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!

14 Responses to “Interactive Dramas in Fashion”


  1. Darius K. Says:

    I’ve played The Act at Lanes and Games here in Boston. The first thing I noted was that it’s a great spectator game: one woman I was with, who is not the least bit interested in video games, was mesmerized watching me play. This is largely because the animation is superb–I was playing a humorous minigame where I attempted to seduce a beautiful woman, and she could watch me become more and more forward and yell, “No, go back, go back!”

    It was one of the most satisfying experiences I’ve ever had in an arcade, from the point of view of feeling like I was doing something WITH my friends, even though they weren’t playing. And I laughed more than I have at any video game since Psychonauts, or maybe even Monkey Island 3. But again, it was intensely SOCIAL play, even though it was single-player. Truly worth trying out!

  2. Patrick Says:

    I wonder how that game was financed.

  3. andrew Says:

    I’m not 100% sure, but I think the head of the project was the primary investor.

    From the visuals, it looks pretty slick — ex-Disney 2D animators, old school. I was working in Boston at Zoesis while The Act was in early production, I know a few people who worked on it. I’m very curious exactly what the dial-interface is. It’s currently planned to be released as an arcade-style title; I don’t know if or when it will be ported to PC’s or consoles.

  4. Darius K. Says:

    Andrew,

    The dial interface is in fact a dial, the kind of thing you see on light dimmers. However, it feels and responds to very slight movements, so while it’s only a one-dimensional input, it has a great deal of analog sensitivity along the axis. It is similar in feel to a trackball in both heft and accuracy.

    I’ll describe interaction with the humorous seduction scene, which is the first scene in The Act. Your character is on the left side of the screen, sitting down. The sexy gal is on the right side of the screen, at the bar. You start by moving the dial clockwise, conventionally speaking “toward” the gal. As you move the dial toward her, you move both physically closer and become more aggressive in hitting on her. If you move to far, you start to do humorous things like hump your crotch in the air–the skill involved is mostly in reading the expression on the gal’s face as it turns from interest/amusement to horror, and literally “dialing back” your approach.

    It sounds simple, but it’s really amusing and engaging.

  5. michael Says:

    I share Andrew’s disappointment with Supple. When I first heard about it (we actually heard about it through Jonathan Rauch, the guy who wrote The Atlantic Monthly article), I was pretty excited to see what someone else was doing in this space. But the control system is awkward, it feels very slow to make your character do anything (you often have to wait for animations to finish playing before the next action begins), and it was difficult to predict the effects actions would have (even though the feedback was clear in the sense that you directly see different trait numbers go up and down, it was difficult for me to follow the logic of why certain actions led to certain trait value changes). I am very happy to see that other people are exploring the space of relationship games, and am curious to see how the episodic approach works for them as a business model. Perhaps episode 2 will work out some of the design kinks.

  6. Radek Smektala Says:

    I was – scratch that, am – impressed with Masq. The level of control over the story is astounding (ora at leas seems to be), and I would be hard pressed to find a situation in which the choice I want to make is not presented. Alas, the executable won’t run on my computer. Did anyone had the same problem, and if so, any ideas on solution?

  7. andrew Says:

    Hi Radek, the exsecutable worked for me — note you have to be online to play, even with the executable.

    I would be hard pressed to find a situation in which the choice I want to make is not presented

    I wouldn’t; three or four choices of what to say feels very limited, to me. In the near future, I’ll be starting a thread about language interfaces for interactive stories (Part 3 of a series), and will say more.

  8. Radek Smektala Says:

    Andrew,

    I’m not sure how much of a chat is allowed in the comments section, so forgive me if it’s not appropriate. Still, Javier managed to find a moment to answer, and apparently, there is a deeper problem (I’m constantly on-line) that more people seem to have, yet can’t be solved. One way or another, I’m anxiously awaiting your article – this is a subject I’d love to discuss.

  9. Ouroboros Says:

    I have yet to play either of these (I do intend to), but my immediate reaction is to note the formal similarity to the visual novel or dating simulation genre of computer/console games.

  10. Glenn Abrett Says:

    Hey Andrew,

    You didn’t really play SUPPLE. Of course very few males over 30 like the game but pretty much EVERY 13 year old girl on the planet loves it. Do you have a daughter? Show it to her — sure she will have a far more positive reaction and will show you how to play.

    We have offers from everywhere but are selling so many from our site using nothing but google adwords that we are probably going to remain independent.

    Play First, the publisher of the all time best-selling downloadable game Diner Dash, has been chasing us like you wouldn’t believe. They playtested the game and it came out the highest rated they ever tested — including diner dash.

    But anyway you, like many adults, especially those over thirty and especially male, missed the whole thing.

    It is a strategy game, different than any other. It fits together. It seduces you. The dialog (of which there is tons and tons) makes coherent sense and, unlike any other game, is an integral part of the game. There are few choices in the beginning, but as the game progresses more and more choices become available.

    We cannot figure out how to make the game obvious to grown-ups — it is our biggest failing and our biggest headache — having every thirteen year old girl on the planet love your game is great, but majority lack credit cards. We get, literally, a thousand emails a day from young ladies telling us how much they love the game but they can’t buy it cause they don’t have a credit card.

    Anyway, give it another try — perhaps you will see what is really there.

    Best,

    Glenn

  11. andrew Says:

    I played Supple for about an hour, giving it an honest try, because I really want to see projects like this get made, and succeed. I’m excited to see you and others experimenting with interactive story, especially AI-based ones. I still stand by my criticisms of it, and hope future versions of it improve on some of those issues.

    Great to hear that you’re getting positive feedback from a younger market; it wouldn’t be the first time that my take on something differs from others. ;-)

    Have you thought about building ads into the game, so that you make revenue without needing to charge players?

  12. Grand Text Auto » What Do Non-Gamers Want? Says:

    [...] 1; game interfaces, such as color-based mood choosers. An example is (the to-be-released) Cecropia’s The Act, where the player, in a series of mini-games p [...]

  13. Grand Text Auto » Updates on the Pursuit of Interactive Story Says:

    [...] r Maldonado’s posting of a collection of material about his intentions and plans for Masq. I found this material very interesting since it overlaps a great [...]

  14. Keith Nemitz Says:

    I’m going to have to claim the first interactive sit-com. ‘The Witch’s Yarn’ was released in Dec, 2005. Looks like I’d better take it up with MTI games…

    be seeing you :-)

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