Articles, Reviews

Opining on StoryMechs

StoryMechsTwitter is an unusual beast, and when I discovered Tweet RPG as a way to take place in digital “choose-your-own-adventure” style games on the platform I was intrigued. I also had a lot of fun, and got to know some awesome people as a result. The nascent Tweet RPG system was a very innovative and creative use of new media to breathe a life into something that a lot of people may not have been familiar with or known much about. Personally, I’d never really played any of those “choose-your-own-adventure” books properly in my youth but saw the Twitter version as a viable extension of that format.

I totally get why Sam Richards (who I interviewed recently) teamed up with Mr Mook to regenerate his game-playing platform. The Tweet RPG brand was living on borrowed time and had to be replaced: for litigious reasons certainly if not creative ones. It also typecast the system to one particular platform which is unfair as the base mechanics are certainly extensible beyond Twitter. Also, the last couple of Tweet RPG adventures were somewhat sprawling leviathans that had the potential to lose their way – their length and complexity stretching the limits of 140 characters, which didn’t do the stories justice, as they were really good.

StoryMechs is an attempt to revitalise the platform under a more general but broader remit. A player has influence over the story like a metaphorical mech; their choices choose the direction the story takes. (I’m aware a few people thought this concept a bit too out-there but I got the rationale pretty quickly and find it’s actually really clever)

The inaugural adventure for StoryMechs was a sci-fi tale titled “Protect the Prince” and pitted the players in control of Captain Scharr the Lizard as he went about fulfilling his duty of the day – to protect the prince! It was a great little story and a lot of fun to take part in. I was refreshed to see that StoryMechs breaks down the epic adventures of old into considerably more manageable – and episodic, I can only guess – mini games that play out over a week or two. It’s akin to playing through a pacey short story, whereas Tweet RPG could seem at times like Tolstoy (or worse – Tolkien!). That’s not to say the adventures were bad; heck, they were an absolute blast but this considerable upping of the pace over a shorter timescale works a lot better. As a player I can more easily commit to taking part over a week and not worrying about losing track of where the plot was and what my choices were; with an eight or nine-week adventure this commitment could be quite daunting or off-putting – if I’m not going to be able to put 100% in all the time, why bother? It does neither my experience or the story justice to play like that.

The adventures also have the potential to be much more concentrated and punchy in pace. There’s also less voting on trivial minutiae that could easily go down a narrative cul-de-sac and leave players frustrated; votes now are more general in scope and the results are left to play out along a set path. There’s a definite de-emphasis on the more hard-core RPG elements that makes StoryMechs more appealing to those outside of the RPG circle and who are interested in influencing how a great story pans out. It brings the best of episodic or serialised fiction together with reader engagement to form something quite compelling. The community so far is rock-solid and I can only hope it grows ever more so!

I’m really excited to see how StoryMechs evolves and fleshes out. I did feel in the inaugural “Protect the Prince” narrative that the voting options were a bit too linear in scope (either be gung-ho or over-cautious) but these issues of narrative, not mechanics; I understand that “Protect The Prince” was a light-ish story designed to run in the StoryMechs concept. The core gameplay mechanics are solid and well-suited to engaging players who may have busy lives with social media. It’s definitely something to keep an eye on if you’re interested in seeing cool stories play out according to the wishes of the readers!

Check out the StoryMechs website to find out more!


A Whine about Vine

Yesterday I found out that Twitter has launched a new service called Vine which, on the face of it, sounds really good! Direct video uploading to Twitter just like you can do with images?

Scratch the surface, however, and you will see that Vine is a load of tut. I posted this tweet:

I would like to amend my basement there; Vine is not “borderline useless”, it is just useless.

First of all, I’ve major beef with this stupid 6-second thing. It’s a totally pointless, arbitrary limit; though you could say the same thing about Twitter and its 140 character limit, the difference here is that you can just about squeeze a cogent thought into 140 characters – can you do the same with a 6-second movie clip?

So inevitably Vine is not for anything interesting, but for “fun/random” stuff… great. What Twitter needs most of all is not better search or anything like that, but another means for idiots and nimcompoops to make themselves look like tw*ts.

I can understand Twitter limiting the clip length to save on storage space, but 6 seconds? Have I suddenly found myself back in 1994, when the whole notion of “web video” was downloading a grainy, pixelated, postage stamp-sized RealPlayer clip that was about 10 seconds long and took as many minutes to download on a screeching, screaming modem? There is this thing called YouTube nowadays that put paid to those awful, awful times.

Also, the videos repeat ad infinitum, and (thankfully) have sound muted by default, turning them literally into the something equivalent of an animated GIF. I say “ something equivalent” because I fail to see what Twitter has done to pioneer on the GIF with this feature, bar doing it slightly differently for no apparent reason.

I’m surprised in myself more than anything to have become a Twitter user to the degree that I have done; I aim to help promote my work with it and I’ve made some great friends, but this… solution looking for a problem baffles me. It really does.