Archive for March, 2010

Dateline Nov. 6, 2002: Reprint: Article on Nonlinear Storytelling by Michael St. Hippolyte

Tuesday, March 16th, 2010

Mr. St. Hippolyte was kind enough to allow us to reprint his article entitled “A Plot Beyond A Line: New Ways to Be Nonlinear”. The piece was first published it in 1995 and remains largely relevant to this day.

Of course, Alternate Reality Games (ARGs) are inherently nonlinear and unbounded. Playability, plot development, and character interaction are all critically affected by how one structures the overall game and by the specific focus given to the various elements of the game.

This article discusses a number of approaches to nonlinear story development. I’ve added limited annotations to point out examples and details relevant to ARGs.

A Plot Beyond A Line: New Ways to Be Nonlinear (Original [http://users.rcn.com/mash.interport/nonlin.html])

How do you tell an interactive story?

It sounds like a simple question: “How do you tell an interactive story?” But in reality it contains a deep philosophical contradiction. If being interactive has any meaning, then it must be that the person who is experiencing (viewing, listening to, playing, reading) the interactive story affects the way the story goes, and perhaps even the way it comes out. That’s what makes a story interactive. But to tell a story implies that you have a story to begin with. How do you tell a story when you do not and cannot know exactly what the story is in advance?

The starting point of a useful answer to this question, as any interactive storyteller would attest, is that there are limitations. Either you put limits on the viewer, or your story, or both.

You can limit the viewer of your interactive story to activities such as playing with gadgets and solving puzzles, which may entertain but do not advance the story: getting the bunny to hop by clicking on it, but not in a direction of your choosing. Such a narrative would be only marginally interactive. Or you can limit your story to the idea of a story, minus the details, with the viewer himself ultimately responsible for the story. Consider, for example, the excellent simulation of a village economy, SimCity: like L.A. in Dragnet, it has a million stories; only in SimCity none of the stories exist until you run the program and start developing real estate. The story you get may be long or short, poignant or pedantic; all SimCity guarantees is that the story will fit the SimCity model of urban development. SimCity is immensely entertaining and informative, as many good simulations are; but a simulation is not by itself a narrative.

There is, finally, a middle path, which is the one followed by most writers of interactive narratives. The author limits both the viewer and the story: the viewer to a finite set of choices, and the story to a finite set of outcomes. As we shall see, there are many ways that this can be done, but in all cases the limits are stringent.

Interactive stories being written today range from hypertext novels to text adventures to interactive multimedia titles. Any and all media are up for grabs; for the computer every medium is just another bit stream anyway. But for all these stories in all these media, the range of underlying narrative structures is rather condensed. A small number of interactive models, i.e., mechanisms for limiting the viewer’s choices and the story’s outcomes, account for most of the interactive stories published to date. Many more such models are possible, however, meaning that a vast world of creative opportunities has yet to be exploited. In fact, it has yet to be even charted.

If Columbus had not been equipped with a map that underestimated the diameter of the earth by half, he may never have set sail in a westerly direction. Whether the earth would have been better or worse is a question I will leave for others, but most explorers prefer to start a journey with as good a map as possible. The following links lead to a rough map of interactive storytelling, with the boundaries demarcated and the charted territory plotted out. And for the vast spaces yet to be explored, a few possibilities penciled in.

Conclusion

Interactive storytellers have gotten a lot of mileage from a small set of models. But many interactive stories will remain untold until new models come into being. Perhaps some of the models described above will do the job; perhaps not. The discussion is worthwhile even if the only result is to show that new models are possible; this is all it takes to drive the process of creative exploration forward. In any event, we shall soon see for ourselves the new breed of interactive story, whatever it looks like; the explorers are already out to sea, and they will not return with empty holds.

Copyright © 1995 by Michael St. Hippolyte. All rights reserved.

Dateline Nov. 5, 2002: Search4e: Unfiction interview with Lars Fontaine

Tuesday, March 16th, 2010

Spacebass had an absolutely hilarious interview with our boy Lars from True Crime Press posted at unfiction.com.

The interview, conducted on Monday by email and posted here, covers Heather’s boy toy assistant and how he relates to the office structure at TCP.

Lars sets a new standard for eloquence and insightfulness as he discusses the goings on at True Crime Press and offers a little peek into the people in Search4e.

I hope Lars sticks around. His perspective adds a gossipy element to the story and offers an inside look of what is in store for us. He’ll make a great mole and, if the promised picture arrives, I’m sure he’ll do his part to ensure the oft neglected gender in computer gaming remains ensconced in the mysterious search for Eb Sobian.

Dateline Nov. 5, 2002: In the Spirit of Push, Noah Boddy launches.

Tuesday, March 16th, 2010

According to Noah Boddy, the contest is real and there will be 6 winners, 6 Final Solutions, and 6 grand prizes. The story is new and geared toward the fans of Push, Nevada.

On the website, the PuppetMasters had the following statement:

From Noah Boddy’s Important Message [http://www.cyberthea.com/noahboddy/message.html]:

An Important Message from the ProducerAs you can see, the contest is officially underway with the update of NoahBoddy.com and the posting of our official rules (see the >Game Rules” link on the main site).

The contest IS REAL.

There will be:

6 winners
6 Final Solutions
6 Grand Prizes

We have been reading the posts and flames from the fans of Push, Nevada and elsewhere and we understand your concerns. The reason we have not had the official rules up and running was because only within the past 72 hours have they been completed.

It was our (myself and my small, unpaid but dedicated team) sincere hope that we would be able to run this Internet Experience under the auspices of LivePlanet, but legal difficulties have made such impossible. As such, a new company has been formed for the process of this Experience—an experience that we hope you will enjoy as we continue to experiment with the Internet and how it best can be used to bring entertainment to an audience.

As I said elsewhere, the experience of Push, Nevada was an inspiration for me; the chance to interact with its fans a revelation. I felt the audience deserved better than it received and that the show deserved a chance.

So while the show itself was cancelled and the final solution for its storyline forever left unanswered, this is what I could do for its audience—a new story, taking the strength of the Internet’s audience and giving them a chance to solve something new.

Something with more determination, with a sharper focus and a promise to deliver puzzles and hints and clues that are geared for the voracious Internet audience. No more concerns about ‘are we over thinking?’ We are going to do everything we can to make sure you are not even close to thinking hard enough.

You will notice that the Grand Prizes are to be disclosed later—there is a reason for that. We here at Noah Boddy Productions (the new company comprised, literally, of those that wanted to do this during their off hours) are still working on them. If you have gone through the trouble to solve them, you want something spectacular—and as this site was a spur of the moment decision on our part (although the story is actually one that we’ve wanted to tell for a while), we are still in the process of putting together the necessary pieces to give you Grand Prizes worthy of the time. We think you’re going to be happy.

And with that, the contest begins—yes, I know some of you are still going to be wary, and I understand why. This is an experiment for everyone—you and me. It may well fail. But I think if you stay with us and give this a chance, you’ll find the story a great one and the contests far more challenging.

I sincerely hope you will stick around. We are going to try something different—and we would love to see what you think of it. If the amount of email that’s flooded my account is any indication, you certainly WANT another, better puzzle. That’s what we intend to give you.

Sincerely, The Noah Boddy Team

P.S. Yes, Noah Boddy remains behind the screen for now. Your job is to find out who the Noah Boddy in the STORY is—but we promise, the real Noah Boddy will raise his or her neck before the final curtain.

Dateline Nov. 5, 2002: Aspen Cologne Sponsors $25,000 Treasure Hunt

Tuesday, March 16th, 2010

Aspen Cologne has created a twelve episode treasure hunt that you can play by yourself or with a friend. Along the way, you can collect prizes totaling $15,000 on your way to an ultimate prize of $10,000 and a trip to Aspen to collect it.

The game plays just like a classic adventure game complete with an inventory list and the quest for treasure. Along the way you can find free cologne, CDs, and outdoor apparel.

Earn points in a variety of ways and use those points during the hunt to help solve puzzles and overcome obstacles. An interesting twist is the ability to buddy up with one other person. You pool your points and compete together to navigate the flash-based world.

The game is free to play, requires Flash 6.0 or higher, and a screen resolution of 1024×768 or better. Start your hunt for buried treasure at aspencologne.com.