PAX East First Impressions – IDNA

One of the best parts of the indie community is that it challenges the very essence of gaming. Fresh mechanics and truly innovative (although I hate that that’s become such a buzzword. Between “innovative” and “immersive” it’s like people only speak two word sentences these days, but I digress.) gameplay are always welcome, but it’s especially refreshing when a development team challenges the level of interactivity between the game and the player. Enter IDNA, an interactive graphic novel that could very well be the most fun you can have with a game that doesn’t require pressing any buttons.

IDNA is a project by apelab, a studio based in Geneva, Switzerland and co-founded by Emilie Tappolet, Sylvain Joly, and Maria Beltran. The idea was to take the basic premise of a point-and-click adventure and adapt it so that’s it interactive in a new way. This new genre is something Emilie dubs a “look-and-click” of sorts. IDNA is currently being developed for Oculus Rift and iOS devices, and the “gameplay” goes as follows: Players assume the role of what amounts to a living camera, able to look around each scene in a full 360° by either rotating their mobile device or, for the VR fans, physically looking around their surroundings. While admiring the comic book-style visuals, a narrator will introduce the scene and progress the narrative. If a player notices any type of ongoing action – in the form of either a chase scene, a dialogue between characters, or anything else sight-worthy – they can focus on the event by simply staring at the scene, which will force the camera to zoom in on what’s going on.

IDNA(2)Not much is known about the story at this point, but Emilie did reveal that the setting is certainly within the realm of sci-fi, and that the images shown off thus far include shots of Tokyo in ruins, so clearly IDNA takes place in the aftermath of some significant devastation in the not-too-distant future. We do know that the will game will be broken into episodic content, and while each episode will have a complete and self-contained story, there is certainly an overall narrative arc threaded between each episode.

What’s even more interesting is that the storyline will have multiple, significant branching pathways to not only encourage replayability, but also reward players who choose to thoroughly investigate each scene. These different paths are triggered by simply looking at one ongoing event in a particular scene as opposed to another, which will have ripple effects throughout the rest of the story. Characters will even behave differently based on how the player chooses to direct the story. On top of that, those that back the Kickstarter campaign at the $10 tier or higher will have access to an exclusive story thread. (Other enticing rewards include putting the names and faces of backers in the game, as well as creating hidden messages and other Easter eggs submitted by backers to find throughout the game.)

IDNA(3)Each episode is designed to be short enough to view in a single sitting. apelab wants players to think about IDNA the same way they think about watching a TV show or film; able to sit on the couch and enjoy an entire self-contained episode before walking away. (Perhaps a swivel stool would be a better alternative to the couch, given the circumstances.) Of course, with so many branching story threads, it’s possible to “rewatch” the same episode a few times over and discover new scenes each time. In fact, the team believes there are so many different ways to manipulate the narrative, they are looking to design a platform on the web to help people keep track of their choices and experiences to share with others; that way players can compare their storyline to others and see where the events split off.

If all goes according to plan, the first episode of IDNA is scheduled to launch at the end of this year. In addition to the Kickstarter page, further details about apelab and their latest project can be found on their website. I genuinely appreciate the approach the team is taking with their interactive graphic novel, and I hope this jump-starts a new sub-genre of point-and-click-esque adventure games that focuses entirely on the story. The time I spent with both the Oculus Rift and iPad demos proved to me I don’t need a controller in my hand to enjoy “playing” a game; all I need is the right atmosphere and a captivating narrative. IDNA has got both in spades. Check it out.