps lend itself to that… but either way, we love old maps, and we’ll be sure to slot them in somewhere!
Remember, if you’d like to contribute to our design process on this, you can get involved via our Pinterest board.
With Frankenstein out of the door, we’re now looking ahead to our next inklebook. Again, we’re collaborating with Dave Morris, this time on the swashbuckling adventure story Down Among the Dead Men.
Developing a visual metaphor
One of the first steps in producing a new inklebook from scratch is to design a visual look and feel for it. As part of this, it’s useful to establish a consistent metaphor. For Frankenstein, the metaphor was that you were looking at Victor Frankenstein’s desk, full of anatomical illustrations, spilt ink, and his notes and journals. The metaphor doesn’t need to be strictly consistent, but keeping it fairly coherent helps make the whole scene glue together nicely. It helps to answer design questions, such as which font to use where, and what to use for graphical flourishes.
So, for Down Among the Dead Men, we’ve started with the scene of being washed up on a tropical beach, along with a set of piratey paraphernalia. We’re still developing the exact metaphor – what should the front “cover” look like? Should it be a book cover, a page, or something else entirely?
We’re also keen to differentiate the visual style from Frankenstein. While the material aesthetic is inkle‘s trademark, we want to make Down Among the Dead Men brighter, and communicate more of the gamey elements in the text. For Frankenstein, it was easy to lean on the beauty of the anatomical illustrations. For Down Among the Dead Men, we’ll have to find a new touchstone.
We’ll post more images as we develop the visual skin further, but see what you think about this initial concept. Also, bear in mind that this is purely a first draft, so the polish and finesse will improve dramatically over the coming days and weeks!
Help us out!
Also, feel free to help us out! If you want to suggest ideas for Down Among the Dead Men, either reply to this post, or drop as an email. We have a pinterest board up to help us gather visual resources and inspiration from around the web.
A great review went up at The Chimerist today, intelligent and thoughtful. Here’s the opening quote:
Whatever interactive fiction is (and we’re still figuring that out) it suffers from all the problems of traditional fiction and then some. The vast majority of novels and short stories aren’t much good, but when a branching fiction — along the lines of the old “Choose Your Own Adventure” children’s books — fails to engage, the first impulse is to blame the form rather than the content. Let “Frankenstein,” just released by Inkle Studios and Profile Books, serve as a reproach to that reflex. The app is a creative, subtle and sensitive adaptation of Mary Shelley’s classic novella, and it has singlehandedly renewed this critic’s hopes for interactive fiction.
Since the announcement of Frankenstein, we’ve been talking to a lot of people about the possibilities and potential of adaptive, interactive stories. A lot of people are excited. Others say, so, isn’t it just a gamebook?
It’s true, our stories contain choices, and the choices you make change the story that you read. That does sound a bit like a gamebook, doesn’t it?
But I think there are some crucial differences. Not just simple things, like because it’s on an iPad or an iPhone you don’t have to turn the pages yourself. Not just that we won’t be using dice-rolls to decide if you’re allowed to continue the story. But there’s something fundamentally different to exploring a book of choices, and an app that uses your choices to weave a story around you as you read.
One of the best things about working with interactive stories is they’re new: the ground is mostly untested, the formulas are still in their infancy, and people are having new ideas about what works all the time.
One of the hardest things about working with interactive stories is also that they’re new: it’s not always clear to see what to try next. It’s not even clear to see how to get started.
The ability to experiment is key, and we need to get more people trying things out and exploring the possibilities of interactive stories. And while we’re not a self-publishing platform - we want every inklebook we produce to be something really special! – we also know that great talent isn’t easy to find, especially when our best authors might not even know about interactive stories… yet!
This is something we learnt the hard way in the mainstream console industry. Making something flexible and non-linear, like a game, or an interactive story, is hard. Making sure it doesn’t break, even in obscure ways, is really hard. Making it in a way that, once you’ve made it, you’ve any idea at all how it worked a month later is almost impossible.
But most importantly, making it in a way that frees you to think creatively is crucial.
At inkle, we balance our time between big projects, and quick fun things we want to try out, so this week we made a quick demo showing how we could adapt a book (we pulled out by Alan Garner‘s classic fantasy The Weirdstone of Brisingamen) into our inklebook format.
The questions were: would it work? How easy was it to do? How close could we stay to the original text, without compromising the interactivity? How much fun is the result?
The demo story is pretty short – just a few scenes, from near the start of the novel, in which the two protagonists Colin and Susan arrive in the wonderful setting of Alderley Edge, and the first seeds are laid of the magical things that go on there. And obviously, we can’t release it! But it was a great experiment, and one I’d love to repeat on a larger scale.