So, a while back, the ever-awesome Metafilter put me onto this exchange, between gaming legend Tim Schafer – who worked on Monkey Island, Day of the Tentacle and Grim Fandago, amongst others – and joystiq.com. In it, Tim and his interviewers turn a simple email exchange into an adlibbed mini text adventure.
It’s a lovely, rich format for collaborative storytelling. Joe Dunthorne tried his hand at something similar, adopting the old Choose Your Own Adventure ‘forking paths’ style with his middle-class adventure ‘You Are Happy’, which you can play on his website. He’s performed it a few times as part of our show about video games and hiding from reality, Infinite Lives, getting audience members to choose what to do next. I’ve particularly enjoyed watching the supporting schtick develop – one thing a text adventure can’t do is demand that the player provide an explanation for their choice of path.
All of which is a preamble to this. Hey. You should go read MS Paint Adventures. After an entire year of inputs, the latest adventure, Problem Sleuth, is finally complete. When I read the last few frames, I felt kind of choked up and elated all at once.
Basically, it’s an interactive webcomic, presented in the style of the Sierra-style text adventure/point n’ click hybrids, like King’s Quest or Leisure Suit Larry. Readers post suggested commands on a blog – e.g. ‘Examine phone’, ‘Open safe’, ‘Get key’, etc – then writer and artist Andrew Hussie picks one to draw next and develop the story.
The eponymous Problem Sleuth starts off locked in his office, and the first order of business is working out how to escape. Like any great storyteller, Mr Hussie’s awesome at subverting expectation. Here, someone suggests punching through the office door’s glass window:
Watching the dynamic between Andrew and his audience develop is fascinating. As their attempts to solve the puzzle grow more and more creative, so his tactics for frustrating their attempts become increasingly elaborate. The result is a wonderful – if tortuous – piece of collaborative improv, full of cool narrative flourishes that draw from a plethora of disparate cultural sources to make something weird and technicolour and awesome. I don’t want to spoil it for you, but suffice to say that soon there are multiple player characters, a host of mighty allies and a nasty-ass monster horde to be defeated. You probably won’t have the stamina to read it all in a single sitting (it is a year‘s worth of posts, after all), but you can Save and Load your progress from the buttons just beneath the pictures. Click each command to advance to the next frame.
Go on, go. Read it. Seriously. Go. I’ll wait.