I think the Black Crown Project is a book…
Right now, I’m ambivalent about the Black Crown Project. Not about the content, but rather what everyone else thinks of it. Everyone who tries it seems to be getting caught up in the idea of this project as a game or new technology. And that’s a shame, because what this really is, is a new platform for a really interesting story by an even more interesting new author. Why are people getting so caught up in the tech and not enjoying the story?
For those who don’t know what the Black Crown Project is, let me tell you. If I had to define it by comparing it to a medium you are familiar with, then I would say it’s pretty similar to text adventures or the choose-your-own-adventure genre. But not really. It’s a browser based novel that allows you, as a newly employed clerk, to explore the eerie and strange Widsith Institute, where one of the opening scenarios is to decide what to do with a dying pig you find on a couch – do you stab it with a pen and put it out of it’s misery, embrace it, or chat to it about your new job? Tough decision, I know. Your decisions change the course of your story so you feel as though it’s almost personalised – I would imagine the various separated story lines all end with the same conclusion, though. While Black Crown is free, you can pay a small amount to unlock premium story lines or to refresh your ‘actions’ (since only 20 actions are permitted in a single session of Black Crown). Overall, it seems to have received generally positive reviews for both the plot and the medium – having used it myself for a solid hour, I can safely tell you that these days you won’t find many other manuscripts with such distinct prose coming across your desk.
When it launched in May 2013, it wasn’t a completed story. That didn’t happen until September – hence the name ‘Project’. I think this is, partially at least, what sets this story aside from your average text adventure – it’s a new format that allowed the author to write and publish his story at his own pace. This means that the usual mentality in place for publishers to ‘produce, promote and promptly forget’ didn’t apply here. More work than the usual is required, and it even opens up the possibility of having TV-style seasons for a book.
So in some senses, it’s a game. And in other senses, it’s a book. I admit, after trying it out for an hour I started referring to it as a game, though that might be due to a lack of clear chapters, if there are even meant to be any. This review of the Black Crown Project by the Guardian is even featured in the ‘Game Blog’ section of their website. More confusion is added when you consider that the project was financed by Random House (a publisher you might have come across) and developed through Popleaf and Failbetter Games.
Ultimately, however, it seems to be a medium of it’s own that perfectly suits whatever the author, Rob Sherman, is trying to do. I think it’s a brave attempt at embracing the idea of a digital novel. Random House took a bit of a risk exploring what could be done with online books as opposed to ebooks, and I think it will pay off. Hopefully it isn’t a fluke (I don’t believe it is), and this begins a trend that starts innovation within the digital publishing industry. Sherman and the Liquid State Twitter account recently had a very interesting conversation about the concept of a game as a book and vice versa – you can check it out here if you’re interested.