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So today’s Sinfest (following on from yesterday’s, and the ongoing storyline of a zombie looking for story time) really caught my eye because of the last panel and the characterization of elections as a choose-your-own-adventure story writ large. It’s a great metaphor, and it resonates with me because I’ve been reading a CYOA for the past couple of hours.

As people who read his comics or his twitterfeed may have gathered, Zach Weiner is working on a CYOA¹ style story, and he was kind enough to give me a preview of the work in progress. As it’s not due for release for some months, I won’t be discussing specifics here, but I will talk about some generalities:

  • It’s hilarious. Despite some gratuitous jokes at the expense of one of my chosen tribes, all is forgiven because Weiner has brought his absurdist take to the tropes of Star Wars, Star Trek, the Hero’s Journey, and porn. In other words, it’s like you’re living inside an SMBC strip while Weiner’s on a particularly creative laugh-generating bender.
  • It’s long². I must have made a couple of hundred choices, zig-zagging along a story path so convoluted that the time-honored CYOA trick of deciding you don’t like how your chances look and backtracking two or three choices to start down another path was pretty immediately useless.
  • It’s hard³. For those of you that have followed the micro-CYOA doodles at the top and bottom of the pages of Weiner’s SMBC print collection, those are a cakewalk compared to how tricky this one is. In part, it’s because Weiner has inverted a lot of expectations and your best chances to win involve ________ __ __ _____ ___________. But even once you realize that, it’s rarely obvious which choice will do that most effectively.
  • It’s damn near complete. It’s still getting polished up with respect to events that aren’t just based on reader choice (like whether or not you win fights), and illustrations (by the great Chris Jones) are still to be added (I can think of at least a dozen scenes where Jones’s work will make hilarious things hilarious squared), but the narrative path is solid and well-designed.

I’m sure that somebody has done serious research on the theoretical structure of CYOA branching paths, and I’m equally certain that this project is better for Weiner’s well-known predilection for self-taught math. The fact that all of that can be combined with a story that includes the concept of “essential _______s”6. Price not set yet, but when this debuts at San Diego, it’ll be worth every penny.

¹ I should probably note that as far as I can tell, various people have copyright on terms like “Choose Your Own Adventure” and “Pick Your Path”, but since terms like “interactive fiction” are so unwieldy, I’m sticking with CYOA as a generic description which is what everybody calls the damn things anyway.

² That’s what she said.

³ Insert4 your own joke about “hard” here, it’ll fit right into5 the storyline.

4 Insert your own joke about “insertion” here.

5 Insert your own joke about “fitting right in” … oh, hell, you get the idea. Lotta sophomoric sex jokes, in the very best sense of the term.

6 No spoilers, dammit, but it’s a throw-away joke that left me in awe.

[…] previously noted, I read and supplied comment on an earlier version of TotC about two months back, and at the time it was pretty much only missing artwork. It’s a solid, […]

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