PAX Indie Spotlight / What is Bothering Carl?

Despite the enormous number of games exhibited earlier this month at Seattle’s Penny Arcade Expo, only one of them could claim the description of interactive children’s storybook. Created by toymaker, artist and programmer Andy Hull, What is Bothering Carl? is a game that seems to make perfect sense in the year 2009, where a generation that was once raised on interactive entertainment now dons the mantle of parenthood. I spoke with Andy about the game, our favorite kids’ books and the future of children’s entertainment within the realm of videogames.

It might have been made with kids in mind, but anyone who had a favorite book as a kid can probably relate to What is Bothering Carl?, an interactive storybook game about a flustered cyclops who lives amongst giants, humans and dancing chickens. Its vibrantly illustrated interactive pages hearken back to the days of talking electronic storybooks, where kids built basic language skills through audible recognition of narrative elements. “I’m certainly not the first person to do a digital storybook, but I am pushing towards consoles and towards the gamer crowd with these things in mind,” says Andy, whose digital publishing company, Story Fort opened up shop earlier this year.

Inspired by a wide array of memorable children’s literature, Andy hopes that the game-makers of today will one day stand on level ground with the likes of Shel Silverstein, Maurice Sendak and Dr. Seuss. “I was really into drawing and art as a kid, so one of my favorites was Harold and the Purple Crayon” he recalls, drawing comparisons between the book’s thematic emphasis on imagination and the role of user-generated content in today’s games. “I really think someone needs to make Harold and the Purple Crayon, the computer game.”

Story Fort maintains that their goals are a logical next step for both games and educational products, and hopes to delight a whole new generation of kids with their digital storybooks. What is Bothering Carl? is currently only available for the PC, but he has plans to release Story Fort products on more platforms in the near future, including Xbox Live. “I think there’s definitely going to be more of this kind of thing. More and more gamers are now having kids that are getting to be the right age and handing them controllers, so this is going to grow, there’s no doubt about it.”

What is Bothering Carl? is available now (with a free trial) for $9.99 at Story Fort’s website. Thanks so much to Andy for speaking with us!