As the Kindle phenomenon gathers pace (it’s still gathering pace, right?), and the idea of interactive novels hits the mainstream courtesy of Sony’s freshly announced Wonderbook, the idea of engaging with fiction through the screen is becoming ever more acceptable. I’ve seen some lovely iOS examples of interactive fiction – the Headspin Storybook, Flip, Alice: Madness Returns – but they’re often extremely short and more interested in touchscreen tricks than story content.
Upgrade Soul is different. Written by illustrator Ezra Claytan Daniels and developed by media artist Erik Loyer, it follows an elderly couple who volunteer as guinea pigs in an experiment to reverse the ageing process. There is, of course, a fatal error in the process and the couple have to deal with the traumatic consequences. It’s a dark story presented in a traditional comic book format, with some startling imagery from Daniels.
But the interesting thing is, Upgrade Soul is delivered via an interactive fiction engine named Opertoonity; coded by Loyer in Unity3D, it is designed to exploit the touch and accelerometer controls of smartphones and tablet devices. Pages can be browsed in the familiar ebook way, by swiping the screen – however, moving the device around also changes the perspective on some frames, causing foreground objects to shift across the screen, giving a three dimensional feel. It’s mostly aesthetic, but there are disturbing sections where the effect is more intrusive, providing weird expressionistic twists on the imagery.
“Opertoonity sits on top of Unity and makes it easy to choreograph how panels move, how layers are arranged in depth, how music unfolds and more in ways that really support great storytelling,” says Loyer. “There’s beautiful momentum scrolling as you move from one panel to the next, and lots of little touches that are designed to make the story feel good to interact with. It’s still fundamentally a reading experience, but one that draws from the wealth of possibilities available when you take comic visual language digital.”
Okay, Upgrade Soul is not a game, but it is a beautiful piece of subtly interactive publishing, and it follows on from Loyer’s intriguing interactive art experience, Strange Rain. The first chapter will be available this summer, with subsequent instalments arriving later.
“Combining comics and interactive media is something I’ve been interested in doing since I first read Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics over a decade ago,” says Loyer. “It was instantly clear then that the visual language of comics was something that could have amazing applications in interactive storytelling. The challenge is to be really thoughtful about what kind of adaptations you make to the medium so you don’t run roughshod over what’s so powerful about it already. Today, there’s all kinds of fascinating experiments being done with combining the two mediums—I feel like we’re at the very beginning of exploring what’s possible…”
You check on the release of Upgrade Soul via Loyer’s development website, Opertoon.