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Review: Hana Feels by Gavin Inglis

Review: Hana Feels by Gavin Inglis

Hana Feels by Gavin Inglis
Interactive story / Twine game
2015


I’m always anxious about reading fiction about depression. There’s a tendency towards romanticising mental illness – or at least the ‘pretty’ side of mental illness – that rubs me the wrong way. Fortunately, Hana Feels might be about depression, but it is not romanticised.

Hana Feels is an interactive storygame centred around the eponymous character, Hana, and her struggle with depression. However, we don’t play as Hana, but rather the characters she interacts with, including her best friend, Jen, her boss, Christine, and a helpline volunteer named Will. Their reactions decide what path she will follow, either helping her recovery or making her worse.

There are three possible endings to the game: better, the same, or worse. Obviously, it’s not exactly true to life – recovery from mental illness isn’t linear in any way – but Inglis manages to capture a version of reality with these endings. There isn’t an ending where everything ends up hunky-dory. She’s not going to walk away suddenly cured, which is a relief for those readers who have experience with mental illnesses.

The thing is, Hana Feels has two possible readers: those with experience, and those without. For the former, it’s a familiar story. Although no two people have the same journey, there are elements that most people experience: alienation from family members and friends; feelings of self-doubt and blame; disassociation from everyday experiences and so on. In its way, Hana Feels is a mirror, and it hits home.

But for those readers who have never experienced mental illness, or have only ever watched from afar? For them, Hana Feels becomes something more like a manual. On my first playthrough, I got frustrated with how similar the options were – what does it matter if you ask someone’s name before you ask them how they are? It wasn’t until my second and third playthrough that I understood better: every word mattered when trying to help someone else, and they especially mattered when a single misstep could cause irreparable harm. It was uncomfortable and stressful and exactly what it’s like in real life – and that’s why Hana Feels is a great storygame.

I won’t say it’s perfect. There are moments where the dialogue doesn’t quite mesh perfectly, or where the reactions are too limited for there to be a satisfying option. But that in itself is quite clever: after all, we’re not reacting as we would, but rather exploring how the characters themselves might choose. It’s shorter than I’d like, and once you’ve figured out the right options to pick the game ends a little abruptly, but overall Inglis manages to draw us into the world successfully – uncomfortably, awkwardly, but certainly successfully.

Built in Twine 2.0, Hana Feels is sort of the quintessential storygame: limited interactions allow for different possible conclusions. For those used to interactive fiction, it is somewhat predictable, but that doesn’t detract from its enjoyability – rather, the comfort of the familiarity is a perfect offset to the discomfort of the topic. It’s free to play, only takes about fifteen minutes to get through, and is something I’d definitely recommend giving a go.

Read more about the project on Gavin Ingis’s blog.

Review: The Domovoi by Kevin Snow

Review: The Domovoi by Kevin Snow

The Domovoi by Kevin Snow
Twine game / Hypertext
2014


The Domovoi is one of two games created by Kevin Snow and available on his Bravemule website, with a third being created and funded by Kickstarter. The Domovoi draws its inspiration from a mythical creature of Slavic origins. Whilst at first jarring, what came from subsequent playthroughs was a deeper understanding and interest in this myth, undoubtedly Snow’s aim.

Upon opening the game, the first noticeable thing is the atmosphere. The Domovoi employs minimalistic illustrations and ambient sounds to create a cold, lifeless world. Couple this with Snow’s bleak narrative style, The Domovoi can end up being a dark affair. It is a rich and bitter piece that cannot help but immerse you in its world, even if it is relatively short.

Sitting down and playing this story to see all it has to offer takes just under an hour. Each subsequent playthrough remained fresh in my mind and made it easy to remember what choices I had previously chosen; the work returns you to exactly where you started – a small candle lit paragraph giving some exposition to the narrative and myth.

You are a traveller who has been offered sanctuary at the house of a storyteller and, to pass the time, you help them craft a new yarn. This yarn is the tale of a domovoi: a fantasy Slavic creature that tends to the house of its master. The storyteller offers you choices for the domovoi to make and this leads down a narrow narrative path. Whether this limitation is intentional or not, it helps develop the feeling that the storyteller has their own agenda for this tale.

You can choose, however, to weave your own story. At a few places, you can derail it and inject your own ideas, causing some aggravation from the storyteller. These little moments add some comedic relief from the sombre tone of the narrative. If you derail the story too much, it ends in the player being kicked out of the storyteller’s house, becoming one of three possible endings.

Perhaps The Domovoi’s biggest shortcoming is its length. The piece works well as an introduction to this Slavic myth, but an introduction it remains. Snow had the opportunity to delve into a rich area of mythology and serve as a piece to not only entertain, but to also educate those unfamiliar. Furthermore, the interesting dynamic between you, the player, and the character who you are helping create a tale could have been explored further, but it is left relatively under-developed.

All in all, The Domovoi has the potential to be something more by exploring Slavic mythology and player/narrator relationship more. That being said, however, it remains an intriguing and brilliantly bleak short story – whichever way you decide to play it – that is worth your time to visit.

You can find The Domovoi and Kevin Snow’s other projects on the Bravemule website where you can play for free, or pay what you want.

Digital Fiction Resources

Digital Fiction Resources

Updated 25 September 2018.

Note: My series on Writing Digital Fiction is also a useful (more in-depth) resource.

Quicklinks:

What is Digital Fiction?

Digital fiction (DF) as we understand it here at Wonderbox is:

Fictional stories that are written and read on digital devices, using some element of digital interactivity or expression (e.g., links, multimedia, gameplay). DF stories would lose something – or everything – if they were expressed in print form only.

For more thorough (and scholarly) overviews of what digital fiction is, have a look at the [S]creed for Digital Fiction, and Reading Digital Fiction’s overview.

Examples of DF include (but are definitely not limited to!) interactive fiction, text adventure games, hypertexts, Flash fictions (the ones built in Adobe Flash), multimedia fiction, mobile story apps, enhanced books, and more. We review a lot of these across a breadth of styles and platforms here on Wonderbox.

Writing Digital Fiction

(Previously posted on the Reading Digital Fiction website.)

Digital writers have historically used a lot of different platforms, often proprietary software that was both expensive, and repurposed for digital fiction. Luckily, a lot has changed as digital fiction has grown in popularity, and there are now a number of really great, inexpensive/free/open-source, built-for-purpose platforms for burgeoning digital writers to choose from.

The first step is always to check out existing digital fictions (start with our suggestions for readers and reading groups, and also review those collected at the Electronic Literature Collection and the Interactive Fiction Database), to get familiar with how digital fiction works, and be inspired by the different styles and genres you can write in.

Twine

free | open source | browser-based | HTML/JavaScript-based | platform independent

If you are new to creating interactive texts, programs, or websites, it’s best to start simple. Twine, an open-source platform for creating hypertexts (called “Twine games”), is an excellent tool. You can build a Twine game in just a few minutes, and there is a fantastic community posting tutorials and sharing mods. The great thing about it is that as your skills advance, so does Twine; it can be adapted to work with conditionals, JavaScript, CSS, and html.

It’s worth noting that game developers often use Twine, or Twine-like environments, as planning and organizational tools for their game design. Even if you choose to go on to other platforms, Twine’s easy-to-use, visual mapping space can be a valuable tool for digital writing.

Twine resources:

Texture

free | open source | browser-based | HTML/JavaScript-based | platform independent

Texture is a more recently developed platform, but it is already showing promise. Texture provides a WYSIWYG platform to create interactive narratives. Check out some of the Texture stories already written, and write/publish your own.

ChoiceScript

free | open source | browser-based | HTML/JavaScript-based | platform independent

ChoiceScript is the platform used for Choice of Games fictions, and is freely available. If you enjoy CoG, or “multiple-choice games”, this is a good option.

InkleWriter

InkleWriter creates interactive stories in a scrolling visual that mimics the look of book pages, a nice crossover between interactivity and print-based stories.

Unfortunately, Inklewriter announced it would be shutting down in August 2018.

Inform7 & TADS

free | open source | download | parser-based | interpreter required | platform independent

On the purely text-based front of interactive fiction (a.k.a. text-adventure games) is Inform7 and TADS. Through these platforms, you can create parser-based interactive fictions in the mode of the old commercial games of the 1980s (think Zork or Colossal Cave Adventure). The form has turned to more of a literary bent in recent years, and experienced a resurgence.

Inform7 resources:

Adrift

free | Windows-only | parser-based | interpreter required

Adrift is another interactive fiction/text adventure game tool. It is unfortunately Windows-only, but the benefit is that it is menu-driven rather than requiring you to learn a new coding language.

Quest

free | browser-based/Windows | parser-based | HTML output

Quest allows you to create interactive fictions of the Inform7/TADS style, but without the need to learn the specific coding language.

Ren’Py & Novelty

free | open source | download | Python-based | platform independent

Ren’Py and Novelty are Python-based visual novel engines. Both are free, and both offer large libraries of VNs to explore, as well as extensive tutorials on how to make them. VNs are more popular in the East Asian market than in the West, as you’ll see from the visual style, but that popularity means they have been around for a while longer, and have more examples and tutorials than some of the other engines.

Fungus

free | open source | download | Unity 3D-based | platform independent

Fungus is a Unity 3D-based, free open-source platform that allows you to create visual novels, interactive fiction, educational games, and point-and-click stories and games. It requires no coding, though “power users can use Lua scripting to tackle bigger storytelling projects”, according to Fungus. There are plenty of online documentation and tutorials, too.

Gamemaker

$39USD+ | download | Mac/Windows

Obviously, judging from its name, Gamemaker is focused on making games. But many games, like walking sims and point-and-clicks, can easily be classified as digital fiction. So if you’re into more visual, game-like stories, give Gamemaker a go.

Massive List of Game Engines

Someone kindly put together this Google Spreadsheet “Another Interactive Fiction Engine List“, which includes many, many more options for creating digital fiction as well as notes on their forms and features. Note: I don’t maintain this list, and the “Last Updated” column is not up-to-date, so some or many of these entries may be obsolete.

Adobe Animate CC (formerly Flash)

£19.97/mo+ | download | MaclWindows

Flash was created as a general-purpose multimedia tool, and as such it’s A) expensive, and B) really robust (although finicky). You pay a lot for it, but you also get a lot (probably more than most digital writers need, given its wide range of uses, from multimedia websites to Flash games). A lot of digital fiction has been created on Flash, and some of the…er…”flashier” works use it well.

The limitations of Flash, of course, are well-known, as Flash has had a rocky relationship with mobile devices.

HTML-CSS-JavaScript

Because of the controversy and difficulties with Flash and mobile devices, a lot of digital writers shifted to HTML (and later, HTML5) in the early 2010s. With new attributes and potential for dynamic websites, HTML5, used in conjunction with CSS and JavaScript, enables digital writers to create fictions that work across all devices, with a minimum of adjustment between them. Clearly, working in these “pure” code-based environments requires some digital expertise, but once mastered, they offer a strong foundation for the digital writer to implement a wide array of digital fictions, from web-based dynamic texts to stand-alone mobile apps.

And finally, don’t forget the e-Book

Remember, e-Books have hypertext functionality! Using tools like Sigil and Calibre, enterprising digital writers can create hypertexts that can be enjoyed on any device, and sold through all major e-book sellers (including Amazon and the iBookstore). Our Hyperbooks project has started down this route in order to explore the commercialization potential of digital fiction and hypertexts, and we welcome all digital writers to join us!

Have other platforms or tools you like or that you built? Comment on this post with them and we’ll add them to the page.

Reading Digital Fiction

Resources for Reading DF (includes links to some great introductory DFs)

Resources for Reading Groups

Where to find DF:

Have suggestions for resources? Comment on this post with them, and we can update the page.

Updated 25 September 2018.

Review: 80 Days by Inkle

Review: 80 Days by Inkle

"80 Days" by Inkle

80 Days
by Inkle
Digital Fiction – App & Steam Game
​2014


80 Days is loosely based on Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days as it has us take the role of Passepartout escorting his master, Monsieur Phileas Fogg, around a very steampunky 1872. It plays out like an interactive novel come board game and is available on iOS, Android and Steam.

I have never read the original text from what this game is based upon, but that doesn’t take away from the charm of the piece. The game features a very stylised, silhouette graphic style, accompanied by a beautiful score and atmospheric sound effects to indulge you in this fantastical adventure.

The game, much like the premise of the book, is focussed on Fogg’s bet: an eighty-day journey to circle the globe. This bet, then, requires a strict itinerary, budget, managing your master’s health and the ability to manage one’s time. Whilst it is not the most complex of systems to understand, it can be unforgiving. On one occasion, I was forced to beg on the streets in South America due to mismanaging money and resulted in four days wasted which added to the ninety-eight-day journey.

All the style and management mechanics accompany a wide and varied narrative with a quality of writing akin to its visuals and sound design. No one playthrough is wholly the same as the last, for the number of branching paths (visualised as actual roads to different cities) is astounding. In one playthrough I found myself leading a mutiny on a ship and in the next rugby tackling Jesse James to the floor of a train after he stole £3000 from my person.

Meg Jaynath’s writing has you assume the role of Passepartout. He is front and centre of the narrative as the story is told through his memoir-like writings which make for a charming and witty read. During the text aspects of the game, you are often given the choice of two or three musings and Passepartout will then ‘write’ further.

Meg’s writing also allows you to play him how you see fit: a proud Frenchman devoted to the service of his master, a wary traveller who despises the company of Fogg – just to name two avenues of ‘playing’ your Passepartout. In turn, this adds to the replayability of the game by giving you different types of person to assume along with the different routes of travel.

Each trip around the world takes around two hours and not once was I left feeling that it was wasted time as I explored new and varied narrative paths. Trip after trip, the world seems to flesh itself out more. Different interactions with different individuals will add new details, conflicting ideologies or confirmation of what you previously understood about the 80 Days world. The game’s addictive nature for another adventure, and the way that it is written negate the need for extensive exposition dumps which 80 Days could have easily fallen into.

This addictive narrative and gameplay has led me on four journeys thus far, and I have yet to truly ‘complete’ this piece. In these four journeys, the closest I have come to winning the bet was eighty-two days. This frustration, and eagerness to ‘win’, drive me to start the thing all over again, resulting in another fresh experience.

This piece of digital fiction is the age-old idiom of “It’s the journey that matters and not the destination” personified. There is the possibility that you will never win the bet but the journey around the world and the stories that unfurl are the real prize. This is the strength of 80 Days and why I recommend it so highly.

Review: Adam Cadre’s 9:05

Review: Adam Cadre’s 9:05

9:05
by Adam Cadre
Interactive Fiction / Text Adventure
​2000


9:05 is the third interactive fiction published by Adam Cadre. It is, in his words, “a standard intro-to-IF piece” and the public opinion seems to be the same. If you’re looking for a way into interactive fiction, take this path.

9:05 harkens back to days where games like Zork were all the rage, complete with all the fun (read: frustration) of unrecognised verbs and pedantic wording. It may be quite a short game with maybe 10 minutes for your first playthrough (depending how fast you pick up on how to phrase your commands) but the multi-ending nature of it means you can play it over again.

The narrative of 9:05 places you in a bedroom, being awoken by the phone ringing. You are informed you’ve slept in too late, and given a description of the room you’re in. What a typical situation. You’re late for work, which might quell your enthusiasm to continue reading. But trust me on this one and bear with it.

You must answer the phone, and you can look around the room before cleaning yourself up and getting out of the house. Whilst in the house, there’s little you can do to affect the ending but looking around gets more story details and helps you to understand some of the endings.

Once you leave the house, however, you’re given a bit more freedom – you can choose to take certain exits on the freeway, etc. This does mean, though, that you tend to rush through the inside of the house on replays because you already know what you’re doing, and there is certainly room for more branches adding from the very beginning.

Those who tend towards impatience will often find themselves barely skimming the descriptive text and thus missing clues as to the ending they’re heading towards. Even though the sentences are stripped down to the bare bones of description, the game tends to repeat itself or you’re scanning just for the information you need right then (especially when you forget if the bathroom is to the north or south).

Cadre has almost no voice in this piece (only when telling you it’s probably a good idea to go through the tutorial first) but it’s clear he’s used to creating these interactive fictions (IFs) (no mistakes in there still being a Pop-Tart on the counter after you’ve eaten it).

One of the best things about 9:05 is the community that surrounds it. Though you can’t interact or view others’ results, it’s such a popular and well-circulated game that almost anyone you encounter who’s dabbled in IF will know what you’re talking about. Then there’s that shared smugness of knowing about the game’s secrets versus those people who haven’t read it before or gave up because the late for work trope put them off.

For all that 9:05 can put you off initially with the complicated commands and run-of-the-mill storyline, it’s not what you expect it to be. Cadre certainly knows how to put a twist in the tale and divert a reader’s expectations.

In short, if you haven’t already – whether you’re new to interactive fiction or not – try 9:05. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

You can find 9:05 and Adam Cadre’s other works at http://adamcadre.ac/if.html.