GameLog: The Ice-Bound Concordance

Name: The Ice-Bound Concordance.
Platform: iOS (iPad).
Game Started On: 03-20-2016.
Status: Playing.

The Ice-Bound Concordance is an iOS game that is focused on storytelling. In it, you interact with a simulacrum, an artificial intelligence agent that is based on an actual human being; as part of the fiction of the Ice-Bound universe, some humans are scanned and form the basis of these AI agents. Despite labels and disclaimers stating that simulacra are in fact artificial, during gameplay you do get glimpses into their human nature. Your assigned simulacrum KRIS is based on a human author who left an unfinished story: The Ice-Bound Concordance. Your task in the game is to complete the work of literature.

How you complete the story is an interesting exercise in story-writing and playful experimentation. Gameplay proceeds in levels, grouped into chapters. Each level contains a number of pre-authored story slots, which you can choose to activate or deactivate at will; each level places a limit on how many slots you can activate. Each story slot revolves around a particular theme, which you can examine in greater detail by tilting your iOS device sideways (a rather clever use of the multiple orientation affordances); doing so reveals longform text that serves as discourse realization of the theme you have selected. This longform text can sometimes be modified for artistic flair; some of the text is highlighted, and this text can cycle through several templates until one is selected by the player.

Selecting the combinations of story slots yields story events, emergent pieces of narrative that relate to the chosen slots. Part of the stated appeal of this game is exploring how these story events arise from constituent pieces. In turn, once all story slots have been exhausted, and all story events computed, a story ending appears, which (if selected) culminates the story for that level. As a story author, you have the option of continuing the story to the next level, or resetting the story and trying a new combination.

Warning! Potential spoilers below.

I was motivated to play this game due to a recent GDC panel that argued that branching dialogue trees poorly serve narrative games. I have thus far only played this game for one hour, and I think it is an interesting storytelling experience. The game does provide a departure from a branching dialogue model, in the form of a story within a story. However, the game's superordinate story still uses a branching dialogue tree to drive the interaction with the player. I see the subordinate story as an interesting exercise, but the way you interact with KRIS has been intentionally designed as part of the mystery that you as the simulacrum user are discovering. To be honest, I find the superordinate story more interesting than the subordinate story due to two reasons: a) I find the personal connection the simulacrum attempts to have with you as a player more engrossing, and b) I find mentally taxing having to do a deep dive into one variant of a potential Ice-Bound story only to undo the narrative progress and construct another variant. Narrative comprehension, despite its apparent passivity, is actually an active exercise in mental world building, and this game uses that mental world building as a primary mechanic. Personally, this means that I cannot enjoy the game for more than an hour at a time without feeling tired of projecting narrative possible worlds. It's possible this ability comes more naturally the more I practice it, but as of right now I find it too much for extended play.

I hope to continue playing until I complete a chapter's worth, so that I can elaborate this post with more commentary.