Six Stories bills itself as “multimedia interactive fiction”, and the billing is no exaggeration. Last year’s Arrival began to take advantage of the graphics and sound capabilities of HTML TADS, and Six Stories takes that development the next step. The game includes photographs (both of scenery and objects), graphical backgrounds, and voice-over narration. Inclusion of multimedia elements always makes me a little nervous, because it’s an ambitious decision that, it seems to me, takes a great risk of making the work look amateurish. Nonetheless, Six Stories‘ multimedia components combine to fashion an IF experience that is atmospheric and powerful in ways heretofore untouched by text adventures. Particularly impressive is the introduction, which is a knockout. The game begins as you are driving your small car over treacherous roads through the mountains of southern British Columbia. Without warning, a blizzard overtakes you. The blinding headlights of an oncoming truck stab through the darkness, and you dim your brights in courtesy. The truck roars by, and when you pull the lever to turn the brights back on, the lever comes off in your hand, extinguishing all light. Your car veers out of control and plows into the snowbank by the side of the road. You turn the key to restart the stalled engine — no response. Even all by itself, this is a terrifically arresting concept with which to begin a story. When the game delivers it on a dark background, a voice-over narrating as the screen displays slides of the car, the road, and the crash, the experience feels like it could be part of any commercial adventure game released today.
It’s not perfect, of course. The voice-over feels a little rushed, and the narrator’s Canadian accent is sometimes a bit distracting. In general, it’s clear that the voice-over portions of the game, while quite good for amateur work, were clearly done by amateurs rather than professional actors. On the other hand, the photography (at least to my untrained eye) looked quite accomplished, and the other graphical elements, such as the backgrounds and the status line, were very well chosen. For a game that isn’t a product of a mainstream company, Six Stories‘ graphics and sound maintain a remarkably high level of quality. In particular, some of the photos accompanying the game’s eponymous “stories” were just gorgeous. Multimedia represents a daunting challenge to the prospective IF developer, because it adds whole new layers of artistic forms, each of which could sink the game if it’s not up to snuff. IF writers already face the difficult demands of combining quality writing and design with good programming; as difficult as it is to both write well and program well, how much more difficult then to be also a good photographer, a good actor, a good sound technician, and to be skilled with all the software necessary to get these things in digital forms? I can’t imagine we’ll see too many multimedia text games that approach the level of Six Stories, simply because not only must it have been a hell of a lot of work to take all the pictures, record all the sounds, do the appropriate tweaking with Photoshop, SoundEdit, etc., and write the code that gets all these things going together, but I can’t see many developers doing all these things as well as Guy manages to do them.
All this fulminating about the multimedia aspects of the game probably makes it sound like I’m trying to avoid talking about the writing. Rest assured I’m not. Six Stories is a rather brief piece of work, but it is very well-written. The descriptions are moody and memorable, and the stories it tells create a wonderful air of folk tale while at the same time maintaining a refreshing originality. The game’s one puzzle is very clever, though one part of it did feel like a bit of a “guess-the-verb” to me. Here’s a hint: if you’re stuck, you’re probably not being specific enough about a particular action. The whole thing feels more or less like an excuse to put together some impressive visuals and oral storytelling, but the result is no less moving for all that it seems rather arbitrary. Six Stories is one of the biggest downloads of the competition (it may be the biggest — I haven’t checked), but it’s worth every second.