Electron Dance
16Mar/15Off

Dabbling with… Her Story

The fourth episode of a short series on games I discovered at EGX Rezzed 2015.

Her Story at Rezzed

Before attending Rezzed, I wrote down a list of games I wanted to play at the exhibition. But this list contained just one entry: a game called Her Story.

In the most popular essay I wrote last year, Stop Crying About Choice, I name-dropped the excellent one-move IF parser game Aisle (Sam Barlow, 1999). I absolutely adore this game. If you play Aisle once, you'll only see some dim outlines of a story, and you need to play again and again to slowly colour in the whole picture (although it's a little more complex that that). Aisle becomes a game of guessing new verbs to tease out interesting new endings. That might not sound like fun, but it was fascinating stuff, particularly when some endings would spark off ideas for new verbs.

The reason I was so interested in Her Story is because it is the next project from Sam Barlow, the developer of Aisle. The trailer definitely piqued my attention but gave me no idea how the game would actually play.

It turns out that Her Story is a database of video footage taken from seven fictional police interviews; the interview subject is a woman whose husband disappeared. At Rezzed, I sat down to play the game and suspected Barlow was standing behind me, watching me watch this woman. (Yes, he was standing behind me.)

Her Story is very much the "industrial version" of Aisle. Players enter search keywords and video clips are returned that feature this word. Players expand their understanding by finding new video clips through new keywords. It doesn't take long for small questions to start developing. But there are larger ones that hang over the experience. Are we trying to solve a mystery or just trying to understand who this woman is? What does it mean to have a "searchable index" of everything someone has said? How does that transform that person?

I only spent a little time with Her Story, but was impressed with its intelligence and how open it felt. There are no clear navigational paths through its structure and no hints that "yes, you've solved the first part of the story". It's just you and the archive. It occurs to me that progression through the story could also be naturally gated, where crucial keywords do not make themselves known until you've descended deeper into the footage. I'd always fantasized about a game that left you to figure out a mystery without having to broadcast "the truth" with an expository cutscene at the end. Is Her Story that kind of game?

I spoke to Barlow after playing. Originally the game was a straight-up mystery but Barlow recognized it was more interesting as a woman's story told through the lens of the police interview. He also hopes to leave the player largely unguided, to let the player feel they have figured out the story rather than the game doing it for them. But Her Story is still in development so nothing is set in stone.

So, yeah, I want this game. It is currently slated to be released "early 2015" but I suspect we're about to depart "early 2015" for "mid 2015". I didn't need a police database to tell me that one.

For more information, check out the Her Story site where you can also preorder the game.

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Comments (4) Trackbacks (0)
  1. Ooooh. Oooohhhh. I can’t not preorder this, can I?

  2. I should probably do the same thing!

  3. Ha, me too! This was one of my games of the show, even though I thought Rezzed was the worst possible context to play it. I really struggled to make out the audio thanks to the ambient noise of the people around me (especially all the chortling at Plug & Play), and I wanted to sit there with a notepad, sketching keywords and connections.

  4. I clocked this first on Steam Greenlight of all places. Definitely one I’m interested in!


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