This week was the scheduled opening of my solo exhibition. I’ve been planning and working on it for a long while, especially over my spring break vacation. To see it fully realized and working is a huge relief!
Once Upon a Time: An Interactive Storytelling Experience is a cute, fun, web-based interactive program, projected onto a gallery wall where users can come inside, pick up the mouse, and interact with the game directly while others watch. The program starts with a storytelling narrator’s voice, who responds directly to the people in the room as he is delivering an old Norwegian fairytale to his audience.
However, being observant in your role as a “listener” and making choices of your own throughout the story may possibly affect the narrator and the state of the program…
Because it was designed specifically for a physical installation in a room rather than just an online-exclusive website, the sound, atmosphere, physical space, and audience are all pretty crucial. Some of the writing in the program assumes that you are playing in that public installation space, as well. For example, leave the program alone for a few minutes, and the narrator will automatically call out to passerbys in an attempt to lure them to the story. You get a much different experience playing it inside of a gallery room, on a writing desk, with a booming voice surrounding you, and people listening on the side, rather than playing it at home alone on your laptop with your earphones on (though the latter option is available!).
The gallery was a bit small, so it got pretty crowded quickly. People lined up behind the user as they watched the screen on the wall, and took turns coming in and out in small waves. Some played multiple times to see all the results they could get, some stopped in the middle to allow others to play, and some followed the direct storyteller’s path and read the fairytale all the way through.
It’s a simple concept and execution on the front end, but the planning, pacing, writing, organizing, and coding on the back-end took me a while to figure out… it was my first time learning and working with Twine, which is an incredibly powerful program. I had quite a few concerning sound/looping issues minutes before the show opened, and I had to patch that up quickly. There are still some things that need tweaking in terms of that, but thankfully the major glitches were resolved right away.
I’ve been heavily inspired by text-based RPGs, choose your own adventures, interactive fiction, and video games with multiple branches and choices. I was aiming for a talented voice actor to deliver the role of “warm storyteller/snarky narrator,” who is technically invisible, but whose powerful presence can be heard and felt throughout the room. Special thanks to the wonderful Bud Ayers, my old dance teacher and coach, for the amazing voice acting!
The installation show itself is over, but you can play an online copy here view in Firefox, audio required!):
I hope to continue exploring the possibilities of Twine games and public installations with what I’ve learned so far!