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About the Story18 Cadence is an iPad/PC storymaking platform that lets its readers explore the history of a house through the hundred years of the twentieth century. Moving through space and time, a reader encounters hundreds of events, characters, and objects. Each piece is not static text but a movable, dynamic fragment that can be repositioned, merged, expanded, or reconsidered. Like magnetic fridge poetry for narrative, 18 Cadence lets its readers manipulate the pieces of a story with their fingers, and invites them to assemble their own history from the raw material of a century of living.
Winner, Best Use of Innovation; Nominee, Best Supplemental Materials - 2013 XYZZY Awards
Emily Short's Interactive Storytelling
As the screenshots should make obvious, this is a really lovingly textured piece of work. When you lay out scraps of words, they drift into attractive positions, perhaps skew a little bit as though you were arranging them on a table. Dragging together two scraps that refer to the same scene will glue those scraps into a continuous sentence, but the X-Acto knife tool will separate them again. Itís all a pleasingly tactile, precise and elegant interface... I recommend giving 18 Cadence a look.
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While these issues put up unnecessary roadblocks to one of 18 Cadenceís primary features, you will still ultimately get out of this story kit what you personally want and put into it. Readers will find a beautiful series of vignettes that steer them through the lives of dozens of individuals over 100 years, while writers will have plenty of inspiration from both Reed and other creators to develop their own engrossing stories, poems, or alternative forms of fiction.
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Options are limited: Readers canít, for instance, combine fragments from different rooms or different years into one sentence. But the effect of seeing words accrue on the workbench separately is surprisingly affecting. The books and utensils acquire a kind of personality unique to the time they were used; the military medals of one resident are as totemic as the Pink Floyd poster of another.
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It's interactive fiction in the weak sense: interactivity here provides different ways to view the same events, rather than giving you any power to affect them. In this kind of IF, presentation is hugely important, because the player's involvement is all about manipulating presentation. Without presentation, they're mere hypertext novels, a bunch of static text that you might encounter in a somewhat different order. Cadence does a rather lovely job in this respect: the visual metaphor is of a cutting-board on which you arrange scraps of paper, each describing someone's perspective of an event or some aspect thereof. It's a very tactile, hands-on kind of process; what control you're granted is very immediate, and much more fine-grained than is usual in weakly interactive formats.
A few specific kinds of scraps can be combined into one another. Scenery objects can be combined into single-paragraph descriptions akin to a generated IF room description. Specific information - the date, age of the character in focus, the location - can be added to individual fragments. You can also click on scraps to change the way they're structured, or compress them into a summary. All this is useful, but doesn't do a great deal to change or recontextualise scraps: the important thing is positioning different scraps relative to one another.
The player's involvement isn't a process like being an actor or a co-author, a director, a stage manager: you're an editor. Someone else has already shot all the footage, and it's your job to choose which material to use, and where. The cutting-board is far, far too small to hold everyone's story at once: if you use it to keep track of key events as you go through the full century, it'll quickly overflow. You have to decide whose stories, which elements of those stories, to focus on. Montage is a powerful storytelling tool when put in the hands of the audience, as with vidding, or the endgame mechanic of the RPG Fiasco. But remixing requires familiarity with the stuff you're working with, so Cadence play is sort of divided into two stages: lawnmowering through all the material, which is rather like reading a fragmentary novel, and then selecting and arranging content.
The story has its own foci, though, apart from any manipulations you exercise on it. It's in large part a conversation about what families are and aren't; while being very clear about the importance of family in general, it shows actual families as being based on the best you can do with what you have available, rather than reflections of some platonic ideal; both happy and unhappy families are all different. Even where traditional family households exist and function well, society doesn't flinch from sacrificing them to economic or military ends.
As far as its genre touchstones go, 18 Cadence is a sort of historical dynastic tale, a tale of changing eras, in the same category as Woolf's Orlando, Forrest Gump, even Little, Big; the usual pattern there is to follow a family, or an individual, through decades of change. (It seems to take care to avoid trying to cleave too closely to a high-school-history kind of summary: we're not Forrest Gump, coincidentally central to every event of canonical modern history.) It's not unusual for a home to play a big role in this sort of story, but in 18 Cadence, a little unusually, it's not a home that remains in the same family for generations, but one that gets resold or repurposed many times over the course of the century. So whereas in dynastic, tale-of-our-times stories the house tends to emphasize continuity, in 18 Cadence it foregrounds discontinuity much more. People break apart more than they hold together. Houses are not things that remain in the family by default, but rather to be rented, mortgaged and remortgaged, repossessed. A family home is not a source of constant stability, but a tenuous moment, striven for and then lost, not to be recaptured. Thus also romance, parenthood, family. The rapid, gap-filled pace of the story, a handful of fragments for an entire year, makes for a world where entropy is king, where old age and death come too quickly.
So the mood of Cadence is strongly downbeat. You are forever losing people, and people are forever losing homes. The fragmentary nature of the narrative paints a picture of a world full of gaps: gaps between people and their loved ones, between hopes and realities, between the glimpses you're afforded of people and the full story of their lives.
I wasn't super impressed with the cutout system as I played, but afterwards, I saw someone's story using 'Browse' and I realized that I hadn't been very creative.
The story of the succession of people and the changing quality of the neighborhood was really interesting. I know a house near where I live that was constructed in the late 1800's, and it has gone through a life cycle very similar to that of 18 Cadence.
If you try it, try browsing some stories.
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