Le Nuage: Up in the Cloud

Paris of 2200 is nothing like the Paris of 2018. Jacqueline, a 17-year-old living in the Second Arrondissement, is preparing for her big day when she comes of age: the day when she turns 18 and Uploads herself to the Cloud (or as the Parisians call it, Le Nuage). These days, every established government in the world requires by law that you disconnect yourself from the planet at 18 — Why? Well, Earth is running out of resources, the elderly have started taking up too much space, and the Cloud guarantees you a “lifetime” of untouched bliss.

Thus, all adults in Paris of 2200 are in fact holograms (unless they are a Disobedient — one who has somehow escaped the Cloud.) Holograms float around taking care of their children. The rest is taken care of by robots.

Yet after joining the cloud, Jacqueline (the player) is not sure what she’s doing there. She gets to pick her own Profession, but she doesn’t find it compelling. Furthermore, she feels oddly…. estranged from her community while living in this new world. It is all too simulated — too fake happy. She gets to peek into the lives of her two best friends on the Outside, Alix and Amélie, and it only makes her miss the real world more.

What does Jacqueline do when confronted with this situation? Does she commit herself to this eternity of “bliss” or find loopholes in the system to try and escape?

PLAY THE GAME HERE

(Note: now is a good time to start playing the game. Read up on my process afterwards.)

Theme

Wanted to quickly mention what I am trying to getting across in this game.

1 — The potential of technology to devastate our sense of meaning in this world. While I love technology and its advantages, it has already been detrimental to human values in many ways. And in the future it will do even more damage. How much time do we want to be spending on virtual worlds (LIKE THIS GAME)? is an important question to be thinking about. Shouldn’t we be out there living life? Social media is another related epidemic.

2 — Pollution, overpopulation, etc. All those wonderful things. We need to recognize what a shitty world we might end up with if things go on the way they are.

Process

When I started working on this game, I was super excited just to have something to write. As a little girl, I wrote lots of fiction on online forums, and would read lots of dystopia-related fiction. The books that particularly inspired me for this game were the Uglies series by Scott Westerfeld, as well as Divergent, by Veronica Roth. I loved the idea of a “special day” once you turn a certain age, where everyone in the world goes through some rite of passage.

I was also very inspired by the Black Mirror TV series, particularly the episodes “San Junipero” and “Black Museum.”

Both of those episodes involve some kind of life “online” — a life providing the advantages (and disadvantages) of living eternally, and revolving around the danger of committing our lives to the Internet.

I originally wanted to develop this game on Inform7, since I was excited about the idea of a user deciding exactly what to do (typing it in), and by the idea of potentially providing some map they can explore. But I very quickly gave up on Inform7. As soon as I found myself writing synonyms for “beneath/under/by/near/beside/along/against” just so the girl could get out of bed in the morning, I knew this game would take waaay too long to get a point across if I were to stick to Inform.

INSTEAD, I switched to Twine and never looked back!

The coolest thing I found about Twine was the visual map — it really, really helps sort things out when I can see which passages point to what. I also loved the “tagging” feature: the passages you see in blue above are those the player spends in the Cloud. I used the tag “cloud” and defined a different CSS layout for it, so the background would be blue instead of white, etc. This way I could very persuasively communicate the experience of entering a different world once you join the Cloud…

I also had a fun little Mentor character named Jo in the Cloud.

(Jo can actually get pretty annoying. You’ll see why if you play!)

Learning

From my personal experience playing the IF games assigned to us, I realized how impatient I am reading long passages of text. I really can’t stand long passages of text anymore because my attention span is equivalent to that of a chipmunk. I need to be visually entertained to have fun playing games. So I decided my game will need to be visually entertaining, and from the beginning I strived to make the passages as short as possible — and the choices as wide as possible.

Playtester Yasmeen Jassim!

While playtesting, I realized I hadn’t made the passages short or evocative enough! I noticed that many of my playtesters would skim through the passages, even to the point of skipping entire sentences as they read. This would lead to important information that I had spent a LOT of time thinking through completely SLIPPING through the cracks.

You see, I’m putting a lot of images in this article to keep you interested and have you reading the text more willingly.

Basically, back when my game didn’t have images, Yasmeen, LuLu, and Yibing all missed important plot points after they’d played, because they just clicked through choices without thinking!

SO, I added more images.

This not only visually engaged my playtesters more, but also formed a more clear image of certain scenes in their mind. This was crucial for the scenes where I wanted to generate EMPATHY.

For example, here is my favorite scene in the game:

Here, the player is peeking out at the real world from the Cloud, and missing it. I love it because the image of grass (at least for me) evokes a certain feeling I associate with my senses. And the whole point of this scene is to make you miss your senses. The whole point of the Cloud passages is to place you “in the web” — to make you feel like you’re no longer in a body, but living a life online.

Another example is with pizza (doesn’t it look delicious?)

This is where Jacqueline begins to miss real life, and where hopefully the player starts reconsidering how much screentime they’ve been spending on computer games (lol).

Ok, another thing related to the content assigned to us is railroading (from the Emergence vs. progression Sketchnotes): giving the player the belief that they’re making real choices.

From my sketchnotes

I’m really proud of how well I’ve pulled it off! All my playtesters commented on how much they enjoyed the variety of unique choices. In one scene, I provide the ability to pick up a map to look at later (and then use it to decide which Metro station to go to), there’s also the choice of your own Profession in the Cloud, and there’s the possibility of angering your mother or keeping her happy, etc. which affects later outcomes (inspired by 80 Days and Monsieur Passepartout).

So, my game does succeed in making the player think they have a lot of choices, but in reality it is an illusion that ultimately converges to all the same passages in Twine (spoiler alert: everyone ends up entering the Cloud, eventually becoming an Engineer in the Cloud, and exiting the Cloud — unless they die along the way. This made the game design significantly easier for me at those points. I could even toss away a lot of variables that lost meaning at those points, like what professions players chose before becoming an Engineer.)

Hope you enjoy the game! Thanks for reading :)