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Introducing Superbooks – Another Attempt to Reinvent Interactive eBooks

140910112240-joyce-superbooks-horizontal-gallery[1]CNN has an article up this morning about a UK-based ebook startup called Inkle Studios and its new type of ebook. Saying that "your reading habits are about to change", the article gushes:

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.

blackcrown[1]Later in the year Random House UK released the Black Crown Project. 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.

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Angela Booth September 11, 2014 um 3:25 am

Amazing how often the idea of interactive ebooks keeps coming around.

I Googled "multimedia ebooks 1998" and found this tweet – "History of ebooks: 1998 – Kim Blagg obtains the first ISBN issued to an ebook and starts selling multimedia-enhanced ebooks on CDs" –

Ebooks on CD — ooh the excitement.

The 80 Days project by Inkle Studios looks fun, but it’s hardly innovative.

Kudos to them for the great publicity. 🙂

Nate Hoffelder September 11, 2014 um 8:07 am

Well, if we’re going to talk about straight multimedia ebooks then that goes back to Voyager’s Expanded Books:

Will Entrekin September 11, 2014 um 8:27 am

Whenever I see this vooks or interactive books or, now, "superbooks," apparently, I always think that there’s some breathless hype for something in the end unnecessary. Like there was an iOS bome (that’s a book-game portmanteau you can use if you want!) called "Room 6" or something like that, where you had to twist your iPad to progress the story, and it had some good press, but it was a real pain in the butt to read. I gave up on it after a few minutes. I have no idea how many pages that equaled.

Which I think is the problem; so many of these things try to add bells and whistles, but if it’s not built on a firm foundation of solid storytelling and writing, it just doesn’t work.

So far as those old CYOA (Which is trademarked by ChooseCo, did you know that?) novels, the interesting thing is that, because ebooks are basically packaged-up webpages built on HTML, it’s possible to create that sort of experience. I did it with two short stories I’d written in grad school that complemented each other.

Inkle Studios präsentiert Hybriden aus Mobile-Game und eBook | September 12, 2014 um 12:48 pm

[…] Quelle: The Digital Reader […]

Chris @ Choose Your Own Destination September 14, 2014 um 6:06 am

OK, so evolutionary, but not necessarily revolutionary. We’ve seen this pattern a number of times in tech (and literature) – some new idea is invented, doesn’t catch on. Another company reworks that same idea into a more consumer-friendly product or price, or solves the earlier problems of form, format, or the like. I think of early MP3 players when the iPod came along as one example.

In any case, I’m pleased to mention my interactive NON-fiction project, a Choose Your Own Destination guide to Bangkok. Make your choices while you’re traveling through the City of Angels, or use it as a planning tool. Locations are given via GPS coordinates, and directions from the nearest landmark or public transportation station are there if you don’t have internet access.

Lettre de veille du Labo #3 | Le blog du Labo de l'édition September 16, 2014 um 8:05 am

[…] encensés mais qui peinent souvent à trouver rentabilité et audience, comme le remarque The Digital Reader. Ainsi, pour s’instituer en marché de niche innovant, le "Superbook" doit-il […]

La veille du Labo de l’édition #3 : En brèves | Le blog du Labo de l'édition September 16, 2014 um 9:10 am

[…] encensés mais qui peinent souvent à trouver rentabilité et audience, comme le remarque The Digital Reader. Ainsi, pour s’instituer en marché de niche innovant, le "Superbook" doit-il […]

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