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Blog #9:A Hobo Lobo Adventure

A Hobo Lobo Adventure
By Andaiye Hall

I really want to thank Katherine for choosing such an awesome piece. I found this literature piece to be a source of escape during a fast approaching end to the semester. During my first exploration of all the e-lit volumes, I completely ignored this piece most likely because the name sounded nonsensical to me. It just sounded silly but this piece actually went above and beyond my expectations. When I first began reading this piece, I thought oh, boy another piece with no music. However, this e-lit piece I later discovered wasn’t as predictable as I thought. I found myself taking notes all over the place as I would continually be surprised at how good it actually turned out to be. I decided to check up on some words that I wasn't familiar with. According to Google, a hamlet is a small settlement generally one smaller than a village. I also looked up the meanings of hobo and lobo as well. According to Google, a hobo is a homeless person and a lobo is a timber wolf. This is exactly the description of the main character that we are shown. His name is exactly who he is.

Before I actually began reading the piece I explored all the extra stuff on the page like clicking the “?” and the extra notes in the corners of the piece. I thought the site for the author was really creative and cool as well. When I began reading this piece I felt inclined to read the story out loud for some reason.

I believe that author narration would have been really helpful in this piece. On the other hand I still loved the silence. As they say silence speaks louder than words. The transitions were very surprising and eye catching as well.

With the bouncing, sliding and moving, the popups were so reader interactive. Thus this became a dominant contributing factor into why I loved this piece so much. Hobo Lobo was visually captivating and keeps readers interest throughout the storyline.

I also felt like this piece was hilarious. There were times when I was shaking my head like "yes, this piece is so awesome!" At one point when the mayor went to see a psychic I was wondering where did the psychic come from.

At one point I thought that the author may have a vendetta against religious people when the mayor turned the removal of the rats into something solely based on the Divine. I think there is nothing wrong with thanking the Divine for a blessing but you should also thank the person God used to do so and you must keep your promises. It seems like the author was trying to explore criticizing hypocritical religious people. In my opinion I just hated that innuendo that I picked up on but that all religious people are just self-righteous.

I attempted to understand all the pictures. When I saw the radio talk show host with many eyes, I saw it as a symbolism of someone who gets their information from many sources (i.e. other people in addition to themselves.) The part with the KoolAid having a note on the poster was funny. (had a screenshot of that part but I guess I never saved it:/ ) When the music began on one of the slide I found it enjoying and it helped me relax for some strange reason. It slowly became annoying as the music became full of horror. I was creeped out a little and very shocked. When the Hobo barged in on the mayor and the mayor was butt naked, I got the feeling that truth was going to be revealed.

This piece gets better as you proceed in the piece. I really wonder how the creator produced this.Where the author did add in music and sound effects were very complimentary in their placement. It had alot of symbolism in it too. I thought that this piece was kid friendly until I saw cursing and how the rats were actually "coked up." I was shocked and disappointed but I’m in love with this piece and can’t wait for the rest of it to be finished. When someone explores this piece for the first time, I would tell them to Expect The Unexpected.

Blog #9- Hobo Lobo of Hamelin

hobohttps://worstcomicpodcastever.com/2015/05/04/hobo-lobo-of-hamelin-60-second-review-episode-013/

STEVAN ŽIVADINOVIĆ’s Elit piece, Hobo Lobo of Hamelin, was an amazing piece of literature. This “flat 3D” fable resembling that of a comic book easily captured my attention and maintained it throughout the use of words used. I liked the modern twist on it and it was a fun and easy way to explore the story. It seemed to me that throughout the story, each page, in which there were 7 different sections, would become more and more advanced in the graphic designs. The words began to appear less and less as the images and sounds appeared vigurously throughout the piece.

The first page starts with a problem of “coked up rats” running around their town and the mayor does not know how to handle this situation properly. He goes to see a psychic who recommends a professional and then the story moves on to page two. In this part the images appear and disappear as you scroll through the pages inside the pages and it is not until the final page within page one, where you discover some movement in the images. The crystal ball appears purple, unlike the rest of the colors on the images and it has some kind of movement to capture the readers attention and lead them into the world of what is about to happen. It is a good transition from the images not moving into what we discover later on in this piece.

On the second page we meet Hobo Lobo, and his role is significant as he promises to help anyone with any problem they may have. The mayor describes the problem of the rats and explains that Hobo Lobo will be paid for his work of disposing of the rats as long as he gets the job done. The images on this page become more intense as they being to pop up, 3D but not 3D because it is flat. Images begin to move a little and the colors green and yellow take over the illusion of this page.

The third page changes the sequence completely. There is music that begins and only one of the pages throughout this has words, the rest are images popping up and moving around. The music drastically changes from something cheerful to something gloomy, this indicating that something bad may occur soon. The colors go from blue to red as the music changes its tone.

On page four I found myself having trouble on what to focus on. I was going back and fourth between the images and the words written under those images. There was no sound, but each page had words to distract the reader from that. The story continues on and page five almost gave me a heart attack when the mayor’s face appears huge on the screen. Thank god there was no sound because that would have made it even worse! On page six Hobo decides to sue the mayor for not recognizing what he has done for him and the story continues one. The images are moving and things pop up randomly throughout the page.

The last page had me confused as to how this all ended. I suppose it really hasn’t ended at all because there is a “more to come” box indicating the story is not actually over. Overall I did enjoy navigating this story and it was more of a linear story in which the others are not. There was a beginning, middle and end to indicate when to stop… well at least for now!


Hobo Lobo Gets Revenge

My best description of “Hobo Lobo of Hamelin” would be as an interactive fable… set up almost like a storyboard, with the scenes as static animated images, moving from one point in the story to another. The creator, Steve Nivadinovic, says it’s meant to “do its own thing”..  He also points out that it’s meant to diverge from comic book artistry but there is a lot of that here. One notable aspect of his introduction is the mention of French moviemaker, Jacques Tati.  I had never heard of Tati so I checked out a clip from one of his films, Playtime. It seems like the crux of his films is kind of a sight gag comedy that gets a lot of its fuel from how the average man interacts with the “modern” world.  It’s kind of an absurdist comedy in a way. The creator says he drew inspiration from Tati’s ethos. I can see the correlation, as he juxtaposes a common man (the wolf) with the ways of the modern world (politics and technology) that he doesn’t seem equipped to handle.

“Hobo Lobo” was also, to me, a political satire. He chooses not to put it in any particular time or place (the idea that it’s “long ago” seems undermined when we get to the parts about modern communications).  I think that helps him push a universal message about how the little guy ultimately gets screwed by the system.  I love the way the art progresses across the screen from right to left, set almost as 3D static images so that you get the illusion of depth. Steve seems to work to draw your eye to the characters he wants you to see first by using color to make characters (even messages) stand out.  It unfolds initially just the like the fable of the Pied Piper: there are a ton of rats, someone’s got to get them out of town, and a stranger ultimately stumbles onto the scene and takes care of it. But there are modern elements almost immediately. You see a gun in the princess’ basket in one of the first scenes, along with one of the rat kids carrying an IKEA box. Again, it seems like the author is trying to unmoor this story from a particular time or place, or even era.  Or maybe he’s making the point that it is as it has always been – that no good deed ever goes unpunished. In fact, I only remembered the beginning of the legend of the Pied Piper and went back to read it.  I had not remembered that most versions have the mayor of the town reneging on his promise to pay the piper and the piper leading the kids out of town to either die or drown (in most versions of the story).  So this leads me back to the idea that Steve is trying to show parallels to our time, or to any time in history. I think it’s interesting that the rat kids are the same size as the regular kids.  Maybe it’s to humanize the rats?  Or to show that driving out the least desirable members of society doesn’t necessarily mean that they are actual rodents. In some cases, they can just be dehumanized in a way that makes society or the people in charge portray them as someone on the level of a rat.  The green sky and giant moon point to an ominous turn as we reach the end of the the first act and the mayor offers an “insurmountable mountain of treasure”. We don’t get sound until the third act – and an option to control the volume which was a nice feature. I love the way this is set up. I found an interesting element to the way you can view it. While starting on page 1, you can click on page 17 and watch the entire scene roll by in a way that reminds me of a mural on giant rollers. Ah! I just made a discovery. In looking up murals on rollers, I stumbled upon an art technique called “Trompe l’oeil” – a type of art that uses realistic imagery to create the optical illusion that depicted objects are actually existing in three dimensions. I think that is a very big part of the appeal of “Hobo Lobo” – and is a good description of how he is trying to depict his story. The way the audio in this scene gives way from peaceful crickets and the harmonica to the dark tone and bright reds of some bizarre imagery definitely heightens the urgency. I watched this scene back and forth a few times. So the sickle definitely portends death – and he talks about seeing if rats have wings. Everything after that seems to be imagery of modern life or modern luxury (packaged food, tailored clothes, etc) – and even a little nod to the absurdity of American life perhaps by showing the topless Statue of Liberty.

At this point, we get into the political satire or allegorical aspect of this story. The mayor (Mayor Dick – not very subtle ha ha) takes the place of the “government” and we get introduced to the Fourth Estate channel – the logo of which is modeled on Fox News and the “reporter” is dressed as a jester or clown. And the donkey guest symbolizes the Democratic liberal. Interesting that the mayor does =not= have the support of the Fourth Estate conservatives – I would have thought they’d love “law and order” types like him… When Lobo approaches the mayor, we see more symbolism – him naked, getting a statue made (I thought of the story of the Emperor wearing no clothes…) And of course, just as it is in the legend, Lobo gets tossed and plots his revenge.   As we get into that piece, I want to note that there is something very Pink Floyd-esque in a lot of this art and it reminds me very much of The Wall. Not only do we have the judges with their curls, but the anchor for the Fourth Estate, looks like he came right out of the movie. I stared at his face for several minutes to see if I could make out other body parts or faces drawn into his eyes and nose. (Maybe he’s got two faces? Could that be it?)

We can tell through his conversation that the mayor is adept at using the institutions of power against the little guy – Hobo is turned away because he doesn’t have a properly executed contract and loses in the court of public opinion because the mayor can turn the conversation into a defense of the town’s children.  He is the personification of the evil politician – knowing all the ways to get over on people, without any of the guilt. I love the last scene where Hobo gets his revenge – the music is kind of happy as it begins and you hear the kids’ laughter. But as they get closer to the cave (where you can see Hobo’s shadow on the wall), the violin gets added and it seems a little sadder and the laughter fades. You see demons appear and when it all ends and they manage to pull the big rock down, Hobo is there looking upset and exhausted. What more could be to come (as the story promises)? I guess some sort of revelation about the fate of the kids.

This was a very beautifully done story. It is interactive and is interesting in the sense that it has a clear direction for the narrative, but the reader is not only allowed to go backward and forward, but to jump to any point in the narrative at any time. As I’ve pointed out, there a lot of little commentaries, either in text or imagery, on the absurdity of the common man’s juxtaposition to the powers that be, but the creator does a good job weaving modern times and a very old legend into one story.  it doesn’t quite feel like a retelling as much as it does a telling of the original story with a modern twist. The creator makes great use of sound, using it sparingly and only to set the mood. He could have made the text of the conversations into audio, but left it as text which I think allows the reader to use their imagination (and also substitute whatever their least favorite politician is for the mayor).  I read somewhere when looking into this project that it was described as a “webtime” story and I can definitely see that. It has the simplicity of a bedtime story and the moral (don’t screw people over) and of course, the web aspect. One of the other interesting aspects of this story is all the links. Stevan obviously wants you to know how he made this (even if, as he says, he’s not sure exactly why he did it).  By clicking the upper left corner, you go to a page that lays out his timetable and even explains exactly where he got the code (both so people understand his process and so others can follows his footsteps, I’m assuming). I also found it fascinating that he created social media accounts for his characters – on Tumblr and Twitter. Hobo even has a Facebook page. Stevan also always has a link to his own resume page (under Psss) making it easy for anyone who likes it to learn more about him, or, I assume, hire him. It seems clear to me  that the creator wants these characters to live on in cyberspace and, as he promises, a future installment of his art.

 


Hobo Lobo of Hamelin

    Hobo Lobo of Hamelin, created by Stevan Živadinović, is a digital pop-up book of sorts. It combines sound, animation and illustrations that give the illusion of something 3D. According to the editorial statement on the Electronic Literature Collection site, the piece is an adaption of the Pied Piper--  a modern "mixture of European folktale, political satire, and internet snark".

    The work is visually compelling. The images are a combination of what look like pencil drawings in muted, black and white color schemes, and bursts of darkened vibrant colors. Some of the images "pop up" at the reader, while others are animated such as the psychic's crystal ball.

    In order the navigate the work, the reader clicks on "pages" and numbers at the top of the screen. The piece is not broken up into traditional pages; instead, as the reader clicks through, the story glides seamlessly forward. The plot of the story involves a mayor who's town has a "rat problem". These modern rats are drugged up criminals. After the mayor visits a psychic who has told him that he must hire a professional to solve the problem, Hobo Lobo comes to town offering "professional services". The mayor quietly offers him "an insurmountable mountain of treasure" in return for getting rid of the rats.

    Music is used effectively in page 3 of the story as Hobo Lobo guides the rats off of a cliff. The music increases in volume as the reader navigates toward the conclusion of the page and as the rats navigate toward the cliff. The conclusion of page 3 is slightly confusing... There is a bright pink screen with images of food and clothing items, a kitchen sink, and a leather chair.

    The story drops the music and regains the words on page 4. The mayor has taken credit for Hobo Lobo's work and refuses to pay him as they had agreed. Instead, he actually sues him for blackmail. The story ends on page 7 just as the children are being led from their houses in what appears to be Hobo Lobo's revenge.

    This work is interesting to study because it is the first that I have encountered in this class that is not completed. The stats at on the work's website indicate that while the average update occurred every 23.3 days, the last update was 798.9 days ago-- July 31st, 2014.

   The author writes, "Ahem, I am probably very sorry stuff is late". Readers are directed to the author's Twitter and Tumblr accounts in order to find news about the piece and its future. I went back 6 pages on the Tumblr account and couldn't find any news, but I did find something via Facebook. The author posted on May 31, 2015: "Before the story wraps up, I really wanted to go back and polish some of the more jarring features of the first two pages".

    While I have not stumbled upon an incomplete piece in this class, this is something that I have encountered while reading fan fiction. As the reader of something being published serially, you are dependent upon  the whims of the writer. You can become invested in a story, wait patiently (or impatiently) for updates, only to later realize that the author might not ever continue writing the story. When you begin reading something that is published in an incomplete form, there is no guarantee that it will ever become complete. As a reader, you are taking a bit of a risk, and I think that this is very interesting and worth discussing further.

Blog #8: Checking out First Draft of the Revolution

Checking out First Draft of the Revolution
By Andaiye Hall

Upon first opening the e-lit piece I was surprised when I got no music in the background. I immediately checked my sound. I guess I have preconceived notions based on the e-lit pieces that we have read this far. All e-lit pieces should have animations, music, pictures (videos) and more than just words. I liked how the first page was actually like a real book. Once I started reading, I immediately wondered how long the piece was going to be. I considered this e-lit piece to be really simple and bland from what I read through. There weren't a lot of things going on to keep my interest especially without the other types of e-lit that we have read. It was pretty much like a typical book except you would be apart of the writer/author in the story.

When I got to the first draft, I thought that this was the last page of the story. Once I clicked the first bold sentence(s), I assumed that it was my choice on how I wanted to send my letter. I tried fixing all according to how I wanted it to be and when I clicked everything nothing happened. I did notice after certain clicks I couldn't go back using a click to the previous version. I didn't try pressing the previous button though. I saw no instructions saying edit all of the letter to continue. I feel like I truly experienced just working with the first draft and I liked the pop ups with how the narrator was thinking.

In terms of design, it kind of reminded me of my PowerPoint produced e-literature. Mine does have alot more things to catch the readers interest and actually keep it. I think it's so important when authors produce e-lit they make sure to actually utilize most if not all the tools provided in this format. I think this reading kind of fails to keep interest for people who are mostly visual.

Writing Processes in “First Draft of the Revolution”

first-draft“First Draft of the Revolution” by Emily Short is a very fascinating piece. From the eloquent book that opens up as the reader begins, to the beautiful calligraphy on each page (or letter rather) definitely fits the time period of the piece and helps to create a more realistic experience. As a writer myself, a reader of other’s work, and a writing consultant/coach I was all to ecstatic at the fact that this very piece centers around the idea and analyzation of writing processes. To draft, revise, edit, and publish is the routine of my life in many different aspects; this piece spoke to that for me. As the piece begins, the reader is drawn in by a bit of backstory before the first letter is shown, and is then immediately able to start making changes in the letters to be sent to the recipient (mostly Juliette writing to her husband and so on, but sometimes Juliette and her former convent mother superior are conversing back and forth as well).

Although this piece can definitely lose its reader in that it can be predictable (at times) and somewhat dreadfully boring to just keep clicking and revising to progress to the next letter, it is held together by a sort of pragmatic ideal about writing, what it is made of, and how it is carried out. To look at each line, the way it is worded, the possible changes, and thoughts behind the changes to be made not only says so much in regard to the character, but also in the way any individual partakes in the act of writing. One is able to organize their thoughts, see what is working and/or not working in real time, consider the audience and the best possible way to convey what is meant. “First Draft of the Revolution” emphasizes the importance of being particular about the words used, what message is being sent, if something is getting across to the reader in the right way, and how to fix it if it is not.

writing-process

The way one speaks and writes, and their process in doing such, reveals so much about them. From this work I suggest that Juliette is somewhat submissive. She also second guesses herself and doesn’t seem to take many real risks in the beginning of this chain of letters back and forth to her husband. Before revisions are made, Juliette’s character seems to always want to tone down or get rid of altogether something of significance that may alter the outcome completely. Henri is very stern and upright if you will. He doesn’t seem to quiver or show too many signs of indecisiveness as much as Juliette does. He is strong and structured in the way that he prepares to write and then carries out that task. These characteristics speak heavily about the ways in which both men and women were perceived and still are. I appreciate the idea of a letter in itself being the focal point of the this piece of electronic literature. The letter definitely still correlates with the time period, but it slows things down and allows the reader to feel as though they are actually taking their time to craft these messages and advance the story in whichever way they choose.

All in all, this piece is packed with the momentousness of internalizing the writing process to produce not only logical pieces of written work but well-written and effective ones too. If one is not interested in delving that far into discussion about writing then I don’t know what they might take away from a piece like this, but it can still be enjoyable to navigate through.

 


Blog #7: On Visiting Thermophile Land

On Visiting Thermophile Land
By Andaiye Hall

This was completely awesome to take part in especially now that we are all adults. This allowed us to use our imagination like we did when we were children. I really got the sense that kids could enjoy this type of game but the thing is the internet is really dangerous. We would have make sure all users are actually children and not pedophiles.

I first interacted with the piece in class. Until I read the directions I was pretty much lost. A part of me felt like the directions for day 1, day 2 and etc needed to be followed completely for the correct experience. With all the other stuff I needed to do for other classes, Theophile land drifted away from memory soon after class. I had created an account and the rest of it was up to me. There were no acidoquiloniusA we miss you-come back messages in my phone or newsletters talking about this whole other world. No one was telling me come back to Thermophile Land. I was just MIA and noone cared. A lost thermophile drifted away at sea. Finally that lost thermophile made its way back and came home. After finally fulfilling my worldly duties, once I arrived I had one notification from another acido about how our pre-date night was. I quickly read the directions and "contradict" stood out. I reread the persons one over and over again. I felt like speaking correctly would be out of character. It was like I needed to think like this thermophile and I wasn't sure how to. I followed suit off of the other acidos I read and came up with madeup words that sounded real for this fictitious place.

As much as I tried to leave myself behind as a human, my personality still followed into my experience as a thermophile. I never consulted my gender description acido because I don't believe a gender can really describe who you are inside in this world or another world. I knew I was being myself. However I saw other thermophiles stuck to the book so to speak.

Overall this piece of netprov was pretty fun and I enjoyed working with the other students. I felt extra cautious to get into any argument or fight with any of the other thermophile people because I knew they're human just like I am. I kind of wanted to know who everyone partaking in it was and I guess some of them I will never know. I look forward to working with more netprov in the future.

first draft of the revolution

Once I realized what this piece of electronic literature was doing, I was delighted! I loved this concept of rewriting and watching the draft in process - I think that's genius.

However, I got stuck very quickly, I feel. Maybe the piece is short, or maybe I just don't know what I'm doing, but I cannot get passed changing the last part of page four. It keeps telling me to change the last bit before she signs her name, and I keep doing it- it keeps cycling between three phrases, and there is no where else for me to click. I wish there was a help / guide button or something to tell me what to do in case I get stuck like this, because I feel like I'm not thoroughly experiencing the piece. Or, if it really is that short, I wished the author expanded more (however, I don't think that's the case.) I hope we can go through this more for class, as I want to know about this feminist revolution that we are helping our narrator draft.

Blog #8- First Draft of the Revolution

first.jpg
https://www.thespace.org/resource/games-people-who-dont-play-games

      Unfortunately, I was not able to play this interactive Elit piece. I tried several times throughout the week, but was unsuccessful in accessing it. I did however watch the 7 minute video on how to play and the process behind Emily Short and Liza Daly’s “First Draft of the Revolution.” I thought about what the title meant and the word draft can pertain to two different meanings. First, it could focus on the draft from the window that is mentioned in the beginning of the piece and second, it could focus on the idea of a war draft. Revolution is mentioned so war is what automatically pops into my mind and then after reading the description I see that it is during the French Revolution.

As the video plays, the reader navigates through a letter that the wife, Juliette, writes to her husband, Henri, who seems to be very controlling of her. I wondered to myself as to why the letter had a scroller when it was so short. What was the reason we needed to scroll down a letter that stopped at mid page. After getting into the video even more I saw that this was an editing process of the original letter Juliette has created.

I do not like normally editing my own papers so I am assuming if I was actually able to get to play I would have felt a bit of frustration editing Juliette’s letter. I believe that maybe that is what the authors wanted their reader’s to feel because as I read along with the letter I felt as thought Juliette may have been frustrated with her husband for sending her away. The concept of editing was interesting in a way that we were pretty much in the mind of Juliette, what she was thinking about each and every line composed, we were able to see and feel. One thing that did surprise me was the fact that we could not change the line, “Your obedient wife, Juliette.” That was the one line I wanted to change immediately after seeing we were able to edit it and once I saw we were unable I once again felt that frustration. I am assuming that because the husband is so controlling of his wife that we cannot change that fact. He wants her to be obedient of him and that is how she must remain.

Overall, I did enjoy watching the video and really wished I could have went through this piece myself, but I did get a pretty good understanding of it from what I saw. I cannot wait to go over it in class today and see what is was that I missed about the Elit piece because I was very limited to what the reader wanted me to see. I feel an appreciation for Elit even more now because I like the fact that I have a sense of freedom of allowing myself to go through the pieces on my own. I felt caged in with this one!


First Draft of the Revolution

Alternative history is a fascinating field – it explores what would happen if certain events played out differently than they did in real life. What if the D-Day invasion had failed? What if the Confederacy had won the Civil War? These opportunities to explore alternate worlds open up untold possibilities for authors and storytellers.

That is what I thought I would find in “First Draft of the Revolution”, the interactive epistolary novel by Emily Short and Liza Daly. (“Epistolary” meaning that it pertains to letters and letter-writing). I was drawn to it specifically because I hoped that it would present an experience that paralleled that of an alternative history narrative. While there were elements of that, the experience was not as exciting as I had hoped.

The interactive experience at the heart of “Revolution” is one in which the reader actively participates in the exchange of nearly two dozen letters between four different figures living in an alternate France in 1788 and 1789 (Juliette and Henri, a husband and wife, the mother superior from Juliette’s former convent and Henri’s sister, Alise).  While it takes place during the years of the French Revolution, it is set in a world of Short’s imagination in which magic and magicians are common.

The story itself is interactive in the sense that it uses a form of hypertext to present the player with options to choose alternate ways of wording letters back and forth. It is definitely e-literature in that the core of the entire experience is based in an exploration of linguistics and word choice. The choices are presented in the form of limited hypertext that opens a box on the screen when highlighted phrases embedded in the letters are clicked. The twist is that the reader isn’t shown the alternate wording that they can choose. Instead, they are presented with a brief blurb characterizing the fictional letter writers’ mindset (i.e. whether the wording as initially constituted would be too blunt, too subtle or whether it would be taken seriously). In some cases, you can erase a line completely. It is important to note that the alternate wording of the letter does not appear until after a choice is made. This is critical to the interactivity. The reader must consider their motive (or the characters’ motive) apart from the wording. Short describes it as an “interactive piece about the process of writing”. It was a fascinating take on how writing is an evolving process; how we as writers rarely (if ever) write something down on a page (particularly a letter to someone else) in one shot and consider it finished. It is the process of considering one’s word and tone, taking the audience or recipient into account, and choosing words that accurately convey one’s intentions that are at the heart of how this story works. The fact that Short opted to build the game around the written letter encourages the reader to take time and be patient (just as we would in writing a real letter). Unfortunately, though, if you aren’t into the idea of editing letters, there is essentially nothing else to the experience.  While the parchment-style “paper” and calligraphy looks great, there is no audio, no video and nothing to click except the lines on the page, the option to send the letter and the arrows at the top of the page that lead you backward and forward through the game. (You can’t go back and “rewrite” the letters once they’ve been sent.  Once it’s sent, it’s sent.)

The idea here is to give the reader the chance to think through their choice of wording before sending the letter off. As I played it multiple times, I found myself trying to adopt a persona for each character and crafting my letters to fit their persona. In one instance, I “played” Juliette as a brasher, straightforward woman. In another, I channeled a more submissive tone. Depending on his word choice, Henri could be caring and sensitive to his wife or harsh and unforgiving. But there was only so much I could do or choose, and that limited how much I enjoyed the experience. For instance, one must change a certain number of lines in a given letter before the option to send that letter appears at the top of the screen. You cannot, for example, send a letter without changing anything. In addition, only certain lines can be altered and, of course, there are a finite number of choices you can make when trying to alter them. I found that there are certain scenes you reach no matter what choices you make in the letters. By not allowing the reader to send letters whenever they felt like it and by limiting the variation of storylines, I felt the authors intentionally limited the experience. Short herself said that the story was not designed to be CYOA (“choose your own adventure”). She said “the interaction is all about revising the letters” and said she wanted to offer “lots of small, parallel choices submitted at once rather than a sequence of large choices submitted serially”. In that way, she said, she hoped the story “creates some of the texture and exploratory feel that (is often) missing from CYOA.” After thinking about that, I believe Short achieves her goal, but only partially. There is plenty of interaction here and a sense of exploration, but she’s right: much of it is in your mind, rather than in the game. So how much of that interaction actually impacts the game? Inkle, which co-made the code for “First Draft” with Liza Daly, answered the question this way. “We can tell you that every choice you make is discarded by the computer the moment that you commit to it. But do the choices affect the story? Yes. Of course they do. Partly because the choices are being remembered by the other data-collecting system in action during the game, which is the one that sits between your ears.  And partly because you’re performing the act of choosing.” In other words, the act of considering your choices and experiencing the narrative through your own choices is the game.   The problem for me was that with each successive experience, the pathway through this novel became more and more familiar and lost some of its thrill. With some letters, the reader is encouraged to change multiple lines; there is only one alternative to each highlighted line, and you must change all of them before you have the option to send the letter. It left my sharing the sentiments of critics at the site kotaku.com  “Seems like a nice little exercise for people who enjoy writing, but it’s not really a ‘game’. In another review, a critic said “Some branching paths and endings would have made it gratifying”.

On the positive side, I think there were several points of the story in which I felt that Short’s goal of forcing the reader to think through the implications of their words was driven home in a particularly effective manner. By the middle of the story, we’ve learned that Henri believes that the bastard son that Juliette has met while in exile from Paris is actually his own son and we have several options as to how he tries to find out for sure from Juliette. I tried multiple different ways, but no matter what I did, Juliette always seemed to see right through him. We also find out that Juliette is becoming more and more attracted to the friar, but also begins to suspect he is not what he seems, even struggling with telling her husband that the friar’s ideas seem “revolutionary”. The extent of her attraction is revealed, not through the written words, but through the thoughts that are revealed while she is deciding how to phrase her latest letter to her husband.  After Henri catches on to the friar’s intentions towards his wife Juliette, he decides to write a letter to her, asking about their relationship. The first option you get is just a blank page and an encouragement to start over. Your option to rewrite starts as a single line “do you take him in place of me” – very emotional, Henri too upset to even write a greeting. He rewrites it again, with a choice to criticize her for “doing wrong”, but we are not allowed to send that. It ends up being a long letter in which he admits his relationship with Bernadette (the bastard son’s mother). He also challenges her to answer to charges that she is sleeping with the friar or in a relationship with him.  Juliette goes through similar ways of thinking, wondering how much to reveal about her feelings, but eventually simply says she has been faithful.  The one line that cannot be changed is the first one: “I have not betrayed you.” So we as the “player” are not allowed to hide that truth from Henri and Juliette apparently has no intention of trying to hide it. Could the story have been more interesting if we had been allowed to do so? Perhaps, but it would then have been the reader driving the narrative and not the reader-as-character.

I should mention that “First Draft” is set in a world that Short previously explored in interactive fiction games like “Savoir-Faire” (2002) and “Damnatio Memoriae” (2006), stories about magic-users in an alternate France of the mid-1780’s. In those stories, she explains a type of magic known as “Lavori d’Aracne” in which objects (like letters) can be linked together.  The earlier stories represent a more rudimentary form of interactive fiction. However, those earlier stories are just typewritten text and rely on the player’s input to carry the narrative.  In “First Draft”, Short has taken on much more of that job herself.) As such, the “First Draft” story is rich with parallels to the actual French Revolution, which took place in the late 1780’s. Locations and dates share significance. For instance, “First Draft” begins in the city of Grenoble in the summer of 1788, the time and setting for the first major conflict of the real French Revolution, Parallels exist throughout – from references to French churches that fell in both the fictional and real world, as well as the inherent struggle between those in power and those who aren’t. Short describes her universe of “Lavori d’Aracne” as one in which “certain anti-aristocratic forces are finally discovering how to break the magical power that has kept the nobility in power for so long.” It is not a far leap to draw a rough parallel from the anti-aristocratic forces in her stories to the actual French peasantry that finally found a way to topple the ruling religious and governmental hierarchy in the closing years of the 18th century.

“First Draft of the Revolution” was recognized by the XYZZY Awards for the Best Use of Innovation a few years ago. Rock Paper Shotgun reviewed it and praised its inventiveness, although the reviewer’s mother says “the idea was all right but the hook didn’t hook me”. That echoes something from the XYZZY review, in which it is praised as a “unique mechanic and a refreshing take on interactive text.” But once again, we find the same kind of criticism we discussed previously, as the reviewer argues that the lack of choices that I mentioned before makes it feel many times that the creator is guiding you and that “the experience comes close to feeling on rails.” The review also points out that “while the project’s website implies certain choices can have an effect on subsequent letters in the web-based version, it wasn’t clear what the effect was.” As previously mentioned, I felt the same way, finding that you were destined to arrive at certain points of the story no matter what you did or how many times you played.

I came away from “First Draft” with a sense that there was good news and bad news. While I thought the whole thing was inventive and aesthetically beautiful, the limitations in the game play sapped some of the excitement and thrill. At points, it was even boring and I clicked lines randomly just to get to the next letter. I was frustrated that here weren’t more options available and that the story became predictable the more times you went through it. On the other hand, once I played it a few times, I gained a new appreciation for the way the narrative was advanced through the character’s thoughts and deliberations in conjunction with the reader’s word choices as opposed to the narrative alone. It reminded me of the fact that our own character is often held mostly below the surface and just hinted at by our words and deeds. Our thoughts provide a much clearer picture of who we are. In addition, “First Draft” shows how we can mold our relationships and alter our destinies simply by the words we chose to use and, just as importantly, the words we chose not to use. Is there perhaps a modern day lesson here for those who head to Twitter or Facebook and fire off missives without thinking them though? I think there could be, even if that wasn’t initially what the creators intended. Nevertheless, the importance of how we communicate and the importance of thinking about how we say things, not just what we say, could not be starker than it is in “First Draft”.

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