Interview: Erik Loyer on Immersive Graphic Novel “Upgrade Soul”

Upgrade Soul - an interview with Erik LoyerUpgrade Soul is an immersive graphic novel that combines 3D tilt effects, a musical score that adapts as you read, and intuitive touch controls that made me realize what an outdated visual metaphor the “page turn” has become. It’s available in the App Store, so go download it now (wearing headphones is highly recommended or you’ll miss out on the full experience.)

The story of Upgrade Soul focuses on Molly and Hank, an endearing elderly couple who take part in a biogenetic experiment to make their bodies younger and healthier so they can have a second chance at life together. As you can imagine, things do not go as planned. A suspenseful sequence in the first chapter reveals the results of this biogenetic experiment gone awry. I interviewed Erik Loyer about Upgrade Soul.

@ThisIsTM: How do you think touch gestures make the story more immersive than mouse clicks or a button on an eReader?

There was a period in the late 90’s when I was obsessed with making “click-less” interfaces, just because I hated the aesthetics of clicking. It’s so rude, poking things on the screen to get them to do what you want! I’d much rather touch or swipe my way through an experience. Beyond that, though, I think a lot of it is about trust and confidence. If you go to a play, and there are little hiccups in how the scene changes are coming off, or if you notice the actors struggling to remember their lines, then this uneasiness starts to build that throws you out of the experience. Both Ezra, the writer/illustrator of Upgrade Soul, and I really wanted the piece to project a sense of confidence, that people can trust us to deliver an experience that’s immersive and entertaining, and a big part of that is in how it feels. If animations are stopping and starting, and I’m never sure whether the device is in control or I am, then that undermines my confidence in the experience and its creators. If, however, I have this subconscious sense of wholeness, that I can swipe left or right at any point and that in doing so I am literally imparting momentum to the panels in an environment that feels unified the way a level in a game feels unified, then people sense that and it helps to build trust. Those kind of details were very important in developing the underlying engine (called “Opertoonity“) that we used to build Upgrade Soul.

@ThisIsTM: Were there any challenges to a collaboration between three artists separated geographically?

It may seem a little strange that Ezra and I have worked on so many projects together without ever meeting in person (although it looks like that’s going to change soon), but it really hasn’t presented any issues, and distributed collaboration is of course increasingly becoming the norm. At any given moment I’m working on three or four projects with collaborators who might be in other cities, states, or continents, and for the most part it works great. Ezra and Alexis, Upgrade Soul’s composer, have worked together in a similar capacity for several years as well. It’s only usually when there’s a really thorny conceptual problem that it becomes necessary to be in the same physical space.

@ThisIsTM: Upcoming chapters are available to pre-order through In App purchases. What are the advantages for storytellers considering a subscription/timed-release model?

I think staggered releases give your audience more choices about how they want to dive in to your work—whether that’s piecemeal or in larger chunks. That kind of approach also has the potential to help you build an audience quickly, but it’s important to have your content ready and your production workflow down so that you can deliver new installments at a rapid, regular pace. That’s been our biggest challenge with Upgrade Soul to date, but we feel like we’ve got the production side down pretty well now and can get chapters out more quickly than we did at first.

Upgrade Soul is available in the App Store for both iPhone and iPad.

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Upgrade Soul / Opertoonity / Erik LoyerEzra Claytan Daniels /  Alexis Gideon


Mike Vogel

Mike Vogel is the creator of Phrenic, a transmedia thriller you watch, read, and play. He's directed two independent feature films and written a crime-comedy novel, all of which you can find on his personal blog

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