Illustrated, Interactive Fiction
Thrilling Tales of the Downright Unusual
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Thrilling Tales of the Downright Unusual is a series of lightly interactive stories written and illustrated by Bradley W. Schenck. The stories can be read in their entirety here on the Thrilling Tales web site - but you can also buy your very own copies as books.

Although I think that the site pretty much explains itself I have to remember that, heck, I built it - so of course it's obvious to me. But it might not be quite so obvious to you, or someone a little bit like you, or someone who is exactly like you except for those cute little tentacles. They really suit you, by the way.

So... let's review, shall we?

There are now two different kinds of stories here. The first are interactive, branching stories, and we'll begin by looking at those. The second kind are non-interactive, serial stories. The two have a lot in common. The different features of the linear stories will be described below.

In Figure 1 (on your right) we see the layout of a page while we're reading a story. The circled marks (A-E) correspond to the notes below.

A: marks the illustration for this page of the story. If you click on the picture a larger version of the illustration will be displayed (see Figure 2, below right).

You can move this window around by dragging its top bar, and it can stay on screen when you get more information about an object that the current character is carrying (see E).

In some browsers you can drag this popup completely out of your browser window. To get it back just refresh the page and click the illustration again.

B: marks the save/restore/restart panel in the right hand sidebar. This is context sensitive: if you have no saved bookmarks, then the "Restore Place" button is disabled; and if you're not reading a story the "Save Place" and "Return to Start" buttons are disabled.

In order for these saved bookmarks to work you have to allow your browser to write cookies. You also have to have Javascript enabled - but if you don't have Javascript enabled you won't even be reading a story. So, like they say, moot.

On the "Restore Place" page you'll find a menu of your saved bookmarks. Just click one to go back there, or click "Delete" to get rid of it.

C: marks the spot where a "You are following..." picture's displayed. This shows you which of the story's characters you've currently chosen to follow.

D: marks the menu of choices you have for the next page of the story. There are usually between one and three options in this panel, which is labelled "Next".

E: marks the menu of Downright Unusual Objects. These are items that the current character is carrying. In the course of the story objects may be picked up and put down, destroyed, or given away.

When you click on one of the icons in this panel a window will pop up (see Figure 3). It'll show you a larger picture of the object and you'll be able to read about it. There may be information here that isn't explained in the story and because that information could be useful it's a good idea to check these when a new object appears.

The information windows can be displayed while an illustration window is also open and like the illustration windows these can be moved around by dragging their top bar. If you click on another object icon while the object panel's open, that new object will load into the panel.

The Thrilling Tales Web Site

Figure 1: The Story Page

The Thrilling Tales Illustration Pop-Ups

Figure 2: The illustration, enlarged (A)

The Thrilling Tales Encyclopaedia

Figure 3: More information about an object (E)
About the Serialized Stories
The nav bar and comments link

Figure 4: The lower part of a linear story page

The serialized, non-interactive stories (like The Lair of the Clockwork Book) look a lot like the interactives until you reach the bottom of the page. You can still click on an illustration to see it enlarged, and the Save, Restore, and Return to Start buttons work just the same way as they do in the interactives.

Typically there won't be any inventory items (though there could be), and because the story's linear there's only one 'next page' to worry about - so there's a different navigation bar at the bottom of the page that makes it easy to go back to the start, or to go forward and back through the pages, or to go straight to the most recently added page. That's because these linear stories get updated regularly till they're done, the same way a webcomic does.

If you click the Latest Page link you'll arrive at a page where the most recent page will always appear - so if you save your place there, or bookmark that page, you can get right back to the newest page at any time.

Then at the very bottom of the page there's a link to display or hide the Reader Comments panel. If you Show the comments panel you can add your own comment on the page or read the comments that others have left. If you Hide it again, it'll collapse out of your way. You can read through an entire story without ever unhiding the comments, if you like: they stay collapsed unless you want them.

If I've left replies to the comments, my replies are drawn with a different background color to make it obvious that it's me.

Well... that would be me, Bradley W. Schenck. You can read about me and my art of the retro future at the Retropolis web site where I peddle my artwork on prints, posters, t-shirts, business cards, and other fine merchandise.
For news - including news about the Thrilling Tales - you can drop in at my Webomator Blog.
"Why" is one of those questions that leads to very long answers, or to very short ones. Me? I like "Because".

Thrilling Tales of the Downright Unusual is a lot like an idea I had back in 1996 when I was first experimenting with web design: a site full of illustrated stories, written so that you could choose one character or another, and then make choices as they move through the tale.

Neither I nor my tools were up to the job yet, though, and so away it went into the Idea Closet... where it failed to fall out on me, even after my tools and I had learned enough to make it work.

I can't remember just how the idea did come up again in 2009, but once I realized that I could do it now... I just couldn't not do it now. So I did.

Maybe that's because it gave me a chance to expand the art of my world of Retropolis with stories that take place there. The fact that the stories offer some interaction is something that's interested me since I played the Infocom adventure games of the mid 1980's. So there's that.

And the project's given me a chance to combine free web content - which, incredibly, people like - with a way to promote my work for sale - which, for some reason, I like. The advertising banners you see here lead to other sites of mine where I hope I'll be able to shake all of the change out of your pockets. And if you like the Tales on the web site, I certainly hope that you'll consider buying them as books. They're nifty. They really are.

There's a scary amount of labor in creating the illustrations for these stories... months of it. Actual months. But I get to go to parts of Retropolis that I might not have seen, otherwise. And the sheer number of the illustrations also means that here or there I stumble onto something that I find I want to rework at a higher resolution, for posters and prints, or reuse in some other way.

I really like doing this and I'm hoping that enough of you will like it well enough that you'll buy a little bit to take home. So I can keep on doing it.

So. Short answer: "Because". Long answer: Oh. Well, you just finished that bit.

Bradley W. Schenck
April, 2010