December 19, 2006

Interactive Dramas in Fashion

by Andrew Stern · , 4:40 am

We recently came across two quirky, independently-produced interactive dramas, each set at a fashion magazine, strangely enough.

The first is a visually minimal but relatively sophisticated choose-your-own-adventure -style story called Masq, written and programmed a few years ago by Javier Maldonado of Alteraction. The drama is presented in small comic-like panels, with a few dynamic menu choices below each. Playing through it a few times, I can sense the underlying structure is something akin to this, although probably a bit more complex. There’s also a bit autonomy in the presentation, where panels will occasionally advance on their own if you don’t take action.

While I’m fundamentally opposed to menu choices in interactive stories, nonetheless I enjoyed Masq, for its pulp fiction themes and minimal yet effective visuals. In many ways Maldonado’s design goals aren’t too different than ours, especially our vision for The Party; for example, the drama is presented in first-person POV, is easy to play, fast paced, targets an adult audience, and even has brief sex scenes. You can even play over the web, which is a good thing.

The second drama we recently came across actually bills itself as the world’s first interactive sitcom, intended to be Episode One of many. Supple is a new product from MTI Games, co-founded by AI developer Glenn Abrett, actually whom I briefly met about 10 years ago when I was working on Petz. In Supple you take on the character of Arin Costello who works at a fashion magazine; the story

is all about relationships, shopping, money and getting ahead at work. In Supple, the characters really speak, the dialog is a lot of fun, and the game is like nothing you have played before. Help Arin get promoted… keep her from getting fired!

A Sims-like AI, whose state is presented to you in an array of obscure bar graphs of the bottom of the screen, is modulated by the menu-based actions you take, which sadly are very limited. Unlike Masq, which builds upon tried-and-true branching story techniques and is easy to play, Supple is a more ambitious system, and unfortunately not easy or fun to play. The pacing is sluggish, the premise mediocre, the animation and interface clunky. Perhaps they’ll make the play experience a bit more supple in episode 2.

Update: writing this post reminded me to check up on the status of Cecropia’s interactive comedy project, The Act. Looks like they’ve finished it, and are playtesting it in bowling alleys and bar-n-grills in the Boston area! Sort of a Dragon’s Lair meets Tempest kind of thing, from what I can tell.

From the Cecropia site:

The Cecropia Difference: Video games for “the rest of us” – Cecropia appeals to a huge, under-served market that doesn’t like action, sports and driving games, or complex play mechanisms. They want games with broad appeal and simple controls. Cecropia offers the rich content, satisfying story lines, and winning characters you’d expect from feature films, books and TV.

Appeal for the broadest demographic – Cecropia’s first title, The Act, has wide demographic appeal among men and women aged 15 to 45 in major cities. That’s 43% of the U.S. population – about 126 million people.

Any GTxA readers in Boston, please go check it out and report back for us!