Saturday, June 11, 2016

Ink and the Interface

The kids and I have been enjoying 2 app games from Inkle Studios: 80 Days and Sorcery.  80 Days is an homage to and adaptation of the Jules Verne classic novel Around the World in 80 Days.  Sorcery! is an adaptation of Steve Jackson's game book series from the 1980s, which creates a fun throughline from the print-based models to the pad/app models of today.

Sorcery's combat system

Both of these projects feature beautifully designed interfaces, running atop Inklestudios Ink scripting language (more on that soon). Take a look at the map interface from Sorcery!

Although these games feature gorgeous design from start to finish, what distinguishes these games from the current crop of interactive narratives is their animation between scenes. Basically, the transitions.  In 80 Days, when you move from location to location, you travel in lines across an iridescent globe, drawn from the cinematic tradition you might see in Casablanca or Raiders of the Lost Arc. In Sorcery!, you move as if a game piece on a topographical map from a table-top RPG.   Both of these visualizations evoke the mood and feel of their content -- but also create a sense of the visual immersion of what is otherwise a text-based app.

In fact, what Inklestudios seems to do best in these two games is to represent change in state, change and progress in location.

By contrast, the textual passages are inserted in book-like form, which keeps us in this book-lover's world.  In Sorcery!, the new locations appear as pages remediated from the game books.  In 80 Days, we get the fabulous steam-punk inflected narrative locations which pick up admirably from where Verne left off.  Following the model of its source material, the story segments in 80 Days are only loosely connected from location to location, such that it is clear they are contemporaneous and belong to the same story moment.  I must admit, though, that I found myself longing for some culmination of the steam punk world war that was being detailed in Europe.  But it drops off by the Americas, again, apropos of the model largely because at its heart 80 Days is a resource-management journey game.

80 Days dialogue/combat
Both games feature stores for purchase and interactions with NPCs.  For 80 Days the interaction is comprised of dialogue as Passapartout seeks info new routes.  For Sorcery! the interaction is a fairly straight-forward combat system based on rounds.

These two pieces once reminded us of the power of interface, even if the underlying game play is the same.  Consider how similar Choice of Games or unformatted Twine games can feel.  It reminds me of how similar board games can be (how many monopolies...).  I wouldn't go so far as to say these games only differ in their skin, but that their visual structure creates a perception of greater difference.

 I suspect player expectations (and certainly the reviewers) will only increase their desire for more fabulous interfaces.

Inkle Studios is Jon Ingold, Joseph Humfrey, Tom Kail, and Michael Whalen, and the kids and I look forward to what they create next.

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