For two years running, Sam Kabo Ashwell has done a heroic job organizing per-category reviews of the previous year’s XYZZY Award-nominated works of interactive fiction, written by authors of prior award-winning games. This year it took the form of a blog, with one writer’s take on a single award category’s nominees rolling out every day over the course of several weeks. Sam posted the final summary on Monday, linking to all the past posts by reviewer and category.
I managed to write four reviews, all covering the 2012 nominees for Best Implementation. I found an interesting challenge in not reviewing the games as whole works, as I normally would, but instead examining them in light of their epitomizing — according to the greater IF community — how a well-implemented text game ought to play. In at least one case this directive let me to write a rather crabby review of a game that I actually quite enjoyed playing, as I found myself rather disagreeing with the community about that particular game’s strongest aspects. I’ll leave it to you to read more about that, if you wish.
I thought the project worked quite splendidly, both as a reviewer and especially as a reader and player, and I look forward to reading more next year. But well before then, I look forward to returning to read many of these reviews, whose mere presence has moved me to queue up and belatedly play a bunch of these 2012 games first. I very much expect I’m not alone here, and that thought does please me.
While I do wince a little at yet another Adventure games are not dead after all! headline, I can’t help but think to myself: Well, it beats the alternative. And when it sits atop thoughtful articles whose comments sections quickly fill with self-styled gamers enthusiastically recommending IF works at one another, that gives me even less reason to complain.
Speaking of the 2012 No Show Conference, all twelve of its talks and presentations are now online for public enjoyment and enrichment. Visit its presentation page with any Flash-capable browser, and click a talk’s Continue reading button to make its video player pop up.
There are still a few unclaimed songs in Kevin’s Apollo 18 IF Tribute Album project. It’s particularly needful of a short work of interactive fiction that would complement the song “Mammal”, but there are a bunch of one-move “Fingertips” games that need to be written as well.
The first-draft deadline remains set at February 12. Those who find themselves suddenly inspired to create a They Might Be Giants fan-game at tremendous velocity should feel free to claim a remaining slot and follow the instructions on the original post.
Somehow Gus Mantel’s IWDRM, through its slight and carefully controlled animation of film stills, creates long, silent, haunting moments that feel like an extension of the movies they’re from, without being direct excerpts. Arnott’s work, as far as I can tell, comprises literal moments from the games they quote, and as a result feel less like subtle new interpretations of an existing work and more like — well, animated screenshots, really.
Time in a videogame moves naturally in loops. Sit your character still, and the world does in fact stop moving, the clouds drifting past while the candles flicker their four-frame animations in their sconces — forever, or at least for as long as you care to wait. Play a boss fight passively, and watch as the screen-filling terror reveals itself as a predictable, on-rails process, ultimately powerless.
The two sites do share similarity in their surprising use of the animated GIF as a vehicle for quietly contemplating, and even discovering, works in other media. (Does the animation above make you as curious to play The Extinct Bird as it does me?) Definitely worth a browse, in both cases.
I was at Aonuma’s talk at GDC 2007, which was a double apology. First he apologized for making Wind Waker. Then he apologized for making Twilight Princess, the game that was an apology for Wind Waker. After the Western gaming press responded badly to Wind Waker, he tried to guess what this mysterious audience wanted. He did his best. He threw in a werewolf because he didn’t have any better ideas (yes, he said that). But he still wasn’t personally thrilled with it. The game was still a polished piece of craft, but the spark was gone, the bravery that made Majora’s Mask and Wind Waker such stand out experiments, almost arthouse games.
I haven’t played through any of the console Zelda games since Ocarina. Like many of my friends in the Bostonian game-smartypants circle, I’ve had the pleasure of hearing Matt hold forth in person about Majora’s Mask, to the point where I’ve promised him that I’ll make the time for it via WiiWare. Embarrassingly, I still haven’t placed it on my queue, though I seem to have plenty of time to roll glass balls through caves or pretend-wander around New Vegas and whatnot for hours on end. Reading this post of his inspires me to amend this. Watch this space.
Adam Thornton has published StiffyMakane.com, a simple website tracking the checkered past of one of modern IF’s most resolutely recurring characters.
Mr. Makane originated from the turgid imagination of an adolescent Mark Ryan in 1997. It was not a very good game — for starters, it famously lets the title character drop his own genitals on the floor and walk away — but it somehow struck a chord with the burgeoning IF community. Stiffy has since then appeared in several text-adventure sex comedies from multiple authors, culminating this year in both Thornton’s own Classical-era epic Mentula Macanus: Apocolocyntosis (praised by Emily Short as a rival to Graham Nelson’s genre-defining Curses), and Sam Kabo Ashwell’s The Cavity of Time, a choose-your-own-adventure work authored in Undum.
The original games aren’t necessarily worth your time to play through (the added blunt humor of the “MSTified” take on Ryan’s original work does little to improve the whole), but I still appreciate Adam’s little shrine to this truly unlikely serial protagonist.
Here’s an intfiction.org forum thread with folks sharing their favorite bits of output from this web-toy by Juhana Leinonen. The program mashes up the titles of IFComp entries since 1995, creating some surprisingly evocative results; the forum writers had some fun listing and grouping the best results, and speculating what the notional games they suggest might contain.
And at least one team of creators took it a step further than that. Spurred by a poster of this program’s output hanging up in last month’s IF enclave at PAX, Rob Dubbin, Darius Kazemi, and Courtney Stanton — all of whom are professional creators from outside the IF-enthusiast core — made A Scurvy of Wonders. They wrote this hallucinogenic game on the spot for that weekend’s SpeedIF contest, and I happen to know that Darius was so pleased with it that he set its URL as his IM status message for the next couple of weeks.
Even though Juhana’s toy and the goofy-fun Scurvy are less “serious” examples of what one can do with IF, they still serve to remind me how much work has been produced in the medium over the years, and how fertile it’s made the soil for all the work to come. May the community continue to find creative ways to till it!
I am pleased to announce the Inform Extensions Search site, the product of this past Saturday’s procrastinatory toils. It’s exactly what it sounds like: a simple search engine for Inform 7 language extensions.
I created this tool because I miss not having something like the CPAN Search for Inform extensions, even though “only” 230-ish such extensions currently exist in public. In fact, you can see them all (or all the ones released under a Creative Commons license, at least) on a single page at inform7.com.
Up until now, the best way I knew to look for extensions involved visiting that page and using your browser’s Find command. You can also browse by category, but even then you’re limited to extensions’ titles and summaries, and I found myself wanting to search at a deeper level without manually clicking though everything.
My tool offers a solution via searching extensions’ documentation, as well as their more obvious metadata. In this way, for example, a search for guns brings up David Ratliff’s extension to handle weapons and fighting, and searching for water produces several extensions that variously produce and handle liquids, though none have the word “water” in their descriptions.
So that’s that. I hope that someone finds it useful, and welcome feedback and suggestions.
Alex Feinman writes a very insightful analysis on the cultural assumptions and pressures that caused the “Straight Male Gamer” to feel threatened when his male player-character in Dragon Age received come-ons from other men. Even though the game prominently offers the choice to turn these offers down, Alex argues, that player’s culture lacks adequate training — especially for boys — on gracefully rejecting benign-but-unwanted advances.
So now that poor, helpless gamer is stuck in quite a conundrum. He doesn’t want to fuck this man. But he doesn’t know how to say no in this situation. He doesn’t even know that he doesn’t know—he just knows that he feels trapped. He can’t even see the problem. So it must be the fault of the rejected—that’s the pattern he knows.
This pattern is writ large in our society. “You can’t let a woman ask a man to dance! What if he doesn’t want to?” We mostly learned that one already. “You can’t have gays in the military—what if one of them comes on to a Marine?” Gee, I guess then the Marine has to learn how to say no, in a way that doesn’t harm unit cohesion. “You can’t have interracial marriages—it makes me feel icky. What if a black woman asked me out?” Well, maybe you should date her. Or maybe you should say no in a manner that doesn’t upset her. “You can’t let fat people think they’re sexual human beings who deserve to live! What if—”
We start in a ring. There are screaming fans. The first round is 4 minutes of chess, followed by 3 minutes of boxing, then chess, then boxing, for 11 rounds. You win by knocking out your opponent or checkmating him, either way.
As Krulwich writes, Chess Boxing has apparently been practiced for close to a decade, in a growing number of venues around the world (after starting in Amsterdam). That I had never heard of it before today reminds me that the world of games will always be far larger — and weirder — than I’ll ever completely grasp, bless it.
Beyond being a valued and respected member of the Boston-area indie-developer community, Lantana knows that the best way to get me to embed a Kickstarter video on my blog is to prominently feature my own voice in it. So here you go:
Aside from loving to hear myself talk, as a lifelong New Englander I also have to love the game’s setting and theme, where the stealthy protagonists are child agents of the Patriots on the eve of the American revolutionary war. Really looking forward to seeing the final product.
Jason’s description of the rough-hewn game is oddly haunting, the map of a dim dream-world that doesn’t quite exist yet.
However, one gets the strong sense this was an abandoned work in progress. The bottom level (with Bedquilt and the Swiss Cheese Room) has exits that don’t work, and one that crashes the game. The area even has a sign that says: ‘CAVE UNDER CONSTRUCTION BEYOND THIS POINT. PROCEED AT OWN RISK.’ I first took this sign as an signal of danger in the in-game universe, but instead it appears to be Crowther’s marker that the code is unfinished past that point.
There’s a long featureless hall to the west leading to nothing.
You too can learn the shocking truth of what the very first GETtable LAMP might actually have been shaped like!
It’s nice to see someone else mark Emily Short’s Savoir Faire so highly. That game is one of my very favorite 21st century (or 18th century, depending on how you look at it) IF works, and one that I think often does get overlooked on best-of lists. Yes, it is very puzzley, but so deliciously so…
Dungeons and Dragons design veteran Jeff Grub recalls the origins of Spelljammer, an early-1990s D&D supplement that allowed players to launch their faux-medieval fantasy campaigns into outer space.
Here is the image I pitched. A knight standing on the deck of a ship in space. He doesn’t freeze. He doesn’t blow up. He doesn’t float away. Everything that follows comes out of that one image, which is captured (with more to it as well) on the final cover Jeff Easley did. All what people have called “Grubbian Physics” with its air envelopes and its gravity planes, comes from creating a universe where that image is true.
The idea using a single image as a design cornerstone for a game (or a role-playing game’s setting) resonates with me. A single, powerful seed-image also lay at the core of The Warbler’s Nest, and was instrumental in getting me to actually complete and ship the game. I really just wanted make it real and share it as an experience; the rest of the game was almost just a delivery system for that one moment. (Which helps to explain why the whole thing’s so short…)
My pal Joe points us at this entry in Chronogamer, regarding the 1980 Atari VCS port of Space Invaders. It caught Joe’s eye because of its explanation in the comments (by “supercat”) of the game’s “double-shot” exploit — a very early example of an undocumented game-console cheat, and a possible side-effect of Space Invaders’ pioneering two-player co-op mode.
This post also serves as my discovery of Chronogamer. This weblog documents the quest of atariage.com user “Mezrabad” to play every single home console game commercially released in the United States, in chronological order, starting in 1972 with the Odyssey. The blog appears to have entered hiatus in 2010, but only after five years of writing and eight years’ worth of retrospective, so that’s quite a lot of cartridge-cobbled ground covered.
Chronogamer’s writing style can get rather breezy at times, but if that helps the author keep pushing through the games, I approve. I’m very happy someone is doing this, really, since it reminds me of the original concept behind Jmac’s Arcade, before that ended up sailing off its own thematic direction. It’s not impossible that I’ll return to Arcade with a more general goal of historical documentation, rather than personal memoirs (a much shallower well). But if some other halfway decent writer wanted to pick up that flag for coin-operated arcade games in the meantime, I’d applaud it.
A cogent response by Stephen Granade to the question of whether the victory of the Jeopardy!-dominating computer suggests that modern interactive fiction should move to adopt more heavy-duty natural-language processing in its player interface.
Even if you had a perfect parser that could understand everything you typed, the game has to know what to do with it. Parsing is no good if you don’t do something with the results. Watson’s processing power let it parse text input and, based on that and its knowledge of how Jeopardy! answers are structured, make inferences about what related question fit the input. How much power would a game need to respond appropriately to sentences like ‘What have I been doing?’ or ‘Measure out my life in coffee spoons’?
Take the case of an IF parser that accepted adverbs. Current IF parsers accept commands that are of the form VERB THE ADJECTIVE NOUN, occasionally with an added preposition and second noun: ‘PUT THE BOX ON THE TABLE’, ‘OPEN THE RED DOOR’, and similar. Now add in adverbs, so that you can ‘OPEN THE RED DOOR SLOWLY’ or ‘PUT THE COFFEE CUP DOWN QUICKLY’. Now the game must decide the difference between putting something down quickly or slowly. What does it mean in game terms to TURN THE KNOB ANGRILY? You’ve added more nuance to a player’s interaction with the game world, and the IF author has to handle that nuance. It’s more work for the IF author; does it add enough to the game to be worth that work?
Boston-based puzzle maven Devjoe updates us on his progress at Wordsquared, which bills itself as a massively multiplayer online word game. This is the first I've heard of it, though by his own account he's been playing it for months. Given that he's racked 776,998 points to my 56 (after three experimental moves), his tale rings true. (And I'd played a Z on a Double Word Score, too!)
Included in his report is this crazy image he made (via Python script) out of his own Wordsquared empire, which looks something like a satellite image of Mexico City if it were made out of scrabble. Click to see DevJoe's full-sized image, keeping in mind that one pixel equals one letter-tile a 14-by-14 square of tiles!
While the game uses a very simple ruleset, turnless and with minimal player interaction, it still manages to feel like a multiplayer competition over limited resources -- even though the board seems effectively boundless. The first word you lay down must branch off another player's tile, Scrabble-style; but thereafter, you can only build off your own words. Other players' tiles become obstacles to build around. They are prone to appear in your path as your opponents make their own moves, like very slow and lexicographically driven Light Cycles. If you get boxed in to the extent that you can't make a legal play with your racked tiles, you can swap them out at the cost of one "life". Lose all your lives and your game ends; you must start again, from zero points.
Devjoe's avoiding such shocking permadeath for so long brings to mind carefully cultivated weeks-long Angband campaigns from my own gaming history. I don't know how this challenge pans out over long-term play -- whether, for example, it ever becomes truly difficult to break away from a multi-player gridlock with a fresh new letter-isthmus to branch freely from. But regardless, Wordsquared seems an intriguing take on the browser-based multiplayer game with a limited but carefully defined sense of inter-player interfacing.