There’s been some buzz around interactive stories in the last week, with the launch of the reading-beta of Varytale, the early buzz for Failbetter’s StoryNexus platform, and our own inklewriter all hitting the internet within the space of about 48 hours. (And Choice of Games have been accepting new stories for a while now.) It looks a bit like new authors will soon be spoiled for choice. So which way should they go?
The answer is, of course, it depends. Each system has its own system, and each system affords a certain kind of design and a certain kind of storytelling. On the Failbetter blog, Alexis Kennedy has suggested that “StoryNexus is more game-y; Varytale is more book-y”, but both are built around the basic idea of “storylets” – little chunks of narrative that are dealt out under certain conditions, like cards in a deck or the flip-flopping chapters of a book like Game of Thrones.
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!
At inkle, we have a catchphrase. Actually, we have quite a lot of catchphrases, but the one I wanted to talk about now is “it’s all about good tools”. Because, you know, it is.
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.