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Showing posts from July, 2019

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…