I love digital choose your own adventure books and gamebooks because instead of futzing around flipping back and forth between physical pages and trying to remember which paths you’ve taken and which you haven’t, the digital version can just do all that work for you. I’m lazy! But it turns out that digital interactive fiction can be capable of a whole lot more than just being bookmarks, and that’s the theme of what Penrose ($0.99) is all about.
Penrose is from Doublespeak Games, creators of A Dark Room, so you know they’re capable of doing some truly unexpected things with narrative. And Penrose is unexpected for sure. It’s a well-written story that will occasionally feature a highlighted word. When you click on that highlighted word you’re given an option to change the word and, thus, change almost everything about the particular passage that you’re reading.
An early example. You’re setting out to explore and search an abandoned building and, upon finding entrance to the building, you notice a generator. In one version of the story the generator is running and thus the lights and everything inside are working. Your experience inside the building is then reflected based on the power being on. However, this also means the alarm system has power and that leads to you being arrested for trespassing. End of story.
However, if you back up to the part about the generator, you can change the word “running" to “seized" and thus everything that takes place afterwards takes place in a building that does NOT have power. This makes your search inside the building a bit different, but crucially, it also makes the outcome different. The alarm doesn’t work without power and so you’re able to escape without getting arrested this time around. The story goes on.
That’s just a small example of how you can change parts of the story itself, but you can also change who is narrating the story by switching between the characters in the game. It is so interesting to see how events play out from these characters’ different perspectives. Doublespeak also uses this as a way to give you, the player, more details about what’s going on as different characters in the game will give off different information in their inner monologues.
The whole thing is just fascinating, and I’ve never been more excited to read and then RE-read the same bits of a story before. It’s almost like magic with how drastically the narrative can change just by swapping a single word here or there. It’s something very difficult to explain properly, but thankfully you can try out Penrose for yourself totally for free over on its official website. If you enjoy that, then the iOS version for just a dollar is an easy recommendation.