Interview: IF as Social Experiment with Narratio Studios

Powerless is a new interactive fiction game developed by England’s Narratio Studios. It’s set in present-day London during a devastating global power outage, and while that may sound like a cool enough high concept for a survival game, the developers of Powerless are more interested in creating what they call “narrative simulators” than mere playable stories.

The first novel thing you’ll notice about Powerless is you’re asked psychological profiling questions. Depending on your answers, you’re assigned a unique persona and entered into the catastrophe at various stages. 

In this way, Narratio developed Powerless more like a social experiment that forces individuals to consider how they would react in certain disaster situations and challenges what they think they know about the natural world and their communities. 

During the game you’re also guided by a brutally honest (sometimes to a fault) A.I. called “MAUDE” (Mobile Assessment Unit of Disastrous Events). And as you move through Powerless‘ doomsday simulator, MAUDE judges you on your honesty, selfishness, bravery and resourcefulness.

This is something we discussed at great lengths while developing our own upcoming game, The Pulse. How a player plays, how they treat other characters in the game, how much they choose to explore, who they ally themselves with etc. should all be rewarded or penalized in some fundamental way, otherwise the conceit of Interactive Fiction as a genre is just that – a conceit. And, in our experience, it’s quite difficult to get that aspect right, so hats off to Narratio for going all in on that aspect.

To learn more about how Powerless came to fruition, we got Narratio co-founder Lauren Anne Marie Carter to answer a few questions about the process of putting it together.

“Since we started working on the game in 2015 we always had one thing clear in our minds; we wanted to explore the ramifications both positive and negative of a society that was forced to live without electricity suddenly. No internet, no phones, no transports, no readily available food and water.

The Story Fix: We know too well how challenging it is for small teams to bring a game like Powerless to life. How many people are on your core team and what particular skills were important?

Lauren Anne Marie Carter: To start with, we had myself and Ryan, our other co-founder. We were both producers, writers, entrepreneurs and we wanted to make something!

From there we found a developer. The idea was that Ryan and I would design the game and write the narrative and our dev would build it. Then we started to look for artists.

Would you do any of that differently looking back?

LAMC: All in, it took 3 years to bring Powerless from idea to launch and if I was starting from scratch now I’d approach it very differently to cut down on the time frame. Three years in and we’re now a very different team with more ability.

What inspired you to develop Powerless in the first place?

LAMC: For me it was the idea of controlling a narrative and having language be the key mechanism in the game play. You don’t need high end graphics and cut scenes to tell a compelling story. You just need an engaging idea and a good imagination. 

Inquiring writers want to know what you wrote Powerless in.

LAMC: We used INKY —  a tool created by inkle studios who made 80 Days

And then you developed in Unity, we assume.

LAMC: Yes, but the first version was actually made in Corona!

What was the inspiration for assigning players different main characters? I can’t think of another IF game that does this.

LAMC: It was a few things actually. One of the key ideas of the game was to show players how different people might respond to the same situation and how factors totally out of your control (your race, where you were born etc.) can impact how that even further. 

Also, having multiple characters allowed for some interesting consequences as you could do something to another person and then have to be that person afterwards to see how a seemingly small action might impact their destiny. That was always important to us.

I love books that jump between characters and slowly build up stories across multiple perspectives. And finally, we thought it was about time that a game had a diverse range of characters and views.

What’s the one big thing you think sets Powerless apart from other IF games?

LAMC: I think we have a big moral and social angle that has informed a lot of our design choices. It’s not pure fiction — it’s based a real event that may even happen in our lifetime.

It’s not an episodic IAP model; we want it to be a growing and living thing that expands over time. 

Thanks so much for your time, Lauren.

Anytime. Always happy to talk Interactive Fiction.


StoryFix Media produces interactive fiction games and novels. Our sci-fi text adventure The Pulse releases in 2019. Our novel New Horizons is available now.

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