Out There

Welcome to the heart of summer! The warm air wafts through the trees as the sounds of children echo throughout the neighborhood. And if you're anything like me, you're in a darkened room somewhere hunched over a keyboard, typing away. Hopefully, you're nothing like me and you've experienced the beach, the forest, or at least a daily dose of vitamin D. Because just because you're away from the keyboard doesn't mean that the games have to stop.

This week we look at five games that look like books you would bring to the beach, but play like adventures you never thought were possible. Who needs a bookmark when you have save points? 

"Device 6"

Ever walk into a room and forget why you went there in the first place? Now imagine a whole mansion just like that. This is Device 6, a game where "Myst" meets TV's "The Prisoner." Instead of having to go into local politics (Six for Two and Two for Nothing!) or being chased down by a white balloon, you work your way through a mysterious mansion filled with talking stuffed bears and tape recorders, while unraveling the mystery of how you got there as well as how you're going to get out. There's nothing terrifying or horrible waiting for you, just strange moments with a bit of that 70's mod style.

Style is something "Device 6" has in spades. Instead of making your way through hallways, you read about them. Occasionally, a picture accompanies the text to give you a clue or puzzle to solve, and the text itself acts as the world around you. Words work their way around corners or up if you happen to find stairs. A wall of text can be an actual wall. And with all of this, you'll hear the right sounds just as your eyes pass over the words. Check out "Device 6" if you're looking to get truly lost in a book.

"Blood & Laurels"

The thing about interactive fiction is that it's not often that interactive. You find yourself working through piles of text just to get to bottom of the page with a handful of choices. Players feel like they're being dragged along for the right rather than actually taking the wheel of this adventure. 

Enter Versu, a new style of interactive fiction that gives players more control over their destiny. As you read the drama unfolding in front of you, the game lets you take an action at any time. It can be something small such as observing a piece of art or you can start flinging wild accusations from the very start. Think of it as a play where your part is conveniently missing. As you make your choices, the actors improvise to fit your character and the changing situation around you. By tackling the situation differently each time, you'll find new routes appear and ending to discover.

In that style, "Blood & Laurels" throws you into the days of the Roman Empire. As a struggling poet, you'll need to come up with a patron or at least some cash to stay alive to write your next poem. Cults, romance, a little backstabbing all come into play as the game unfolds around your actions. You'll find that the characters you meet are smart enough to both react and remember what you do. Make the right moves and you might find yourself in politics. Make the wrong ones and not even the Gods can help you out. While the story isn't always perfect – big choices don't always create big changes – anyone looking to slip into a good pulpy drama while lying around the pool will be rewarded with this story.

"Out There"

In space, no one can hear you scream, but they can surely watch you die. Lost out in space, alone in your vessel; you'll need to find your way back home or die trying. You start every game in a randomly generated universe of stars with a final point marked on your map with a big red circle. All you have to do is get there. While you might be thinking about warming up those laser rifles and loading up the torpedoes, "Out There" focuses more on resource gathering and how you handle random situations that come flying your way. Forget the lightsaber and break open the Excel document instead.

Like the real world, you need to worry about fuel, since everything you do eats into it. And for every ding or scrape your vessel gets into, you'll need to patch it up with a little iron. Different components that help your craft move farther, faster, or just survive the elements of space will require different material that you'll need to mine.

Along the way, you'll meet a host of new alien species who will try to help you out. As it turns out, you can't understand your new friends until you try interacting with them. Get a lovely gift or have them run away in fear. Either way, you learn one new word to add to your growing lexicon of alien languages. With each piece of the puzzle, you gain a greater understanding of those who want to be your friend or just take your technology. You'll uncover secrets hidden within the universe, find new space crafts to take on your voyage, and maybe – just maybe, you'll find your way home.

Steve Jackson's "Sorcery!"

You might have dabbled in the way of D&D once or twice in your life. Maybe you came across those god-awful movies. Either way, you can relieve the experience (the table top game, not the movie) again with "Sorcery" for your iPad. The game takes you into a magical world of fairies, dragons, and other people who want to see your dead as you try to defeat the evil archmage who has taken control of the land. You won't fight him here however since the game is broken up into four books. The first book is all about trying to get to the main city and surviving all the nasty traps along the way.  

Every little space you pass on this card board kingdom represents an adventure just waiting to happen. Will you free the fairy or leave the pest alone? Will you try to fighting your way out of the enemy camp or use the cover of night to sneak out? Choices will not be simple or obvious. A decision five moves back could completely change how you deal with the enemy in front of you. After passing a little node, you get a “redo” to go back to any part to make a better decision or see where life might have taken you if you picked left instead of right. With several other books on the way, magic spells to cast, and lots of story to dig through; Sorcery! May just find a way to put a spell on you.

"Howling Dogs"

It begins with a howling dog. You are a prisoner, enduring the same day every day. But then something happens. Did you find a crack in their security or are you having a mental breakdown? Howling Dogs is one of the finest demonstrations of the new Twine format, interactive fiction that anyone can put together.

Twine lets you string together series of text through words or links in the story. Instead of “Turn to Page 38,” you are more than likely to click on an action to continue or a person to find out more about them. People who never had any interest in making games are now looking at Twine as their first foray into the digital world. While there are already thousands of titles out there for you to experience, Porpentine's Howling Dogs delivers such a visceral approach to the story while adding in new twists that you'll need to see to believe. Taking only minutes to get through, some of these titles stick around with you long after you leave them.

Forget writing that great American novel for once and start learning how to build a Twine story. For a little inspiration, you should check out Howling Dogs.