Taking a break

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I haven’t posted anything in a while, because I have been busy working on Ariane in Paradise.  I am basically two thirds done.  Not only did I finish all the segments mentioned in my last post, I finished two of the three “day two afternoon” segments, a casino segment and one above I won’t describe (but there are enough clues in the picture to figure it out).

These last two segments are kind of odd and break away from the themes and mood of the rest of the story. Generally segments like this are unpopular, but I think they serve a purpose of world building.  The island feels like a real place with lots of stories happening on it, and it does not have to all be about romance, sex and nudity.

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The third afternoon segment I have planned is sort of a “high seas adventure” on a sailboat.  Finishing it finishes day 2, so part of me wants to hurry up, but this is also in a way the main exciting climactic point of the game, and if I try to rush it, I could ruin it like Game of Thrones season 8 (sorry I couldn’t resist).

Bottom line is I need a break to think about this final segment, plus think about day 3 and where that is going.  Also Guild Wars 2 is releasing a new chapter on Tuesday so I suspect I’ll be spending a lot of time there.

If I do any work on the game in the next month, it will be to add sound effects and music and achievements, none of which I have even started on.

And that’s where I am right now.

Ariane in Paradise Progress Report

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It has been a while since I made a progress report on Ariane in Paradise.  Last report was that I was a third of the way done, so I can now report that I am now more than a third of the way done.

I am trying to not upload pictures of days 2 and 3 (I’ve actually done work on both) as I consider them spoilers.  I’ve already released quite a few from day 1.  The photos I am posting here are “placeholder” pictures that are not even used in the game.

Day 2 consists of three paths with 5 events, all having some kind of puzzle aspect.  These basically work like the downtown adventures of Date Ariane, or the puzzles from the 4th story of Something’s In The Air.

One path is a hike to a waterfall.  I decided I wanted this to be an all day activity, and needed a really special puzzle.  My first thought was a classic adventure game where you have to build something to move on, my second was some kind of “escape room” type of puzzle.  I felt both were kind of lame, but then found a way to combine the two ideas, to make something really great, and I’ve been working on this path extensively to get it to work the way I want it.

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Path two consists of a day on a crowded beach.  If your game is set on a tropical paradise vacation, there’s got to be a visit to a crowded beach somewhere.

I haven’t written it yet, but I do have a puzzle figured out which you can succeed or fail at,  the thing is I am still thinking about what happens when you succeed and when you fail.  Besides swimming, tanning, drinking, and getting sand everywhere, what is there to do on the beach?

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Path 3 is a snorkel trip to a coral reef.   All I’ve really done on this one is enough set building to make this picture.  Not sure what I want to do, yet.

But I’m leaning towards borrowing an idea from Chaotic’s Miranda which involves a game of hide and seek in the coral.  Find Ariane before you run out of air.  Again, not sure of the rewards and punishments based on success and failure.

Two of these paths, beach and coral, are morning only.  I want to create two afternoon activities.  One idea is a trip to a casino to play roulette.  The twist on this puzzle: You actually play a game of roulette with a number of random success and failure outcomes, again haven’t written them yet.

Anyways, that’s enough updating, I better get back to work.

GW2 The 500 pound A-Bomb In The Room: It’s Mobile Stupid!

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My favorite PC game for the past 16 years has been Guild Wars (2004) and its sequel Guild Wars 2 (2012).  For those of you doing the math in your head and thinking Guild Wars has only been out for 15 years, well I am one of the lucky few to get into the closed beta that came out in October 2003.  So yes I have been playing for nearly 16 years.

This past week ArenaNet the makers of Guild Wars announced a 25% cut in staffing, from 400 to around 260 employees.  Included in those layoffs were some veterans in the company, who have been developing as long as I have been playing.  It is really sad to see them go.

Word is that many of those 100 layoffs came not from Guild Wars 2, but from unannounced games that have been worked on in secret for the last 3 or 4 years.  It only makes sense that a company that has only released two titles in its 19 years of existence would be working on other games, but it sounds like these projects are not in any state to make them releasable so they were cut.

Zoom Out Part 1: It’s not just ArenaNet

Guild Wars 2 has always played second fiddle to World of Warcraft, the biggest MMORPG ever.  World of Warcraft is made by Blizzard, a division of Activision, and also suffered from hundreds of layoffs in the past couple of months.  Last year a number of PC gaming studios closed their doors:  Telltale games, Visceral Games, Gazillion, Carbine Studios, etc.  Over 1000 job losses in one year alone.

Last time I checked, the gaming industry was doing fine, what’s with the mass layoffs?

One dominant theory is that the gaming industry is not growing like it used to, and layoffs is a way to artificially inflate profit in the short run.  This doesn’t make that much sense.  Why would a gaming company cut staffing in a growing industry?

Zoom Out Part 2: The issue is actually mobile games

The second biggest MMORPG of all time is Lineage, the vast majority of the players are in South Korea, which why you may not have heard of it.  It is the main source of income of NCSoft, the parent company of ArenaNet.

Last year, a mobile version of Lineage was released in Korea. That mobile version reportedly made $233 Million in its first month, more than Guild Wars 2 ever made in any of the last 6 years.

 

So much that NCSoft is working on mobile versions of its other titles: Lineage2M, Aion2, Blade & Soul 2, Blade & Soul M, and Blade & Soul SNotably missing is Guild Wars 2.  I would not be surprised if that was one of the unspecified unfinished projects they were working on.  If so, it is possible that a major factor in these ArenaNet layoffs had to do with their inability to make a Guild Wars 2 mobile game.

Update:  One theory making the rounds is that the huge negative backlash of a Diablo Immortal mobile game may have freaked out the people making the Guild Wars 2 mobile game, which in turn led to the scrapping of the project.

Heavy speculation on my part:  I notice that Lineage2M was developed by an outside 3rd party and is paying royalties to NCSoft for the privilege. Could NCSoft now be shopping around the Guild Wars 2 property to 3rd party developers to make a Guild Wars 2 mobile game?  If ArenaNet was making a mobile game, then scrapped it after the Diablo fiasco, it is possible that the work so far may be sold by NCSoft as well.

A third party developer releasing a GW2 mobile game would not face the negative backlash that would happen if ArenaNet did it.  Follow up speculation: How bad will this game be?

The upshot of this theory is that NCSoft will need Guild Wars 2 to continue to succeed.  Otherwise the IP will become worthless.

Zoom Out Part 3: Mobile games are REALLY bad for gaming in general

Companies have fallen in love with mobile gaming.  Nearly everyone has a phone they can play games on.  I see this with my games.  I primarily make games for PCs, but there seems to be big demand for mobile versions, because not everyone has a PC.

The thing with mobile games is that the freemium business model has taken over the industry, despite the really ugly dark side of this business model’s source of revenue.

Basically it is about getting “Whales”, people willing to pay hundreds of dollars in micro transactions to get really good at the game.  So many games use this business model, that it is very tough to find mobile games that don’t use it.

I prefer to buy mobile games outright.  I’d rather spend $5, $10, $20 or more for a mobile game that will give me hours of fun without trying to sell me crap.  You literally can’t find games like this anymore.

So profitable have these micro transactions have become, that PC game companies are adding it to PC games that you pay full price for.  EA has even bragged that every game it releases has some online element and micro transaction store.

Guild Wars 2 does this, too.  The core game is free and you can spend $30 to $60 for the two expansions, which is all you really need to play everything the game offers.  But they are constantly releasing cosmetic skins for weapons and armor, novelties, and other stuff that you can either farm gold to get, or just pay a few bucks for gems that can be turned into gold.  I admit I spend a fair amount on Guild Wars 2‘s gem store, but not more than I can afford, and I never bought something and thought “This isn’t worth it.”

What Guild Wars 2 does not do is do anything “Pay to win”.  You cannot buy armor or weapons that are better than the craftable armor and weapons you make by playing the game.  But “pay to win” PC games are a thing these days, and gamers should not support them at any price.

So why exactly is this bad for PC gaming?  Because the biggest driving force of the PC game is Single Player Games, which have a built in flaw: you really can’t do micro transactions in single player games.  Therefore, they do not make as much money as multiplayer games.  And yet there is still great demand for single player games.

Bottom line is that mobile gaming and PC\Console gaming are two different beasts, with two different player bases, but gaming companies decisions are not about pleasing the players, it’s about pleasing the bottom line.

Zoom Out Part 4: Players need to play smarter, and beat these developers at their own game.

It’s all about putting your money where your heart is. Support the games you actually enjoy. Be picky about what games you are willing to buy for $60 on opening day instead of $30 if you wait 3 months, or $10 if you wait a year.

Never support “Play to win” games or random loot boxes that result in duplicates.  Ask yourself, “How much do I enjoy playing this game?”, and only spend what you think it is worth to you.

Do you have to spend money to make the game fun?  That’s a good sign you shouldn’t spend the money.  Don’t buy “shovelware” or bad licensed games.

Best of all, support games that DON’T have micro transactions.  If you are looking for a good mobile time killer, this is likely to be tough.

3D Wars 4: La Femme to the Rescue

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Since June of 2015, there has been a sometimes less than friendly war between Daz Studio and Poser which basically share a small community of 3D rendering hobbyists.

That was when Daz released their latest advanced model Victoria 7 specifically designed to not work in Poser.  Now some people have found often complicated ways to get Vicky 7 to work in Poser, but because it was not designed for that program its use was limited.  At the time, Daz Studio had features, like physics rendering with their IRay renderer, that Poser could not match.

Then in early 2016, Poser 11 came out with their own physics renderer Superfly, and a bunch of other techie stuff like “Subdivision surface morphing” (what the community now calls “chips”) which allows a better control of the face (or other parts) for the purposes of animation, and adaptable figure weighting making it much easier to create new figures.

This was great and all, but it went over most of our heads.  How does this help us Poser users make beautiful pictures like the people using Daz Studio are doing?

While we got some new models to work with, like Dawn and Dusk by Hivewire3D, Paul and Pauline by Smith Micro, and Project Evolution by Erogenesis there was only limited support and add-ons.  Basically, many hobbyists like myself were stuck with Victoria 4.2 with a bunch of add-ons to fix her many flaws.

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Enter La Femme

A few of the more techie hobbyists got together a year ago to start working on a new figure that would take full advantage of subdivision surface morphing and adaptable figure weighting that most of us still don’t understand and came up with a new model named La Femme.

I made the above picture to demonstrate her features.  This is the model straight out of the box with zero morphs and add-ons.  Notice the joints: Shoulders, elbows, hips, knees, hands and feet.  I didn’t have to adjust a single joint to get it to look good, it did it on its own.

The point is is that the weighted figure can do any weird pose that humans can do and look like a human is doing them.  That is what adaptable figure weighting is all about.

The “free” version  comes with 140 facial morphs and 30 facial “chips” that can be used to make almost any face you want.  At the top of this post is a La Femme version of Ariane I made playing with those 140 dials.

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If you’re into this stuff, you probably want to get the body morphs, too.  This is not free and comes in two parts.  There is the basic body kit, which adds a ton of new dials to controlling the body shape, and the high definition kit that doubles the polygons in certain parts of both the face and body to significantly increase the detail.  These two were designed to compliment each other and make pretty much any kind of body you want.

Bottom line is it surpasses Daz’s Genesis 8 in complexity thanks to the use of tools not available in Daz Studio yet.

The Big Question: Will it be supported?

Even thought I have already created a La Femme version of Ariane, I plan to finish Ariane in Paradise with the V4 version.  Partly because I am too far into the project now to switch models, and partly because there isn’t a very good selection of clothing or poses available yet.

Genesis 8 currently has many advantages.  There are more users of Daz Studio than there are of Poser, and there is a big catalog of characters and clothing available for her.

To be successful, La Femme needs similar and continuing support.  More characters, more clothing, more exclusives.  Because it cannot be used in Daz Studio, that support has to come from us Poser users.

I personally will be watching with great interest.

 

State of the Internet: Filled With Fraud

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In the last year, I wrote about government interference in the internet, and corporate interference of the internet, but there is another group that has to be acknowledged, the users themselves who often use illegal means to make money online.  This group is decentralized and located all over the world.  The internet is filled with fraud.

Advertising Fraud

Hucksters infected 1.7 million computers with malware that remotely directed traffic to “spoofed” websites — “empty websites designed for bot traffic” that served up a video ad purchased from one of the internet’s vast programmatic ad-exchanges, but that were designed, according to the indictments, “to fool advertisers into thinking that an impression of their ad was served on a premium publisher site,” like that of Vogue or The Economist.

Views, meanwhile, were faked by malware-infected computers with marvelously sophisticated techniques to imitate humans: bots “faked clicks, mouse movements, and social network login information to masquerade as engaged human consumers.”

Some were sent to browse the internet to gather tracking cookies from other websites, just as a human visitor would have done through regular behavior. Fake people with fake cookies and fake social-media accounts, fake-moving their fake cursors, fake-clicking on fake websites — the fraudsters had essentially created a simulacrum of the internet, where the only real things were the ads.

Increasingly sophisticated scam artists are stealing millions from advertisers trying to get the word out to legitimate potential customers, whose ads are actually going to robots pretending to be interested customers.

According to New York Magazine where the above quote came from, about 40% of users on the internet are bots using a number of different schemes to steal advertising revenue.

It is not just malware, it is legitimate apps doing it too.

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Amazon Fraud

For sellers, Amazon is a quasi-state. They rely on its infrastructure — its warehouses, shipping network, financial systems, and portal to millions of customers — and pay taxes in the form of fees. They also live in terror of its rules, which often change and are harshly enforced. A cryptic email like the one Plansky received can send a seller’s business into bankruptcy, with few avenues for appeal.

Sellers are more worried about a case being opened on Amazon than in actual court, says Dave Bryant, an Amazon seller and blogger. Amazon’s judgment is swifter and less predictable, and now that the company controls nearly half of the online retail market in the US, its rulings can instantly determine the success or failure of your business, he says. “Amazon is the judge, the jury, and the executioner.”

Amazon is far from the only tech company that, having annexed a vast sphere of human activity, finds itself in the position of having to govern it. But Amazon is the only platform that has a $175 billion prize pool tempting people to game it, and the company must constantly implement new rules and penalties, which in turn, become tools for new abuses, which require yet more rules to police. The evolution of its moderation system has been hyper-charged. While Mark Zuckerberg mused recently that Facebook might need an analog to the Supreme Court to adjudicate disputes and hear appeals, Amazon already has something like a judicial system — one that is secretive, volatile, and often terrifying.

A recent article on The Verge called “Prime and Punishment” documented the cut throat underbelly of fraudsters undermining legitimate businesses using any tactics they can to get to the top of the search results.

For example, people used to buy five star reviews to get high on the search results, but then Amazon started deleting accounts that paid for five star reviews, so now some merchants are buying five star reviews for their competitors, then reporting their competitors and getting their competitors kicked off of Amazon. Read the full article for other dirty tricks.

This reminds me of the craziness that occasionally happened in Second Life‘s virtual marketplace for virtual items.  Every week new drama emerged on the forums of a new fraud attack. It comes with the territory of online sales.

But Amazon has become so big, they need more than just automated processes to settle billions of disputes.  It is making the worlds largest shopping site completely untrustworthy.

One could make the case that these are individuals using the site to be fraudulent to others, not the fault of Amazon.  But Amazon is far from faultless when it comes to being honest in business.  Just look at their underhanded fleecing of government in the “headquarters 2” debacle.  It’s like they are encouraging fraud.

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App Fraud

The last week there were headlines about a version of the Facebook app that monitored everything you do on the phone.  They paid teens $20 a month to use it.  This violated Apple’s terms of service, prompting Apple to block Facebook’s enterprise license, deactivating all beta versions of Facebook app being used internally.

But it is not just Facebook, a day later Apple did it to Google as well.

In both cases these license revocations only affected beta versions of apps that might be released in the future, not the popular apps used by most people.  Apple determined that both companies were distributing these beta apps outside the company, and that is what triggered the terms of service locks.

Meanwhile, it seems every few weeks there are articles like this one about popular apps that do a lot more than what they are supposed to be doing.

Fraud seems to show up a lot in the app stores.  If you search for “Messenger” thinking you will get Facebook Messenger, you will likely get instead one of a number of ad filled message monitoring apps that will cause unwanted pop up ads all over the place.

You know those Flashlight apps?  You don’t need them. You can turn on a flashlight on your phone very easy without an app.  Ditto apps with Q code and bar code readers. Your phone’s camera does that automatically without an app.  Then there are popular religious apps with bible quotes.  All of these are filled with ads.

Worst are “free” security apps like software cleaners and virus protection and “anti hacking” apps.  If you are not paying for a service, your phone is being flooded with ads.  These will hack your home screen and are sometimes very difficult to remove.

While I am on the topic, let me point out the fraud of “Freemium” games that Facebook was illegally pushing on minors at their parents expense.  Gaming fraud deserves a post all its own.

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Millions Lost

These are three areas where the internet has become the wild west.  It seems there is no software to protect yourself from fraudsters that isn’t itself also a fraud.  Promises of easy money online are just that: promises.

Want another example? Here is an article about defrauding kickstarter campaigns by publishing articles “for a fee”.  I wouldn’t be surprised if similar scam artists are defrauding gofundme pages of people trying to fund life saving medical treatments.

For every person who has gotten rich off the internet there are dozens that have lost.  It’s like in the movie Ready Player One, where if you kill a player, you collect all their gold, and the dead player has to start over at square one.  It’s a very good metaphor for internet based businesses today.

It seems that everyone has a scam to sell, and the internet has grown so thick with these scams that many actually support government and corporate take over to get rid of it.  Then only the big boys will make money online, and the economic hopes of the internet will be lost.

I’ve already lost hope that the internet would be the Great Equalizer that was promised. I suspect that what we will see is the continuous rise and fall of internet based empires.  If you want to play in this environment, my best advice is to watch your back.

Erotic Visual Novels Part 6

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Another year another group of erotic visual novels to check out.

Coming to Grips with Christine

Written and programmed by Tlaero
Graphics and sex scenes by Mortze
Download Link
Online Link

Coming to Grips with Christine is the latest game by Tlaero and Mortze, it is a sequel to a previous game by Tlaero and Phreaky Getting To Know Christine, an 8 year old game that is currently raked #2 dating sim on Playforce One.

Coming to Grips was distributed in pieces for subscribers to Tlaero and Mortze’s Patreon page, but last month they made all 5 parts available to the public for free.

Acknowledging the previous story, you have been in a relationship with Christine for some time now.  The main paths of the story involve either renewing your love for her, or drifting apart from her, especially when you meet her cute younger sister.

The two games demonstrate the changing maturity of this genre.  Getting to Know had what I call a “porn plot” — a series of crazy pretenses to get to the next erotic scene. I did a bit of that myself in SITAComing to Grips has a more mature “real life” feel to it, and it works.

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The Academy Part 1

Written, Programmed, and Graphics by dsp3000
Online and Download link

Speaking of “porn plot” pretenses for sex scenes, vdategames has recently moved the first game of the 5 part Academy series from the member section to the free to play section.  The academy series is created by dsp3000:

The Academy series takes place over one week, with each part representing one day. Parts one, two three and four were Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Part five will be Friday.

The basic plot is that you have been hired as a media expert at a female only college academy for girls.  The last person was fired for fraternization.  You have to write a report with your recommendations, but the sexy girls keep distracting you.

Part 1 makes some rookie mistakes, the introduction section is a bit too long, as I had to repeat it a few times as I kept on getting fired myself.  The graphics are not that interesting either, though I have already seen his later games and the graphics are improving.

What does work is some of the puzzles.  The first involves finding login codes to the cameras so you can see what’s going on from your desk. The second involves fixing a secret camera hidden in the girls locker room fire detector, and you have to get in there to replace the battery.  This is where I kept on messing up.

I’m trying to create some puzzles of this sort for my games. His ideas are better than mine.

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These Nights In Cairo

Written, Programmed, and Graphics by Salamandra88
Published by 7DOTS via Steam
Link to purchase

This past June Steam decided that they were tired of trying to censor every game on their library and allow erotic games on their system, so I decided to look into what was being offered there, especially during the December sales.  Unfortunately most of them looked pretty bad.

One of the games I decided to try out was These Nights in Cairo, a Renpy based classic visual novel made in Russia. It got a lot of very positive reviews, so I bought it.

The story is set about a century ago, you play a female character Margaret Dawson whose father is looking for a lost Egyptian temple.  There are curses and strange twists in the story to keep it interesting, and similarities to the 1999 version of “The Mummy” are purely coincidental.   The story is interesting, the translation to English is very good (the game was originally in Russian), and the original music is well done. The images are hand drawn hand painted and look like western style comic illustrations rather than the traditional manga style you see in most visual novels.  It’s very beautiful.

My only real complaint is that many key action scenes are not illustrated.  The finale has about 5 or 6 important things happening at the same time, only one of which is actually illustrated.  This includes many of the love scenes, there are naked backsides and side boobs but nothing very explicit.  There are at least three potential lovers (two males, one female), the heroine is a modern female trapped in a male dominated era.

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One of the things they did in this game (which is actually common to many visual novels) is that when the character you are playing says a line, it shows a portrait of your character along with the line.  They also added in different expressions.  I liked this feature so much, I’m adding it to Ariane in Paradise, the Renpy visual novel I am working on.

Of course that is the reason I play these games, it inspires my own games.  Plus the games themselves are fun.

An Interactive Adventure writer reviews an Interactive Episode of Black Mirror

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On December 28 2018,  Netflix released a stand alone episode of their hit series Black Mirror called “Bandersnatch”, which was a first of its kind experiment that allowed you to change the story by picking options along the way.

Before I delve into spoilers, here is my brief non-spoiler review of the episode: As an episode of Black Mirror, it is actually one of the weaker ones.  Most episodes go with the “Speculative sci-fi” premise of introducing a new potentially great technology that may theoretically exist in the future someday, and tell a story about that technology creating some kind of drama.  I’m a huge fan of speculative sci-fi, so I am also a huge fan of Black Mirror — most of the time.

This episode actually introduces a technology of an interactive TV episode (which has only existed in a limited way with interactive DVDs, this is the first of its kind for streaming) and proceeds to create artificial drama with the technology itself.  This is ultimately a rather cheesy thing to do: You are introducing a potentially groundbreaking and profitable technology, in a way that satirizes the same technology making it less desirable in the future.

The rest of this review contains spoilers.

Bandersnatch Black Mirror

The story is about Stefan, a promising young programmer in 1984 who is working on a computerized version of a complex and very thick choose your own adventure book called “Bandersnatch” by Robert B. Davies.

I have a personal connection to this story as in 1984, I was also writing adventure games in BASIC on a TI 99/4a that did not have enough memory and constantly crashed. I was writing text based adventures in the style of Colossal Cave or Zork, though at the time mine were pretty lame.  In the last couple of decades I have been independently writing and publishing my own choose your own adventure games, formally known as visual novels, some of them are rather successful.

Bottom line, not only do I know what writing interactive fiction is like, but I also know what programming was like in 1984.  I’ve experienced “the hole” as one character calls it, though I have never ever in my life heard it called that.  I could actually be a technical advisor on this episode, and nit pick all the stuff they got wrong, and maybe that is why I am giving it 2.5 out of 5, but I’d rather just stick with reviewing the episode itself.

There are basically 8 endings, only two of which are satisfying, I’ll call them the “TOY” ending and the “Perfect Game” ending.  Most of the endings have the main character dying or in prison.  The three exceptions are easily the worst.

The first ending you are likely going to his is one of those bad ones. The main character sells out to the gaming company, and produces a bad game. I’ll label this the “tutorial” ending, and if it was the first ending you got, so did almost everybody.  The other two awful endings are the “Netflix” endings (“Netflix/Window” and “Netflix/Fight”) which are 4th wall breaking cheesy plots that some viewers will probably find entertaining, but it ultimately just shits all over the whole concept and ruins it.  Basically I stopped looking for new endings after I saw this one.

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The next two bad endings are also fourth wall breaking, and involve visiting Colin and dropping acid. Colin breaks the fourth wall by saying we are in a game, stuck in a loop, but the speech worked much better when delivered by the Luteces in Bioshock Infinite.

Colin tries to prove his point by saying either he or Stefan should jump to their deaths off the high rise balcony.  Choosing Stefan leads to the “nozedive” ending, choosing Colin leads to Colin jumping rather casually and opening up an ending I’ll call “PACS” which is a less meta version of the Netflix endings, where Stefan is the subject of an elaborate conspiracy.  This is actually the second ending after “Tutorial” that I got.

The third ending I got, is the last of the eight, which I’ll call “Kill dad, bury dad” named after the choices you do to get there, which actually has a number of versions depending on whether you dropped acid with Colin or not. They all end basically the same: Stefan never finishes the game, goes to prison for murder, and the game company goes bankrupt.  While not as bad as the meta endings, it lacks a coherent story.

The two good endings

“Toy”, or to be exact “any cereal, any music, refuse, yes talk about your mother, no don’t go with mom, either album, yell at dad, follow Colin,  Yes, Colin, pull earlobes, flush them, hit desk, pick up book, enter TOY, yes go with mom” is the story of a troubled young man that blames himself for the death of his mom who died in a train derailment when he was five.  Thanks to an LSD trip he has a realistic vision of himself going back and changing things in the past and being with his mom at the time of the accident.  This results in him dying along with his mom.  Since he really isn’t time traveling, he can’t actually save her, but he can be there and make her last moments happy.  His real body just suddenly dies in his psychologists office.

“Perfect Score”, or to be exact “any cereal, any music, refuse, no don’t talk about your mother, no don’t talk about your mother, any album, yell at dad, visit Dr Haynes, pull earlobes, flush them, hit desk, pick up either, JFD, Throw Tea, Glyph symbol, kill dad, chop up body.” is the story of a novel “Bandersnatch” that drives people mad.  The original author of the novel went crazy while writing it and chopped off his wife’s head, the author of the video game adaption went crazy and chopped off his dad’s head, and the episode ends in the present day with a woman named Pearl (Colin’s daughter?) adapting the novel/game for Netflix, and showing the same early signs of madness.

These two work on their own, the first sad, the second creepy, and could probably be released as stand alone episodes.  If you want a whole map of the show you can find one here.

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Lessons for future interactive TV producers

Interactive stories have been around for decades, and there are a lot of really good ones. A recent famous good one is Detroit: Become Human by David Cage who also made Heavy Rain and Beyond Two Souls.  These stories generally have one good happy ending, and a large number of tragic bad endings. This is also the general pattern of most of the Tell Tale Games before they closed.

Another really good interactive story writer is Ragnar Tørnquist who did the trilogy The Longest Journey, Dreamfall, and Dreamfall Chapters.  His stories branch off in many directions, but then tie themselves together in a big finale.  Any path in which you survive leads to the same ending, but the differing paths lead to more details about the story, characters, and settings.  This is how my game Rachel Meets Ariane works.

My favorite kind of interactive story is rare, and the most difficult kind to pull off.  It is where every path leads to a different and interesting ending on its own, but there is a greater story if you follow all of the paths.  This is what I was going for with Something’s In The Air, it was successfully done in Tlaero and Mortze’s Saving Chloe I have heard that Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors is designed to work this way, but I have never played it to find out.

I’m hoping that “Bandersnatch” is not the end of interactive TV programming.  Charlie Booker is a very clever guy, but his lack of experience writing branching stories shows. It takes years of practice.  My message for future interactive TV producers is learn from Black Mirror’s mistakes: Don’t add branches just for the sake of adding branches, if you can’t make every branch interesting, then trim those dead branches.  Stay the hell away from “meta” stories.  Learn story structure from interactive games, the best ones don’t always fit the usual three act structure of linear story telling.