This week, my friend Janet is host to our weekly writing prompt at our iAnthology writing space (where National Writing Project teachers hang out and write). She suggested we create fake acceptance speeches for awards. I decided to go the funny route, using Voki to accept an award for most blog posts in a single day (I do write a lot, I know).
Thanks, Janet, for the great prompt. And while I am not a big fan of Voki, it worked for what I wanted for this prompt.
I came across this simple writing sheet that I created two years ago when I did make-your-ending stories with my sixth graders. We actually used it twice: first, as a collaborative writing prompt, where one student began a story and then passed it along to someone else, who then branched it out and passed it, etc. Second, it became a graphic organizer for their own stories, which we later published on our wiki site. It’s nothing fancy, but it is a good starting point for this kind of branching story.
I also found this concept/site map that I had created for other teachers to explain how to teach Make Your Own Ending stories. The map is part of a website that I had created called Threaded Adventures. It’s still a valuable resource, for me.
It all starts with the choice of a vanilla or chocolate ice cream cone, and from there, Jason Shiga’s imaginative graphic novel/interactive story app called Meanwhile moves into visual high gear, allowing the reader/player to make choices in the story branches. Most of the branches lead to disaster. One will not and the ultimate goal is to find that branch that will lead to a happy ending. All of the branches have doses of humor and visual artwork that will engage you on a variety of levels. Shiga built the app (and the app is inspired by the graphic novel of the same name, which also floored me when I reviewed it for The Graphic Classroom) around the concept of the “infinite canvas” — a concept in comics that forces the reader and writer to “think big” by expanding the story beyond what can be seen and what can be experienced.
Meanwhile takes advantage of that idea (and even did so in a creative way with the book) by allows the reader/player to see various paths of the story. You literally zoom over parts of the story map as you connect with parts of the story based on the choices you make. More than once, I was thinking, what was that part of the story? as the window blew past some frames I had not yet viewed. Instead of keeping everything hidden and out of sight, you can see elements of the story map. In a lot of ways, this visual storytelling strategy is very different from the other interactive fiction stories and apps that I have been reading/playing in the past two weeks.
The story has to do with a boy, Jimmy, who stumbled into a factory of a professor, whose been creating devices that could be used to destroy the world, or not destroy the world. So, which will you choose? Your decisions are what lead you along various branches of the story in Meanwhile.
The downside is that Meanwhile is an app that costs $4.99. The upside is that Meanwhile will keep you busy for a long stretch and you will be amazed by the creativity on display. It’s an interactive fiction app that harnesses the power of graphic novels and comics in a make-your-own-adventure style of play.
This free app — Versu — is very different from The Dreamhold, the interactive fiction app I reviewed yesterday. In the stories in Versu (there are a few free ones and then you can purchase others in a library), the reader makes choices about the dialogue and actions of a character in the story, and those choices shift the narrative. The first story — An Introduction to Society — has a main character, Lucy, interacting with her grandmother as she prepares to meet other members of high society. It’s like an English novel of manners, with choices for behavior and actions.
The story unfolds mostly in dialogue and decisions, and as new characters enter the scene, they are depicted as icons down below. A click on their pictures reveals what each character is thinking at a given moment in the story. While the story is rather highbrow, the choices invite you (as Lucy) to be either very civil (and therefore, boring) or rebellious by having the main character act rude, say foolish things, or be provocative in the way she holds herself. (So, for example, as I had Lucy tell the visitors that her grandmother thinks one of them is a “clod,” I completed one of the story’s achievements: sowing discord. Yes!)
And at some points, the grandmother breaks out of her role in the story to become a narrator to how to play the game (which, to be frank, is slightly odd when it first happens because you think you are still reading the story and you realize the grandmother is talking to you.) While I did find the interface interesting, this is clearly a story that might interest an adult more than a student (and no doubt, it was not designed for teaching interactive fiction). However, it could work with high school students who are studying English literature.
Oddly enough, I felt less agency as a reader/player with the Versu story than I did with The Dreamhold (which I reviewed yesterday). It was more like a neat diversion piece of reading than a full immersive experience. Maybe this is because you have to choose from a menu of choices provided by the story. But the Versu app is worth checking out, particularly for the way that writers Emily Short and Richard Evans uses character motivations and thoughts as well as dialogue to pace the story forward. The emotional wrinkle to interactive fiction is pretty interesting, and something I have not yet come across in my adventures exploring this kind of story/game.
And I am intrigued by the mentions of players writing their own stories, although I don’t quite see that option yet. (Versu is pretty new, so maybe that kind of writing component will fold out later).
The first day of February break, my youngest son asked: “Can we make a stopmotion movie?” You bet we can. We worked on the filming over a series of a few days with a software called Smoovie, and then created the soundtrack on the Garageband App, and then used iMovie to pull it all together. Just to say, a 2 minute stopmotion movie required a lot of shooting of frames.
(Thanks to my friend, Ryan, who shared a few links with me yesterday about interactive fiction apps and sites. I spent a bit of time exploring this one, and then stumbled on a few more, too.)
The Dreamholdis an interactive fiction story that is designed to introduce readers to the concept of exploring story via text only (No graphics. No animation. Only words and imagination). A free app from iTunes, The Dreamhold puts the reader/player into exploration mode, as you wander around a castle of some sort, and you slowly realize that it might be a place of magic. There are a lot of things to like about The Dreamhold. It’s free for both iPad and iPod/iPhone, it has a helpful system of “hints” built into the interface, and it simplifies the experience just enough to allow even the most novice of interactive fiction readers (like me) to have fun and understand the concept.
I like how the app is laid out, too, with a handy place for finding common commands for movement and examination, and how you can save your progress and return to the story later. A map section also shows you a bit of an overview of where you are in the Dreamhold (and reminds you of how much of the story has yet to unfold). All in all, if you are seeking a way to experiment with reading/playing an interactive fiction story, The Dreamhold is a good place to start. (I notice that the company — Zarfhome — has also put out other IF stories that cost 99 cents, which is still a pretty good deal.)
Here’s what I am wondering: can I get this app onto our school iPod touches and use it as an introduction to IF with my students? (Short answer: yes. Longer answer: we have old generation touches, so what I wonder is whether it will work on all generations of Touches. I think it will. I am going to try it.)
I took my son and a friend to an exhibit at a local museum. The theme of the exhibit was the guitar, in all of its glory. It was pretty cool — they had a bunch of famous electric guitars on display, a history of the guitar and a bunch of hands-on activities for kids. The best was “the biggest playable guitar” in the world (according to the brochure) — a 43-foot-long Gibson that you could pluck and make notes on. I won’t say it sounded all that great but that was beside the point. The guitar was HUGE!
I shared the photo with my band, and then it was put on our Facebook page with a snarky comment about saxophone players needing to learn to play guitar on big instruments.
As I explore Interactive Fiction and Choose Your Adventure genres, I realized that I have an app that is all that on my Ipad. I had forgotten about Underground Kingdom, for some reason, and yesterday, I returned to the interactive ebook to see how it might help me think about my students reading and writing interactive stories. Underground Kingdom does a nice job of adapting the old Choose Your Adventure story concept (there are 23 possible endings and you can access a map that shows your path and your dead ends, so you can always jump back into the story at different points).
Underground Kingdom was financed via Kickstarter, and the app (which costs $2.99 at the iTunes App Store) takes advantage of the technology by integrating motion graphics, simple animations and, of course, the hyperlinked tree effect, which allows a reader to jump around the story arc based on choices made. The plot of the book has to do with a black hole at the center of the earth, a strong gravitational field, and a hidden kingdom … of monkeys. Yeah. So, you can get a sense of the fun and adventure that this sort of story brings to an iPad (Underground Kingdom is not yet available for other devices.)
I had fun reading/playing this story, although I wasn’t all that overwhelmed by the graphics and the story is still pretty text-heavy. Still, the plot moved at a rapid pace, and the use of second person narrative making choices was effective. I liked that when I hit a dead end, I could venture back to the story map and keep going in another direction. In fact, after 25 minutes of reading/playing, I still seemed to have a long way to go with the story.
It makes me wonder if there are other Choose Your Adventure stories out there in ebook/interactive format. Do you know of any others?
Last summer, my then-7-year-old son (he’s now 8) rounded up a bunch of friends and relatives and produced an 8 minute movie called Robbers on the Loose. The project was inspired by similar movie-making ventures by older kids in the neighborhood, including my older sons. As a production assistant (!) to my young son, I helped with some of the holding-of-the-camera and some of the video editing. But the story, the direction, the props (including our dog) were all of his ideas, and the end result was a goofy sort of cops/robbers story complete with a chase and battle scene. In our city, there is an annual Youth Film Festival that celebrates young filmmakers, and we sent his movie in on a whim.
We learned this week that his film has been accepted (the festival is today) and in the local newspaper yesterday, his name and his movie were featured in the promotional material. Boy, was he excited!
If you happen to be in Northampton today, from noon to 3, come check out the Northampton Youth Film Festival at the Academy of Music. We’ll be there, popcorn in hand, and maybe a camera of our own to try to capture the sense of his movie on the big screen.
Here is the trailer we had done for it way back in the summer: