Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Producer of Inanimate Alice Responds to ENGL 102 Students

Hi All,

I’m Ian, the producer of the Inanimate Alice series. I work with Kate and Chris in developing the overall scope of the project and figuring out how we get the world to hear about it. Kate once said that she thought of me as the guy at the back smoking my virtual cigar while doing deals…or something like that. Producing Inanimate Alice has been a very different experience to what I imagined it would be at the outset. We have been working on it for four years now. While it is a long-haul project, it never ceases to impress me that something new comes along each day. Someone will write a blog comment with a different take on what is going on or a teacher will tell us about a fresh use for the materials. Quite amazing really.

It has been a delight to read through all of the comments and questions you put into your letters to the authors. While I cannot address all of the points raised, I’d like to pick up on some of the main themes answering them in the rambling fashion to which I am well suited.

The “idea” or concept for Inanimate Alice came from a motion picture screenplay ‘E|Mission’ that I wrote and developed in 2003/4. In this script, Alice is in her mid-twenties and working at the world’s biggest games company. ‘E|Mission’ is the backstory to that movie scenario. It is what happens in Alice’s life in the run-up to the momentous events in that movie.

Several of the comments and questions raised have asked about the creation of the story, what techniques are employed and essentially how/why it has such depth. A simple answer to this is that Inanimate Alice is produced using Adobe’s Flash software tool and anyone can create a story just like it. But, actually, it ain’t that simple. Compare it to making a movie. Anyone can make a movie, right? But very few can create something that millions of people want to watch. This applies to all creative forms. It is a great credit to Kate and Chris that they have been able to conceive of and present such a powerful and dramatic story.

In order to be sure of delivering on what we intended, at the outset, Kate wrote a story bible covering the arc of the 10 episodes we planned for the series. Not only does that story bible address the plot and the characters, it discusses the sub-plots and how they work with the body of the story. It looks at items such as Alice’s mother’s artwork, the colour palette and music for each episode. And so, from the outset, we had a firm idea of where the story is heading.

The story is an allegory. It is about human-computer relationships and how, although folks have lots of friends on the phone and via the internet, those friendships are less real than personal friendships. There is a general and growing uneasiness that people are becoming more isolated as they become more dependent on technology.

It has also been designed as a “world story” something that people from around the world can both easily access and tune in to. In her early years, Alice travels around the world and meets many different kinds of people. This reflects the reality of the modern world where more and more people are travelling far from their homes for employment or perhaps to escape persecution. One particularly pertinent observation is that the media these days conveys a world full of conflict and that it was interesting to see images of places shown from a neutral position. The facts are that the news media is in the business of dramatizing conflict, but the reality is that most of the world is at peace for most of the time. However, peace rarely makes the news. With the Inanimate Alice series we aim to portray fascinating places and peoples that most rarely get to see.

The series was developed with embedded puzzles and games that are very simple to start with becoming more complex and interactive with each episode. Alice is growing up as a would-be animator and game designer. The quality of games and puzzles in each episode reflect her skills at that age. You will have noticed that other things change as we move along. The typefaces mature, the language Alice uses improves. Even Alice’s mother is experiencing change with her art influences….more on this later in the series.

We decided to make the series an interactive experience both from the perspective of it being a relatively fresh game-like experience and that is makes the story that much more immersive. The ability to provide even a small amount of freedom of choice, for example by means of pacing, allows for widely differing experiences.

Episode 1 has been trialled on several games sites including Newgrounds and Kongregate. While a few players love the style and the imagery, most are impatient with it and become adamant that “it is not a game!” It seems clear that gamers are looking for a different experience.

The episodes have been designed such that it can be read swiftly and easily by almost everyone. However, as you have found through close reading and multiple views there is much more going on than merely page turning. Chris has responded previously on issues regarding transliteracy and I can only emphasise the strength of this by suggesting that there is much more to be read into the digital text than the “basic” words. How can such few words convey so much? Well, the answer to that is they always have done. Think of some of the great speeches. It is a matter of context.

Inanimate Alice is symbolic of the digital age. Her world is one where she is surrounded by gadgets and connections rather than friends and family. Hers is a nuclear family, becoming ever more the norm in a world with so many people. In times of crisis, Alice’s first reaction is to turn to her player and Brad. Brad is her best friend. In her early years, while travelling with her parents she came across very few children her own age. At that time he was her only friend. Here we are reflecting on the growing dependency of young people in some parts of the world where phone friends are preferred to real ones.

Ahhh…I’ve been on this for ages already and am hardly moving on. I’ll take a stab at some other points briefly:

How long did it take to create?
About 3-4 months to develop the story bible. Early episodes took a couple of months to develop. Now we are at 5-6 months, but as Chris explains elsewhere this is not full-on full-time, it is interspersed with other work.

Why did we use the static sound?
The static is created by a device called the Electrosmog Detector . It captures the emissions from wireless devices like phones and wi-fi and turns them into audio. What you hear are the pure unmodulated sounds of the wireless world. The world we live in. This wireless world is growing ever more intense. Some say that it is having or will have an effect on health and well-being in the future.

Will Brad’s purpose become clearer as the episodes progress?
Yes! But I can’t tell you much more about that right now.
However, have studies shown that presenting information in multiple forms of communication to be more effective for learning?
I am sure there have, but we are not the right folks to answer that question.

It is interesting how so far in the development of Inanimate Alice, there have been no visuals of Alice’s family and herself.
It was a good choice not to portray the characters visually within the series. In this way it is like reading a book. You have to imagine what they are like from the scant details provided.

Will their images be saved for a critical moment in the story?
You will have to wait and see.

I must apologise for not answering all of the questions raised. There were many fascinating insights and some of the bigger questions around the series reflecting the world today would be the subject of essays in themselves.

Thanks to you all for your views on the series. Your series of lectures is probably the largest scale investigation into the series thus far. I will be mentioning your URL to teachers around the world who will gain much from your work.



NB: Ian kindly sent me his thoughts which I've added here as they were much too long for a comment to all your work.

Also, the image is from Juliette Powell's blog.


  1. Hi,

    I need to expand on the development of the story bible. It is important to have a clear idea of how such a document works when developing a multimedia story.

    It was Kate who wrote the story bible at the outset but then Chris added the image concepts, colour palette and ideas for music.

    The scripts for each episode were developed in the same way. I reviewed each document. Comments were circulated, discussed and agreed between the three of us before proceeding with production.


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