About this project
Final Stretch Goal: Open Sourced Engine at $22,000!
The Verge | "Help write a twisted novel with this half book, half game"
Pocket Gamer | "Ice-Bound pushes the limit of what's interactive in interactive fiction"
Indie Game Magazine | "Books Into Books"
IndieGames.com | "Aaron A. Reed on Ice-Bound and the novels of reconfiguration"
Cliqist | "Ice-Bound Augments Gaming and Narrative"
Pocket Tactics | "AR you ready: Kickstarted interactive novel Ice-Bound closing on meatspace"
"If @aaronareed is on board a project, it means intriguing things."
-- Alexis Kennedy (@alexiskennedy), Failbetter Games (Fallen London)
"'Ice-Bound' is epic and skill in equal proportions."
-- Richard Evans (@LittleBimble), AI Designer (Versu, Sims 3, Black & White)
"My highlight of #indiecade was playing @IceBoundGame."
What is Ice-Bound?
A writer, dying alone...
A base at the end of the world, sinking deep into ice...
An artificial intelligence lost in a labyrinth of shifting stories...
Ice-Bound is a groundbreaking indie game inspired by the dense, nested fictions of Borges and Calvino, and books like House of Leaves. From two award-winning storytellers, including the creator of Blue Lacuna (voted one of the top ten interactive fictions of all time), Ice-Bound marries a gorgeous printed art book with a digital game for iPad or PC using cutting-edge interactive story technology.
"...mind-boggling... and very, very cool."
-- Indie Game Magazine
"After playing around with early versions of the app and book, I can't wait."-- The Verge
Ice-Bound is nearing completion, but in order to make the printed book high-quality and affordable, we need to raise enough funds to do a print run with a professional printer. Backers who pre-order the book will get it at a special discounted rate over its release price, along with access to other exclusive content!
Ice-Bound's ground-breaking game engine uses combinatorial narrative, a cutting-edge type of sculptural fiction that promises the reader deep exploration, and a rare level of reactivity to their actions. It's part of our ongoing research at the Expressive Intelligence Studio with people like Michael Mateas, the creator of Façade.
"[A]n amazing project... Aaron’s work is consistently some of the most unusual, format-expanding stuff being done in IF." -- Emily Short
We've both previously undertaken projects that push at the border of digital storytelling (Aaron literally wrote the book on it) and have received recognition for our work in augmented reality. If you want to hear more about our chops, check out the About The Team section below. As for us, we'd rather talk about...
Ice-Bound begins with Carina Station: a remote, abandoned polar base. Under the weight of passing decades it's sunk into the ice, with each successive owner building new levels on top. Now the station is an unmapped labyrinth of history, littered with relics left by researchers and explorers stretching back in time the deeper one descends.
When the writer Kristopher Holmquist chose Carina Station as the setting for his new novel, he was struggling in obscurity, working in a tiny unheated New York apartment. After his death from a rare neurological disorder, the unfinished fragments were published on a whim... and became incredibly popular, with thousands, then millions of fans wanting to know how the story was meant to end, and what lay at the bottom, the lowest level, of the mysterious polar station.
Thirty years into the future, a clever publisher, Tethys House, commissions an artificial intelligence "simulacrum" of Kristopher Holmquist, called KRIS. Charged with finishing the now-legendary novel, KRIS wrestles with self-doubt. Is he as good as his original? What has Tethys kept from him about his life, and death? And how was the unfinished story ever meant to end?
Half of the Ice-Bound experience is an 80-page full color art book: the Ice-Bound Compendium. Filled with Holmquist's personal files, unfinished chapters and alternate drafts, collages of research and strange, distorted transmissions, the book mingles Holmquist's story with those of his creations. It isn't clear where these images came from, but one thing is certain: KRIS desperately wants to see it.
KRIS's desire is the catalyst for the game's dependence on the book. Viewed through a camera, markerless augmented reality allows KRIS to recognize the book page, overlaying information from his subconscious. Scrawls of annotations fill the margins, revealing new layers of story. Pictures flicker and come to life. Check out the video below, it's hard to put into words but very cool.
The AR is more than just a gimmick, and the book isn't just a feelie: it's critical to unlocking the full story. But to explain, we'll have to tell you about the game.
In the game you'll descend through eight levels of Carina Station, helping KRIS complete stories of the people who lived there: driven researchers, psychopathic maintenance crews, haunted soldiers and desperate explorers. A cutting-edge system for dynamic interactive narrative lets you shape and explore thousands of variations on these stories like sculpting with clay.
You can arrange the story however you like, but in order to progress, you need to convince KRIS that your version of the fiction is correct. You need proof your story is the way the "real" Holmquist would have written it, proof which lies in the corrupted notes littering the Compendium.
But the Compendium also contains restricted information, things Tethys House doesn't want KRIS to see. By showing KRIS pages from the Compendium you can convince him your chosen endings to Ice-Bound's stories are correct. But think carefully: things in the book might also shock him, traumatize him, or change him. As you move deeper through the station you also build a deeper and more personal relationship with KRIS, deciding which parts of his missing past to reveal to him, and which he's better off not knowing.
Ice-Bound is a self-funded indie game, a labor of love we've been working on in our spare time since summer 2013. We've finished the system behind the game, much of the content, and have already shown the current version at several book art, interactive narrative research, and indie game events (our Venn diagram is awesome). We're nearing completion and foresee no problems in finishing the digital game portion of the project.
The printed book, however, offers some unique challenges. While print-on-demand services are popular, they aren't as cost effective as we'd like, and the app's image recognition tech demands a level of control over printing options that most of these services don't offer, such as using particular kinds of ink, paper, and printing processes to minimize glare on the page. What we really need is a professionally printed run from a real book printer--but the minimum quantity for such a run puts it out of our price range as indie developers. That's where you come in!
If we reach our funding goal, we'll be able to do a professional print run of the Ice-Bound Compendium, and everybody wins: we get to make a high quality book, and sell it to you at a lower price than would be possible through a print-on-demand service. In addition, having guaranteed pre-orders up front lets us give our Kickstarter backers a discount off the final retail price: this will be the cheapest way to get a Compendium and experience Ice-Bound.
We're still finishing up both the book and game, but we're confident we'll be able to get the project completed by the end of the year, putting delivery and the game's release in early 2015.
We'll mail you a postcard from Carina Station, with our heartfelt thanks!
Receive a Compendium and game access once we release. This is a special price for our backers as thanks for your support in getting us out the gate!
Access to the released game, and a Compendium signed by us! When KRIS sees our signatures, it may stir some memories that otherwise would remain hidden...
Two copies of the Compendium with game access, and two postcards from Carina Station. It's dangerous to go alone...take a friend!
A signed Compendium with game access, and your choice of either three book-sized prints (roughly 8"x10") or one poster-size print (roughly 12"x18"). These will be high-quality reproductions of Compendium pages--we'll give you a choice between multiple options once the campaign concludes.
Be among the first to explore Ice-Bound with a special 30-page prototype Compendium, and access to an early version of the game. Immemorialize yourself in the game's credits, and of course receive a signed copy of the final Compendium once the finished game is released.
Just like an Early Explorer, except with more authorial intent: send us a short memory or anecdote of your choosing and we'll adapt it to KRIS's info-banks, to appear amongst the swarm of memories as you use the app to delve into his past.
Just like an Early Explorer, with a penchant for memory tinkering: we'll work with you to design a full "story card" for Ice-Bound, used by our combinatorial narrative system to build the stories of Carina Station. You'll get a special code that will prioritize your story card while playing, and a "Story Contributor" credit on the game. (We'll spend up to an hour brainstorming/designing with you via Skype, but the final content of the story card is at our discretion.)
Just like an Early Explorer, except privy to conspiracy. We'll design you a special, custom-tailored Compendium page. This page will be fully AR-equipped with its own unique augmented content. You can choose whether to share this page with the world, or keep it to yourself as your own personal apocrypha. You'll also get a prominent "Patron Explorer" credit on the game, book, and website. (Page design will be based on a special design session with you where we'll share secrets about the story world and chat about your interests and ideas.)
About the Team
Aaron A. Reed has shown projects at IndieCade, IGF, and the Slamdance Guerrilla Gamemakers Festival. His 2009 interactive fiction Blue Lacuna was named one of the top ten text adventures of all time by the IFDB, and he served as lead writer for the ambitious AI-driven storygame Prom Week, which garnered both IndieCade and IGF nominations in 2012. His experimental narrative collage-maker 18 Cadence was a Kirkus "Best Book App" of 2013 and an IGF Nuovo Honorable Mention.
Jacob Garbe is a writer and new media artist working with augmented reality and procedural narrative. He was the recipient of the 2010 International Aeon Award for short fiction, and was recently featured as an electronic literature artist in Pathfinders: 25 years of Experimental Literary Art at the Modern Language Association. His artwork has also been shown at the ZERO1 Biennial, and featured in Leonardo Electronic Almanac. He most recently worked with Storybricks exploring dynamic text generation for Sony Online Entertainment's upcoming MMO Everquest Next.
N.J. Apostol is a Game/Audio designer and Composer from the UK. Best known for his work on ether one, the first title from indie developer White Paper Games. NJ has also worked on titles such as: Project Zomboid And Cotton Pops.
No, I must know more!
We're writing more about the details of Ice-Bound's narrative engine in a series of blog posts (part one; part two), and we'll continue to share more details in backer updates as the project moves forward. You can also nerd out with all the technical details by reading our two papers from the 2014 Foundations of Digital Games conference, linked below. (Feel free to ask us more nerdy questions in the comments--we promise you're in good company.)
Ice-Bound: Combining Richly-Realized Story with Expressive Gameplay
(Overview, and details about the combinatorial narrative system)
I read all the way to the bottom, but am seriously strapped for cash.
We understand. Want to know when we release? Sign up for our mailing list and we'll shoot you an email when it's out the door!
Risks and challenges
Ice-Bound is on target to be finished and released soon. About half the pages for the printed Compendium are finalized, and the remainder are in various stages between concept, mock-ups, and final art. We're on track to have the book ready to print by the end of 2014.
The game is in a similar state, with all tech and infrastructure fully in-place, three of our eight chapters fully completed and several others in progress. We've built several custom authoring tools to help the remaining story creation go smoothly (and have learned how to tell stories for Ice-Bound's unique narrative system, after much experimentation!) so we're expecting to have the app finished up and ready to release in early 2015.
We've done our homework on the logistics for the book, and have already partnered with both a printer and distributor. Our printer is based in Hong Kong and estimates about ten weeks for printing and delivery, which is why we've put the estimated delivery date for the standard backer tiers in April (assuming the book's ready to send to the printer by early January). One challenge is that the book has very specific requirements for it to work optimally with the app's augmented reality, so we may need to spend more time working with the printer to make sure the books are exactly what we want. We'll keep backers appraised of any delays.
We've already made most of the book and the game... our biggest challenge now is getting enough support to afford a professional print run. Thanks in advance for being part of this adventure!Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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