Storyteller is an incredibly original and surprisingly deep indie game
Late Friday at the PAX expo hall I wandered over to the booth for Spy Party, unsure of what to expect. While I had a ton of fun with that game, today’s article is about something else entirely (but I promise a Spy Party article soon!). My would-be advisor to my Spy Party session happened to be Daniel Benmergui and during one of the intermissions between play I asked him what he did and he mentioned that he was another indie dev, just not for Spy Party. His own game, Storyteller was going to be shown for one hour the next day. I, as always, was curious to see what this was all about. My friends and I got locked into a match of Natural Selection 2 the next morning and when everything was done I checked my phone and ran over to the Spy Party booth with only 10 minutes left. Now I’m glad I did, because this is one of the most original games I’ve played in a long time.
Storyteller is what the name implies: you must craft a story with simple mechanics and a storyboard layout. Its actually a puzzle game at heart. The game first lays out a scenario to make (such as 2 people fall in love) and a few icons are used to represent the characters and objects of the story. Moving the characters around in certain ways and placing them certain distances from each other will change the outcome of the story. So in this example I simply placed Adam next to Eve. On the next panel I only placed Adam. The game therefore translates this into Adam and Eve falling in love and Eve leaving Adam.
As you can see, the open-ended nature of the game leaves room for various ways to solve the puzzle. I found myself rearranging characters and objects to see how many different outcomes I could achieve. Each level I found usually had different checkboxes of outcomes to solve, although the main concept of the story always remained the same (The above “Story of Love” level had 3 different outcomes).
As I progressed through some of the tutorial levels things began to get more complicated and the puzzle nature of the game started to set in. One level was literally just “???” for the theme and presented me with a few different character choices and a caption tile that read “Time Passes”. I placed some of the characters down and with the caption, putting gravestones in the last tile. I was surprised by a caption that read “‘Passage‘ by Jason Rohrer”. A tribute to one of the best art games ever made!
Things began to get notably more complicated with more settings, captions, advanced character archetypes and even modifiers like a chest full of gold that instantly made a character rich. Eventually I had to put the mouse down simply because I didn’t want to play through and spoil everything in just one session (I was also going way over the 11 o’clock time the demo was suppose to end).
But I could tell this was something I wanted to play in full. I overheard Benmergui say that he wanted to improve the character sprites, but I was torn on this decision. The pixelated artwork was easy to tell sprites apart and lended itself well to the indie spirit of the game. Honestly finely detailed characters might look nice, but the idea of creating simplistic story tropes might get lost in translation.
One thing I didn’t have a chance to tell the developer before I headed to the next booth was how much the game reminded me, in a weird way, of The Incredible Machine. That game had you setup various parts and gizmos in a Rube Goldburg approach to solving an otherwise simple puzzle. It usually had a few different ways of solving it too. This game doesn’t quite have the same approach, but it does have the same idea. Since characters and objects all react in different ways depending on what other character they interact with, there can be many ways to solve even the most simple story.
I’m interested to see what Benmergui has in store next for the game. I would like to see a lot more levels and perhaps some sort of level editor to put up to the community. I didn’t get to see this within the demo I played, but story arcs would also be very interesting: Multiple levels that tell a longer story arc. In any case what Benmergui has to offer right now is very well crafted and is just overflowing with potential. Where this game best fits in terms of platform would be anybody’s guess: Steam, Desura, XBLA, iPad….Chrome browser? I just can’t say. Its such a different proposal than what others are putting out right now and as an indie developer that’s exactly where you want to be.