Monday, November 7, 2011

On Icebergs and Jellybeans

I’ve been following online posts—especially that on the amazing Yahoo CarnivaleHBO BBS, and I’ve noticed some misconceptions and concerns regarding what a BlackBxx narrative is.  Mainly, that as an “interactive” format, it might not be satisfying if a viewer chooses the "wrong" path.  This concern harkens back to the creaky old days of “dial up” and the biggest stumbling-block of so-called interactive fiction of the 70s and 80s

In those first attempts, such as the original "ZORK" series, the creators based their models on a "decision tree" in which each branch split into two with every yes/no option, then into four, then eight, until the whole magilla would have to be inelegantly muscled back to the main "trunk" when it became too unwieldy.

While interesting, those early attempts were ultimately unsatisfying, as their form required so much manipulation that they were impossible to deliver without the author's hand being made glaringly visible (and, thus, "gimmicky"). Though text-based RPGs enjoyed some success, they ultimately served as a brief stop in the evolution of what ultimately became MUDs and MUSHs and, finally, online gaming environments such as World of Warcraft.

BlackBxx, however, completely negates the possibility of following the "wrong" path by dispensing with the path altogether. Because, like the medium for which it is designed, the internet, BlackBxx is non-linear.

In more metaphorical terms, a standard, traditional narrative is a trail of jellybeans, while a BlackBxx story is a jar of jellybeans.
The former is experienced in a specific order; the latter, in whatever order the jellybean aficionado chooses (and, yes, I am a lifetime subscriber to "Jellybean Aficionado" magazine). If one chooses to eat only purple jellybeans, the experience will be wholly different from (and, incidentally, no less satisfying than) that of another, who eats all the beans except those nasty root-beer-flavored ones.

By now, you might be thinking, "That's not a story! That's just a big, messy pile of random events," to which I would reply that sometimes—MOST times, as a matter of fact, in real-life at least—that is exactly what a story is.  It is only in retrospect that we glean meaning from what seemed, at the time, a jumble of unconnected incidents.

Likewise, a BlackBxx narrative is not parsed, but discovered—much like the story of ancient Egypt. Is that story any less compelling because archeologists aren't digging up artifacts in their "correct" order? Take, for instance, that bas-relief of two Egyptians holding what looks like a giant light bulb. One may (and many do) argue over whether it is indeed a light bulb, or a symbolic representation of Ra, or a bathtub with a snake in it. But there is one thing upon which everyone can agree: It is intriguing as Hell and warrants more digging.

And that is why there is no "wrong" way to experience a BlackBxx narrative.

Some writers are story-spinners, while others are world-builders. I fall into the latter camp.  And when world-building, I stick by the iceberg rule.  Because while the audience may never see the 90% that's underwater, they nevertheless have a sense the weight of it supporting the parts they could see.
In a BlackBxx narrative, my job as a writer isn't to "tell" you a story, but to build a world that supports a broadly defined story and make sure all the elements included are germane to the plot and the characters. The only difference is I am not the final arbiter of what will be seen.
You are.
Here's how it will work:
When you arrive at the BlackBxx: HAUNTED site, you will be presented with a page that looks like this:

You then choose a time segment on the slider at the bottom of the page:

You then click on a camera icon to watch what that camera captured during the selected time segment:


Easy-peasy, right?  And now that you've seen one segment, based on the current running time of thirty-two-plus hours for HAUNTED, times sixteen cameras, you've only got 6,143 other segments left to check out, each one adding to the depth of the story.

You'll be able to open as many viewers as your system can handle in whatever order that floats your boat. You can watch two (or three, or whatever) different rooms displaying what happened over the same time segment, or one room during two (or three, or whatever) different time segments, and toggle between each for audio.

As the gecko says, it's so easy, a caveman could do it!

You'll also be able to review all kinds of cool story-related files containing documentary info, video police interviews, on-site FLIR footage, journals, newspaper clippings, character bios, police reports, crime-scene photos, EVPs, etc.

Of course, that's assuming we meet our fundraising goal at Kickstarter which, right now, stands at a steady and very discouraging 30% of what we need to pull this thing off.  So if you want to come and play, help make it happen by clicking the widget below.


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