"This is MY story": The next generation of interactive storytelling.

I always wondered about my place in the story. A lot of people do that. They see themselves in different characters. I suppose there's a lot of boys who have imagined themselves as Luke Skywalker or Han Solo. Then there's people who put themselves in the story. They create their own character based on themselves and imagine how the story would change around them. There's a lot of fanfiction based on this. Seems quite a few kids imagined themselves being the newest member of the X-Men or another team like that.

Along came Choose Your Own Adventure with a series of books in which readers took control of the story. They were geared towards younger readers and written in the little used second person tense. Readers were prompted to pick between multiple decisions, some of which continued the narrative. Some brought the story to a rather abrupt and often unpleasant end. There were also multiple positive endings and ways of reaching them. This line of books spawned others in what would become known as "game books". My brother and I were very found of the ones featuring G.I.Joe in which you became the newest member of the team. I also found an old copy on "Wizards, Warriors and You" on my bookshelf written by none other than R.L. Stine before his days writing GOOSEBUMPS.

It's pretty easy to navigate your way through interactive media when its in print. You can see right there on the page where to go next and respond appropriately. As such this sort of storytelling stayed in print until technology could catch up with it. It did in the form of video games.

Over the years video games have become a legitimate story-telling medium. Telling a story in video game is inherently interactive. The player has to advance the narrative. Early on it wasn't much of a story.

Monkey has taken girl. Must rescue girl. Oh crap, he's throwing barrels at me.

This is mainly due to the limitations of the hardware and the software of the day. As these improved, so did the story.

Giant lizard thing kidnaps Princess in a mythical kingdom. I'm a plumber that can jump really high. Whoa! Mushrooms and plants give me super powers! I'm going to get past monsters and save the princess!

And it went on from there, but eventually something new arose: the alternate ending. This started popping up in games here and there. In the early days of video games there was no "beating" the game. You played until the space aliens got you, your cities were all destroyed by the missiles or that big monkey finally took you out with the barrels. Then, along the time of the coming of Nintendo, video games had their Final Crisis in which the people creating these games had to ponder, how are we going to end this thing? Yes there were games that had endings before then, most notably the arcade classic Dragon's Lair and Space Ace, however these were the exception. Nintendo brought the platform game to a whole new level and like any platform game you needed a story.

Everything you did in these games advanced your character towards an ending, but later which ending you got would become the question. Konami gets my attention here with their Castlevania series. This series of games was personal favorite of mine, and really did interesting things with it's storylines. The third installment offered a set of partner characters and different routes to take through the game, thus changing the narrative and the ending. The pinnacle of the series was it's debut on Playstation: Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. For a long time I thought I had that game all figured out and had beaten it multiple times. I later realized that wasn't even halfway through the game yet.

This brings us to alternate narratives within games. Games like the GRAND THEFT AUTO series allow players to roam the virtual world doing all sorts of things and but the main story is pretty straight forward and the main missions drive the main narrative. FINAL FANTASY VII had extra character you could acquire and even had a scene in which the main character met up with another for a date if his previous interaction with her had been nice. If not, them the date did not happen. Players were used to controlling their characters on the screen but now they were starting to control the story.

HEAVY RAIN is looking to expand on this. While this game does have it's faults, it certainly is innovative. The story changes depending upon the players actions and decisions. I'm not sure if previous gaming systems could handle something like this. Voice acting has to be done for multiple different reactions. Scenes have to be done and redone in case certain characters aren't there or have done things to make people react differently to them. It's really a hell of an undertaking. I talked with a Gamestop employee and he said that the game is selling very well. Its a pretty hot item. I haven't played it due to a lack of Playstation 3 which won't be changing any time soon, but now I'm wanting one. With the amount of content that can be but on those game dicks HEAVY RAIN will likely only be the start of a new wave of interactive narratives in video games.

Video games aren't the only medium making strides in interactive storytelling. With the coming of DVDs movies makers had a lot more options on the table. Interactive movies haven't made much of a splash beyond a few POV porn videos. However, then comes the internet and YouTube specifically. YouTube has opened the door for many movie makers and now they've got the potential to make interactive media available right on your computer. At the forefront of interactive narratives on Youtube is CHAD, MATT AND ROB who have put up multiple interactive stories. I e-mailed Rob Polonski about these endeavors, and I'll be damned, he actually e-mailed me back!

MN: Did any of you read the old "Chose Your Own Adventure" books, and if you did, how much of an influence were they?

RP: I'm sure we've all, at some point, gotten our hands on one of those "Choose Your Own Adventure" books. Something about them felt so magical, almost as an illusion that made the story so big and endless. It was always fun going back to see what happened if you chose differently.

We're all about telling a great story and creating likable and fun characters. Using the tools that YouTube provided -- we realized we could do a "Choose Your Own" type story. We wanted to recreate the experience you'd get from the books, but more importantly, make it our own. That's when we came up with the name "Interactive Adventure" .

MN: Are you considering doing anything like a DVD release or are current plans to remain as an online presence?

RP: We're currently developing our Interactive Adventures to bring to television. We've been using the web as a way to showcase our content. Our primary goal is to crossover into more traditional media such as TV and Film while we maintain a strong presence on the web. We've written a pilot, developed a couple Interactive TV concepts and are working on a feature.

MN: Are there plans for a storyline with multiple positive endings and/or multiple "routes" to achieve a positive ending?

RP: We've tried that in "The Murder" where there we're three separate story lines and over 30 different videos, but the reaction from the audience wasn't as good as with a much shorter adventure. We've learned to keep the adventures simple and focus on creating a great story.

MN: I saw that you guys go featured on YouTube. Congrats! How much of a traffic bump did that get you?

RP: Thanks so much! Every time you have an opportunity like that, to be front and center on YouTube's homepage, your views, subscribers, etc. get a nice bump up. But viewership & numbers is not, or never will be our focus. It's all about and always will be about creating the best content possible.

MN: Right now your adventures are fairly short in length. Is there anything in works that's of a larger scale where the story would be feature length or comparable?

Yes! We've written a bunch of Adventures and we're developing an Interactive TV series. There's just so much potential, it's super exciting!

I would have asked him about the creative process of making one of these adventures, but they already handled that.

So where is this going? Well, pretty much the sky's the limit. Blu-rays are pretty ridiculous, but they hold an obscene amount of content. I expect to see more games like HEAVY RAIN. I also expect more interactive adventures to come up from various sources on YouTube and other nu-media, although I expect Chad, Matt and Rob to stay ahead of the curve for quite a while.

Eyes open, people. There's stories out there and people are willing to give them to you so can make them yours. Turbines to speed. There's narratives to drive.

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