Have a read of Meanwhile: An Interactive Comic Book

Meanwhileheader

I’m a sucker for time travel shenanigans, which is good because Meanwhile: An Interactive Comic Book by Jason Shiga is packed with them. Meanwhile originally came out in traditional paper form back in 2010, and iOS in 2012, but last week it made itself at home on PC. It’s a choose your own adventure type deal about a boy and a scientist who’s built not one but three madcap inventions. Intricate time travel plots can be tricky enough to follow on their own, and at one point Meanwhile has you going back in time in another person’s memory in order to disable a doomsday machine (I think). I’ve had a play, and it’s lovely stuff.

It kicks off with a simple choice between vanilla and chocolate ice cream, but once you find the time machine things get… elaborate. The plot twists back on itself as you attempt to explore every option, with some panels that only make sense once you’ve seen others. It’s a puzzle almost as much as it is a story, further complicated by codes that you have to find to unlock all the abilities of that time machine and a memory-swapping helmet.

If it helps, there’s an option to look at all of the panels at once – but more useful/less spoilery is the button that takes you back to the last decision you made. It’s an invaluable tool for exploring the labyrinthine paths through the comic, as is the menu screen that lets you start from significant panels you’ve already reached.

There is a wrinkle though, and that’s the price. I’m wary of talking too much about value propositions, especially when it comes to something novel like this, but £7.19 does seem a little steep for something that I reckon I’ll be done with in 45 mins or so. Exploring every path is already getting repetitive, so I’ll probably end up filling in the gaps via the view that lets you scroll through the comic at will rather than playing through every decision. Then again, if you’re used to shelling out what seem like ludicrous sums to me on normal comics then your expectations may differ.

The DLC sounds interesting too. It’s called the Case of the Missing Science Project, and takes the form of a PDF which you print out and fold up yourself. In it, you “follow Little Jimmy, Kid Detective as he attempts to unravel the case!”. “There may be dinosaurs!”, adds developer Andrew Plotkin on his blog. Why the need for real paper, you ask? Well:

“One answer is that Missing Science Project was a last-minute addition and I didn’t have time to build a Unity version. This is accurate, but boring.

A more interesting (but still accurate!) answer is that Missing Science Project has its own unique path-following mechanic. To say more would be a spoiler, but it’s a unique idea which only makes sense with pages. It doesn’t make sense to reformat the comic into a single large map, like Jason did for Meanwhile.”

Meanwhile: An Interactive Comic Book is available for Windows, Mac and Linux on Steam and Itch.io, though you can only get the DLC through Steam.

2 Comments

  1. ezbez says:

    I recall reading this online back in 2008. It’s well worth it!

  2. emertonom says:

    I’ve been curious about this guy’s comics for a while. His first one, “Hello World,” is supposedly about going to the store to buy milk, and features an inventory. But Meanwhile sounded like a more polished adventure.

    I might get it on paper instead, though. I feel like that’s a lot of what’s fascinating about the design here.

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