Digital: A Love Story

Games are brilliant at building a setting for a story. The interactivity may make it difficult to actually tell that story, but it also fills in the world in ways no other medium can. The setting is more than just a well designed level, however. The most powerful settings are about a very specific time and place, especially if you’ve been there in real life. Those are the hardest to pull off though, as any little detail can wreck the whole experience.

Fortunately Digital: A Love Story has an inherent advantage as it’s set entirely in the computer world. It’s set “five minutes into the future of 1988” and it starts at an Amiga-like desktop where you have just purchased a new modem. It asks for a username, and your real name. A message from a family friend gives you a number to a BBS and tells you to “try not to run up your Dad’s phone bills.” From there you can encounter the proto-internet world of the BBS system and explore the various messages and users attached to them.

As far as flavor goes, the BBS messages are top notch. At one point you can even get into an argument about Star Trek, if you choose. As a gameplay conceit you can’t actually compose messages, just reply to messages. This means gameplay largely consists of finding new messages and replying to them, which also feels very true to the early days of the internet. Somehow this works in the game’s favor. It’s much more compelling to imagine the message you would’ve sent to cause such a reply—a setup that’s evocative of Gordon Freeman’s famously mute personality. Especially when the budding BBS romance enters into the picture.

This is a fine piece of interactive fiction, which is to say the writing is top notch. It’s one of the best-written gaming romance stories I’ve ever experienced. The game itself exists outside the world of text parsers, however, and it’s actually much closer to a point-and-click adventure game than a text adventure. Yet there are more “gamey” bits, such as finding hacked Sprint long-distance codes to call a distant BBS. This is really a work that doesn’t fit neatly into a genre, which, considering the strength of the writing, is to the game’s credit.

Why You Should Check This Out: A wonderfully written story told through a pseudo-Amiga interface that largely plays itself out on BBSes of the late 80s—what’s not to love? The game isn’t very difficult but it can sometimes feel like working out a difficult puzzle, in fact it feels much like using a computer from the pre-internet era. Digital: A Love Story absolutely nails the setting, then uses it to tell you a great cyberpunk love story. For a certain era of gamer, this game will ring very true. For the rest of you, there’s a great story here that’s well worth the time.

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Comments

There's two things I did that were really helpful in the immersion

1) Fullscreen
2) Use your real name and usual internet handle

Makes everything a little more fun, IMO.

I checked this out a while ago and loved it. It's a short little game, only a couple of hours, but definitely worth it. I agree that the long-distance codes were a drag and really unnecessary to the flow of the narrative, but I suppose he was trying to make it an authentic experience.

This is about as close to cyber-punk as we're getting these days, which is a shame.

I agree that the long-distance codes were a drag and really unnecessary to the flow of the narrative, but I suppose he was trying to make it an authentic experience.

They were kinda annoying but I felt they really added to the world-building. Using computers to communicate with people really was that frustrating back before the internet became pervasive.

I'm really excited to try this out.

Way to take your time getting to something I mentioned waay back in March.

[size=9]not bitter that my thread got zero replies or nothin'. nope. not bitter at all.[/size]

Dysplastic wrote:

This is about as close to cyber-punk as we're getting these days, which is a shame.

I second this! We need more cyberpunk!

Also, can't wait to get home and try this out. A coworker called in sick and so I'm pulling a double shift, I have the flu (slight fever, strep throat, chills, clogged nasal passages, the works!) and have to work over the weekend as well. This might be just the thing for me when I get home much, much later on tonight.

This was great. Thanks for pointing it out.

juv3nal wrote:

Way to take your time getting to something I mentioned waay back in March.

[size=9]not bitter that my thread got zero replies or nothin'. nope. not bitter at all.[/size]

Hey, don't feel too bad there's like a billion threads on the forums Part of the reason to put games like this on the front page is to give it attention it wouldn't otherwise get, so feel free to keep bringing up new games on the forums! I always like to hear about new games.

brokenclavicle wrote:
Dysplastic wrote:

This is about as close to cyber-punk as we're getting these days, which is a shame.

I second this! We need more cyberpunk!

Is there any modern cyberpunk? I kinda wonder if cyberpunk really only makes sense in the late 80s-early 90s state of computing.

Dysplastic wrote:

I checked this out a while ago and loved it. It's a short little game, only a couple of hours, but definitely worth it. I agree that the long-distance codes were a drag and really unnecessary to the flow of the narrative, but I suppose he was trying to make it an authentic experience.

This is about as close to cyber-punk as we're getting these days, which is a shame.

Quick tip: He's a she.

wordsmythe wrote:

Quick tip: He's a she.

Assumptions...shattered!

The biggest one being that female indie game developers would write from a female lead character perspective. Makes this game that much better.

Dysplastic wrote:

Assumptions...shattered!

The biggest one being that female indie game developers would write from a female lead character perspective. Makes this game that much better.

The gender of the lead character isn't specified.
You can, after all, pick your own name.

juv3nal wrote:
Dysplastic wrote:

Assumptions...shattered!

The biggest one being that female indie game developers would write from a female lead character perspective. Makes this game that much better.

The gender of the lead character isn't specified.
You can, after all, pick your own name.

This is true...though

Spoiler:

the love interest is portrayed as female, so once again I assumed!

I played this ages ago but got completely stuck on something stupid, I forget what, and kind of left it. The repeated retrieval of Sprint codes kind of annoyed me rather than make me feel immersed in the gameplay. However, this was still such an original and interesting game, and I might bother finishing it at some point The music's cool too (is there music? I think there's music...)

There's totally rad music.

I felt like the closest game comparison I could make was to Neuromancer; they both drew on the same BBS ethos for their main interaction...and maybe Uplink, for the theme. There is some real emotional effect in there, if you let it touch you, though what I really wanted to see was more of the world/conversations.

Actually, it makes me want to see what an updated cyberpunk/BBS themed could do.

Do you think someone born 5 years after this game takes place could still have a good time, or is it just a wacky nostalgia trip?

MyNameIsHunter wrote:

Do you think someone born 5 years after this game takes place could still have a good time

Of course. This was slightly before my time, too, and I loved it. The presentation is really slick, and if you have even the slightest interest in what went on back then, I'd suggest giving it a look.

Also remember that the story is fictitious, and fairly interesting. So there's that.

Edit: Oh, another thing. Rad music.

MyNameIsHunter wrote:

Do you think someone born 5 years after this game takes place could still have a good time, or is it just a wacky nostalgia trip?

I don't know if it will make you like the game any more, but the developer herself was roughly born 5 years after the game takes place. She used textfiles for research.

Interview of her by textfiles dude Jason Scott

Not to nitpick (it's going to happen), but as--apparently--she's born the same year I was, that would be one year after the game is set.

Not to nitpick (it's going to happen), but as--apparently--she's born the same year I was, that would be one year after the game is set.

Eh, you're right. I had no idea off the top of my head when the game was set and figured it could have been set earlier. Point still stands.

But I don't really know what to do after I log onto the BBS, is there something I am not getting, or do I just have to wait?

MyNameIsHunter wrote:

But I don't really know what to do after I log onto the BBS, is there something I am not getting, or do I just have to wait?

Read the messages, reply to them, send messages to the other users, check your messages. It will start coming together.

I played a bit last night. Didn't get far, but this is a fascinating thing.

First game to make me cry.

Anyone try Analogue: A Hate Story yet? I downloaded the demo and am going to give it a try. I only played Don't Take it Personally Babe so far. I'll start a thread for Analogue if I think the game is any good and buy it. It's $15 by the way.

I bought it. Have only played maybe an hour so far, but the

Spoiler:

reactor shutdown sequence was awesome