When I first played roleplaying games like Fable, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and Elder Scrolls: Morrowind more than a decade ago, I was thrilled to experience the open-world freedom and choices I could make for my character. I had the freedom to make "good" or "evil" decisions or do anything that could tip his morality scale. And the choices I made affected the course of my character's story and powers. James Schannep blends these role-playing game elements and comic book-style fiction in his interactive superhero fantasy book, SUPERPOWERED, to give his readers the fun experience that these games offer. Check out the official trailer of SUPERPOWERED:
The book explains how the reader can experience it:
Here’s how it works: You, Dear Reader, are the main character of this story. Save the world or conquerit; the choice is yours. Simply click the links to progress through the story. Each link represents a choice,and there’s no going back, so choose wisely. Are YOU a hero or a villain?
Although it's non-linear, the concept is as simple as Portal's plot: You are the main character who ends up being affected by a bizarre experiment, a strange explosion that somehow grants you one of the three possible powers (kind of like choosing one of the three starting Pokemons in the classic games). But instead of Bulbasaur, Charmander, or Squirtle, you choose: Rock, Paper, or Scissors (Super-strength, Super-intelligence, or Super-telekinetic). The synopsis claims that it has three unique storylines and fifty possible endings. I tried going through different scenarios, each with their sets of choices that could affect the course of the narrative.
Most of the scenarios are similar and formulaic in a lot of ways: they all take place in Mercury city; early on, you're able to demonstrate your newly-acquired power; meet some allies like Nick and Catherine, who also reveal their powers; I always faced the decision of whether to call the cops or not; there are forks that lead you to the "good" or "evil" path. The length of story varies, but each scenario I took was no longer than a short story's length. Some ended more abruptly, unsatisfactorily while some were more compelling, like that time when I had the choice to cure cancer or create an A.I..Some of my scenario's final pages were more open-ended, making me wonder if there's any continuation at all. I also found myself running a casino or raising money in legal or illegal ways. There's a plethora of possibilities you can experience, and that's what makes SUPERPOWERED more fun than a lot of linear superhero books with similar narrative.
But unfortunately, the freedom to take multiple paths doesn't mean you have the freedom to modify your dialogues or utilize your powers in creative ways. I wished there were experiences that set choices that affect particular battles that would bring your full potential, but sadly, the narrative constraints limit the scope of the story. The narrator often tells you how you'd react instead of giving you the chance to form your own interpretations. Cookie-cutter dialogues and characters fill the generic scenarios, and the lack of central theme leaves little room for mystery and depth. I couldn't tell if Mercury City is either a post-apocalyptic urban sprawl or a contemporary alternate-New York. It's as if the nucleus of
is its starting base, the vague experiment that mostly becomes irrelevant in most scenarios. Sure, you're able to choose what you can be in broad strokes that paint your fate, but I was there was more color in the background to compliment the art of being a hero or villain.
You can say that
is an experiment itself: most of the fun comes from its unpredictability. The reader can actively brew his future in it, and it's fun to see some surprises along the way. It's not common to find interactive books that Schannep writes. It must have been challenging to create something non-linear and immersive. If you open-world roleplaying games, and would like to know how that freedom can be experience in fiction, you might want to check this one out.