Interactive fiction has a time-honored tradition of turning boring ol’ books into video games (See: Hitchhiker’s Guide, Sorcery!, The Hobbit) but Ice-Bound Concordance [official site] might be the first I’m aware of to try and go the other direction and sell you one of those boring ol’ books.
Co-created by Aaron Reed, of Blue Lacuna fame (or fame within IF circles at least), Ice-Bound Concordance is one part video game and one part book, held together with a healthy dose of augmented reality glue.
The physical side is The Ice-Bound Compendium, an attractive $25 art book that seems heavily influenced by the weirder aspects of Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves, all stylistic bravado and words written in the margins and ridiculous form-follows-function layouts. One of the pages is at the top of this article.
And alongside? A video game, The Ice-Bound Concordance, driven at least in part by augmented reality. In this case, the camera is either your webcam or potentially your iPad and you hold pages of the book up to change in-game events. As they describe it, “Pages change via augmented reality when recognized, revealing secret information, while the player’s choice of which pages to view changes the ongoing story.”
I haven’t obtained a copy of the book yet but I did boot up the game portion and play it for a while last night. Apparently you can go through the first two chapters for free before it makes you buy the physical book. Here’s the gist:
“Kristopher Holmquist died an unknown, struggling to write stories in an unheated New York apartment. But years later, his work was discovered, gradually becoming incredibly popular. With millions of fans wondering how his final, unfinished novel would have ended, a clever publisher commissions an artificial intelligence ‘simulacrum’ of Holmquist, called KRIS, to find out.”
Your role as the player is to interact with KRIS and spool out the story. Or, at least, that’s how the game is set up. I have no idea how things progress as you get further. Most of my time’s been spent working on the opening bits of the story, directing two characters down into the icy depths of an Arctic research base. One of them already died. It’s grim.
You choose which aspects of the scenery are important for KRIS to focus on, at which point modular bits of story are spooled out for you to read. Don’t like how the story’s going? Change what KRIS thinks is important. It’s similar in a lot of ways to some older IF projects like Versu/Varytale, with a staggering number of branches even half an hour in.
The physical book is set up as “illicit” materials—”filled with Kris Holmquist’s personal files, unfinished chapters and alternate drafts, collages of research, and strange, distorted transmissions” which the game orders you not to show to the camera when you first start playing. And uh…I guess you’re going to disobey that order eventually.
It’s an interesting concept. After twenty-odd years underground, interactive fiction’s gone some daring places in the last few years and Ice-Bound Concordance is one of the most ambitious projects I’ve seen—I mean, they printed a real book. Fascinating.
My only worry? The website says the game is “only available until copies [of the Compendium] run out.” Which makes sense, but is a bit ominous if Ice-Bound Concordance finds an audience. I’d hate to see people unable to play because of tedious constraints like real-life supply-line woes.
Both the book and game are available starting January 21. And hey—the introductory bits of the game are free, so you might as well try it if you’re at all interested. You can find both on the Ice-Bound site.