Engage in your least secret dreams with a possessed completely normal Macintosh Performa, or at least an artistically inspired version. I’ll get around to replacing that hard drive sometime.

Postmortem

The strange thing about Sonic OC 7, to start, is that it really began from a design perspective. It was New Year’s Eve, I had a late-day coffee, and I became absolutely fixated on the thought of mimicking the Retro Macintosh aesthetic in just CSS and HTML. I had spent the past few weeks on break mostly writing academic analyses of Twine interactives, Guild Wars 2, interactive auteurship, and so on, so it felt so exciting to just make something instead.

I decided I would do a test in Twine to see if I could rig it to work; I was in love with an asset pack I wanted to put in something and as the initial experiment worked after just an hour of playing around, it seemed more real to use something with this design. My friend Rachel was running a Sonic OC Jam and needed some submissions. I thought, “What if you had to role play Sonic with a child’s soul in a computer?”

The original design used Print Char 21 – the Apple II font – but quickly shifted to Chicago.

After that, it was a chain of problem/solution, problem/solution. How do I get this to look just right? Where should the story go next? How can I present this effect just with CSS? If I want Twine to do this function, is there a macro for it? Do I have to find my own way to do it? Are there design limitations that just completely prevent the solution I want? Arielle got home from work an hour in and I was barely present. I was in a state of flow for about twelve hours straight, and starting the project at 6pm, wrapped up around 6:30am and slept. Then I woke up to make revisions. I added on-click noises to get it closer to the experience I wanted to approximate.

Some design hiccups include:

  • Twine can’t set a variable with a keyboard press. It literally has to be the player clicking a button. You can’t get around it. The developer states in the forums that it’s absolutely deliberate, but when you’re making something more visual than narrative, it’s a strange impossibility. So when you type in your name, you have to click the enter button. Okay.
  • For the life of me, I absolutely could not get an instance of Javascript to set focus on text input fields automatically. Having your keyboard cursor blink would’ve been a tiny, perfect little thing, and I must’ve spent an hour or two just on it, but I’m unsure what it is. From what I can tell, Twine pages are just a single page with javascript pushing you to another passage that then shows on-screen, so without a seperate pageload, there’s no place to prompt to reset the focus onto a text field.
  • I could not find a single way to play two sounds simultaneously. My friend Emilie had a recording of some room tone, and I thought it might be this subtle way to add a little atmosphere, but it just would not cooperate. And sounds played on a mouse hover? Even more of a disaster. The workarounds weren’t perfect, and if they weren’t perfect, I can’t use them.

So how was the reception?

Well, I think there is a lot going against it on principle. When you read “Sonic OC 7,” it seems mean-spirited almost by default. It’s such a stigmatised fandom that any separate thing that makes reference to it seems like netkid gold, this accepted target of basement dwellers. I detest that – I detest this world where we have a hierarchy of interests and some are so stigmatised people assume you must hate them, right?

But the thing is, Sonic OC 7 is about engaging with the simulated soul of a nameless child who, after years of being bullied and abused, has had so much psychological and emotional damage they rename themselves, they reset their memories; they do anything that preserves their soul, but every memory wipe, a little bit more erodes away. The goal, the true end, of this interactive is to just engage with them. Get on their level. Stop their forgetting.

I was finding people would say it’s surreal; unsettling; sinister; creepy. Was it the little hints about being trapped in an old Macintosh for twenty years? Was it the reluctance to ever build upon that? I think partway through I was realising that I didn’t want to make another Analogue, because it does what it does so well; I wanted to use a similar device to go toward a different end entirely, and to do so in a compact, graceful way in the format provided. I think the transformation is something kind of cool, maybe creepy; I think it’s kind of trans, in its own way, but how my child got there is somewhat irrelevant – that memory is lost, and they are just a tragic loop.

Sonic OC 7 focuses on a few recurring interests of mine: power and conversation. I wanted you in a position where you had the power; I wanted you alone with someone in clear deference. I wanted you to disregard the power you had over someone to try to understand them, to understand the point of it all, and what you could do, in a sympathetic and healing way.

I wanted to use Twine to not so much narrate a single thing, but to just talk to someone. I feel that’s the most powerful kind of interactive fiction – too much text and the player can get disinterested to the experience, or worse, bored. Walking along the border of interactivity and fiction writing is a bit of a tightrope, because they have very different attention span requirements. Conversation is the most accessible way to negotiate it, because people, well, are always having conversations in interactive environments. It’s the most intuitive thing about them, I think.

Finally, after another second attempt at a Twine project, I put it away after realising the scope I considered was so counter-intuitive for the engine that I needed to go somewhere else entirely. I’m still chasing down an idea into an appropriate engine for the purpose, and it’ll come out in the future, but I’m unsure just how long. It’ll take some time.