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Numberlys

An interactive narrative about the birth of the alphabet in a world of numbers

by James Thorne in Tech on 16 January 2012

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A charming interactive story app from Moonbot takes a pre-linguistic dystopia as the setting for a adventure tale about the invention of the alphabet. Following Moonbot's first story "The Fantastic Flying Books of Morris Lessmore," Numberlys also takes a literary angle of a more cinematic quality. In part an homage to Fritz Lang's "Metropolis," the goose-stepping society of the Numberlys is less than intimidating as its citizens waddle across the frame.

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The combination story-game-film app teaches a pseudo-history of the birth of the alphabet. Five friends set out to create something new in a world that relies entirely on numbers for communication. Their "number speak" is comically translated by our narrator, a European of ambiguous origins. In a factory reserved for number production, the friends cut, crank, twirl, bounce and bazooka all 26 letters into shape. In doing so, they unleash a new means of communication, bringing names, sunsets, jelly beans and Technicolor into their drab world.

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While the high-brow references to film history and the curse of industrial capitalism may soar over the heads of little ones, the games and story are clearly aimed at young children. The mini games are entertaining enough, though really serve to keep the reader engaged as the story progresses. Closer to a film than a picture book, the story still makes good use of an alliterative vocabulary: "They were giddy! Glad! Gleeful! They would go forwards with grace, gallantry, and gusto!"

While there remains room for growth in terms of alternative story paths and better gaming, Numberlys represents a new standard in the development of interactive narratives.

Numberlys is available on the iPad and iPhone through iTunes.

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