An early Mysterious Path wireframe concept. A game comic thing.
I think I always knew something wasn't right, that something was holding me back from diving head first into the project... but I wasn't sure what it was (something other than lack of time and talent!)
I started with naive optimism on the possibilities of digital gamebooks.
Later came the angst ridden paralysis where game and narrative modes refused to gel.
Now it feels like the gamebook could be a fatally flawed construct, better left in the museum.
The projects honeymoon period is concluding and I am asking questions that are casting shadows over the direction of Mysterious Path. I know I'm not exactly inventing a new entertainment paradigm, and should just lighten up a bit, but as any meaningful next steps will require significant effort, and possibly expense, it would be nice to have some validation or robust logic to back up any design hypothesis.
So it's time to kick the tyres.
Recently two statements destablised my product vision:
Narrative is not a game mechanic
There's no such thing a player character
Both statements, backed-up with solid argument, immediately shed light on the design challenges I had been wrestling with for Mysterious Path. The statements strike at the core of what I had previously seen as a potential strength/differentiator for gamebooks of the future. Better storytelling. Their arguments explained why I had been struggling to make headway.
I believed Gamebooks could occupy a niche - a game experience with a narrative focus, more suitable for consumption on mobile devices. I had already decided to reduce the proposed multiple play modes (to avoid a Shenmu-like smorgasbord of interactivity) in an attempt to focus on the core promise of interactive story. But these two statements strike deep into that promise.
Games and Story don't mix.
I am encumbered with awareness of two truths:
1) The original paper-based gamebooks were flawed.
When not bathed in the rose tinted light of nostalgia, gamebooks are a curious concoction. A book that has no defined central characters. A book without a traditional plot. A book that allows luck to determine whether you can read on.
2) Games can't tell stories.
I am in agreement with Tadhg and his storysense theory. Videogames are at their best when they create believable worlds for you to roam, and at their worst when you are watching cut scenes or enduring narrative exposition. Games are for playing not watching.
Could it be that the gamebook is simply the worst of both worlds? A game with limited interactivity. A book without engaging characters and narrative. An experience that neither satisfies an audience that craves deep POV, multi-dimensional characters and weaving story arcs nor an audience that seeks immediate audio/visual feedback from their inputs within a digital world. Surely a marriage of games and books can only result in compromise of their unique strengths.
So I'm asking: Is my vision for a new gamebook format fatally flawed, or can the digtal age provide fertile ground for evolution? and... Can videogames teach me anything about interactive storytelling, or will it remain an elusive aspiration?
Well that's the pessimistic bit over, thanks for staying with me (Note: Negativity is a creative necessity. If I've put you on a massiver downer click here, better?) I'm not trying to bad mouth gamebooks. I'm a fan, why would I even start a project like Mysterious Path if I wasn't? I just need to understand their limitations to progress. Next I'll try and identify what's not working and see if I can find some foundations for reconstruction.
This all got a bit long so I split it the post into an epic trilogy:
Part 1 - Gamebooks are broken
Part 2 - How are gamebooks broken?
Part 3 - Can gamebooks be fixed?
Read part two now
What is this Mysterious Path?
Mysterious Path is half comic, half 8bit RPG, half choose-you-own-adventure. Mysterious Path will be an interactive experience playable on your phone, tablet or desktop... eventually. Imagined by the one man army that is Grey Wizard (and some occasionally helpful retainers)