There were two significant challenges in adapting Charlie Brown’s All-Stars into an interactive book.
All-Stars is an action-packed special, with complex montages and baseball sequences. And we all knew upfront it would require more animation and complex storytelling than A Charlie Brown Christmas and It’s the Great Pumpkin apps, if only to recreate the drama and excitement of watching a baseball game unfold.
Secondly, as I already mentioned in my first post, the original special is exceptionally funny. And it was very important to me to capture the most important comic beats of the special, while still making 'a book'.
There's a fine line between creating an interactive book and just re-animating a cartoon. Loud Crow's products, first and foremost, facilitate a reading experience for young and aspiring readers. While we want children to be entertained, and enjoy including all bells and whistles and animation that make reading interactive books fun, we think it’s also important to parents (and us!) that they’re reading.
The biggest difference between reading actively and watching passively is control. A reader is in control of the pace and cadence of how a story unfolds. They can turn the page, or rest on a paragraph. They can skim through a book, or mull over sentence moment, or turn of phrase that strikes them. And for a young reader, it's critical they have the opportunity to interpret and decipher what they're reading and seeing in a book, at their own, comfortable pace.
Animation and film is different. For the most part, you are surrendering control as a viewer to animation. You're allowing someone to talk at you, at their pace and on their terms. You're not interpreting the content, so much as witnessing it.
The difference is having a story told to you versus recreating the story yourself.
It’s a fine balance to strike, and a challenge we discuss constantly at the Loud Crow studio. There’s a colloquialism in videogame development, called ‘putting a game on rails’ — it refers to how sometimes, in a videogame, the control of the game is taken away from the player in order to show a pre-rendered animation or to force the user into a certain course of action.
We hate putting our readers ‘on rails’, even when there is no other option.
It’s strange to think of a book that way — most books tell a story in a linear, authored fashion. They’re not elaborate games in which you make endless decisions that affect the outcome. But the actual ‘interface’ of a printed book is actually quite flexible. You can open it at any page, skip pages, and even rip out a page you don’t like. Unlike a movie, you can get up from a book, go to the washroom and come back and not miss a single beat.
Try throwing a book across a room. You might break the book, but not the story. There’s a sense of control and tactility and permanence with a printed book that is sublime and undeniable.
And of course, the most interactive and stimulating part of reading is that it forces you to engage your imagination. It’s ‘interacting’ with your brain. You have to recreate what is happening in your mind’s eye.
And while we’re not trying to get six year olds to re-enact Moby Dick in their heads, we are trying to show them the path towards reading so that one day, they can.
Some app books interrupt the reading experience with too many animated cut-scenes, which begs the question, “Why make it a ‘book’?”. Other app books don’t have enough interactivity or animation, begging the question, “Why make it an app?”.
One of the concepts Loud Crow introduced with the first Charlie Brown app was a system of tabs at the bottom of every spread. For the most part, this was used to break up a single scene to more bite-sized, digestible, readable moments or ‘beats.’
The reader advances the story by swiping the tabs on the spread with their finger, so they can continue reading.
The plan for the All-Stars was to always tell some of the story through animations triggered by gestures, and fly-in comic panels. For example, an arrow would appear above Charlie Brown to throw a pitch, which would trigger a sequence of events. Or the reader would swipe forward to get to the next beat in the story, and it would trigger an animation sequence.
Then as we developed the prototype, we realized that it would be far more compelling — and much closer to the activity of reading —if we allowed readers to control the speed and pace of the animation within a spread by swiping the tabs.
The end result is akin to swiping through an animated storyboard — a series of visual beat or moments, one after the other. But with precision, a reader can slide from beat to beat, and watch the animation between beats unfold — like scrubbing through a timeline.
As a storytelling technique, it feels like the right balance between showing, telling and reading. We can include all the fun, dynamism and potential of animation while still giving readers a strong sense of control over how they are reading and interacting with the story. They can swipe through the animation quickly, or drag their finger slowly to watch it in slow motion. They can skip through all animation and go from beat to beat or hold an animation at a single spot, and ponder a pose.
Of course, Loud Crow isn’t the first studio to experiment with this type of storytelling. Below are some more examples online of how dynamic visual storytelling can be. We’d love to hear feedback from parents and fans regarding whether or not they like it.
Talent Pun, Design Director