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With the Future Voices competition in full swing, we thought it might help those new to writing interactive stories and trying out inklewriter for the first time to give a quick shopping list of ways you can use interactivity in a story to powerful effect.
None of these ideas are new, and not all of them will suit every project. But maybe some will tickle your imagination! So without further ado, let the countdown commence!
inkle on tour!
It's been a pretty busy week. First up, we were at Magna Science Centre is Sheffield on Day 1 of the Games Britannia festival, aimed at introducing UK school-children to the art and business of making computer games. We ran a one-day workshop on inklewriter alongside industry legend Ian Livingstone, who helped the kids to plan their stories, which they then got up and running with our tool.
inklewriter has been up for about a month now. George Osborne's been using it. indiegames.com used the words "joy" and "magic". And in a couple of days, we'll be at Games Brittannia with Ian Livingstone helping a team of schoolkids get their own interactive stories up and running (and I'll be having teacher-flashbacks).
So now it's your turn to get involved. Yes, you. You like writing, don't you? That's why you're reading this. Well, here's your chance to write something and get it read by industry professionals. And if it's in the top 10 best short stories we receive before the 15th of September, it'll be published, worldwide, in our Future Voices inklebook.
That's right: inkle is hosting a competition for writers, new and established, old and young, ferocious and funny. There's even a gentle cash prize to tickle under your nose, in case fame isn't enough.
Read his Levenson enquiry story here, before we get sued.
Yesterday we turned on conditional logic in inklewriter. That's a big load of extra functionality, that lets you write stories that remember what the reader chose and did, and then use that to alter what happens later on in the story.
To demonstrate the functionality - and test it works! - we wrote a short example; a retelling of the opening of The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It's quite a short thing to play-through - have a look - but it uses a surprising amount of logic to keep the text smooth. This post gives a little detail about how it works.
Two goodies from inkle today: first up, the video of a talk we gave at BookNet Canada's technology forum in March is now online.
It's about 45 mins long, and I was a bit jet-lagged when doing it, but it's a nice little overview of our ideas about game design, and how games tie up with books and digital experiences. It was also the first public showing of Frankenstein's look and concept. It's an extension of the talk we gave at the Futurebook conference last year, only longer, and with more jokes.
Secondly, we've launched the web-demo version of Dave Morris' Frankenstein, so those of you without iPhones and iPads can get a taste of what you're missing. Try it out on the Frankenstein page: just click the iPad to get started.
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.
Yesterday we finally hit the big red Go! button on inklewriter, our web-based tool for writing, play-testing and sharing interactive stories. We've been working on this for a few months now and been through a few iterations, from our earliest sketches on a coffee-shop notepad to the final version, which is now ready for you to try. So what are you waiting for?
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 metaphorOne 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!