Posts

Mathbrush, "77 Verbs"

I don't know about spring itself, but I can tell you that Spring Thing has started. Where the Interactive Fiction Competition runs in October and November, the Spring Thing runs six months later, in April. I have a special feeling for the Spring Thing, since my first two pieces of interactive fiction were published in it: The Baron in 2006 and Fate in 2007. Both actually won the competition, but to put things in perspective, there were just four entrants a year back then.

This is symptomatic of a somewhat larger problem. Unlike the IF Comp, Spring Things has no rule limiting how long a piece can be, making it in theory the ideal venue for longer works. But the IF Comp has always been the more popular of the two competitions, not just in terms of the number of games that were entered, but also in terms of the amount of attention paid to those games -- the amount of reviews, feedback, and so on. And this means that authors of longer games have often opted to enter their pieces into …

Sam Kabo Ashwell, "Scents and Semiosis"

There are, among interactive fiction authors, many aficionados of procedurally generated text. And indeed many of the most famous -- I mention Nick Montfort, Emily Short and Aaron Reed. Personally, however, I've never really seen the point of procedural text generation. What's the advantage? What does it give you? As far as I can see, three things:
Surprise: the algorithm for procedural text generation is complex enough that not even the author can oversee all the possibilities. Hence, the text that gets generated can surprise even the author.Quantity: the amount of possible texts generated by even a simple algorithm quickly rises above what a reader could ever read.Uniqueness: the text read by me is read by me alone; other readers will read different texts. But none of these seems very advantageous from the perspective of the reader. Text generated by an algorithm can surprise me, certainly, but text written by a human author can also surprise me. When I'm looking for mat…

Three uses of enemy difficulty

In this post, I will be talking about the design of games that feature (a) increasing character power, (b) variation in enemy difficulty and (c) a choice about which enemy to confront when. This design is common in computer roleplaying games: as you adventure, your character become better at whatever it is you need to do to overcome the enemies (often fighting); there are weaker and stronger enemies; and you get to choose, at least to some extent, when to confront which enemy. My question is: what's the point of this type of design? Or what different points can it have?

One might in fact legitimately wonder whether there's any point to it at all. In many pen & paper RPGs, the expected play experience is one where the player characters become stronger, and the enemies become stronger as well, in such a way that the challenge level always remains the same. What's the point of becoming 'stronger' if your relative power level doesn't change? Is it just the ulti…

"Queers in Love at the End of the World" (2013) by Anna Anthropy

I wanted to start by saying that I'm late to the party, playing this well-known super-short IF game six years after its release. But then I considered how long it took me to pick up the Epic of Gilgamesh and I realised that six years is nothing. Less than it takes for a human body to decompose. So, without apologies or genuflections before the Idol of Recency, here I am, writing about Anna Anthropy's Queers in Love at the End of the World.

The central conceit of the piece is that you have exactly ten seconds to play it. Ten real-time seconds: there's a prominent timer counting down, and once it has reached zero the screen changes to the message "Everything is wiped away." (There's also a handy Restart link.) In the very brief meantime, you set out on a link-based exploration of a queer romance in those final moments before oblivion. Hold your loved one, kiss her, whisper something in her ear: there's quite a bit of content to explore, although exploring i…

Sexual jealousy and the fragile male ego in 1532

Suppose that you pick up a book published in 1532. You're probably not expecting its values to align very much with our own. Indeed, having seen that it's a fantasy epic full of riveting tales of knights and adventures, you might expect that you can have some fun with it, but on one condition: that you're willing to overlook its undoubtedly old-fashioned morals, morals that will surely include a healthy dose of sexism. Right? And very soon, just a few pages in, the book seems to make your worst fears come true. For here we have a lady hidden in the bushes, and one of the several knights who is in love with her walks into the glade -- without seeing her -- and starts to lament the fact that some other knight will by now surely have taken her virginity. And virginity, my friends, is the most precious of all a woman's treasures:

"The virgin has her image in the rose
Sheltered in garden on its native stock,
Which there in solitude and safe repose,
Blooms unapproached …

[IF Comp 2019] Girth Loinhammer and the Quest for the Unsee Elixir, by Damon L. Wakes

Girth Loinhammer and the Quest for the Unsee Elixir is a fantasy comedy about a dungeon lord who didn't realise what crowd you'll attract when you open a dungeon. Having seen things he would rather forget, Loinhammer goes on a quest for the unsee elixir (not a typo), and you, dear reader, go on the quest with him. I decided to put on some horribly cheesy fantasy metal – Rhapsody of Fire – just to get in the mood, and join Loinhammer I did.

The game presents itself as a classic gamebook experience for which you need to print out an adventure sheet. It's decidedly nonstandard, with scores like "Self-esteem" and a box for Luck which has "Bad" pre-printed in it. I could have done without it being called “Ye Olde Adventure Sheete,” as the "Ye Olde" there is too trite a joke to make me smile, but I’m sill on board for this. Plus, Rhapsdoy of Fire is singing bad English lyrics that fit Girth Loinhammer just fine:
For the glory, the power to win the…

[IF Comp 2019] Sugarlawn, by Mike Spivey

Mike Spivey made aname forhimself with his 2017 game A Beauty Cold and Austere and his 2018 game Junior Arithmancer. Both of these were mathematical puzzle games, that is, puzzle games that were about mathematics; and both of them were very well received, placing 7th and 7th in their respective interactive fiction competitions. And now we can add Sugarlawn to the list, a game that did even better, taking 4th place in the competition (and winning the author-awarded Miss Congeniality prize).



Sugarlawn is in many ways precisely what I would expect from Spivey: a polished, competent, and systematic puzzle game. But the mathematics -- while there -- is much more hidden this time around. As Spivey explains in his design notes, he didn't want to become 'that guy who only writes games about mathematics', and so he settled on a different theme: Louisiana. You are a participant in a ridiculous game show that has you go on a treasure hunt in an old Louisiana mansion while dressed up a…