CFan Academy of Sciences: “Black Mirror” interactive drama is how it’s made

Black Mirror” is a Netflix launch of a word-of-mouth drama, they had used a unique interactive technology – the same movie, different viewers can interactively participate in the impact of the plot, so as to develop a completely different story. Today let us explore the technical principle, implementation method and impact behind this amazing drama.

A game in the guise of a movie

However, as more and more interactive mechanisms are added to movies, the boundaries between the two are blurred and become somewhat indistinguishable from each other.

The world’s first interactive movie is probably none other than “Kinoautomat,” which premiered in 1967 and featured viewers voting via red or green buttons on their seats to determine the direction of the storyline. But the format was somewhat clunky, with extremely limited interactive options, so at the time it was recognized as a novel film, but no one would think it was a game. With the development of technology, the popularity of smart devices, the film not only added a richer interactive options, but also these interactions have formed a very systematic gameplay mechanism. For example, in “Black Mirror: Bandersnatch” (Black Mirror: Bandersnatch), the audience can not only choose a different branch of the story (Figure 1), under certain conditions can also return to the node to choose again, or the ending is not satisfied with the “I should choose again” and so on, creating a This creates a variety of play-within-a-play effects and tells a complex story with multiple layers of loops, which is very close to game play.


Figure 1 Selecting ACCEPT or REFUSE will have a different storyline

As a hybrid of movie and game, the concept of interactive movie has caused a lot of confusion, some people call it interactive movie, but others call it interactive game, there is no difference. In fact, in my opinion, games and movies are the same thing, they are just two extremes of the same medium – one end is the traditional movie with almost zero interaction, when the added interaction (its essence is actually the “sense of presence”) changes from quantity to quality, it becomes the other end. When the added interaction (which is essentially “presence”) becomes qualitative, it becomes a game at the other end (Figure 2).


Figure 2 The level of interaction determines the classification of movies, games and interactive movies

Infinite Branches

Black Mirror: Pandasnaki” is about a young programmer named Stefan who adapts a dark fantasy novel into an interactive game and encounters all kinds of unbelievable things in the process, thus starting to doubt the reality …… The movie has 5 mainstream endings and as many as 16 branching endings, the audience is like entering the maze of the story The film has 5 mainstream endings and as many as 16 branching endings, so the audience is like entering a maze of stories, where different choices will unfold the journey (Figure 3). This multi-branch plot in the game has actually become commonplace, but in the film has not yet been popular, belong to the new emerging things.


Figure 3 Black Mirror: Pandasnaki poster

Unlike traditional movie writing, the creators of Black Mirror: Pandasnaki used Twine, a game programming language, to write the script outline, organically linking the various branches and recursions of the story through complex links. But that doesn’t stop it from using variables, conditional logic, CSS, and JavaScript to extend the story with “programmer” thinking that can make it extremely complex.

After launching the new version of Twine, click on “Tell Me More→Twine 2 Guide” to open the manual of the software, or click on “Skip” to go directly to the main interface of creation, and then click on the right Then click the “+Story” button on the right side, and enter the name of the interactive story (e.g. “Strange Book”) as prompted to start creating. For beginners, a simple link syntax of “[[]]” is sufficient, and if you are proficient in JavaScript syntax, you can do even more. Here is a simple example.

Click “+Passage” to add a new card, name the card title “Start”, and enter the following code.

One day, Ming woke up from his sleep and found himself lying in a completely new room with a copy of Computer Hobbyist magazine on the small table in the middle.

[[Open Magazine]]


After exiting the card editor, you will find that the software automatically creates two new cards, “Open Magazine” and “Ignore”, which are connected by arrows and can be edited by double-clicking on them (Figure 4). Click the “Play” button to preview the effect (Figure 5).


Figure 4 Non-linear interactive stories can be easily edited in Twine


Figure 5 Clicking on a branch can link to a different story line

It is through this type of approach that Black Mirror: Pandasnaki edits the intricate branching storylines (Figure 6).


Figure 6 Each branch node has a complete set of control logic

Tip: For those who are interested in interactive stories but not familiar with English, try the excellent domestic interactive storytelling software Qiao Shu ( Run Qiao Shu editor and log in, then click the big plus button in the main interface, then set the name, introduction and cover picture of the work in the pop-up window, and then add a new book after you are sure, and click “Edit Work” on the cover to start creating (Figure 7). Qiao Shu also organizes stories in the form of cards, but its linking lines can be dragged and set directly, which is more convenient. In addition, Qiao Shu supports numerical settings, allowing us to have more subtle control over the interaction.


Figure 7 The main interface of the interactive storytelling software Qiao Shu

The Third Invisible Hand

The Black Mirror crew shot from an interactive script and edited a total of about 300 minutes of usable video, not as a whole, but as individual segments, and the viewer cannot traverse all of the video for each viewing (assuming it is not cut, or by jumping through time locations for video segmentation purposes).

In theory, Black Mirror: Pandasnaki could have a trillion different story paths (data from a Wired interview with Netflix), but in practice the effective number is much smaller – after all, there are a huge number of meaningless combinations. For viewers to see both interactive and organic storytelling, something needs to happen behind the scenes, so Netflix has secretly reached out for a “third hand,” which is the state tracking technology they developed for their players. Each choice made by the audience will be tracked and recorded, and then through data analysis, filtered to better suit the audience’s expectations of the options to choose, swaying the direction of the story.

However, many people are not willing to control the “third hand”, they always want to go through all the story line, so there are many users to summarize the story branching diagram, not necessarily complete, but already looks very complicated (Figure 8).


Figure 8 Netizen’s summary of the story branch of “Black Mirror: Pandasnaki

Some people think that interactive movies will be the future of cinema, while others don’t think so and consider it to be just one of the types of movies. In fact, although interactive movies are relatively early, it is only in the past two years that interactive technology has matured, so it can also be said to be a “new thing”, no matter how it develops, it will have a significant impact on the film industry.

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