The Last Gas Station – Release One!

Phew, well I thought I’d never get there but… I’VE DONE IT!! I’ve actually made a fully playable and (hopefully) shiny release of my new episode The Last Gas Station, and it’s available NOW! Plus there’s a fantastic music pack (14 tracks) from the story for download, too.

I’m calling this “release one” …but wait: what does that even mean?

Well, because I’m sure I’ll make the episode even cooler the better I get as a storyteller and games designer (and take in what readers say and suggest about it all), I think I should avoid calling this episode “complete” for now?

This doesn’t mean the story ends on a cliff-hanger, or that it crashes halfway through where I haven’t finished it yet or anything. It does mean there will be free episode updates in the future, like improved interactivity, better graphics, story tweaks and extra cool game play-type-stuff that’ll generally make the episode more awesome. 🙂

You can find out more about The Last Gas Station here! It’s been an epic journey for me to get to this stage. I really hope you enjoy it too.

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Inanimate Alice – Testimonials

From Episode 6“I just started the program with my 7th graders yesterday and they are hooked! Today they have all asked if we could work on it; not something you usually hear from 7th graders. After viewing the Alice stories and discussing what makes a good digital story, the students will be creating a digital story about our town – Lakewood, Ohio – in whichever literary genre they prefer. I am finding your teacher resource material helpful and focused.”
Belinda Lowrie Harding Middle School, Lakewood, Ohio

“I’ve been using ‘Inanimate Alice’ in classes for some years now, with classes of all ages and abilities. Engagement with Alice’s story is impressive and students are desperate to find out what happens next. Their creativity is tested to the full and they are challenged to use skills and strategies which they may never have used in English – animation and audio-visual tools, for a start. Working on ‘Alice’ allowed classes to collaborate in a way which made me, the teacher, superfluous. And their final product was often breathtakingly good. What more could we ask for as teachers?”
Kenny Pieper, Duncanrig Secondary School, East Kilbride, Scotland

From Episode 6“Canada, especially this region, close to Toronto, is extremely multicultural, and this story has really been able to reach so many of our students. It talks to the students of all different ethnicities, touches those who also have moved around all their lives like Alice, and reaches those students who think they hate to read. It allows so much thought about media and the connections to reading, writing, media, and the geography curriculums are great. My students have been so highly engaged and can’t wait to do more! They even wanted to know if they could do it at home, and that is unheard of in our school community!”
Jill Reiner, Laurentian Senior Public, Ontario

“Alice definitely has longevity! I think I have taught it every year since my initial email. This year, I taught a digital narrative unit to a group of grade 6 English Language Learners and it was the unit that really allowed some students with limited English proficiency to start using English to communicate and engage with reading and writing. Inanimate Alice really brought some students out of their shells and had them running into the classroom asking, “are we watching a new episode today?” I love how the language is so supported by the graphics that even beginner English language learners can understand it! We worked on reading fluency and comprehension as well as speaking and writing skills. At the end of the unit, students who had written very limited amounts of English successfully constructed their own episodes of Inanimate Alice. The grade 6 group will be so excited to know that the new episode has been released! We are on a week break right now and I think I’ll keep the final episode as a surprise for the end of the year after reports have been written. Thanks again for such an incredible resource. I plan to keep it in my curriculum for many years to come!”
Kerrilyn Thacker, Chair of the EAL Department, Antwerp International School

“My 2 reading classes and I are so hooked on inanimate Alice. Is there an episode 5…will there be more episodes to come? This is just a wonderful and innovative way to get students engaged and into reading and understanding multimedia elements and how they add to the beauty of the text. This has been a lifesaver for the end of the school year when it’s easy to lose the kids’ attention. I have begun making smartboard lessons to go along wiith each episode…suggested vocabulary. I’ll e-mail them to you when I think they’re good enough.”
Jessica Miller, Will Beckley Elementary School, Nevada

From Episode 5“Yes! My students can now access all four episodes on any of our devices!! So the only question left is when do we get more? 🙂 My students love the novels and beg to be allowed to read them both in class and at home. I love the visual presentation and engaging activities that keep my Deaf students and reluctant readers so engrossed that they forget it is learning!! Also, thanks for the Spanish version. One of my students was able to share with his family at home using that and improved our relationship with that family!! Thanks so much!!”
Jenny Williamson, Henderson Mill Elementary School, Georgia

“I am a Library Media Specialist and just wanted to let you know that I am using your site in a presentation I am doing at the Digital Literacy Institute at the University of Rhode Island on July 14-18 in Providence, Rhode Island. I am speaking about the teaching I have done with Inanimate Alice and the multitude of ways it engages students and stimulates learning. I have had such fun and success using Alice’s story in the classroom, and I hope to encourage many others to get involved with it as well. Thank you for creating such a wonderfully innovative form of storytelling and for the education support materials that are so helpful!”
Tara Hixon Cashion Public Schools, Oklahoma

From Episode 5's Canal Chase game“My class at Wakefield has been using Inanimate Alice the past few weeks and I think it was probably us that spiked the usage for the loop. 🙂 I have 38 year 5/6 students in my literacy group and they are so into Inanimate Alice. I decided to use it in my programme to try to engage the students that ‘don’t like reading’ but they can’t get enough of it now, both online and reading the text only version. The story line offers many options when it comes to guided reading or follow up activities. Some of the reluctant readers have shown a real change in attitude towards reading which has been a great start to the year!”
Kathy Jessop, Wakefield, New Zealand

“I have used the series as an end-of-the-year activity for the past two years. I have created literacy questions for episodes 1-3. I have students watch episode 4, and then answer two short essay type questions. As a final activity, I have students write and produce their own episode 5. It is a perfect activity to complete our year. Students are very engaged while working on the activities. The grade level is 7th.” The following year… “And yes, once again, Alice is providing a quality ending to my 7th grade students’ reading curriculum. Love Alice – perfect end of the year work: focused and fun!”
Merrily Ellis – Reading Specialist, Mt. Angel Middle School, Oregon

“I wanted to let you know you all are doing a wonderful job! Teachers and students alike love Inanimate Alice, and it’s especially good to use with our reluctant readers.”
Megan Hallenbeck, Gloversville Middle School, New York

“21st century schools must keep up with technology, engage students and create life-long learners. Inanimate Alice does it all. Inanimate Alice is a wonderful combination of audio and visual text features which lures in reluctant readers and leaves them wanting more. Thanks to Inanimate Alice, I was able to bridge the gap and take students from averse, to reading with enthusiasm, in a short period of time!”
Donna Terra, Grade 5 Teacher, Morse Pond School, Falmouth, Massachusetts

“I’m pretty passionate about the project, as I used it in a unit of teaching for the full registration process that graduate teachers have to go through. So, Inanimate Alice helped me get my full registration.”
Alison Bain, 7D Learning Advisor, Victoria, Australia

Find out more about Inanimate Alice: Teacher’s Edition Suite
Visit the Create Digital Gallery of Student-made episodes

Teachers’ Edition Suite – Yours To Keep

Teachers' Edition SuiteFor years, early adopters have presented the Inanimate Alice series to their students, capturing their imaginations and inspiring them to create their own versions of the story. Despite all the inefficiencies of browser/wifi access, those teachers have visited and revisited the site, time and again. They have been rewarded through extraordinarily high levels of student engagement.

Now, with the Teachers’ Edition Suite, the first 5 episodes of the series are available immediately from a click on an icon on the desktop. Gone are download times and slow connections, the story is accessible immediately, anytime, anyplace. What’s more, users can go directly to the desired scene/passage, jump ahead or go back to any segment of the story.

“Wonderful… Teachers and students alike love Inanimate Alice, and it’s especially good to use with our reluctant readers.” – Megan Hallenbeck, Gloversville Middle School, New York 
Read more testimonials!

Features & Benefits:

  • Works without a web browser – no Flash or other plugins required
  • Works offline – no internet access necessary and no loading times
  • Teachers’ Edition modes allow easy access to any scene in any episode
  • High resolution, full screen graphics and maximum quality audio
  • Easy digitally signed installation wizard lands all five episode icons on your desktop
  • Navigate the entire story – run multiple episodes at the same time (concurrently) and switch between them

‘Being able to access to the Teachers’ Edition Suite will not only remove for teachers the frustration of poor internet connections and inadequate bandwidth, but it will allow them to refer to the text in its entirety, to examine the development of Alice through the various stages of her life, and to look at how the production values change to match that development. Having the ability to move back and forward through the text at the touch of a button is a huge advantage when it comes to keeping students focused on the text, or indeed, in allowing students to progress at their own pace through the story if that is appropriate.’
– Literacy Adviser Bill Boyd
Read more testimonials!
 

   BUY NOW FOR PC – Individual Use Licence (per teacher/student) – $19.90

   BUY NOW FOR PC – 1:1 Classroom Licence (up to 35 students plus teacher) – $199.00

   BUY NOW FOR MAC – Individual Use Licence (per teacher/student) – $19.90

   BUY NOW FOR MAC – 1:1 Classroom Licence (up to 35 students plus teacher) – $199.00

Teaser – Episodes 1-4

Teaser – Episode 5

Inanimate Alice in the Classroom

The Last Gas Station : FAQ

Q. The Last Gas Station crashed! Or, I found a bug/error. Who do I tell about this and/or send the crash log file?

A. The Last Gas Station is still in its first release and, although it’s been extensively tested, access to the sheer number of possible hardware and software platforms/configurations it might be run on is simply an impossible task for me! So, if the work crashes on you, or you find that something just isn’t working right, please drop me an email: feedback@inanimatealice.info saying exactly when the crash happened or what the bug is. Be as detailed as you can. Even send screenshots if possible.

Q. When I get to the ‘Subway Glitch Fixing’ section, the episode crashes!

A. This is a bug that seems to affect some readers/players, I’m not sure why yet. To get around it, load the episode, choose ‘Scene Selection’ and then ‘Subway Fix’. This will restart the scene from the beginning which has been known to help.

Q. The episode plays really slowly or staggers a lot when I move around.

A. You must have a dedicated graphics card in your computer, otherwise you’re highly likely to have a very laggy experience moving through the episode and it just won’t be much fun. What does that mean? Well, an integrated graphics card (or graphics processing unit to be posh about it – the GPU) doesn’t use its own RAM; it utilizes the system’s memory instead. A dedicated graphics card has its own independent source of video memory, leaving the RAM your system uses untouched. Integrated graphics is fine for everyday tasks and some 2D games, but it won’t cut it with The Last Gas Station which is told through immersive 3D. If you’re absolutely *sure* you have a dedicated graphics card in your computer, try reducing the screen resolution of the episode on the configuration screen to something like 1280 x 768, or even lower if necessary. The episode will look a bit less beautiful, but may very well run quicker!

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The Smaller Details

My previous episode-venturing has involved navigation using “chapters” or “scenes” in the story that can be returned to once they’ve been read/experienced. This has been a really important thing: being able to go back and re-read story sections is like being able to turn back the pages of a book. But because The Last Gas Station makes quite a big leap in terms of technology – and the approach I’ve decided to take when telling my story this time – I’ve changed the way this works a little.

Behold: the TITLE SCREEN – press to enlarge. 🙂

The Title Screen!

Yep, I’ve done away with all the “this story uses text, image and sound” stuff and replaced it with “scene selection”. Each scene shows a padlock beside it if you haven’t fully dived into it yet. The title screen has music and floats gently around the desert showing you different views of the gas station. It’s rather nice. 🙂

I’ve also been working on other details too: plonking some clouds into the desert sky using a skybox, dotted some nice green cacti around the landscape, and even added an animal that slowly wanders past the gas station window at one point (if you’re lucky enough to spot it).

Oh and because I’m surrounded by the city on the distant horizon, I thought it would be supercool to make the occasional aircraft or helicopter make an appearance.

Now these little additions aren’t essential to the story, but they do really ramp up the atmosphere and add fun depth to the episode (I hope)!

Live edits and narrative corrections

One of the many things I’m finding really cool about developing this episode is the way in which I can “pause” the whole thing, make changes, and then “un-pause” it again and carry on. This is all down to me choosing to make the story in Unity, a really powerful (and free!) piece of software.

Being able to live edit and tweak the story as I actually make it is quite weird, but also amazingly useful and helpful.

Let’s say I’m making a sequence where I reply to Dad about how I’m doing with my college assignment – and I spot a spelling mistake (oops) or want to change a few words around to help the language flow better. All I have to do is press “pause”, go back into the Unity editor and tweak the text, then “un-pause” again and boom – there you go, done!

I’ve also been playing around with allowing readers to see my “thoughts” as I reply to various emails and text messages on my gadget as the story unfolds. It’s really curious because sometimes I “delete” what I’ve written and write something else, but you can actually see me do this on screen.

We all do it, right? Start typing an email, a text, or a Facebook post, but then change our minds and delete words, sometimes sentences, and start again. As a storytelling technique, I’m finding this fascinating. My doubts, worries and impulses have a new way of showing through.

The Last Gas Station – Teaser

Hey. So, I finally got my screen capture software working and made this teaser video for my forthcoming episode. Hope you like it. 🙂

Narrative possibilities

I’ve been playing with the idea of spatial narratives (heh, that sounds posh!) – elements of thoughts/dialogue that are tied to zones, objects and happenings in 3D space. I’m really interested in the idea of each reader/player having a slightly different experience each time they play Episode 6.

I don’t mean like, making endless branching narrative possibilities or anything – I don’t think my head could cope with that – but having varied, perhaps even random or mood-related responses to the reader/player’s actions as they play the role of – well, me, as they go through the story.

Here are a couple of ideas I’ve been exploring:

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1. Random responses. Basically, this method triggers a random but very similar response to something that might be happening or has been discovered. Here, I’m reflecting on arriving in the subway. It doesn’t matter which one of these responses appears on screen, they’re not absolutely “key” narratives as such, but they do add a slightly different “flavour” to each gameplay/story session. Let’s call it “seasoning”. 😉

2. Incremental responses. Rather than being random, these kinds of responses count “how many times they’ve been triggered” and display my thoughts accordingly. For instance, let’s say I decide to pick up an old crate that I find lying around in the subway. My first response might be, “OK, a crate. Weird. What can I do with this?”. The second time I pick it up, my response might be different. “Yep. It’s that crate again. Don’t all video games have crates?” And so on. Eventually, I might get sick of repeatedly doing something and display a sarcastic/tired comment. Or, offer a clue as to what the object is meant to be actually used for.

3. Game state dependent responses. These sorts of thoughts and reactions depend on what’s happening in the game as a whole. Is there any urgency or pressure on me/the reader/player to do anything? If so, I might be more moody/snappy than I would be if the pressure’s off and I have plenty of time. My response to just standing about being idle might be, “Er… shall we get moving then?”. If the story has become time-pressured or dramatic, this might switch to: “OMG I NEED TO MOVE! NOW!”.

4. Branching responses. What happens narratively might also completely depend in places on what the reader/player has decided to do in my shoes. These are the Big Decisions and require the entire episode to wander off down different “story paths” – possibly even have different outcomes. Did I take the left hand corridor or the right hand one? You never just know: the entire story might change, depending on that one single choice!

The Last Gas Station – Yours to keep

monitorMy name is Alice. I’m nineteen years old, and I work at a remote gas station just outside the city. I’m up against the clock to deliver my latest college assignment before the deadline, but as usual things aren’t exactly going to plan. I’m surrounded by clutter and paperwork, bombarded by alerts and text messages from my boyfriend and my dad. The last thing I need is a mysterious customer turning up in a gas-guzzling sports car…

Offering a unique approach to interactive storytelling in a 3D game setting, Episode 6 brings the Inanimate Alice series to a spectacular new frontier.

Recommended spec requirements: computer or laptop running a dedicated graphics card, 8GB RAM+ and speakers or headphones. 

   BUY FOR PC (single user licence) – $4.99

   BUY FOR PC (1:1 classroom licence) – $49.90

  BUY FOR MAC (single user licence) – $4.99

   BUY FOR MAC (1:1 classroom licence) – $49.90

ADDITIONAL OFFERS

   BUY MUSIC PACK (14 tracks from the episode) – $4.99

TEASER

SCREENSHOTS

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Games designer?

It’s funny how things evolve. I’ve been working on Episode 6 now for quite a long time (although in game development terms, maybe not all that long; some games take many years to make even with HUGE teams of talented people working on them with big budgets!!) and although I’ve come close to feeling like it’s ready to release, I’ve only recently just started to feel properly happy with it, and happy with where I’m heading – myself – as a games designer.

But wait. Am I a games designer? I’m not sure. My work isn’t just game-like… It’s also very story-like. I love telling stories. So… what should I call myself? Any ideas?

Anyway, I’m slowly getting my head around all of this. Game engines. Graphics. Audio. Interactivity. Stories. And best of all…. I’m doing it my way. 🙂

Early subway

This is where I first started out – my first draft of the underground subway that features strongly in Episode 6.

I’m learning fast. A year ago I wouldn’t have had a clue what a polygon was. Now? I’m using some really cool techniques that I never thought I’d be able to even remotely get my head around! In short: Episode 6 is coming on great.

Please drop me your details and I’ll let you know when it’s ready for beta testing!

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