Showing posts from 2019

"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…

[IF Comp 2019] Extreme Omnivore: Text Edition, by Hazel Gold

Parser games excel in representing space, in placing the player in an environment consisting of multiple -- even many -- locations and allowing them to explore it. It is no coincidence that the drawing of maps is deeply associated with parser games; that Adventure started out as a cave exploration game; or that the one thing you need to do to create a legal Inform 7 source text is declaring a room for the player to be in. A spatially defined environment is central to most of the working assumptions of parser IF.

It is therefore also not a coincidence that when first-time parser authors sit behind their blank screen, wondering what to write, they often decide to implement a spatial environment for exploration, and choose the environment that is most ready-to-hand: their own apartment. You don't see that many of them any more, but there used to be lots of these games. Sam Ashwell refers to this as My Apartment Games; I remembered them being called My Crappy Apartment Games, but you …

[IF Comp 2019] Let's Play: Ancient Greek Punishment: The Text Adventure, by Pippin Barr

During the interactive fiction competition, I wrote 48 reviews on the secret author's forum -- exactly as many as last year! I'll be posting them here, but as I do so, I'll often be using the opportunity to update them too. Some games I want to play more; in other cases, I might want to research the context better, or react to other reviews that have been written. Unless you were on the author's forum, you won't notice the difference, of course. But I wanted to put this up front anyway. So without further ado, we go to a heavily changed (indeed totally rewritten) version of my review of...

Let's Play: Ancient Greek Punishment: The Text Adventure, by Pippin Barr, plays like an extended version of a game entered in the 2006 IF Comp, Sisyphus by Theo Koutz. In Sisyphus, you get to play the legendary king Sisyphus after he has died. You're in Hades, faced with a boulder and a slope. The task is to push to boulder up the hill. But of course, when you're almos…

Turandot and narrative failure

I'm working on a game that is based loosely -- very loosely -- on Puccini's opera Turandot. This post is not about that game. It is about the opera itself, which is an absolutely fascinating example of a writer (in this case the librettist Giuseppe Adami) setting himself up for narrative failure. But first, a quote from a recent piece in the Guardian:
I’ve always hated “Irish jokes”. Having an Irish mother, I’ve always been aware how they were used to denigrate Irish people and undermine the cause of Irish nationalism. There’s one joke, though, I’ve always enjoyed. It’s the one where the guy asks the Irishman for directions, to which he replies: “Well, if I were you I wouldn’t be starting from here.” Why is this relevant? Well, if your aim is to write a story that ends with the boy and the girl getting married and living happily ever after, then the place that you really don't want to be starting out from is the end of Act 1 of Turandot. The background to the plot is …

Commenting on this blog

I know of two people who had trouble posting comments to this blog. One of them was me. I'm curious whether this is a general phenomenon -- if some people could try to reply, and if it doesn't work, send me an e-mail about it, I would appreciate it!

Address is victor at lilith dot cc.

Thoughts on criticism

The primary aim of a review is to tell us whether a particular piece of fiction is worthy of our attention. The primary aim of criticism is to teach us to read. There is of course no sharp line between the two genres, and a single article can have both aims. But it is nonetheless a useful distinction to make.

Good criticism teaches us to read. How? By showing us good reading in action. In the ideal case, we and the critic have both read the piece to be discussed; but the critic has seen things we have not seen, has thought about the piece in ways we have not thought, and has related the piece to contexts that may not even have crossed our minds.

The point of this is not that the critic has arrived at the correct interpretation of the work and will explain it to us. If the work is rich in meaning, many interpretations are possible, making it senseless to seek the correct one. If it is not, then the question of interpretation does not carry much weight.

The point is also not th…

[IF Comp 2018] Railways of Love

Another review from last year's IF Comp. Spoilers ahead.

Railways of Love by Provodnik Games

One of the questions that kept nagging me as I played through Railways of Love was whether the game really had a Russian vibe, or whether I was just imagining this, based on the fact that you can choose between Russian and English. Of course, the long train journey might conjure up images of the Trans-Siberian railway, and the failing lights fit well with a perhaps clich├ęd idea of the state of household technology in the USSR… but there are long railway trips in the rest of the world too, and I’ve seen the lights in Dutch trains fail at times. But then there was the Progress Program, which sounded ever more like a science fiction version of Marxism-Leninism, 5-year plans included. And when I got to an ending in which the protagonists fail to hook up because one of them is praying and the other cannot refrain from making a hard-line atheist comment, I was certain: this is light y…

[IF Comp 2018] They Will Not Return

Another review from IF Comp 2018; spoilers ahead!

They Will Not Return by John Ayliff

They Will Not Return tells the story of a robot who spends his life cleaning up after his human owners, until one day a deadly virus wipes out all of humanity. The protagonist slowly comes to grip with this fact and ends up having an opportunity to master himself and thus become free.

In terms of craft, this is a very fine work. The writing is good, with the right amount of detail to bring the environment to life, especially the house in which the first half of the game is set. Letting the player see several phases of its slow deterioration is effective. The interactivity is also designed well: while the vast majority of choices doesn’t matter in terms of outcomes, quite a number of them work as opportunities to express the protagonist’s character. (E.g., will you hide the potentially compromising piece of underwear?) Although I did not replay to check, I assume the very last choices in the…

[IF Comp 2018] Writers are not Strangers

Continuing with my reviews for the Interactive Fiction Competition 2018. I wrote reviews for most games in a topic on the private authors' forum over at the interactive fiction forum. I'm posting the more interesting and more spoilery ones over here, and the less interesting and less spoilery ones directly on the IFDB. So, again: spoilers ahead!

Writers are not Strangers by Lynda Clark
(Placed 27th out of 77; I might have placed it somwhat higher.)

When I started the game, I was confronted with a barely coherent fragment of fiction that I suspect was supposed to be an interpretation of Space Invaders. Then the game asked me to rate that piece. Interesting. I gave it a 3 and continued with the story of Alix and her dying superhero mother. Just when I had almost forgotten about the fragment, Alix came home, started up her computer to see if anyone had rated the piece of fiction she was so proud of… and was heartbroken to see it had been rated with a 3. But, she decided, she…

[IF Comp 2018] The broken bottle

After a bit of a hiatus, I'm back posting some of my IF Comp 2018 reviews. They're all quite spoilery, so beware!

The Broken Bottle by Josh Irvin

In Disney’s The Little Mermaid, the mermaid and the prince she so desperately loves end up marrying. In the original Andersen fairy tale, the prince marries a princess and the mermaid’s heart breaks. Disney changed the story in order to make it more… well, the gamut of possible answers ranges from “appropriate for children” through “commercially successful” to “American”, but one thing we can no doubt agree on is that it changes the nature of the entire story in a fundamental way. But what about an interactive version of the story where you could get either ending depending on the choices you make earlier? Would it work? What kind of story would it be?

In essence, these are the questions asked by The Broken Bottle, although the game features an original story instead of rehashing an existing one. But it is a fairy story, s…

My interactive fiction archive 2004-2019

I’m putting a massive 372 MB zip-file online which contains more or less all of my Interactive Fiction related creations of the period 2004-2019. All my completed games, with source code and assorted extra files; all of my abandoned, incomplete games; reviews and essays; backups of my blog, my IFDB reviews and my forum posts. I will also upload this to the IF Archive, since the archive’s administrators have told me that they do accept such collections.

What is the purpose of this archive? Partly it is to safeguard a very small but I hope not entirely insubstantial part of IF history, so that future ‘digital antiquarians’ can look for whatever they might then be looking for – even if sites like the IFDB or Blogger go offline. Partly it is for those of you who are curious to delve into some of the dusty corners of my IF directories and see, say, the somewhat impressive number of ATTACK-based I games I started and then quickly abandoned before I hit on the idea of make the …