Ice-Bound Preview – Books into Books

Ice-Bound is a mind-bogglingly complex and convoluted narrative. Those who have played Blue Lacuna (also from one of the same writers, Aaron Reed) might recognize a similarly enormous amount of narrative choices in Ice-Bound. To understand how huge this game is, you’ll have to understand how it works. Firstly, there are two major components to the game: An app for the iPad, and a physical book. The majority of the game is played on the iPad, but the narrative is also influenced through the use of Augmented Reality components attached to the book. At certain points in the game, the narrator will ask you to use the iPad’s camera to locate ephemeral scribbles and diagrams within the book that you can only fully see through the iPad’s lens.


Ice-Bound focuses on the completion of a book – the eponymous “Ice-Bound” – whose creator died before he could complete the work. As a part of his publishing deal, the publishing house has the right to create a Digital Simulacrum of the author to finish the book. The problem is that technically, as a nearly perfect recreation of the author, the Simulacrum is sentient. While sentience is not in and of itself a problem, it means that the company is essentially enslaving a non-corporeal person, which can definitely be considered a moral issue. But legally, the publishing house is allowed to treat their reconstructed authors as property. The point of having the Simulacrum finish the book is to get something as close to the real book as possible, but the publishing house seems to be working against itself at first: KRIS, the name of the Simulacrum of the deceased Kristopher Holmquist, has been working on completing “Ice-Bound” for awhile, but he has gaps in his memories – things that have been inexplicably and, quite obviously, deliberately removed.


Your job, as a newly-minted employee of Tethys House publishing, is to decide which of the many iterations of “Ice-Bound” that KRIS has written is the best, and how it should be organized. The book that you’re helping to write is a series of narratives of people who have gone to investigate the almost mythical Carina Station, an arctic research station which grew continually larger over the years due to a particularly Venetian problem: The station sinks. The heat from the station melts the ice, and so it sinks, and so the people working in Carina Station have to build new levels on top of the old ones. The resulting structure is a labyrinthine affair, most of which can’t even be seen – not unlike the ice on which the station is built.


In the actual app, you play primarily in landscape mode, with various small windows acting as your controls. The top right window is your communication with KRIS, who will offer comments and opportunities to discuss certain topics as you play with the story. On the left side of the screen are all of the narrative choices you’ve selected, the events they have brought into being, and the endings that those events lead into. The bottom right is the meat of the game. This window has a small map of whatever portion of the station the story is taking place in, along with “sockets” in each room.


These sockets represent items, which act as the impetuses for the story. Activating one socket by dragging a small light into it will activate an item, and either a single item or a combination of items will build events. Enough events will in turn generate an appropriate ending. You can rearrange these until you have a combination of items that you like, and then you can tap each item on the left side of the screen for more information. Each item will be representative of a certain theme, while each event is because of certain themes. After you’ve found a combination that seems interesting, you can turn the iPad and get a bit more depth.


When you rotate the device, it turns every box from the left side of the screen into a paragraph of actual writing. This is my favorite part, because I get to see how my choices play out in more context. On top of this, there is what the developers call “shimmer text,” which allows players to choose which description of a particular item, person, or event they feel fits the best. This may turn out to be one of the most powerful portions of the game, as even changing a single description of how a single character talks about something drastically changes the feel of the story. Once the player has decided on which items, events, shimmer text, and ending they want to go with, they can resolve that portion of the book and move on to a lower level of the station.


Soon enough, the book is brought in. KRIS has learned about the Ice-Bound Compendium, but printed books are specifically disallowed to Simulacra since, as the information isn’t digital, Simulacra have no way of accessing it. This brings in a choice for the players: Whether or not to show KRIS the Compendium. This also raises the question of whether or not KRIS can finish the book without the Compendium, but I haven’t been able to explore that potential narrative yet. Should you decide to show KRIS the book, as I did, you will be able to use the iPad’s camera to hunt for portions of the book that support your interpretation of how the story should go. The camera augments the book, allowing you to see ethereal images on each page; notes from the real Kristopher Holmquist, information about the book, and more that I haven’t discovered yet. Once you’ve found something useful, you press a button, capture that page, and “send” it to KRIS.


Through the choice of Compendium pages and your own choices within the app, you begin to shape the story. Each choice will begin to compound with choices made further down, and those choices will of course compound to change things even more. The result is, even in the short term, a feeling of agency. One of the most confusing and wonderful things I’ve found in my time with even this small part of Ice-Bound is that, though I obviously have done no writing, it feels as though I’m the one writing the book. It’s very, very cool (no pun intended, for once).


Ice-Bound is currently being developed by Down to the Wire, and is a finalist in this year’s IndieCade. In addition, they will be launching a Kickstarter fairly soon to fund production of the books needed to play Ice-Bound, and we will have coverage of that in an interview very soon. If you’d like to learn more about Ice-Bound, you can visit its website, and you can talk to the developers on Twitter as well.

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