Interview: Christine Love about her Game Digital: A Love Story

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.

christinelove.jpg

Chris­tine Love

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.

Digi­tal — A Love Story

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.

SPOILERS AHEAD!

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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).

EDIT: It is com­ple­tely free. It is free to down­load and released under a Creative-Commons License. (Thx erleh­mann)

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