Joel’s Story: A Fiction Illustrating How Art Of Sequence Works

The following text is a fictive story illustrating how we intend Art Of Sequence to be used. Each part illustrates one of the objectives of the AOS projects.

(Note: the following should be told as a digital story – will do as soon as AOS Designer allows it)

Joel is a comics maker. Today he wants to make a comics that would not be a simple static comics, but something that can be read online, on tablets and smartphones, and that can exploit the fact that it’s all computers, to tell something meaningful in a new way.

Let’s say Joel decides to go with Art Of Sequence tools to make his stories…

1. Art Of Sequence allow authors to write a born-digital story once and publish it “everywhere”.

Joel first downloads and installs AOS Designer which is a visual editor to make digital stories. It provides basic features to do this, and works with the AOSL format to represent the stories Joel is making.

All AOS tools work using the AOSL format. It’s purpose is to be flexible enough to express any kind of digital story, in particular the ones exploiting the specificities of digital platforms a lot.

Joel can make his story in a generic way, just assuming it will be played on some kind of screen. He knows that players are being implemented for different platforms, like HTML/JavaScript, Flash, smartphones, etc. He just has to make sure not to use resources (images, sounds, videos, etc.) that these players will not be able to read. Fortunately, he sets AOS Designer to know that he will target a lot of different platforms, and AOS Designer will now tell him if he’s trying to do something that will not work on all the target platforms.

Joel first compose his story like if he was story-boarding a comics, just putting empty colored boxes and quick sketches where there will be final pictures, videos, sounds, etc. He also adds effects in transitions between different stages of his story. Once his story seems to work well, he starts making the real resources using other tools, like Photoshop or InkSkape for images, Flash for some animations, etc. He progressively integrates the pictures and other resources into the story by making the story objects use these pictures and other resources. Soon he will have a final version of his story, fully composed and easy to read.

When Joel has finished making his stories, he only has to use exporters which are installed in AOS Designer. Exporters are little tools converting AOSL, the universal and generic representation of the stories, into more specific format: a web page, a native application, a flash application, an epub file, etc.

Joel can also just export a generic AOSL package file which can be read by several “generic” players. He can also specify that some of the images should be changed if the reader is color-blind, or if the player can’t display colors. It can adapt it’s story to the capabilities of the player.

Once he has his story exported into different formats, he just has to check that it plays nicely in all the players (in the same way you have to check how browsers read your websites).

2. Art Of Sequence allows authors to exploit the specificities of digital platforms without requiring programming skills.

Joel wants to tell a story in a really new way. He also makes video games, so he understands the limits of narration when interactivity is involved. But even with these limits there are interesting kind of narrations that are not well explored today and can be done using computers.

Usually, Joel would have passed hours coding the non-linear parts of his story. Or he would have to rely on someone else to code these parts, which is exactly like adding another author. However, he doesn’t need to, because Art Of Sequence tools are designed with computers and software in mind.

Indeed, Joel can make the story ask the reader to choose between different paths at some point of the story. He knows it’s dangerous, hard to get right, because readers are not into the “play” mindset and it can easily break the “suspension of disbelief”, but it can be done in an efficient way that don’t make the story a game (even if it’s not always important). He also wants some part of the story to repeat until the reader changes a choice of path.

The AOSL format, which all Art Of Sequence tools and players work with, is designed to allow that.

See http://demo.artofsequence.org for an example of a born-digital story with branches and loops and more.

AOSL is also designed to support transition effects, like fade-in and fade-out, and other interesting changes that can apply on a screen or in sounds. Joel easily adds rain dropping animation in one of the scenes, without changing the story structure. He adds some quick animations between some stages of the story, making sure these animations don’t break the suspension of disbelief. But most of the time, Joel will just show and hide pictures to tell the story, without effects, just changing the canvas progressively under the eyes of the reader.

As AOSL allows to exploit capabilities of computers, all tools working with it also work with the same capabilities and mindset. AOS Designer shows to Joel diagrams of how his story is organized. It will show him what could happen with the loops, what kind of path a reader can take, all the different possibilities.

3. Art Of Sequence provides tools for developers to make better tools for authors and better players for readers.

Joel sees that one of the platforms he wants to publish his story to doesn’t have any player implementation. He has some programming skills, so he decides to try to build his own player for this platform.

To do this, he just gets the code of Art Of Sequence projects and starts to build a new exporter from it. He then spends some days making a player which can read the file that the exporter built. The exporter can easily be plugged into AOS Designer, so it’s easy to use for other people.

Once everything works, he decides that he could sell his player and exporter. Indeed Art Of Sequence projects are open-source but also free of charge both to use and to make commercial use of. It’s all using the MIT license. Anybody can build better tools with it and even make business.

Joel discovers that someone has built a website to host digital stories based on Art Of Sequence technologies: it uses AOS Web Player to play the stories to readers on the web page. He uploads his story online there for free. This hosting website provides paid options for the author to allow readers to download the stories to their smartphones, or to make them download the stories as applications. All these possibilities would be hard to provide without all the Art Of Sequence code being available for free.

4. Art Of Sequence is a demonstration, a proof of concept, of how it should be done.

Joel is happy with his Art Of Sequence tools, but he wants to see how other solutions work.

He first tries to use Flash. Flash, as an execution environment (the plugin into the browser) is very efficient and works in almost all web pages. However, to do the same features than AOSL provide, you either need to code them, or use an AS3 implementation of a AOS player. The Flash editor is nice for building animations. However it’s not suited for all kind of digital stories. Indeed, digital stories have the particularity to be a *sequence of changes*, which are not based on time but depends only on the reader’s navigation, like in any comics or novel. You can do the same in Flash, but it will require a lot of work. Also, Flash isn’t allowed on iOS platforms and Adobe is not pushing the platform anymore.

Joel then tries more trivial tools, like PowerPoint and similar. None can exploit totally the structure of a digital story. They also can’t be published on all platforms and building players for it is either prohibited by licensing, hard to do as there is no open source code, or both most of the time.

Then Joel looks at current state of digital comics tools. Most of them impose a way of narration. Some are really just made to adapt paper comics to be displayed (with more or less success) onto a mobile screen. Some try to get farther by allowing transition effects, but then force them on the author. Some work nicely but are impossible to work with different publishers using different platforms. Most of these tools combine several if not all of these defaults together.

Basically, if Joel wants to make digital comics the way he wants today, he is forced either to:

  • use tools that can’t allow him to publish on more than two platforms;
  • use tools that force him to add graphic transition effects in his story even if he doesn’t want to;
  • use tools that can’t allow him to do branches, loops and other procedural tools for digital story-telling;
  • build his own tools;

Joel chooses to build his own tools, which is in great parts how the Art Of Sequence projects began.