Sunday, February 10, 2013

Visual Novels, Miscellany and Review of "Digital: A Love Story (Version 1.1)"

Hi guys,

As you may have heard (if you follow me on Facebook or Twitter), I have recently decided to enter the Visual Novel realm and am adapting "Zero Angel's The Change" into my first (with the beta to come out around April). Visual novels (VN or ADV) are basically Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books for the digital age and strongly feature images of characters and locations along with musical soundtracks to help tell the story.

I'm not just going in blind though, I've read/played through several visual novels in the last few weeks (and clearly grew up with Choose-Your-Own-Adventure) and I'd be remiss not to share my thoughts on some of them.

"Digital: A Love Story" is a visual novel written and created by Christine Love and released in 2010. I recommend it for anyone interested in visual novels with an added recommendation to anyone with some nostalgia over the old BBS (bulletin board system) that was the Internet of the 80s.

Instead of showing characters as many VNs do, the entire game takes place through seeing your computer screen as it would be in 1988. Instead of distancing you, this creates a sense of immediacy and control over scripted actions. When the protagonist dials up a BBS, you are the one dialing. When the protagonist receives a message from another character, it is you it was sent to.

Although you control everything, the story is surprisingly a kinetic novel—a visual novel that is linear where your choices do not affect the events of the game.  I say surprising because it definitely does not feel like a kinetic novel.

Like many visual novels, the game is relatively short. You should be able to play the entire thing in a single session. I enjoyed the story and reading the bulletins posted by other characters. If you have trouble getting through the game, one easy strategy is just to read, respond and do everything you are able to do in each BBS you travel to.

There are a few misses that don't really detract from the overall experience, but I'll bring them up for the sake of completeness. First and the one that threatens to be the largest issue, is the glitches and bugs that occur in the game. For me, at one point your in-game computer is attacked by a virus and even though I had already downloaded the fix for it, I was unable to progress until I quit and came back to the game. When I came back, there was no longer any issue o_O

Next, there is some minor scripting issues near the end of the game, i.e. reading about something that happens in a message before you saw it happen.

Finally, although this is part of the charm, you will usually find yourself unsure of how to continue, and this causes you to dial-up each BBS you have access to in order to see if there is something there that can help. Dialing a BBS in 1988 took a bit of time. I really enjoyed the nostalgia, but when you are concerned about the characters of the game and waiting for the Internet to connect only to find out that there was nothing for you there and have to try another, well, it's a little annoying.

Anyway, the story is pretty good. You can read everyone's messages to you, and your replies to the other characters are implied (not shown). Although I found the game captivating, I did not find myself have the feeling of LOVE for the love interest character. Instead, I was very WORRIED and CONCERNED for the character, and somewhat saddened. I think this is probably due to the interaction with the character. Although I was able to see her messages to me and could tell that she was quite interested, when it came time to reply, there were no choices of what to say, only a "Reply" button that immediately sent it out into cyberspace (well, BBS space, this is 1988 we're talking about).

Still, it did generate an emotional response of some sort and I was entranced in the game while it lasted. Oh, and did I mention it's free?

Added benefit to people interested in making their own VNs:, "Digital: A Love Story" is a great example of how you can implement a great idea and make a compelling visual novel without the anime sprites so popular in the genre to tell the story.

Very good story and gaming experience in spite of the bugs and the quibble over the "Reply" feature. 8.0 / 10