Showing posts with label choice-based games. Show all posts
Showing posts with label choice-based games. Show all posts

Sunday, 17 December 2017

Captain Piedaterre's Blunders

I have released a short CYOA game called Captain Piedaterre's Blunders. It's a spin-off from Ryan Veeder's IFComp 2013 game Captain Verdeterre's Plunder.

Blunders was attached to a longer term project of mine that I don't know will ever get done. So, because lots of time was passing, I decided to snap it off and release it rather than leave it in the cupboard of uncertainty. This way we can all enjoy it.

The game has a quicksave slot (that is barely required!) I only mention this because the quickload works sub-optimally if you play online. When you reload your game online, the current node's choices don't reappear. You can give the machine a kick by entering and leaving the menu on the spot; this brings them back. It's some quirk of Quixe and this tech.

(You know you're back in your IF blog when you find yourself writing a paragraph about some technology that's not working across the board, and you then feel compelled to describe in detail how a player can deal with the non-working case in a fairly irrelevant context – in this case, how to deal with saved games in a game that's so short you don't need to use saved games.)

Link 1: Captain Piedaterre's Blunders play/download page

Link 2: Captain Piedaterre's Blunders IFDB page

PS - Obviously my IFComp playing/reviewing went nowhere this year. Next year I won't write a prelude blog entry; I'll save that for a situation where I know I'm not going to disgrace myself!.. should one ever arise again, and I'm able to tell it's arising. There are many overlapping circles of time and interest that all people deal with, so I don't think mine are worth elaborating on specifically. But where I'm at, the number of entries to IFComp is getting too big now for how I like to try to handle the comp.

Monday, 2 October 2017

IFComp 2017 review: The Living Puppet by Xiao Lin (web browser)

The Living Puppet is a creepy and classically styled horror IF about a pupeteer’s mysterious relationship with the doll that is the sole source of income for he and his wife Li Shaoxian. It’s delivered in a web browser as long passages of click-scrolling text broken up by several major decision branches that the player can choose for Shaoxian. I downloaded it to play it because the ‘Play Online’ button wasn’t working at the time and I’ve written the IFComp organiser about this issue. I played Puppet several times to different outcomes in 40 minutes. I enjoyed the game and recommend it generally, and to horror folks specifically, accepting that a couple of its presentation choices may be too irritating for some players. The game sports horror themes and one explicitly violent scene.

Sunday, 27 November 2016

IFComp 2016: "Whoops!". And other updates.


My plan to start reviewing IFComp games in a more targeted fashion was obviously a great one. The problem was it immediately fell down when I passed what time I’d hoped to spend on it to action in the categories of music and ‘life stuff’.

In retrospect, it was dumb of me to start out reviewing in a random order when there were so many entries in the comp. A moment’s planning would have made me realise I’d no chance of getting far into the catalogue overall. The trouble is, reviewing at random is really fun. I remember that from the years when circumstances allowed me to review everything (or close to it) to a certain personal standard, and in a mostly random order dictated by the IFComp site.

Maybe I just won’t be able to do that again, especially if the number of entries continues to rise. So I think I need to say to myself, ‘Right, I’ve had that particular fun in the past, I don’t need to try to recreate it,’ and change to a more targeted reviewing tack next time I come at this.

So, congratulations to Robin Johnson for winning with Detectiveland, and then to all the other entrants for everything else. Also, I know a few people were keen for me to review their IF, and I didn't get to it. I will eventually, but just because it looked like I was probably going to get to it during the comp and I didn't, I'm sorry.

American Financial Restoration Sale

I eventually noticed there was this Black Friday sale thing going on in the USA. If I’d been more on the ball, I might have taken advantage and put Leadlight Gamma on sale again. Instead I was too sluggish on the uptake, so I think I’ll just wait ’til Christmas or something. This way I also get to say I’ve avoided participating in yet more cultural behaviour doled out by Americans.

Works in Progress

My CYOA Extension for Inform 7 has been coming along really well. I need some third party tech put in place before I'll be able to finish it.

I continue to gather notes for my mystery IF project. The phrase ‘mystery IF project’ makes it sound like I’ve talked about it in this blog before, but I haven’t. What is it? Not telling! Yet, anyway.

I’ve been getting annoyed at myself over the past year for losing too many good ideas for the project. When I say lose, I mean that I didn’t write them down or type them up at the moment I had them. I think my lack of vigilance came from the feeling that their graceless accumulation in a few text files was amounting to a disorganised idea splat for the future that would probably annoy me in the future. How would I sort, find or string together relevant bits from the splat? And there are different types of bits in there. Dialogue riffs, character ideas, incident ideas, structure ideas, etc.

In response to these note-organising problems, I downloaded and am trying out the writing software Scrivener. (Interjection: Holy crap, it's on sale for Black Friday! I must buy now! Buy Buy Buy!) I find it’s working well. It allows me to store all my notes, research materials and prose for a piece in a single document in ways that make it easy to index, connect and rearrange that material. I expect I will produce the text of the IF project in Scrivener and then port it into my CYOA extension. It turns out that I can actually make a pretty direct correlation between blobs of text in Scrivener and choice nodes in a game.

An incidental bonus is that using Scrivener is looking like a good way to write manuals, too, and I expect to have to write a manual for the CYOA extension. I may even be able to publish it directly as an e-book from Scrivener.

Monday, 17 October 2016

IFComp 2016 review: Tentaculon by Ned Vole

Here's a joke:

"I met Tentaculon today but we got off on the wrong foot."

The joke is only for people who know that the game Tentaculon contains squid-related material and that squid have eight tentacles, like octopuses.

I had to look up all of the following in order to make the joke:

  1. The number of tentacles a squid has.
  2. What's the plural of octopus?
  3. What's the plural of squid?

Because of the quality of the resulting joke (low) I feel in retrospect that I put too much time and effort into its creation, and then into writing about it. I apologise to the author of Tentaculon, whose game this is supposed to be a review of.

Tentaculon is a link-driven Twine game that initially appears to be an eat-or-be-eaten squid simulator. Its prose is keen, a bit gooey and very slightly uncomfortable-making as one cruises around trying to kill and eat stuff while not being subject to sudden spasmodic jerks at the same time. I admit I feared some kind of cheap game-ending blow to the back of my head was iminent, for instance a message saying 'HA! You killed to live! You lose!' – but this was unfair misapprehension on my part based on some past negative experiences.

Saturday, 15 October 2016

IFComp 2016 review: The Little Lifeform That Could... by Fade Manley

I thought I recognised the 'blob of goop evolves to starflight via all the stages inbetween' premise of Little Lifeform from somewhere. I've not played Spore but I've read about it, and that's the game. But I don't think Little is 'just' doing Spore via prose and the Choice Of Games engine. It has a particular aesthetic slant that is somewhat cute, somewhat dapper (hat-orientated) and generally encouraging. Simultaneously, it seeks to avoid throwing any eggs into particular baskets of peril. It presents a version of the universe that equalises all paths. Frankly this is not something I am used to, and in some bizarre way, I found it a little sinister. The most violent way through life turns out to be as good as the most arty, which is as good as the most capitalistic or the most dapper. That said, I don't think my subtextual reaction is worthy of any great dark spin. The goal of the game is obviously to let you play any way you want, give you a corresponding experience via its cute aesthetic, and allow your way to work. Then, if you like, you can try another way and see what humourous take the game offers on contrasting modes of behaviour.

Your stats in categories like Charm, Defensiveness and Patience are tracked, checkable at any time, and don't seem to lie, though I found the game's ultimate prose assessment of some of my performances a little off (one said I'd leaned on trade when all I remember doing was being the greatest artist and aesthete in the whole universe.) The game is otherwise pretty perfect at what it does, and it's charmingly written. I just missed having some emphases somewhere, because that's how I've always liked my games.

The Little Lifeform that could is certainly not the amoral spectacle of violent death in an uncaring universe that it could have been.

Or is it?..

No, it isn't.

Thursday, 13 October 2016

IFComp 2016 review: Aether Apeiron: The Zephyra Chronicles. Book I: The Departure --- Part I: Prelude to Our Final Days on Kyzikos by Hippodamus & Company

(I wrote this on an iPad over a few days while on holiday on an island where I occasionally had 1G/GPRS, and no signal the rest of the time. It made me glad that good old text-based IF requires very little bandwidth to function.)

Aether Apeiron: The Zephyra Chronicles. Book I: The Departure --- Part I: Prelude to Our Final Days on Kyzikos is an extraordinarily long title for a game, or for anything else. Its multiple clauses of descending magnitude promise tons of episodes, galactic-scaled adventuring, locally-scaled adventuring, sci-fi societal sculpting, a cast of thousands (or at least dozens) and the highly agreeable portentousness of prolonged high fantasy. This is a set of promises no single IFComp entry can keep within the context of its IFComp; the two hour rule makes that physically impossible. Folks can, have and will continue to use IFComp to introduce punters to their big multi-part IFs, and I expect a cross-section of judges will continue to be bemused by these introductions – some of which end in really weird places – as they try to interpret them as standalone experiences for scoring purposes, and regardless of whether or not the judges want to play more of them.

Aether is one of those introductory games that ends in a really weird place. And it starts in a confusing one. The end is not inherently weird, but it's weird in light of the experience it just spent all its time imparting. That experience is a link-based sci-fi / fantasy adventure with a scaffolding of Greek idylls, philosophers and mythology. The first screen, a page of prose from a log, indicates rhetorically that the narrator is or was something like a familiar of the eponymous Zephyra, then confuses by setting the scene with a series of nested geographical relationships (paraphrasing: the moon with the woods orbiting the planet surrounded by the clouds in the Propontis system) and raising the spectre of a great many groups of people and other entities with unusual names involved in Zephyra's story. Plus there's a quote from Plutarch. It's a tad overwhelming.

Zephyra turns out to be a space pilot in the now...

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

IFComp 2016 review: All I Do Is Dream by Megan Stevens

Short, existential Twine game in which you specify the manners in which you will veg out in the house during your girlfriend's next night shift at the pickle factory. This is an experience hailing from the drab end of the slice of life cake. You can think about the bedclothes, fiddle a bit with the bedclothes, clean objects in several boring stages. Your character is clearly depressed, as the prose is insistent about the pointlessness of any activity. A few prose studs of specificity about the characters' shared life don't make up for the more macroscopic lack of specificity that prevents any insight into their plight over the short duration.

Perhaps this is the Twine equivalent of the parser world's 'My Crappy Apartment Game'. The apartment is still there, but the focus shifts to the immediate crappy existential rather than the immediate crappy physical. 'All I Do's...' observations of fiddly-stuck depression make for better writing than that of most My Crappy Apartment games, but its small catalogue of anxious domestic activity didn't interest me because I knew almost nothing about the characters, before or after.

Thursday, 6 October 2016

IFComp 2016 review: Letters by Madison Evans

In Letters, you're a teenaged girl reading, tracing and clicking your way through a pile of letters from your ostensibly cool school friend Cadence after certain events have occurred.

Both main characters have solid writing chops and some wisdom beyond their years, and they communicate everything to each other by handwritten letters in the year 2008, give or take a few years. I felt this setup was a bit of a contrivance, the kind of thing that is outrageously possible in real life yet which takes a certain amount of feinting or explaining when delivered as fiction to get people to buy it. I decided to accept the premise and move on once I acknowledged I was enjoying Letters's sparky, emotional teen writing, and that I was also being prompted to think about how I was interacting with this IF. It worked for me both as emotional writing and as something with a bit of a puzzly feel, an experience I've rarely had with similarly presented IFs in the past.

I spent about twenty minutes with Letters and felt that I had satisfactorily experienced most of its content by that point, though probably not all of it. It's not easy to track which links you've previously clicked, unless perhaps you lawnmower them, or have a better memory than I do. It was a testament to the game's effectiveness that I had no interest in mowing the lawn. I was clicking particular links I wanted to click for reasons I possessed or imagined in relation to the story. Contrivances accepted, I liked Letters a lot.

More detail, with spoilers, beyond.

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

IFComp 2016 review: Snake's Game by Nahian Nasir

Snake's Game is an exotic, pretty inscrutable prose'n'clickable choices piece in which a man walks into an eatery when some manifestation of existential evil – Snake, aka The Vermin – visits his brain and starts having a natter with him about a not-forecasting-the-future game they could play. If they do, the resulting conversations lead to the 'several psychedelic experiences… with demons, monsters, and some more!' promised by the blurb.

The inklewriter engine presents Snake's prose handsomely, and aesthetically it's very good prose, sometimes ripe, only wavering in a bit of proofreading and a rare mistake of the kind that makes me think English is not the author's first language. For other reasons, it is not easy or transparent writing. Not just because of its poetic leanings, but because I don't claim to really know what it was going on about half the time.

The game actively requests replays, encouraging you to build up a bigger picture of something, plus it thanks you every time you reach an ending. (I was thanked five times. That's a fair bit of thanking.) I almost quit after my first play because that first path I happened down was short and, in retrospect, still one of the least scrutable I ever read within the game, and not even in an abstract way. It was just like reading the middle few pages of a wacky book. So I was unlucky in that sense. I tried again, grew more interested, tried again, tried again. Ultimately I played one more time than I thought I would (and for about twenty minutes overall) feeling that I was building up some enjoyment, but there still seemed to be a cap on things making much sense, which is why I didn't continue on to try all the endings.

If you like, or think you might like, any of these things – existential psychedelia, flying into the sky suddenly with a cat, vivid visions of gore, celestial types chatting like they're in the pub, religious-leaning imagery – you might like Snake's Game.

If you love, or think you might love, the aforementioned things, you may truly love Snake's Game. I can as easily imagine people hating it pretty quickly. I admired it but in the end I like written fiction to make more coherent sense. I can say that Snake's Game shifted my perception of it significantly on each iteration, and that's something of a feat in a pretty abstract work.


Monday, 3 October 2016

IFComp 2016 reviews: The Mouse by Norbez

In which a uni student in small town America negotiates domestic abuse and violence from her roommate.

The Mouse feels like a comic book with the multimedia additions that computers bring: audio and music, dynamics of delay, a few choices. You click through its pages in a forwards direction, usually by the tail of the last sentence on each page. I think it's assured in its comic bookish sensibility, for instance with a fan of images of the heroine's domestic preparations going from left to right down the screen, or with its generally well-judged interplay of text and images. However, I was frustrated by the story framing and scale in general, and by the constant hesitance of the main character in dialogue and narration. Spoilers below.

Sunday, 2 October 2016

IFComp 2016 review: Toiletworld by Chet Rocketfrak

Imaginatively, a fractally projected world of toilets. Practically, a few rooms with basic bad implementation and IFComp rule jokes. Game comes in three versions (web version, Z-code, Glulx) if you download it. All appear identical.



Thursday, 21 April 2016

Autumn All Stars 2016 review: Nocked! True Tales of Robin Hood by Andrew G. Schneider

Introductions to games and incomplete games traditionally fare poorly in IFComp. They do so for logical reasons that have been discussed before at various times by various people. (eg In this review of Sigmund's Quest for IFComp 2014, one of the times I mentioned it.) But that's IFComp, whereas this is Spring Thing, which has a non-competitive Back Garden section. So I was relieved to be able to fire up Nocked! True Tales of Robin Hood – which its author describes as 'just a taste of ‘Nocked! True Tales of Robin Hood,’ to be released on iOS in the Summer 2016.' – without having to worry about making some kind of 'How would this game fare in a brutal fistfight with competing game X?' assessment of it. In this season (AUTUMN) of reduced pressure, young men possessed of certain fancies can often be heard saying things like, 'Get thee to the Back Garden.'

Nocked is an adventuresome, statted CYOA in which you play the legendary figure Robin of Locksley – who may be a woman. BLAM!* (More on that underneath the review.) The game has been made with a Twine-descended engine called Disbound.

Nocked! drops you in it immediately by having the Sheriff of Nottingham and henchmen descend upon the Locksley residence. You can click listed links to choose your next action or dialogue choice. Your major stats (Gold, Renown, Merry Men, Bounty) are always on display, and the import of each is described early in the piece. Stat-interacting choices or blockades are highlighted in colour. I don't think I've previously seen a Twine game that handled stats gracefully in a way that also appeared to be very built-in, so this Disbound engine is looking pretty good. The stats can also be slid out of sight, a feature obviously intended for iPhone displays.

Now, in what light should one read that line about Nocked being 'True Tales of Robin Hood?' Well, if you always thought the Robin Hood story sorely lacked a magic-using Maid Marian, a unicorn and a talking wolf who says stuff like, "Don’t worry, Robin. You’re also a special, special snowflake." – then indeed, Nocked! has finally excavated the truth for you. In other words, this is a tongue in cheek truth for a game mythos that has a hint of Nintendo's potpourri approach to fantasy about it. But I've been prejudicial in isolating the 'snowflake' line; the game action is essentially serious adventure stuff. Gathering supplies, outwitting pursuers, dealing with other characters, solving puzzles and exploring the terrain under time pressure. The major Robin Hood characters all take part. I particularly enjoyed the tension of the race against the dwindling daylight which acted as the timer on the puzzle of passing Little John.

In presentation, I found the choices to be in danger of being visually inseparable on screen. They're all link-coloured, and they aren't spaced apart from each other or dot-pointed. The narrower the screen, the more pronounced this effect. It also enhanced the mild trouble I was having parsing the value of the dialogue options in relation to each other. I think sharper writing would allow the choices to flow with a greater sense of motivation from the preceding text, and to more clearly differentiate the dialogue ideas from each other. The game worked for me better when I was choosing physical actions than when I had to decide which of several multi-line dialogue texts to say.

Another issue is that choices whose obvious intention is to allow the player to exit the current stage of the game read a bit gauchely when they find themselves unable to deliver, due to the player having failed to encounter or exhaust some vital content in the current scene. There are a lot of choices worded like: 'I had no more to say so decided to listen to Marian instead' – which don't necessarily move the game forward as you'd hope, but force you to click more choices in the current loop. I understand this is a design complexity for big branching CYOAs like this, but I've seen the outs (or the logic for them) handled more gracefully than they are in Nocked!

The game offers selectable difficulty levels which should speak to your stat management, though the difficulty level naming is a little curious. Easy is called 'Story-Mode' but normal is called 'Normal'. I think Story-Mode definitely needs renaming to avoid confusion. I played the demo through a couple of times on Normal mode, in completely different ways, and was impressed by the major variance in content and characters – and character groupings – encountered on each pass.

Nocked! grew on me the further I got into it. Personally I wasn't crazy about the introduction of talking animals, magic and the like, but I've observed that instant or unquestioning acceptability of that aesthetic in fantasy gaming (well, I didn't know it was going to be fantasy. This is Robin Hood, for cryeye!) comes about a generation of gamers after me. By some standards, I am an oldening man sitting on a throne of dust. As I was saying, the game grew on me in general, particularly when I was trying to solve particular puzzles. Dealing with the dialogue options always felt gauzy to me, so between that and the general aesthetic, this isn't a game I myself will hit up for the full version. But I think it's doing most of its stuff well, and the folks who are in the target audience should enjoy it. The mechanics present as focused and transparent, and traditional adventure content is well, if typically, handled.

* The way the other sex possibility came up quite charmed me, but I should point out that I rank myself as way behind the curve in the world of big, statted CYOAs. I know that the Choice Of Games style has become a major force, but I've barely played any of those games myself, and all I'm saying is that maybe the way the choice of character sex is handled in Nocked is typical of lots of these games by now. In any case, I found it to be an amusing dialogue moment.

Monday, 18 April 2016

Autumn All Stars 2016 review: Evita Sempai by Florencia Rumpel Rodriguez aka Rumpelcita

Evita Sempai is a short, link-based story about a young woman in 1950s Argentina. She narrates in the first person on her family troubles and her admiration for Eva Peron. Her feelings about Peron are intensified through a personal encounter. I don't know what 'Sempai' means or in what language, but 'semp' words are usually about 'always' and/or loyalty, which fits.

The narration is direct but without much elaboration. In most cases, links telescope out to slightly longer lines of prose, showing runs of actions or little vicissitudes. In places where there's opportunity for emotionality, I felt I was expected to supply it, rather than that the prose would, but the story's shortness and modesty of exposition meant I didn't invest much.

I would have liked to re-read a couple of details in retrospect, but without a back button or transcript available, I could only do that by playing again from the start. For the same reasons I did not want to replay Ms. Lojka, I did not want to replay Evita Sempai. Pauses in Evita are fairly constant and enforced. For instance, four lines can fade in to form a paragraph over twenty seconds. I don't want printed prose narratives to do this kind of thing. I want to be allowed to read and digest prose at whatever is my desired or current reading speed, then have my brain sort the appropriate mental pace afterwards based on the prose content.

Interestingly (but probably not coincidentally, in terms of ways Twine projects are developing) Evita Sempai has almost the same link structure as Ms Lojka: Linear with clickable details on the way, followed by one big choice at the end. The two games also have similar blurbs:

Evita Sempai: "I made a game about family, duty, idealization and heartbreak."

Ms Lojka: "A short game about ignorance, defiance, and freedom—or: self-knowledge, acquiescence, and fate."

What happened with Evita Sempai was that I spent as much time reading bios of Evita and Argentina, to try to fill in gaps I felt might exist in my understanding of the story, as I did reading the story. This didn't help, since detailed history isn't particularly graftable onto or around a game as sparse as this one. I perceive a story that sort of interested me, but I felt I was outside the context and just wanted more detail from the prose itself.

One specific and important detail obviously was intended by the author, because it's a keyword for the game on the Spring Thing site that I only spied after playing, but again, with the game's overall vagueness, that keyword hadn't necessarily been part of my interpretation. Considering this incident (of mine), and the big theme blurbs for Lojka and for this game, and the Famous Baby blurb, and my memory of reading plaques in art museums and sometimes puzzling over their relationship to a work, I'm starting to think the blurbs for these short Twine games are pretty loaded. That is, they can figure much more heavily in the overall interpretation of the work than they necessarily would for longer pieces or different kinds of piece. And I'm not sure how hard authors are thinking about this yet. IFDB is full of Twine games with short content-listing blurbs that don't need or bother to hide anything, but here in Spring Thing where authors are trying to frame story-stories more coyly, it looks to be a harder task.

Saturday, 16 April 2016

Autumn All Stars 2016 review: Famous Baby by N.C. Kerklaan

Famous Baby is a microgame about a famous baby. You play the famous baby.

The punchline made me laugh, if eventually only on the inside, every time I read it. Which was five to six times.

The whole thing was over five to six times in two to three minutes, or even less time than that (no smutty jokes, please.)

The review of Famous Baby will probably seem bigger and longer than Famous Baby, both to me and to readers.

This reminded me of those times I've gone into the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) in Sydney, looked at something briefly, then read a plaque about it. In this case, the plaque is the blurb on the Spring Thing website. Given how microscopic Famous Baby is, you shouldn't read the plaque first.

Famous Baby randomly generates most of its content at points you'll identify after the first pass. A few non-sequiturs inevitably materialise that will strike you as inspired, but once you realise you're walloping away at a random content generator, you'll decide whether you want to persist. The design is the situation, the random mechanic and the content inventory. The scope is tiny. Personally I am skeptical of small scope random text generation as a standalone entity, but Famous Baby made me laugh and offers more than some not dissimilar things that I have seen in the MCA.

Autumn All Stars 2016 review: Superhero Stress by Michael Yadvish

Well, they didn't skimp on the stress.

Superhero Stress is a fairly light, traditional CYOA of mutually exclusive options that are dramatic, like (paraphrasing): "Will you save person A at the possible expense of person B, or person B at the possible expense of person A?" You can play through most of its situations in about five minutes. It's got goofy, typo-y writing and the traditional sexism of old comic books: Ladies are for rescuing, or for picking up while you're rescuing 'em. It's also got a touch of offhand gore that I found very mildly disturbing amidst the silliness, but only very mildly.

Superhero Stress does have a message that it delivers a few times; that a superhero can't be everywhere at once. The film Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, had roughly the same thing to say about the Man of Steel, but Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice took more than 150 minutes to say it, whereas Superhero Stress did it in about 5 minutes. I also found Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice to be a portentous, depressing and unlikeable experience that made me ask myself why I was even sitting there watching it. Therefore, by some measures, I would recommend Superhero Stress over Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice.

Friday, 15 April 2016

Autumn All Stars 2016 review: Ms. Lojka by Jordan Magnuson

I just finished a music and video project and have turned my gaze back to IF to find Spring Thing.

They say that in Australia, I could call it 'Fall Fooferal'. If 'they' are trying to do me a kindness in saying this, they are off base. No Australian would say 'Fall'. I doubt they'd ever say 'Fooferal', either. Therefore I'm calling it Autumn All Stars, prejudice of positivity be damned.

Ms. Lojka by Jordan Magnuson (you can click this link to play it online)

Ms. Lojka is a weird lady who lives in a weird tower in New York and does weird things: so says the weird narrator, via my paraphrasing, in the tale also called Ms. Lojka. The game says on the box that it is not for children. It took me about twenty minutes to play.

My response to this game was all over the place, though I must frame this statement in a positive arch where I would say that if you like morbid intrigue, I recommend Ms. Lojka. It also has great audiovisual and aesthetic strength of the kind that makes me say it is the most expensive-looking (in a Hollywood sense) Twine I have encountered. I will still elaborate in this review on link offerings whose rhyme and reason I could not discern, features I wish creators would not enforce when using the Twine engine, and, at considerable length after some dots, what I made of the game's final message.

Ms. Lojka's introductory image, a scary pastel of a dour woman looking right at you, establishes a mood of anticipatory fearfulness that prevails for the duration. The next image fades in, an impressionist-style pastel of a New York street. An improbable ziggurat stands in the background. The prose of the narrator's thoughts begins to appear, typed onto the screen in real time to the accompaniment of chattering typewriter audio.

Here's something really creepy about the typing, at least on a Mac – if you hide the browser window which is running the game, or move it to another space, the narrator stops typing right where he is. The sounds stop. The letters stop appearing. As soon as you unhide or bring the window back, he continues typing from the very next letter. Awesome!

The narrator turns out to be a glib and somewhat sardonic observer of New York. He speculates on the existence of one Ms. Lojka who dwells in the tower, what she does up there (violence) and what she might represent. Clickable phrases in the narration lead to prose elaborations of the kind you might expect. You can guide the narrator's thoughts around a little bit, but over the course of the game, no prevailing design scheme of much force emerges. Sometimes you get one thought or one slice of history instead of another. Sometimes the choices just aren't very different or comparable. They don't start to construct a frame of reference in relation to each other that would cause you to invest in them with intentionality, or even with much useful speculation.

In short, for ninety percent of the story, I didn't really know why I was clicking one link or another except to make the prose advance in general. I did have a fearful sense of, 'What might happen next?' but that came from (1) the strength of the game's outward aesthetic (2) the game's initial cues that I should be fearful (3) the morbid-leaning speculations of the narrator. It didn't come from anything I clicked, or any anticipation of outcomes or changes based on words I clicked.

Some of the links are emotion or concept words which, when clicked, send you to a black screen which types the narrator's less-filtered inner thoughts, making for a sort of pathological critic channel. The thoughts are brief and often self-correcting (the latter a neat effect) but they are so abstract in relation to the regular narration that they didn't make me feel things. I couldn't hang them on details at the time, though I was tempted to do so in retrospect of the game's ending.

The inner thoughts become more mottled and unsettled as the game progresses, but their practical effect on me was to swell my annoyance that I couldn't really tell when the thought links were ready to click. You have to wait for the thoughts to settle, then you wait a bit more, then you realise, 'OK, the words have stopped moving. I can click now.'

This bumpy business took me in and out of the headspace. My belief is still that the performative/interface/temporal effects that Twine authors can brandish are mostly being used to querulous effect. They are definitely of querulous effect when the issue of replayability is a factor. This game does eventually ask you if you want to play it again in a different way, thus implying there would be a significant variance of content if you were to do so. Knowing that I could not hasten through any of the real-time typewriter text or the thought-shifting black screens was the most immediate reason that I didn't.

I frankly discuss the game outcome that I obtained below the dots-meets-cut.


Friday, 1 April 2016

Choice of choices

Since I'm programming a choice-creating / CYOA extension for Inform 7, I have not been able to help but notice the large number of other choicey tools that are either out there already, or that people are making or releasing right now. For authors, this means they have a growing choice of choices. For me, I know it motivates me to some kind of competitive freshness in my own extension.

This particular post isn't an exhaustive list of choice engines. I'm not doing any research here or being super-helpful. I'm just typing in what I'm aware of to show which ones are on my mind:

– inklewriter from inkle
Ink from inkle
Raconteur, a spinoff of Undum which creator Bruno Dias describes as 'Undum with batteries included'
Salet, a spinoff of Raconteur which is a spinoff of Undum, of which creator Oreolek says: 'It’s actually Undum refactored and rewritten in CoffeeScript with some bits of Raconteur sprinkled in.'

(Homer Simpson: "I just hope we put in enough steampunk, whatever that is.")

To demonstrate the value of competitive motivation, I'll tell you the story of Oreolek's promotional post about Salet. There was one line which said just you wait until I finish the inventory management (those words were italicised in the post).

My first reaction was, 'Oh geez, I haven't programmed my own deeper inventory management system yet.' And my second was, 'Oh yeah? Well how about YOU wait until I finish MY inventory management system?!'

I don't know if the second reaction was a question, or a challenge yelled at people not even listening to me or in the room at the time or who should even have to tolerate such nonsense, so to cover both contingencies I have put both a ? and ! at the end of it.

I then ran off and created an inventory management demo and game for my extension. To make it interesting for myself, I included a glass basket, a transparent container. Then I had an infinite recursion problem –

'The apple (in the glass basket (containing an apple (in the glass basket (containing an apple)...'

– and then I got rid of the infinite recursion problem.

I'm continuing to develop examples and mini-games for my extension. This is turning out to be quite fun, and makes me wonder why I don't place the idea of deeper implementation on a bonfire and just make more games like these ones. I suppose it's because of the split between the things I enjoy playing versus what I would like to make myself. I have enjoyed a huge range of IF, but if I mobilise to make one, I feel like I want to go to a lot of trouble in certain directions. The extension examples are excused for their simplicity, in my own mind, by being examples.

Here is some source from a simple moment in one of the games:

A node rule (this is the bridge-crossing rule):
if cyoa-node stage is prose:
print "The bridge creaks as you place your foot on it. The whole length of it wavers, all the way out over the abyss.[paragraph break]Do you feel brave enough to continue?[paragraph break]";
if cyoa-node stage is choices:
link 1 to "No";
link 1 to "Maybe";
link 2 to "Yes";
if cyoa-node stage is react:
if cyoa-choice is 1:
say "Then you'd best not until you feel bolder. The faint of heart are likely to fall.";
switch to the parser;
if cyoa-choice is 2:
say "You place your other foot on the bridge. The structure is so long and mist-clouded that you can't see the far end. There'll be no escape if it collapses. All you can do is proceed carefully. ";
create a continue moment;
say ".[line break].[line break].[line break]";
switch to the parser in room Over the bridge;

Like at least two similar examples people have pasted from similar choice tools lately, it's pretty clear what this one does and easy to follow even if you don't consider yourself a programmer. It comes from an example demonstrating how to stud a parser game with CYOA moments and conversation.

Friday, 23 October 2015

IFComp 2015 review: Taghairm by Chandler Groover

All the mini-reviews of the Twine game Taghairm have been like this: 'Taghairm – it's the game for people who don't like cats!'

Well, I hadn't played Taghairm yet, I hadn't even met it, but I was starting to develop a manic pissed-off response to this repeated consumer advice. Don't tell me I can't enter into some fiction, presumably about maiming cats, just because I like cats!

After the teenaged part of my brain stuck its middle finger up at all those reviews, I went off to play Taghairm.

An all-spoiler review follows, and incidentally, it contains no user help about what a 'Taghairm' even is. I'm guessing enough other reviewers will have covered that by now.

Thursday, 15 October 2015

IFComp 2015 review: The Insect Massacre by Tom Delanoy

The Insect Massacre is a Twine hyperlinks game about which it's possible to expose little more than the blurb does if one is to avoid specific spoilerdom. That blurb is:

"A short murder mystery set aboard a space station."

The title is explained in a neat way which I will also not explain here. Actually, this review will be only non-significant-spoiler by my standards, so there is no text hidden behind a cut.

I found the game's mystery intriguing. The events of the story are concrete enough to provoke speculation, but blurry enough around the edges so as to ward off absolute explanation. Multiple plays are required to investigate multiple angles. Each session requires little time.

The game's aesthetic delivery was beguiling on the first playthrough, if a bit confusing in terms of indicating who was speaking in each scene. The speech is effected with colour-coded names matched to coloured lines of text. My proper gripe is that on the second and subsequent plays, the unskippable Twine delays, pauses and fade-ins that were enforced on material I'd already read felt pointless and tedious. Text is basically not a temporal delivery vehicle like music or film, especially text in a branching story. I don't know if Twine provides capabilities for authors to set options for this kind of thing (eg author-enforced pacing the first time material is encountered, material skippable with a mouseclick the second+ times?) but if it hasn't, it should. If it has, I hope more authors will start using it when it is appropriate to do so.

Fortunately, The Insect Massacre is short enough, even on replays, that it isn't too hurt by its eternally slowly-fading-in text. It is particularly good at making the player guess at the implications of the choices it presents, and not because the choices are at all vague, but because of carefully deployed elements of the game once again not discussed in this spoiler-minimised review. I continued to think about The Insect Massacre afterwards.

Saturday, 3 October 2015

IFComp 2015 review: Paradise by Devine Lu Linvega

UPDATE: Paradise has been withdrawn from IFComp. I am surprised (and mildly embarrassed) that even as I noted it had been online in public for so long, I simultaneously didn't recall that this was against the entry rules. As a player-judge I'm not disturbed by its loss, as it simply wasn't a very scoreable entity in the context of this competition. But I tried it and I think a lot of IF folk will find it worth looking into as a creative tool:

Paradise is a text-based online world/system for any number of players/users in which anyone can create, walk around in and inject simple programming into textual objects. The objects aren't modelled to be anything in particular, but typical uses for them include making locations and putting choices and objects into those locations. Interaction is via a mixture of parser-like typing and clicking on hotlinked words.

In my first session in Paradise, I created Cafe De Los Muertos, placed it in a location recommended by the implementors and put something inside it. If you get into Paradise and want to visit the cafe, use the command WARP TO 8020

As an open-ended project which began four years ago, and one which may not contain any goal-oriented adventures that are easy to find, Paradise was likely to have scored poorly in IFComp. However I think that whether you like parser IF or clicky IF, or both, Paradise might appeal to you as a creative tool. There's nothing to stop you building a game or experience in Paradise and then linking others to it. Another big plus is that neither creators nor players (and technically, the two aren't distinguished from each other) require accounts or passwords to log in or to protect their creations. You can just visit the website and start doing stuff.

Text objects in Paradise are called vessels and operate on a concept of enclosure. Such basic concepts are explained in tutorial vessels you'll encounter soon after logging in. Basically, every vessel is inside another vessel. So you could make a location (one vessel) by typing 'create grassy meadow', then put an object inside it (a vessel in a vessel) by typing 'enter grassy meadow' then 'create chest'. If the object has compartments, they could be vessels in the object vessel. But there are no actual programming rules about the nature of vessels. You could stick a whole new world inside an object if you like – after all, it's just another vessel. You can also pick up editable vessels and put them elsewhere, or embody them, the latter being the means by which you create an avatar. You wouldn't want to be driving a default object like the teapot forever.

The most basic kind of programming lets you attach any useable Paradise command to a vessel through a 'use' link, which can also be activated by typing 'use such-and-such'. You can then repaint the word 'use' as something else – read, press, etc. – whatever word you want the player to type to use (enter) the vessel. You can nut this stuff out by following tutorial topics which consist of locations and dialogue, not boring old instruction files, or by just typing 'help'. More advanced programming is available, but it would be possible to put together an adventurous structure or CYOA adventure with the basics alone.

I suppose what's annoying about the interface is the fact that you can't get away from having to keep switching between clicking links and typing things. Or clicking a link and then having to hit return to execute it. My other gripe is that allowed punctuation in creator content is quite limited. No apostrophes take, no capital letters take in some circumstances, no exclamation marks take (actually, maybe that last one is a plus), etc. For the more literate-leaning, these things might bug.

I still think Paradise is pretty cool. I'm personally interested in exploring more focused material than what I saw here thus far, but I don't even know how big the place is or what's already in there. I could easily have missed tons of stuff.