Digital: A Love Story, a game set “five minutes in the future 1988″, has made quite a few appearances all over the web. The retro style game that you play through the eyes of an average nerd in the late 80’s, lets you explore the “Internet” at that time, through the Amiga workbench that was very famous back then. I had the chance to interview the author, Christine Love, about the game.
Openmedi:Before I ask you some questions about Digital, you may want to introduce yourself to the readers.
Christine Love: I’m a 20-year-old student of English literature, but first and foremost, I’m a writer of fiction. I do a wide range of work; short fiction, a novel, novellas, visual novels. Computer games are just an extension of that to me. My real biggest interest is playing with narrative and perspective.
Openmedi:Would you consider yourself a gamer? What games have you played and loved?
Christine Love: Absolutely! I’m big on fighters and strategy games, but what really appeals to me are games with interesting narratives, although not necessarily ones that would be considered story-based. I don’t like listing favorites because I always feel like I’m missing something critical, but I would offer Chrono Trigger, The World Ends With You, most of the 2D Metroid games, Half-Life 2, Star Control 2, Hotel Dusk, and the Phoenix Wright games as a fairly good sample of mainstream games that do something interesting in that way.
Openmedi: There maybe few people left, who don’t know boingboingand others, but could you anyway explain in your own words to them, what digital is about?
Chrsitine Love: I’ve never been very good at synopses, especially about my own work, but… I would say that Digital is a game that’s about reliving a romanticized version of the 1980s BBS scene, about hacking, making connections with people, and of course, solving a mystery.
Openmedi: The full name of the game is “Digital: A Love Story”. Is it a game about Love?
Christine Love: To be perfectly honest… the sub-title exists because I wasn’t quite sure if the player would find the love story to be the focus or not, with it not quite being in the spotlight at all times. Despite that, I would say yes, it fundamentally is; it’s perhaps not the most conventional one, focusing on a very awkward, disconnected adolescent sort of love.
This is a spoiler, but there’s also another very different sort of love that comes into conflict with the player’s romance; *Emilia’s love for her family, that in the end, is what comes first to her. It’s not particularly understandable to the player, who probably doesn’t find any of the entities that she’s sacrificing herself to save worthy of it, but in the end, *Emilia’s familiar love is what prevails.
Openmedi: How did the concept got developed? Did you just start and invented on the way or did you plan everything out? Which tools did you use to develop the game?
Chrsitine Love: I’ve wanted to make a game about solving a mystery online for ages, and the love story was pretty much always a part of that. And I’ve always been incredibly enamored with the era that Digital takes place in. But I just couldn’t figure out how I could make a mystery story like that work, because I wanted it to be fundamentally about the immersion; I didn’t want the player to watch someone solve a mystery, I wanted them to feel like THEY were solving it. The thing that inspired Digital’s creation the most probably seems surprising: it was actually replaying Chrono Trigger. I realized that if the game had a silent protagonist, that would be perfect; the player would instead place themselves in the role, I wouldn’t have to compromise the computer immersion feel to show what the player was saying, and most importantly, it’d mean that the player would have to make connections themselves without the game spelling them out. With that premise in mind– silent protagonist solving a mystery about a girl online– it pretty much all came together from there. I didn’t know what the mystery was actually going to be when I started researching and working on the interface, but it all fell into place. The game’s built in Ren’Py, a visual novel engine I’ve worked with for about four years now; frankly, it’s doing things that it’s absolutely not meant to do, and all the problems with the interface can pretty much be blamed on me for that.
Openmedi: Let us talk about the plot of the game. The plot is quite linear but there is a feeling of interactivity to it, which comes from the various possibilities to which of the servers the player wants to connect. What is your trick of keeping everything intact at each point of time? Did you do a big mind map to plot down the ways the player could go, did you note everything down on index cards? Something completely different?
Christine Love: No, not at all; I sure wish I did! I’ve never made really any sort of interactive story like this before. I’ve done stories where the narrative pauses for gameplay, and then continues if you win, but that’s very much not the same thing at all. So going into it, I had absolutely no experience in the matter whatsoever. I did write a linear outline of the plot, just so I know what happened when, which is something I do with a lot of my writing… and then I started writing all the messages themselves. And then I connected all the threads together. Frankly, that’s a terrible way to go about it; I wish I had realized that when I started! It was very much a learning experience in designing a game narrative, and I unfortunately do think it shows.
Openmedi:The interface of the game is not only beautiful nostalgic geekery, but also serves as one of the biggest pulls of immersion in your game (besides the characters themselves I would say). I’ve never owned an Amiga or had the chance to see one in action and play around with it. There are probably many more people that have never had the chance to experience that totally different world of computing. How important was it for you to show unexperienced and probably quite young users how the digital life was different from what we know it is today?
Christine Love: To be perfectly honest, I’m one of those people! After all, the story is set a year before I was born. My first computer was actually a 486. I’ve always been fascinated by that that era of computing, and it took a lot of research on my part to make sure that I managed to depict the differences right. Getting the setting right was honestly more important to me than anything else; as much as anything else, writing the story was my chance to get a feel for what that time was like. Of course, it’s not a documentary, and there are a number of anachronisms, mostly intentionally done for the sake of making it easy on the player. I don’t think anybody would’ve wanted to play a game that takes place entirely in a terminal! Instead I tried to evoke the feeling as much as I could; from all the comments that I’ve received, it sounds like I got it mostly right.
Openmedi:Why did you decide to publish this game under a creative commons license?
Christine Love: Simply put: for the music. Of course, no matter what, it would’ve been free, and the source would be available, but the reason for that license specifically is because I used CC music. I will always be impressed by how very cool it is that so many artists make their music available like that. And Digital definitely would not have worked nearly as well without that great soundtrack. As a result of that spirit, my modest little game can feature songs by the likes of 4mat… how awesome is that?
Openmedi:Will there be a pre– or sequel? Is there any project you’re currently working on, that you think we should look out for?
Christine Love I think the story is pretty much entirely self-contained; to do a direct sequel just wouldn’t feel right at all. On the other hand, I’d say it’s very likely that I’ll do another game with similar mechanics to Digital at some point in the future, especially now that I know a lot more about how to go about designing that kind of game. Not that I have anything particularly in mind, but I certainly think it would be fun to revisit. I tend to juggle a lot of ideas at once and very few actually get finished, so I wouldn’t want to promise anything; but I think it’s pretty safe to say that I’ll be making more games in the near future!
Openmedi: Thank you.
Christine Love’s latest work can be read and seen on her Website ScoutsHonour.com
Digital: A Love Story can be found here for all major platforms (Windows, Mac, Linux).
It is completely free. It is free to download and released under a Creative-Commons License. (Thx erlehmann)