Le Réprobateur (François Coulon)

Generally speaking interactive digital media pieces fall into one of two categories: things actually described as "interactive digital media pieces" and games. Me, I'm more of a games guy, but I'm always interested in new things in this area, so when the author of Le Réprobateur offered a review copy I was interested, even though there was a strong risk of it falling into the former category.

Another way to look at the division is that it's about games versus toys. Games are things with an author-approved way to play them and a win state; toys are things you play with purely for the pleasure of playing with them. Toys are often referred to as "art", but this is purely a matter of naming conventions. Anyway, Le Réprobateur is definitely a toy. Check it out:

The format of the piece is basically a big icosahedron floating in space, which you can rotate and examine the facets of. Then you can zoom in on a facet and look at the smaller pictures that make it up. Those pictures have associated text, which can itself be manipulated and investigated in various ways, and you can zoom in further on the pictures for more details. The facets also have an associated video, which you can play, and multi-tiered music which you can adjust to your liking.

That's the physical layout of the piece. The narrative layout is that the whole thing is a collection of stories about an alterna-France which is like our own world but there's a new job, reprover. A reprover is a guy you hire to stand near you and look disapproving when you're about to break your diet or shoplift or put off working on your novel or whatever else you shouldn't be doing. I said "collection of stories" above but perhaps "strings of plot events" is closer — while there are linked scenes that go from facet to facet on the icosahedron, there's no beginning or resolution for any of them that I could find.

I think the intent is, again, for this to be played with as a toy: you spin the icosahedron, admire a scene, maybe note its connection to other scenes, but there's no requirement that you follow a thread exhaustively. Quite the contrary, I guess — the scenes are scattered so randomly it seems like a purposeful attempt to discourage rigorous exploration in favor of serendipitous discovery. The other way to hop from scene to scene is to click on a picture once you've selected a facet; this moves you to a scene which is thematically but not plot-wise related to the previous one, which I assume is again intended to encourage casual browsing.

Le Réprobateur is, as far as I can tell, a wholly original design for a interactive digital thing, which I am generally in favor of. But the downside with designing a whole new thing is you have to design a new UI, and to my eye the piece suffers from some kinks that would probably have been worked out with more use. For instance, it's a nice idea to have the music be manipulable, but it's irritating to have it shut off rather than just pausing every time you switch facets or play the video. I'd much rather have it just stay on and shift styles when I shift facets.

Similarly, I found the icosahedron view to be the most fun way to explore, so it's a pity it's somewhat inconvenient to get to, having to click on a small button. It may be that the main intended way to navigate is by clicking on scenes rather than by switching to the icosahedron, but but I found this less satisfying somehow — I think it makes the experience like a maze rather than a real toy as I try to find new facets I haven't seen (and a maze, like a game, supplies a goal, but in this case it's not a goal I'm interested in working at achieving).

Anyway, overall whether you'll like this depends on how you take it. As a multimedia extravaganza it's excellent — it's an elegant combination of modelling, text, graphics, video, and sound in an interactive and original way. As an art piece it's also good — the pictures are nicely done and amusing, the videos ditto, the text decent (it's translated from the French, by a good translator but it still reads like a translation rather than purely natural). As a story it's middling at best, without some resolution to the plot threads, and as a game it's not at all — but since it's a toy, why should it be?

(Le Réprobateur is available from http://www.totonium.com/thereprover/; I received a free copy for doing this review.)

And that's all. For other IF-related things, including many more reviews, you can go to my main IF page.