On Tuesday, at the opening of a new exhibition at the Time Warner Medialab in New York, DC Entertainment's President, Diane Nelson, and Co-Publisher, Jim Lee announced a new storytelling technology that would soon start appearing in DC's digital comics line.
It's a concept that Friedrich Nietzsche would have appreciated, had he been into Batman. Because: when you read a digital comic book from the new DC2 Multiverse line... the comic book also reads you.
A "Multiverse" comic (which can be read online or offline through mobile apps and Web apps) is a technological mashup. It contains features from conventional comic books, multipath video games such as DC's successful Batman: Arkham series, and the old-fashioned "choose your own adventure" books that are familiar to any veteran of family road trips. Each chapter of a Multiverse title contains several breakpoints which prompt the reader to select one character, weapon, or action from several options. Each decision unlocks new content, and sends the reader down a different direction for the story.
Here's the twist: the comic is also sending data back to DC Entertainment. If readers show more interest in Alfred Pennyworth than The Penguin, the comic's creators and editors will ultimately learn about that.
I spoke to Nelson and Lee about the DC2 publishing initiative on the morning before their announcement.
"At the end of the day, two different readers can experience two different storylines and two different conclusions," Lee said, when I asked him about the story reading experience. "The reader can move straight through, or they can explore every branch of the storyline."
It isn't as crazy as it sounds. Many of today's most creatively and commercially-successful comic book writers also write video games, and are familiar with the "if this then that" tree scheme of plotting.
But how does this immense structure influence how the creators put together a story?
"It's a creative and logistical challenge," he said. "Creatively, we're making one story, with many different outcomes that are just as satisfying. We have to open ourselves to a story structure that fits that. And from the logistical side, we need to create assets that support all of these different elements from the same story tree. To do it in the smartest fashion, using assets here and there, and be very smart about what we're creating so we're not overwhelmed. If we do 8 different outcomes and every one of those is very different, it can be a strain on the production system. So you have to be smart about the sort of stories you're trying to tell."
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