From the mind of Anthony E. Zuiker, the creator of CSI comes Level 26: Dark Origins, a crime drama in a similar style as CSI, but with a digital twist. Level 26 is a crime novel with digital content accessible online, making it the worlds first (self proclaimed) digi-novel. According to the website, about every 20 to 25th page in the book is a code that you will need to input on the website to get some HD video footage, called a Cyber Bridge. There is also some interactive content on the website which will be unlocked by the codes. If I read it correctly, you can follow the story without the additional footage, but it is recommended that you view the footage, as it helps to bridge various parts of the narrative and bring you deeper into the tale.
First Things First: View The Trailer
Level 26 certainly looks to be an interesting read, and an enjoyable viewing experience, but I do have certain concerns. Bridging the gap between the print industry and the film industry in a meaningful way is no small feat to pull off. As an avid reader, I am having a certain amount of difficulty reconciling myself to the need to actually put the book down, fire up my browser, then enter a code just to carry on. It sounds like a huge hassle, and a significant break in the pattern and flow of the story.
While the production values for the film portion of the narrative seem high enough to warrant the interruption, it is still an interruption. A good book, just like a good movie, has a rhythm to it. While we can interrupt these rhythms (bathroom break!), it is easy to hold a point in your mind long enough to resume the story from where we left off. Unless you are jumping mediums.
Reading a book is a very different experience than watching a film, and each requires its own way of thinking in order to become fully immersed in the story line and characters. Requiring your audience to jump from one to the other is a risky proposition.
Enter The iPhone
Level 26 is developing an iPhone app which is currently under review by the iTunes store. If (and when) it is released for sale, you will be able to read the book on your iPhone with the multimedia portions embedded directly into the app. Instead of requiring you to put the book down and run through the website’s paces to view the next film in the story, there will simply be a button that offers you a choice: “Watch Movie” or “Skip Movie”.
This app very neatly takes most of my concerns with the digi-novel and presents an easy to use solution. It certainly goes a long way to making the multimedia content a near seamless part of the overall narrative, eliminating the need to drop the book, fire the browser, etc, etc. My only remaining question is this: will the apps features be enough to overcome the mental shift required to go from reading the story to viewing the story and back again?
Some of the very best movies that I have ever seen have come from the pages of a book to be played exclusively in the theater of my imagination. There is nothing like allowing oneself to become fully immersed in a well told story. The experience transcends any and all that film can offer, for it is a truly immersive experience, transporting the reader beyond the role of one who is simply tagging along with the characters and events of the story. Even as a young man reading the works of Isaac Asimov and Robert A. Heinlein I was trasported from my mundane world into the pages of the book, becoming the hero of the tale. I suffered when the hero suffered, and his triumph was my triumph, for I was never a passive bystander watching events unfold. And that is the power of the written word: the ability to engage the reader to such a degree that they become a part of the story.
With apologies to Will Smith, “I, Robot” looked far better when I read it all those years ago, because in my mind, I was the hero to emerge triumphant, not a character on a screen. Level 26 is attempting to bridge that gap with the digi-novel, and I think that they will meet with a certain amount of success, if only because of the novelty aspect of the experiment. In short, while I think that Level 26 is a step in the right direction, I also suspect that it will fall short of being the trans-media experience that the producers are hoping for.
One last point: as one of the teeming millions who have yet to buy an iPhone, I will not be buying the book, or entering any online codes. It just seems to be too much of a hassle to me to make it worth my while. If you are one of those uber-cool people who have purchased an iPhone, please do me a favor? When the app gets out, give it a try, and let me know what your thoughts are about it in the comments below.