Varytale is a platform for interactive stories that fall somewhere on the spectrum between stateful CYOA (like Choice of Games) and quality-based narrative (like Echo Bazaar).
As you can see from the screenshot, the experience is intentionally booklike and lushly textured. Varytale borrows or improves on the attractive qualities of Undum. There are visible stats if the author wants them (or else not). Choices can appear as links embedded in the text or a list of options immediately following it. You can keep track of your place in a book with one or several bookmark ribbons, which grow longer over the cover of your book the more you’ve read.
Currently the reader’s beta offers access to four official books:
I haven’t gotten very deeply into Fighting yet, but How to Read is a tidy, brief introduction to how to use Varytale and is likely also to be interesting to anyone thinking of writing Varytale books in the future. Hymn and Shanty is more like interactive poetry, allowing the player to choose stanzas to add to a song. There’s also a growing collection of reader-submitted stories.
Bee is a new work of mine, written for Varytale: it’s the story of a home-schooled girl preparing to compete in the national spelling bee, dealing with various small crises with family and friends, and gradually coming to terms with the clash of subcultures involved in belonging to a family like hers.
Bee is not reviewed anywhere that I know of (unsurprising given it’s only just out), though one reader had this to say:
It’s fascinating to me, how the family dynamics and cultural dynamics–and the growth of the main character–weave in and out with the concentration on learning how to spell strange and unusual words. The protagonist has a distinct personality, but the choices she (well, you) make are constrained and opened both by earlier choices, and cultural indoctrination, and all sorts of other things. And it often comes back to spelling: as a concentration tool, a mode of defiance against parents, a meditation on spiritual matters.
If you heard about the Varytale beta before now and went to have a look, you may have encountered a version that was action-metered so that you could only play a few steps at a time. I don’t feel like that was perfect fit for the book. The platform has been revised so that it’s now possible to remove that requirement, and I’ve done so; if you want to read Bee in pieces, that’s still possible, but you can also go straight through if you want. (Though the screenshot includes a bit about “Credits”, Bee is currently free and requires no purchase.)
There’s quite a bit to say about the Varytale authoring tools as well: unlike its predecessor Undum, Varytale offers a fairly significant set of tools for putting a book together. But I’ll save that for another post.
Edited to add: some additional comments on Metafilter, Free Indie Games, IFDB review, Gamespite thread.