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fer
04-02-2012, 01:54 PM
Back when Digital: A love story (http://scoutshonour.com/digital/) came out, I was so enchanted by it that I downloaded Ren'Py (http://renpy.org/) and seriously considered taking an extended break from writing ArmA2 missions in favour of trying to cobble together a work of interactive fiction (the Folk sessions (http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/forums/showthread.php?2540-README-Folk-Sessions-%28Sundays%29) put paid to that idea).

Digital really blew me away. On reflection, I think it's because it used a variety of techniques and clever cultural references to transport me back to a time when most of a game's world was implied rather than supplied. In terms of actual gameplay, Aliens on the ZX Spectrum 48k may not have been too far beyond a Game & Watch (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Game_%26_Watch) device; but if the 2D visuals, 8bit sounds and fold-out isometric map on real paper only took you so far, the imaginations of young boys (and girls) at the controls did the rest. Novels still exist in a televisual world, in part, because readers' imaginations are still the best casters, cinematographers and directors. For a player coming, these days, almost exclusively from the simulation-oriented ArmaAverse, hacking the Gibson was a wonderful reminder of how the route towards greater engagement doesn't necessarily need to be traversed with more of everything.

When Don't take it personally, babe, it just ain't your story (http://scoutshonour.com/donttakeitpersonallybabeitjustaintyourstory/) was released, I put everything aside to play it as soon as possible. However, this time I found the experience nowhere near as engaging as Digital. In part it was the storyline: I'm in my late 30s now, and a parent, so it was an uncomfortable experience dealing with a plot that focuses so much on behaviour that is morally and legally wrong - though that's not to say creatives should shy away from confronting their public with challenging subjects, and I salute Love's bravery here. A second challenge I had was with the characters and the bubblegum nature of the dialogue: the stylised ramblings and outbursts of the teenagers perfectly matched the Anime illustration, but perhaps it was all too fully realised (side note: I also found at least one of the sub-plots about a character swapping partners rather hard to believe). Though I like plenty of Anime, in Don't take it personally... I felt as if the style overwhelmed the story. Overall, the balance between implied and supplied had shifted, and here was a world that was rendered in much more detail, and colour, than its predecessor, and you were just going to have to take or leave it as it was. It just wasn't your story, babe. Except for the part where you needed to keep clicking to progress.

Which brings me to Analogue: A hate story (http://ahatestory.com/). I didn't bother with the demo and bought the game outright just on the strength of Christine Love's previous work. I played it through on two consecutive evenings, although I haven't gone back to explore the other endings - and I'm undecided about whether to devote time to do that.

Analogue is definitely closer to Digital in structure and gameplay, and at its heart it has an engaging story. However, the nature of Love's storytelling is one of retrieval and restoration: as a player you are essentially collecting scattered pages and gradually re-assembling a story. One of Love's skills is in writing a story that forces you to constantly reconsider your view of events and characters with each new installment. So far, so much like Digital: each cache of pages (in the game these are diary entries from a huge range of different characters) gives rise to a puzzle or challenge that you must address in order to unlock another cache. I particularly enjoyed the challenge that employed a DOS-box like set of commands, perhaps because it was the most overtly game-like, whereas some of the other challenges are really just conversation trees with the 'gatekeeper' interactive characters.

It's with these characters - the ones with which you get to converse - that I really struggled. This part of the Analogue is much closer to Don't take it personally..., and for me the issue of style arose once more. If you bulk buy geek/otaku sub-cultures (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Otaku#See_also), perhaps you won't struggle with this part of the game at all; but I found it tougher to deal with. A lazily harsh (and unfair) way to describe Analogue is that it's like reading a long document, but using a text editor where you periodically have to deal with a scroll-bar that is by turns sulky and flirtatious but always demanding of attention: yes, there is a lot of interaction, but for much of the time I felt again like this wasn't my story, except for the part about clicking to progress.

However, to be fair, Love describes Analogue as a dark visual novel on the page where you buy it (http://ahatestory.com/). I don't rage at Dickens or Pynchon for the fact that I can't change the story in their novels, and I'm grateful to Love for providing a degree of non-linearity. I just hope that the next work puts Love's storytelling even further to the fore, and gives the giggling doe-eyed girl illustrations and dialogue a rest.

But that's just me, comrades. What did everyone else think?

soldant
04-02-2012, 02:18 PM
I can't play Analogue. All the anime stuff just alienates me and I switch off. There might be a good story in there, there might not. I'm not going to find out because the anime style is like a huge brick wall which I have absolutely no desire to scale.

But I did play Digital. I found it a lot better than I initially expected, but honestly I think I enjoyed it more because of the "game world" instead of the actual storyline. I really like those kind of games which go that extra mile to bring you into the game world. Uplink for example was a lot better because the game's interface was designed around having a remote desktop session, which made a lot more sense for the game and improved the immersion. I think Digital did that part really well; the modem screeching, the list of numbers, the BBS messages including ridiculous arguments, the trading of knowledge, the fragmented yet still connected world before the Internet was popular... Digital did that really well.

But I didn't get sucked into the story too much. To be honest for most of it I didn't really care too much what was going on, I just liked the effort that went into the game's simulated GUI. The whole AI thing just didn't do it for me. Also, at the end of the day, Digital was just a click-through game, which seems to be getting far too popular in the "indie art" scene, where there's no actual gameplay or challenge, just the demand to click through a bunch of screens until you reach the end. Digital did a decent job at disguising that with its simulated GUI (whereas others might as well be a PowerPoint presentation).

Vexing Vision
04-02-2012, 02:23 PM
I never liked Digital. I actually grew up back in the days of Bulletinboardsystems, and I found the interface clunky and displeasing.

The story was interesting, but I felt very, very lost after being half-way through.

When It Ain't Your Story came out, I was skeptic. Interactive romance novels are not really my thing. But people (especially RPS) kept recommending me to try it, and eventually, I caved in. And was blown away by how utterly likable and relatable most of the characters were. I loved exploring their thoughts and their minds, and the boy-boy love-story made me genuinely grin when both finally acknowledged it on their "facebook"-like page. It was a moment of genuine heartfelt happiness, and that's the point I fell in love with Love's writing.

I also bought Analogue without a second thought. That woman deserves money and recognition for being a damn good writer.

However, unlike It Ain't Your Story, I can't feel for any of the characters. I have no human interest in either of the two AIs at all, and of all the tons of (very well realized) characters you learn about, the only one I found myself caring for was the beginning of the Pale Bride.

It's dark, it's entertaining and if you liked Love's writing before, you should buy this - but I'm missing the heartfelt moments, the characters I begin to like. I played the game like the introduction suggests - learning, finding out what happened, clinically analyzing facts. And that was enjoyable. But it would have been so much more enjoyable if I had, at any one point, actually found any of the characters I learn about or interact with likable.