Imagine you could tell Romeo that he doesn't need to take the poison to be with Juliet, warn Streetcar's Blanche Dubois not to rely on the kindness of strangers, or suggest that Jonathan Harker take his vacation somewhere other than Transylvania.
The power to influence and interact with the stories in classic literature is a tempting prospect, and this is the premise of Inkle Studios' audacious attempt to apply the full possibilities of digital media to fiction. The result is an updated form and experience for the stubbornly progress-proof novel.
While CNN might describe this as innovative and new type of ebook, what we're really looking at here is another take on interactive ebooks. (Actually, I would describe the app demoed in the video below as a game and not an ebook.) Far from being new, this idea is actually older than me.
What's interactive fiction? The following video should give you a better idea.
Inkle Studios recently released their version of Around the World in 80 Days, and posted this demo video showing how to play it:
If you discount the interactive fiction games run on servers in the 70s then the earliest interactive fiction would be the Choose your own adventure books from the late 1970s and 1980s.
Inkle Studios' work is a pretty smooth implementation of the idea, but it's far from innovative. In fact, this is one of those ideas (along with digital textbooks and enhanced fiction ebooks) that keeps coming back every few years as someone comes up with a new take on how to implement it.
Last year alone there were two different interactive fiction projects, one of which is quite similar in concept to the work Inkle Studios is doing.
Last March Linden Labs released Versu, which I described at the time as being a new twist on the old Choose Your Own Adventure Games. That was actually an engine for interactive fiction, and while it was far more focused on text than the ebooks produced by Inkle Studios, it had a number of similarities in game play.
Later in the year Random House UK released the . This is an online narrative fiction game which is oriented on first-person decisions rather than making decisions for characters.
If you check out those apps you'll see that they have much the same idea as Inkle Studios, and you might understand why I am underwhelmed with this latest incarnation of interactive fiction.
Interactive fiction like Superbooks can be fun, but radical? innovative? new? Those are adjectives which don't fit. This is an established niche where the book publishing industry overlaps the game publishing industry, that's all.