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Review: Mez Breeze Design & Bradfield Narrative Designs’ Inanimate Alice: Perpetual Nomads

Review: Mez Breeze Design & Bradfield Narrative Designs’ Inanimate Alice: Perpetual Nomads

Perpetual Nomads Screenshot

Inanimate Alice: Perpetual Nomads
by Mez Breeze Design and Bradfield Narrative Designs
2018
Virtual Reality Game


Inanimate Alice is a series of narrative shorts, originally starting as works of hypertext fiction but having since put a foot in the world of video games – not too unlike Alice herself. Starting in 2005, each episode of the series tends to revolve around Alice having a mildly unsettling adventure, and new instalment Perpetual Nomads is no deviation from this pattern.

Having woken up on a bus that immediately breaks down, Alice Field is tasked with finding a port to charge her phone from whilst being bothered by two new online “friends”. The main dialogue of the game is delivered by these “friends” persistently arguing over a conspiracy theory inside Alice’s phone, despite a potential player choice to refuse their friend requests.

The game is designed to be experienced in VR (although it’s also possible to play it on a regular PC) and having played both versions I recommend setting it up for VR if you have the means to do it. Even something as simple as waking up on the bus and hearing the sounds of the world emerging around you feels more real whilst wearing a VR headset, increasing immersion and as such making for a more enjoyable playthrough. However, if you’re only able to play a desktop version (or prone to motion sickness) then don’t be discouraged; it’s still an interesting narrative to explore.

In some previous instalments of the Inanimate Alice series, the narrative tended to be accompanied by a game element (such as collecting the Russian dolls in episode three); in Perpetual Nomads your main interaction is examining litter and graffiti to learn more about the world around you. You could potentially travel through the game without looking at any of the posters and other aspects of the environment, but you’d be missing out on the most interesting parts of the experience.

My only real qualm with Perpetual Nomads is Alice’s involvement in the Whispurring Nomads chat. More than half the time that Alice responds to a message from the other two characters, she types out an ENTIRE message only to erase it then type and send a completely different message. On some occasions she types out two whole messages and deletes both of them in turn before settling on something to say.

It’s obviously important to the narrative to explore Alice’s inner thoughts on the situation, and this is sassy dialogue that perhaps she wouldn’t necessarily say to another character, but when Alice’s inner thoughts are already portrayed through blue speech bubbles that pop up on screen there’s no reason these bubbles couldn’t be utilized alongside the narrow chat box, in my opinion. In turn, if Alice was to type out and erase maybe only one or two messages instead, that would make the temptation to be rude to her new “friends” in those instances seem more effective overall.

Otherwise, Inanimate Alice: Perpetual Nomads offers a unique storytelling experience, not only as a learning tool to teach children about the use of video games to convey narrative, but also as a narrative itself. Perpetual Nomads is a sub-adventure taking place between episode six and the as-yet unreleased episode seven, padding out a conspiracy around the use of oil in this world and those who control it. The open end and small twist taking place after the credits will increase your intrigued in the overarching narrative of Alice’s life and whet your appetite until episode seven arrives.

VR was viewed on the Oculus Rift System.

Review: Kate Pullinger’s Jellybone

Review: Kate Pullinger’s Jellybone

Jellybone Cover Image

Jellybone
by Kate Pullinger
2017
oolipo / App


For some unknown reason I am one of those people that you find sitting and waiting at bus stops, train stations, in between lectures and the like. Maybe it’s the universe conspiring against me, maybe it’s the public transport system but either way I spend a lot of time waiting around. And, being someone from a part of the country where you do not make eye contact, you avoid all interaction, just queue politely and check your watch frequently with a huff to state your displeasure of having to wait; it was an intriguing prospect when I heard about oolipo.

Oolipo is a new mobile storytelling platform launched in 2017, though it has been in the works since 2015. The creator, Bastei Lübbe (co-funded by Johannes Conrady and Ryan Mullins), saw the gap in the market and brought multimedia storytelling to smartphones, introducing a hybrid of digital storytelling on the go.

The first story I started with was Jellybone.

Florence Evans is a young woman in living at home with her father in London whilst working the daily grind of an unpaid internship. You are drawn in immediately to the story:

Jellybone Screenshot

There is also the background noise of a bustling street, further immersing you into the atmosphere of the narrative (it’s advised you use headphones for the optimum experience). But what Pullinger has managed to do is take this even further, utilising the platform to its full potential – including Instagram posts that Flo makes throughout her day on a ‘genuine’ account on Instagram. You can follow jellybone_flossie in real life, complete with hashtags and all.

Jellybone Screenshot

Then comes the clincher: the ghost messages. Messages she has received ever since she was young but largely ignored until now. Now they’re from Lana, her best friend who went missing and was presumed murdered.

This sets the whole narrative in motion, pulling you in as you try to figure out what’s going on, as you attempt to decipher the garbled voice messages (that you can listen to too!) and texts that are being received. Your phone pings and buzzes as Flo’s does in the story; we never see the main character but we see through her eyes, we experience her emotions. Pullinger has created personalities for the characters largely through how they interact via messages, how they communicate.

And that’s what the story is all about, right? How we communicate with each other, with ourselves and in this case: with the dead.

The story has a set path from start to finish. It isn’t a text in which you as the reader have the choice of where to go or what to do, but rather it attempts to let you experience in ‘real time’ what the character you’re following does. It blurs the lines between the two, attempting to combine them for a fully interactive experience.

Although what makes this truly successful is the attention to detail: the loading dots at the bottom of the page, the crack on the characters’ screen becomes a crack on yours, voice messages that you can play and stop at will. It brings it all together to produce an excellent piece of interactive storytelling.

Oolipo is still quite young, yet it has the backing of authors such as Kate Pullinger, Matt Thorne and Karrie Fransman, and also invites anyone to use the software and become a creator. In the future, it would be excellent to see an offline feature introduced as now you have to be connected to the internet to access content. Jellybone has been by far one of the most intriguing, enjoyable experiences I have had regarding and reading interactive fiction.

I urge you all to give it a shot and maybe even start creating.

Review: Michael Lutz’s My Father’s Long, Long Legs

Review: Michael Lutz’s My Father’s Long, Long Legs

screenshot

My Father’s Long, Long Legs
by Michael Lutz
2013
Hypertext / Twine Game


Players of My Father’s Long, Long Legs will probably never find a piece of hypertext more aptly described by the phrase “digging yourself a hole”.

This twine game, from Michael Lutz’s site Correlated Contents, explores the topic of an absent father in a rather peculiar way. You play as the eldest child, nameless like the other characters, identified only by their relevant roles: Father, Mother, Brother, Brother’s Friend, etc. Then through clicking hyperlinks to reveal more text, you burrow deeper into how the family is affected once the protagonist’s father begins digging in the basement of their home.

As you play the game, you learn little about the protagonist but much about her family. The first ‘choice’ you’re presented with is an option to learn more about your brother, mother or yourself (although, the latter only provides extra insight on the protagonist’s family situation and gender, as she’s later referred to as “young lady”).

The choices themselves are less about what dialogue the player accesses and more about what order it’s accessed in. The previously mentioned “Brother”, “Mother” and “Yourself” options must all be viewed to advance, but you can view them in whatever order you like. Similarly, to progress through the game, the player must click the link in the current passage to reveal the next passage.

As each passage is revealed the webpage becomes longer, revealing a daunting wall of text to the player. It’s easy then to imagine that you’ve done some digging yourself, buried deep in this black background, going deeper the more you read. Towards the end of the game’s first phase, you’re asked to make a real choice in My Father’s Long, Long Legs, but even this only results in a small dialogue change.

Then in phase two things get a little more interesting.

I categorise phase two by the change in background and how you read the text. In phase one, all the text you’ve read so far is still visible. You can scroll up and return to the beginning of the story, although it’s impossible to make any changes to your choices without restarting the game. However, in phase two each choice you make takes you to a new screen. Some screens are even repeated depending on which options you pick.

Not to mention, everything is black besides a small circle you control via mouse. This allows you to read the text underneath the circle, simulating a torch held by the protagonist. There are also audio elements, the sound of digging, and the humming of Johnny Cash’s “You Are My Sunshine” right at the end.

The player is now faced with choices again, heading in certain directions or performing other actions, trying to navigate the protagonist through the basement. I’ve completed the game a few times yet I struggle to discern whether specific choices take you to the ending quicker or not.

At times, the unsettling sound of digging in the background seems to become more loud or quiet depending on the choices taken. Perhaps this signals the player to follow their ears to reach the end, much like The Forest Temple in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina Of Time. Alternatively, it could be a certain number of choices that lead the player to the end, as they wander lost through the same few sets of decisions.

Overall, My Father’s Long, Long Legs is an engaging – and towards the end, frightening – piece of hypertext, lacking only in the branching paths so familiar to hypertext fiction. But despite the game only having one path, it’s a path well worth walking if you have twenty minutes to take in the scenery.