In “Lifeline“, by 3 Minute Games, we receive a mysterious transmission from an astronaut in distress. In this game, our objective will be to guide him appropiately in order to ensure his survival in an unknown planet.
The evolution of gamebooks in mobile phones has been quite interesting. At first, appealing to the nostalgia of those who were raised with the media, they attempted to recreate the exact same experience as the physical book, with companies like Tin Man Games, who try to replicate even the dice rolls over the book pages. Later, as a result of the appearance of other companies like “Inkle“, a serious investigation on the additional narrative possibilities of this format was started, thus gamebooks like the mobile phone adaptation of the “Sorcery” saga appeared, where the story is carried out in a 3D world we can traverse freely.
Although all these new directions interest me as a player, there is something about the appearance of mobile phones and the development of gamebooks in this format that make me fear the reduction of the literary part. Text, as a mechanism for the generation of ideas, may be suffocated in the middle of 3D maps and state of the art graphics and sound. There is something very powerful about images, that make our gaze wander towards a tv screen in a restaurant and lose track of the conversation. The seduction of text is slower, it requires an effort that images don’t need, hence the charm of images is more immediate, more brutal, and can endanger the “book” part of a gamebook. Nevertheless… “Sorcery” is wonderful. The possibilities of mobile platforms open a whole new world in the narrative sphere. How to take advantage of them without distracting from the textual part?
When I saw “Lifeline“, it appeared as a feasible solution to this dilemma. In “Lifeline“, we receive a transmission from an astronaut called Taylor, cadet of the spaceship Varia, and its only survivor. From the very first moment, we can only feel sympathy for the poor guy. A young man, understandably terrified, that has found in us the only contact with humanity. As we talk with him, and help him with his more immediate problems – finding food, a place to sleep… – a believable and likeable personality is revealed, that of a young and scared young guy, who jokes in order to downplay the gravity of his situation, and strikes up a conversation when loneliness weighs him down.
“Lifeline” has a strictly textual interface. Only the speech of this astronaut, with no graphics or sound apart from the soundtrack. And every once in a while, a choice point with exactly two choices, that we will use to point him to his best options for survival. That said, it may sound as your average CYOA game, but there is a feature that changes significantly the game experience: the story proceeds in real time, during three days. We cannot “continue” whenever we want. At a given point, we may advise Taylor to go to the ruins of a spaceship, and during the next hour, Taylor cuts the communication and promises to notify us when he reaches his destination.
Later (while we continue our boring normal life, shopping or bearing our boss), a notification arrives in our mobile phone; Taylor has arrived at the new location and needs our help again.
There is something very powerful in this kind of interaction. It really gives the feeling that, on the other side of the line, there is someone who needs us, to whom we are the only link to the rest of humanity and live. We really empathize with Taylor, and feel for him when he dies. And finally, when we meet our objective and save his life, we almost regret not being able to have a beer with astronaut Taylor once the danger is over.
Definitely, a very interesting experiment, that aims to other kinds of narration with a mobile platform, impossible to replicate with a book, but keeping most of its essence. And a mistery, that of spaceship Varia and the mysterious planet, that is worth uncovering. I will want more stories like “Lifeline” in the future.