[Top Secret] (James Long) and a play-by-email IF tool

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James Long is Kickstarting an interactive story game called [Top Secret], played via email, which explores the Snowden story:

A fresh recruit to the National Security Agency (NSA), you have a new mission: find out who’s leaking TOP SECRET documents to the press. Stop them by whatever means necessary.

A single selector (phone number, email address, name) is all it takes for your team to surveil a target. It’s your job to decipher the intel, and follow the trail to its source.

But surveillance has a price…

In the paranoid world of the NSA, anyone can become a target, and soon your friends are in the firing line.

Part of his project is also to finish and release the play-by-email storytelling tool for general use, so I invited him to talk a little more about what that is and how it will work.

ES: Aside from (obviously) the Snowden concept, what sorts of stories do you think would lend themselves to this presentation?

JL: One of the great things is that it is truly “real time”. So with the Snowden story, I want to roughly match the 2 weeks in the run up to the leaks as they happened. It allows the author to pace the story and give time to the player to make choices and reflect on what’s happening. You can also inject meaning into the time between messages as well as content. e.g. if someone is excited, or angry about a conversation they may reply quickly, whereas disinterest, low spirits, or just being busy may result in delayed responses.

So I think there are rich mechanical opportunities to explore, but to be honest, I’m not sure what’s best for it – I’m discovering as I go!

I know there is a game called Lifeline on iOS which was app-based but also real-time. I haven’t played it (don’t own an iPhone), but I know that used time to give a sense of progression. e.g. the player would decide where the character should go, and several hours later, the character would ping to say they’ve arrived. (I’m sure they did more interesting stuff than this).

ES: How is your system deciding what to send back to players? Is it doing a simple keyword search on their email response, or is something more going on here?

JL: Yes, I can specifiy multiple keywords (or keyphrases) and trigger events when the keyword/keyphrase is detected. Such events include:

– sending a new message in the current email thread
– sending a new message in a new thread
– spawning concurrent email threads
– emails which are sent if none of the keywords are matched
– emails which match against any response

All the data is generated by a client-side web application I have created.

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