Bletchley Park, 1942. A component from the Bombe machine, used to decode intercepted German messages, has gone missing. One of the cryptographers is waiting to be interviewed, under direst suspicion. Is he stupid enough to have attempted treason? Or is he clever enough to get away?
Working on a new branching narrative project for inkle has crystallised in my head a problem I think I’ve often skirted around, but not ever pinned down before; and it’s a problem that sits right the heart of interactive narrative design.
The problem is this: if we’re tracking what the player chooses, and using that to alter how events play out, then how do we decide when to cause, and how do we decide when to affect?
There’s a conversation going on here – the reader says something, and the author says something back. The best interactive writing matches the author’s reply to the reader’s comment so perfectly it feels like there must be a human being inside the machine, typing furiously away.
But how do we decide who gets to hold the talking stick at any given moment?
Merry Christmas, and if you’ve just unwrapped a new game, here’s a sobering puppy-for-life type statistic which is urban legend in the games industry, and might even be true: the majority of console games are played once.
So what? you might think. Most books are read once, most DVDs are watched once, most Christmas cakes eaten once… But I don’t mean finished, I mean played. The majority of console games are opened, installed, booted up, played for a single session (possibly of several hours), then never booted up again. Even though games can afford tens of hours of entertainment; and even though games cost four times as much as books or films.
And that isn’t true of books, or DVDs, or Christmas cake. So why the difference? Is it just because people can get stuck on games?
I don’t think so. I think it’s deeper than that. In fact, I’m not sure there is a difference between the consumption pattern for a DVD, book or a game. I think instead that the difference is in what we mean by the word finished. (And, what is inkle going to do about it?)
Time to announce my new project:
Our first project, Frankenstein, is being published in association with award-winning London-based publiser Profile Books; and is being written by Dave Morris (author of Mirabilis) and Jamie Thomson, super-talented writers with a long history of gamebook work.