Planet Interactive Fiction

October 25, 2016

Doug's World

"This is my Memory of first Heartbreak which I can't piece back together" (review) (and one sentence review of Toiletworld)

by Doug Egan ( at October 25, 2016 09:33 PM

"This is my Memory of first Heartbreak which I can't piece back together." (hereafter referred to as "Heartbreak") is an interactive graphic memoir written Jenny Goldstick, with development assistance from Stephen Betts & Owen Roberts for the 2016 interactive fiction competition.

"Heartbreak" uses clickable graphics to tell an interactive story about, well, exactly what the title says. The graphics are well rendered, stylized minimalism. A series of animated scenes recall moments from this ill-fated relationship. When dialogue ends, the player chooses from among several graphic objects within the current scene to bring up another related memory.

Most of the scenes describe moments of conflict...episodes when the narrator should have been asking herself "why am I with this jerk?" The guy is consistently characterized as a douche-bag, and after playing several times I wished there were some scenes where I could better understand why they got together. But of course that is the nature of memory after a breakup. Sometimes we can not remember what we ever saw in the other person.

This particular tale of melancholy may not appeal to all audiences, but the team that put it together is super talented and as an artistic expression, this game is amazing. Frankly, I'm surprised there haven't been more interactive graphic novellas in this competition. The clickable graphic style of interaction is familiar, with potential to reach a wider audience than straight prose.

Finally, I mentioned "Toiletworld" in the title of this post. "Toiletworld" is a troll entry, which wasn't worth my time to write a separate review.

Adventure Blog

Strayed Launch @Playcrafting NYC’s Halloween Expo

October 25, 2016 08:02 PM

Hey everyone! We’ll be releasing the Android alpha of our interactive horror story, Strayed, at PlaycraftingNYC’s Halloween Expo this 10/29! Come find us at MicrosoftNY between 2pm and 7pm to try our game out, along with hundreds of other cool games by NY developers.

[ Twitter ] [ Facebook ]

Emily Short

Me Who Done the Walkin’

by Emily Short at October 25, 2016 12:00 PM


I had some thoughts about themes of responsibility, cruelty and past trauma in several of the games I’ve played in this IF Competition. It’s impossible to get too far into that without discussing themes and endgames, so you should be warned of major spoilers for the following pieces:

The Mouse, Norbez

To the Wolves, E. K. White

Rite of Passage, Arno von Borries (be advised that some playthroughs include description of sexual assault)

Hill Ridge Lost and Found, Jeremy Pflasterer

Sigil Reader (Field), verityvirtue

The four games I listed above aren’t actually all that similar on the face of it. Rite of Passage and The Mouse are slice-of-life games about protagonists at educational institutions — middle school and college respectively — but very different in style and presentation. Hill Ridge Lost & Found is a parser puzzle game set in a down-at-heels farm community. And To the Wolves is vague-medieval/fairy-tale fantasy. But they all concern situations where one character has been treated brutally or abusively by others, and the protagonist’s attempt to deal with that situation.


The Mouse tells the story of a character who has trouble speaking up for themselves against an abusive roommate. I was not entirely sure why that roommate relationship had become quite so emotionally charged, but I can believe that such things might happen. Fortunately, the protagonist has a friend, an older hearing-impaired woman who is able to offer some alternative space to live in.

It’s a story that focuses mostly on the occasion of abuse and how hard it is to break away from a circumstance like this. The protagonist is used to thinking of things as their own fault, and concentrating on what they can do to keep their roommate from getting angry and reacting to them.

I read a review that questioned why anyone would put up with this kind of treatment, but people do, routinely: because their sense of reality and their ability to rely on themselves gets warped; because they care about the person who is abusing them; because they don’t realize they have options, or because they options they have are too frightening.

One of the main things that stood out to me in this story was how important it was to have a character that cared about the protagonist enough to keep asking if the protagonist was okay, and keep offering help.



Hill Ridge Lost and Found sends the protagonist (“Ambler”) on a search for the missing Lonon, who turns out to be dead on his farm. Lonon, it seems, has spent years propounding a philosophy summed up in the saying

I may have been led astray, but it was me who done the walkin’, right?

It turns out partway through the story that Lonon blames the leading-astray on some will-o-the-wisp creatures that he regarded as supernatural. There’s an implicit philosophical opposition between Lonon’s hermitly lifestyle and dislike of trespassing, and Ambler’s willingness to wander all over the place, including homesteads that don’t belong to him:

A word to the wise, who often say they been led astray and claim innocence. Mayhaps you been led astray, but who done the walkin’? It was you, my friend, you who done it. And you are to blame. Will o’ the Wisp is out there, everywhere. Don’t let him lead you astray! Don’t follow them hollow lights…

At the end of the story, it emerges that in his youth, Ambler was actually responsible for Lonon seeing an apparition of will-o-the-wisp, as well as for doing several other fairly unpleasant things to children in the neighborhood — non-magical, medium-grade bullying.

At that point, Ambler reflects that he tried to do his best, and hopes that Lonon will forgive him, or that he’s somehow made up for past wrongs. And then he heads off, back to town or further out in the world.

Is this a happy ending?

I think it’s possible to read Lonon’s philosophy as rising above the role of victim: he’s had some confusing and unpleasant things happen to him, and maybe he reacted poorly. We don’t really have the exact details on how the middle of his life played out, except that he had a family and then lost it again. One of the game’s more mysterious and mystical-seeming passages involves the room in Lonon’s house that Ambler is unwilling to enter, a room that contains a crib and is full of light. Is this a real space at all? A manifestation of grace in Lonon’s life that Ambler is unable to understand?

But “it was me who done the walkin'” suggests that Lonon ultimately regards himself as responsible for his own actions and fate, whatever the precipitating incident. And he seems to have departed in a state of peace, at least relatively speaking.

I’m less sure about the character of the Ambler, though. His acts of petty cruelty as a child, and his meddling and trespassing as an adult, seem all of a piece. It was never clear to me that he was “doing his best” in any important respect: he’s come to Hill Ridge to find Lonon and to meddle with what’s going on there, but he doesn’t seem strongly motivated by concern; doesn’t have much of a reaction to finding Lonon’s corpse in its grave. What were his good intentions if he had any? It feels to me as though the Ambler’s final reflections are a last way of dodging responsibility for what he’s done in his life, before walking on again.


Sigil Reader (Field) goes the other direction. The protagonist’s law enforcement team has all been killed, but her ghost wanders the scene of the crime, trying to remember and piece back together what happened here and how. The story ends with Susanna having to choose whether to consider herself responsible for the carnage or not. There are significantly different endings depending on your take on this.

Unless I missed an expository point or some content, though, Susanna’s actual error was simply not to be suspicious enough of a person who turned out to be a supernatural serial killer with previously unseen powers. It’s at worst a failing of judgment, and possibly no more than one of those horrible things that happens to good people sometimes. The problem is that the killer was then able to useSusanna as a weapon against others.

I read this less as a discussion of deciding whether or not to forgive yourself for being used in some one else’s evil-doing, when your lack of judgment meant that other people got hurt. That’s an interesting and sticky subject; I would have enjoyed seeing it given even more room to develop in this particular implementation. But where the Ambler faults himself (probably) too little for Lonon’s situation in Hill Ridge, Susanna faults herself too much.


To the Wolves tells the story of a girl who has been driven into the woods as a chosen-by-lot sacrifice by suspicious and frightened townsfolk. The opening passages were a little on the melodramatic side for my taste, but I found myself warming to the mid-game, where we spend quite a while experiencing what it’s like for her to try to survive on her own, apart from her village. Later, it emerges that there are indeed some supernatural forces in the woods, and the girl is empowered to try to take some action against the villagers who harmed her.

I played twice, and I tried to play differently each time — once in a more friendly mode, once in an aggressive one — but I got the same ending regardless. The game indicates that some other outcomes are possible, but both times I played, I entered the village and destroyed the lottery box that turned out to contain nothing but repeated copies of my own name. In one case I tried also poisoning the villagers’ stew, an act of revenge that the story didn’t really dwell on terribly much otherwise.

While I liked the texture of the mid-game here, I wasn’t entirely satisfied with the story arc as a presentation of character, which is pretty standard revenge-fantasy stuff in some ways:

  • people are unambiguously horrible to the protagonist by selecting her to die
  • she runs away and time passes
  • a powerful external figure endows her with the capacity to overthrow the system that harmed her, and also take revenge if she wishes
  • she does one or more of those things

I would have loved to get more specifics about particular aspects of this: the protagonist’s relationship back to her home town, her feelings about the people she left behind, the reason that the townsfolk decided to scapegoat her specifically in the first place.

We are told, though, that the supernatural figure came into existence in this forest because people were being sacrificed and sent there abusively: vengeance is an automatic and inevitable outgrowth of brutality. It’s more or less the opposite message from the one Lonon espouses for himself. The townsfolk keep sacrificing more people in order to assuage the curse that arose from sacrificing people in the first place, and the cycle of violence continues.


Rite of Passage situates the player as a teenage boy growing up in a school where bullying is extremely common. As with To the Wolves, I tried playing two different ways — once as a friendly character and once as a more assertive one. The details of the story did change substantially as a result; in one of the storylines, my character was unwillingly witness to, among other things, a rape he was powerless to stop.

I haven’t played this enough times to be certain I’ve exhausted all the options, but I came away with the strong sense that there is nothing you can do. Your school is more or less Lord of the Flies. People are consistently abusive to one another, both physically and emotionally. You can try to stand up to bullies some of the time, and you can try to show some sympathy for your fellow students, but doing so will not stop the overall nastiness around you. Adults are at best ineffectual and at worst make things escalate further. If you beat up another student, your parents seem to condone the action.

Rite of Passage puts relatively little work into establishing fault. Character motives are rarely explained, but cruelty and viciousness is common from almost everyone, and the people who aren’t actually bullies still don’t seem able to protect anyone.

In all of my playthroughs, the game ended with my parents mercifully sending me away to a different school. In contrast with the savior character in The Mouse, though, it’s not clear that they’ve been heavily involved in protecting me in between those two scenarios.


Tagged: arno von borries, ek white, hill ridge lost and found, jeremy pflasterer, morality, norbez, rite of passage, sigil reader field, the mouse, to the wolves, verityvirtue

October 24, 2016

Sibyl Moon Games

Notes from GX4: Gatekeeping and Geek Policing

by Carolyn VanEseltine at October 24, 2016 07:01 PM

GaymerX is a gaming convention designed by and for LGBTQ gamers, with the tagline “Everyone games!” It’s officially a fan-facing event, but many of the panels and talks were geared for game devs just as much as gamers. I took notes, and you can click here for my other GX4 notes.

GaymerX speakers: Please contact me (carolyn at if:

  • I included something you said that should not be included, or
  • I quoted you without attributing (when you would prefer attribution), or
  • I made a factual error (I take notes by hand, and I make no pretense of infallibility!)

Gatekeeping and Geek Policing

Panelists: Tanya DePass (moderator), Donna Prior, and Bianca Anderson

Gatekeeping means making requirements to belong – “did you play X, did you see X, did you watch X.” This is a matter of respect. Don’t do it!

Gatekeeping is linked to geek policing, where only certain kinds of people are expected to be geeks, and people who don’t look like that have to prove themselves in some way. Connects to sexism, ageism, racism, etc.

Some examples:

  • (Prior) Geek friends (boys) who wouldn’t play D&D with girls
  • Game devs who ignore women in order to talk to men at game demos
  • (Prior) Trying to buy Warmachine, and the clerk asking “For your husband?”
  • Shopping in game stores in general, and the clerk asking “For your kids?”
  • “You don’t like Firefly? Take away your geek card!” <– This is bullying
  • Getting chased away from consoles
  • (Anderson) Forced to prove your Star Wars fandom – “What’s the Sith homeworld?” <– This actually happened at GX4, not cool
  • (Anderson) Wearing a sundress to work and getting “Can I help you?” at her own job
  • (DePass) When purchasing City of Heroes Villains, got asked “For your brother?” – she already owned it and was purchasing for her partner
  • Game stores where the employees talk to men only

Male attire is seen as a uniform in game dev.

There’s nothing wrong with the women who work as booth babes (they are people trying to make a paycheck, they deserve respect!) – but there is something wrong with the industries where this happens. Also, models do not know your product. This is not helpful for the consumer.

Female devs are routinely addressed as/expected to be booth babes at events. Creates a hostile environment.

(Prior) Warmachine Hordes – when a female employee was trying to direct the game in a demo, a male onlooker decided he knew the game better than she did and tried to direct it instead.

Microaggressions drive people out of fan spaces.

People react to gatekeeping with withdrawal or rage. These are both reasonable reactions.

Racism in Dragon Age fandom: when people call a black character “tan”.

“Lame”, “crazy”, “retarded” – these are all ableist slurs. If you wouldn’t use racist words, don’t use ableist words.

“Girls don’t,” “women don’t” <– gatekeeping

Ageism is a constant problem. Tumblr community is particularly hostile – “You’re too old to…” especially for women. “Be an adult!”

People don’t come with expiration dates! “Don’t you want to grow up to be me?”

It’s important for all people to be visible because people don’t know what’s possible until they see someone else doing it.

Black women are particularly not expected to be gamers.

How to protect yourself from hostility in online gaming?

  • Avoid being on mic.
  • Avoid being on camera.
  • Avoid team speak, especially with strangers.
  • Block and report!
  • Don’t let other people’s aggressions and geek policing go unquestioned – “Why would you ask that?”
  • Self-care: sometimes you have to leave, and that’s okay.
  • Don’t be afraid to close your circle.

Observe a fandom before engaging. Figure out what the culture is like – check Google (with safe search on) and Wikipedia. Be forearmed.

Find people who are inclusive rather than exclusive.

Ask Twitter for recommendations to broaden your awareness. “What black writers do you read?” Follow people who respond intelligently.

Game dev recruiters will filter by name for race/sex/age if you don’t stop them. If you run a studio, tell your recruiter “We need more diversity”. Insist on seeing diversity among your candidates.

As someone recruiting, be aggressively clear about being welcoming diverse applicants.

When recruiting, do blind resumes. Make your recruiter answer the question “Why did you reject this resume?” on rejected resumes. “Culture fit” is a bad answer.

How do you bring people into a hobby?

  • Stand up for the people you bring in, and be clear you back them.
  • Object to gatekeeping.
  • Be ready to cut assholes off from your circle.


Emily Short

Halloween Selections

by Emily Short at October 24, 2016 01:00 PM

Wanting to play something Halloween-flavored this week? Can’t wait for the new Ectocomp games to turn up? Here are some suggestions:


Lethophobia (Olivia Wood and Jess Mersky) is a game of haunting and lost memories. This is one of the longer pieces in this set — it took me a couple of hours to play in full.

16 Ways to Kill a Vampire at McDonalds (Abigail Corfman, current IF Comp) is an entertaining, silly vampire-fighting game from the current IF Comp. There are a bunch of different ways to solve the game’s key puzzle (as the title implies): expect to play several times trying out different approaches.

If you’re more in the mood for science fiction-flavored horror, Tentaculon (Ned Vole, current IF Comp) is in the mode of The Axolotl Project: Researchers Do Something Extremely Foolish. I ran into a few rough spots in the implementation, but I liked what you have to do in order to deal with your situation.

Evermore (Adam Whybray and Edgar Allen Poe, current IF Comp) is a choice-based IF based on the works of Edgar Allen Poe. I wouldn’t really call it an adaptation — more pastiche, or medley. But if you feel like your IF lately has been undersupplied with italics and adjectives and exclamation points, this might be just the ticket for you. Also if you’d like to spend more time wandering Mouldering Tombs.

(True story: in sixth grade my teacher put me in a reading group that for some reason spent three months supposedly working on a diorama representation of The Pit and the Pendulum. We never completed it because we never received the promised modeling clay to make the rats. In digital literature, though, you never run out of rat-matter.)

Parser Selections

An Evening at the Ransom Woodingdean House is a Ryan Veeder piece from earlier this year, about a docent in a historic house. It’s quietly, effectively creepy, and asks about our use and appropriation of the past. You could probably call it a ghost story if you chose. Or if you’d rather a more cheery, less scary Veeder piece, I recommend Dial C for Cupcakes, set at a Halloween party.

Open That Vein (Chandler Groover) is a 2015 Ectocomp game, but if you missed it last year, now is a chance to catch up.

Sigil Reader (Field) (verityvirtue, IF Comp currently) lets you explore the scene of mystical law enforcement gone wrong. It’s set in an alternate, magical version of Singapore, and the worldbuilding is good fun.

Three-Card Trick (Chandler Groover, Spring Thing this year) tells the story of a magic trick at a carnival. The trick is miserably simplistic; the magic is… well, I’ll leave it to you to discover. This was one of my favorite Spring Thing pieces this year.


Darkiss! Wrath of the Vampire (Marco Vallerino, multiple chapters) is a series of Italian games about a vampire waking in his tomb and then gathering power to fight his enemies. I previously wrote here about part 1, which was released in English as part of IF Comp 2015. Part 2 is now participating in IF Comp 2016, and is even more over-the-top, set in a hellscape with all kinds of demonic artifacts to collect. Many of the puzzles in Part 2 involve your vampiric ability to shape-shift, and I enjoyed trying these out. If you already played this and you loved the shape-shifting mechanic, try Transfer by Tod Levi from 2000.

The Act of Misdirection (Callico Harrison, 2004). This is an older piece, but if you like the sinister Victorian magicians flavor of Three-Card Trick, you might enjoy this one as well: both pieces put the protagonist in the role of performer of a magic trick the player doesn’t fully understand.

The Ebb and Flow of the Tide (Peter Nepstad, 2006) is a parser adaptation of a piece by Dunsany, and is more melancholy than terrifying. But if your preferred flavor is Gothic, there you go.

Still not enough? Here are some past Halloween recommendation lists.

October 23, 2016

IFComp News

A bit of Rule 4 clarification

October 23, 2016 11:01 PM

I see folks on forums and elsewhere still a little confused about the intent of this year’s modified author rule 4, the one replacing IFComp’s earlier forbidding of all public comp-talk among authors with a more specific admonition against authors telling judges how to vote.

I worded the new rule that way that I did with the intent of preventing both of the following undesirable situations:

  1. Authors making direct and overt public appeals to judges, literally instructing them on specific ratings to assign and why. Bluntly, any variant of “If you enjoy and want to support my work, please remember to give this game a 10!” (Or even just “Please give me a 10!”)

  2. Authors doing anything else besides the previous that more resembles someone campaigning to win an election, or someone making a sales pitch, more than someone entered into an arts competition.

So far, no competitor has come close to conflicting with my intent with this rule, at least not anywhere I can see. Yes, this year some authors have linked to reviews, or have assented to interviews for news stories about IFComp. One could make an argument that these actions violate the current rule 4, asserting that promoting any “good press” one’s work receives is tantamount to telling judges “As you can see, other people like my game, and therefore you too should give it a high rating.”

But to my mind that strict reading leads directly to “Come to think of it, authors should really just not speak about their games at all, since anything they say might influence judge opinion,” and that did indeed describe the rule in question as it stood between 1997 and 2015. We already know that IFComp works fine under such a rule, and this year’s experiment means to determine if it works at least as well without it.

We’re halfway through the judging period now, and I fully intend to see it through while continuing to allow authors the freedom to speak that the modified rule gives them. I have both faith and evidence that this year’s authors understand the rule’s intent just fine, and more to the point that 2016’s IFComp judges understand the rules that apply to them, too.

Doug's World

To the Wolves (review)

by Doug Egan ( at October 23, 2016 12:50 PM

"To the Wolves" is a Twine game written by Els White for the 2016 interactive fiction competition. There have been several Twine games this season about an inexperienced youth tasked with some hero's quest. I'm thinking of "Riot", "The God Device" and this one. Of the three, I thought this was the best.

"To the wolves" is about a child from a primitive society who is cast out of her village and left for dead in the wilderness. The tone of the story reminded me of an M Night Shyamalan film, filled with supernatural elements, dark mystery and violent ritualism. The length is appropriate for a competition entry. It offers multiple choice points, some of which seem high consequence, and some of which appear to be remembered until late in the game, affecting the end-game options. The most significant branch points are near the end. But for the most part the story follows along one main sequence with only brief alternate text reacting to player choices.

To reward replay there is an option to save up to two games, an "achievements" link that tells you what branch paths you've discovered so far, and an "endings" link that tells you which of three endings you've discovered. I was able to discover two of three endings. I did find one bug on my second play through, a branch point that ends in a dead-end with the author's note to themselves to append another entry. It's a long game, and not every player will encounter that bug.

Adventure Blog

IFComp 2016 Review: Night House

October 23, 2016 06:01 AM

In Night House, you are a little kid who gets up to wee in the middle of the night - but when you get back to your room, the door is locked. You’re forced to go find your parents for help, but then slowly discover, room by room, that all your family members are missing. All in all, the act of moving through the space itself is a very effective way of delivering exposition and drawing us in with the inciting incident.


Throughout the game, we discover more and more information as a side-effect of what seems like run-of-the-mill puzzle-solving. The game creates suspense by feeding you a slow drip of increasingly creepy revelations, culminating in the following line [needless to say, major spoilers ahead]:

“Come back when you remember your name.”

That’s the central puzzle that is ultimately the heart of this game - everything before and after that is filler, as far as I’m concerned. Very expertly-paced filler, but filler nonetheless. I’m at a point in my life where classic lock-and-key inventory management puzzle design - no matter how competent - just doesn’t interest me as much. It’s all played rather straight. But asking me to piece together my own identity? To construct a coherent narrative out of all the ominous clues that I’ve uncovered? Now that actually gives my brain muscles a nice little workout.

Of course, as soon as that question was posed to me, it kind of gave away the final twist - I turn out to actually be some kind of creature of darkness, taking on the form of the little kid because I want to be human like him. But in a way, I liked it. I liked how that question immediately made the player character’s identity ambiguous, and I liked how the puzzle defies expectations to actually make in-universe narrative sense. Usually, you’d ask yourself, “But why can’t I just tell them my name outright? Why do I have to search the house and rummage through my dad’s notes to find my own name? Is the author just trying to pad the gameplay? I CALL LUDONARRATIVE DISSONANCE!” But nope, it turns out that there is a solid in-universe reason for why you have to search the place - it’s because you literally don’t know the kid’s name, or who you actually are, for that matter. Refreshing.

And then came the most exciting part of the entire affair - deciding whether to return back to your monster family in the darkness, or to pursue the light to try and become human even at the risk of being eaten by a bigger monster than you. It felt very much like the game’s structure was pushing me to get the “true end” where you defeat the final boss and go out into the light, but I was more than happy to deliberately ignore that last past of the content, and sink back into the darkness where I belonged. This was partly because the final boss felt like a hassle (I was using a walkthrough by this point so I could see there was a complicated chain of puzzles at the end), and partly because I was in a state of mind where being human didn’t particularly hold much draw for me. What’s wrong with a quiet, peaceful life of being a monster in the dark?

Perhaps it’s because I’m at a stage of my life where I’m generally content to be who I am. Or perhaps it was because of the way the game was set up, which didn’t much endear me to the “real world”, or give me reasons to risk being destroyed for it. I got oblique hints that I, the monster, had always been drawn to the light, unlike the others… and that was it. The issue with the entire game being set in this twilight zone is that you never encounter anything that makes you want to go out into the real world. Nothing that makes fighting the creepy boss monster worth it. No beloved characters to go home to.

Night House is very competently designed and written, and there are some interesting twists and mechanics, but ultimately it doesn’t distinguish itself from other works with similar content and structure. Just like its protagonist, it won’t be long before I forget its name.

Rating: 6/10

October 22, 2016

IFComp News

Seeing garbage? Try downloading the game again.

October 22, 2016 05:01 PM

Jim Munroe, author of this year’s entry Black Rock City, brought to my attention an issue affecting his game in the specific case of clicking its individual “Download” button from the ballot page. Meaningless groups of characters (such as ) would appear prominently on the screen under certain circumstances, and the intentional text suffered other display issues not present in the game’s online-play or full-archive-download copies.

Investigation revealed two things: at least one other game this year had similar issues, and this was all due to a bug that has been present in the current IFComp web application software since its rollout in 2014. Its fix was relatively simple, and had everything to do with the devilish detail of modern software engineering known as text encoding. Setting an internal specification that all downloaded files must adhere to the flexible encoding standard known as UTF-8 made everything work much better.

So, a message to judges: If you played a game by its individual download link only to find the text riddled with garbage characters or suffering other bizarre legibility issues, I would ask you to download a fresh copy and try it again at your own convenience.

And to authors, my unironic appreciation on writing more games that include text symbols other than ASCII alphanumerics, forcing this issue to light! This has been a very subtle flaw in the system that took more than two years to even notice, and better to repair it now than for it stay hidden for even longer.

Doug's World

Eight characters, a number, and a happy ending (review)

by Doug Egan ( at October 22, 2016 12:32 PM

"Eight Characters, a Number, and a Happy Ending" is an interactive story written by K.G.Orphanides for the 2016 interactive fiction competition. The game was written with the Quest authoring system.

I noticed that the title contains an Oxford comma, something which made me smile. Oxford comma is a subject which has inspired some great cartoons, a dopey controversy, and a pretty good song.

A year ago, during the 2015 competition, I began to notice IF authors using a wider variety of authoring tools. The trend had been going on before I noticed it, of course. This came at the same time as a trend toward making parser fiction more accessible to a wider audience. And finally, a trend toward games which toggled between open choice input and menu driven input. I began to wonder if there wasn't some platform available which would allow players to choose how to engage with the story. Players who didn't want to type could interact with onscreen buttons or menu-mazes. Players who felt typing was simpler or more immersive could interact that way. "Quest" might be just that system.

Mild spoilers follow:

Read more »

Interactive Friction

IFComp 2016 Review: 16 Ways To Kill A Vampire At McDonalds by Abigail Corfman

by snowblood ( at October 22, 2016 09:41 AM

These are quick thoughts about an entry in the 2016 Interactive Fiction competition.

The title says it all: one puzzle, 16 solutions. You're encouraged to find them all through the liberal use of achievements (one per ending), "death-hints" (fail and you get a relevant clue), unlockables (special bonus features that unlock when you've achieved a given number of endings), even "New Game+" (when you replay, the game remembers any tricky steps you executed on a previous play-through and skips them for you). The puzzle you are solving involves a location and object-based world model, you have an inventory, options are disabled if you're not holding the right thing, characters move around, in short its using Twine to replicate a parser-based text adventure, which is a very impressive feat. So why not go the whole hog and use a parser? I believe because everything has been designed to encourage replay: even seeing a greyed out option to "stake the vampire with the drinking straws" tells the player that (a) there are drinking straws, (b) they might be useful, (c) staking might be a possibility, even if the option itself is patently ridiculous. With a parser-based approach, the player would be much more likely to quit before seeing all 16 endings, having exhausted their head-space of possibilities. Yes, this worked for me, despite my hatred of all things vampire (sorry, Darkiss) and all things McDonalds (sorry, Fast Food Rockers). It's a true puzzler, requiring lateral thinking and creative use of every element around you, of a type that generally doesn't exist in the choice-based arena, yet it retains all the instant accessibility of that format. Detectiveland is also bridging that gap from a different angle, and I expect both to perform well in this competition.

October 21, 2016

Doug's World

Queen's Menagerie (review)

by Doug Egan ( at October 21, 2016 09:50 PM

"Queen's Menagerie" is an interactive story by Chandler Groover, written for the 2016 interactive fiction competition. This is the fourth of Chandler's entries I have played in the past two years, and I know he has written several more between seasons which I haven't played. They are all similarly grim, stylized, and poetic, but very different in form.

"Queen's Menagerie" lets you be the keeper of the queen's beastiary. Interaction is simple: you drag the name of some food item up to the beast you want to feed. Then descend to the next level of the exotic zoo. I can't say much more without spoiling the fun. The story has good replay value also, since there appear to be quite different responses, depending on which items you feed to which beast.

Illustrates that a game can have very simple interaction, but still be something worthy of a competition entry, and also unlike anything that could be read on paper.

Choice of Games

New Hosted Game! Twin Flames by Ivailo Daskalov

by Dan Fabulich at October 21, 2016 06:01 PM

Hosted Games has a new game for you to play!

Twin Flames

Tap into pure, unconditional love, be engulfed in a journey of oneness, and bring peace to a place that knows none.

Twin Flames is an interactive novel by Ivailo Daskalov, where your choices control the story. It’s entirely text-based—without graphics or sound effects—and fueled by the vast, unstoppable power of your imagination.

Enjoy the beauty of the self-discovery that occurs when one soul finds its other half, and they start a mission that will change the lives of many. Help the twin flames uncover the mystery of who they were in previous lives and find their way home.

  • Enjoy a 50,000-word tale of love, redemption, and ascension.
  • Surrender to the power of true love.
  • Switch back and forth between both the male and female twin flames.
  • Decide on their specializations and relations with current romantic partners.
  • Delve in an universe of light, witchcraft, ETs, dragons and reptilians.

Ivailo developed this game using ChoiceScript, a simple programming language for writing multiple-choice interactive novels like these. Writing games with ChoiceScript is easy and fun, even for authors with no programming experience. Write your own game and Hosted Games will publish it for you, giving you a share of the revenue your game produces.

Sibyl Moon Games

Notes from GX4: Jamming Along to Game Jams

by Carolyn VanEseltine at October 21, 2016 05:01 PM

GaymerX is a gaming convention designed by and for LGBTQ gamers, with the tagline “Everyone games!” It’s officially a fan-facing event, but many of the panels and talks were geared for game devs just as much as gamers. I took notes, and you can click here for my other GX4 notes.

GaymerX speakers: Please contact me (carolyn at if:

  • I included something you said that should not be included, or
  • I quoted you without attributing (when you would prefer attribution), or
  • I made a factual error (I take notes by hand, and I make no pretense of infallibility!)

Jamming Along to Game Jams

Panelists: JC Holder (moderator), Emily Meo, Lain Farlight, Ellen McGrody, Tobiah Zarlez, Diana Liao

A jam event is a limited-time, low-pressure build event. Non-game jam events include NaNoWriMo, InkTober, and hackathons, which are tech development events focused on a specific goal.

Events need not be jam-centric to have a jam element, but it’s important to keep in mind that people participating in jams will focus on the jam rather than anything else going on at your event. A better way to integrate jams into a non-jam-centric event is to have a pre-event jam and then culminate with people showing off their creations at the event. is a great site for Internet-hosted jams, even ones that aren’t game focused.

New jammers often have trouble with time constraints, which can lead to anxiety. A few different approaches:

  • Scope as small as possible (note from Carolyn: see “Scoping for Game Jams”)
  • Focus on using your time wisely, rather than focusing on completion
  • Adjust your definition of success: what do you really want to achieve?
    • In many cases, simply learning something is the best goal for a jam – and if you focus on trying something new, the chances you complete your project go down. Which is okay – because if your definition for “success” is “I learned something”, then you haven’t failed.

TransHack is a hackathon to develop open source tech that can help trans and nonbinary people.

A good way to get started with game jams is to attend team events and look for a niche you can fill within your team.

False starts in game jams are okay. Each false start gives you more experience, and more code, assets, concepts, and skills – all of which are useful later!

For extended jams that focus on large-scale content production, like NaNoWriMo, focus on how much time you spend per day, rather than how fast you’re progressing. It will help you build good habits and avoid burnout.

Long-form jams teach good time management and approaches to productivity.

Consider the pomodoro technique to stay focused. It creates periods of focus, short breaks and long breaks at a good pace.

Meditation is a good way to fight jam stress.

Jams in a physical space often encourage or celebrate overcaffeinated beverages and skipping sleep. Don’t buy it.

While jamming, never ever fail to eat, sleep, and shower! Push yourself, but don’t abuse yourself – you are far more productive when you take care of yourself.

Always give yourself permission to skip jams, even when “everyone else” is doing them. This is for fun and learning.

If you want to run a game jam, talk with corporations. Finding corporate sponsors is not all that hard. Check for pertinent groups.

The SF/Bay area has a jam practically every weekend. Again,

Choose a theme for your jam as a way to engage people’s creativity.

When you’re at a physical jam, and you can’t find a team, the organizers can help you. Also try: write your need and skills on a piece of paper and hold up the information. In a digital space, do this on Twitter and the forums.

Don’t assume that people will automatically come to you if they need your skill set. Anyone can be shy, especially programmers and artists. Reach out!

Major game jams to know: the Global Game Jam (January 20 – 22 in 2017) and Ludum Dare (3 times a year). The Ludum Dare team competition (as opposed to solo) is a great place to meet people online for gamemaking.

The biggest test for a team is jam communication. This is a great way to find out fast if you have good communication skills with a potential future coworker.

Slack is useful during game jams for communication and focus. You can use different channels for different team needs, and the visible conversation can lead to spontaneous collaboration.

Places to find in-person game jams include Global Game Jam sites, game dev meetups, the Ludum Dare forums, and your local IGDA.

Game jam hosts usually don’t provide tools, though there are exceptions when a jam is sponsored and focused. For example, the upcoming VR Austin Jam (November 12-14, 2016) will loan Vives to people.

When organizing a game jam:

  • Be very clear about the tools and tech available
  • Provide links to tool recommendations
  • In-person game jams need:
    • Comfortable/accessible space
    • Water
    • Free wifi
    • Tables
    • A Code of Conduct
    • A safety plan

Should you take risks when participating in a game jam, or focus on making something? Decide your approach beforehand.

Set low expectations and surprise yourself.

Focus on one thing you want to do right or exceptionally well. Consider Undertale: it’s nothing new, just a very very good combination of existing ideas.

Think about a perfect 30-second gameplay loop. Then think about what your player’s focus is at 5 seconds, 30 seconds, and 5 minutes. Don’t worry past 5 minutes – that’s outside the scale of a game jam game.

Don’t approach a game jam with grand schemes or masterworks aforethought. Choose one of gamefeel, or message, or mechanic, and get just that aspect right.

Be modular in your approach. Create things that will be useful again later.

Game dev is an iterative process! Focus tightly on one thing, then improve from there. Have a center point and don’t lose sight of it.

Trust your team. You’re not the only one who can excel. Give everyone their chance to shine.

Be reflective as you work. Ask yourself: “Do I like this? Do I want to make these things?” Study yourself as you create.

Explore or excel: pick one for your jam. Don’t try to do both. You don’t have time.

Identify (an idea), commit (as a team), divide (up the plan) (note from Carolyn – there was a fourth item here and I didn’t capture it in my notes. Google is not helping. Anyone know?)

Game jams are an opportunity to practice craft in a focused, healthy way. They are (or at least should be) judgment-free.

Audio people often wind up working on multiple projects at a game jam. Great way to network!

Working solo is even more low-pressure and low-risk than working in groups.

Some studios have internal jams as breaks/refreshers and vehicles for inspiration.

Some people practice game jams as self-care: a break from everything else.


Doug's World

Riot (review)

by Doug Egan ( at October 21, 2016 03:36 PM

"Riot" is a Twine game written by Taylor Johnson for the 2016 interactive fiction competition. The PC is a meek and inexperienced riot control officer name Parker, who is separated from his comrades during the riot. Most of the story involves Parker's experiences in the aftermath of the riot, as he helps others and grows in confidence.

Read more »

Emily Short

Mailbag: Studying IF and Narrative

by Emily Short at October 21, 2016 02:00 PM

I sometimes print letters I’ve received and what I wrote in response. This is usually for one of two reasons: I’d like to pass on what the writer had to say, or the writer asked a question that requires a long detailed answer, and I think other people might benefit from seeing that as well.

I am experimenting with doing this in a more formal way, with a regular mailbag post. Reprinted letters may be edited for length; if so, I will note that editing has occurred. I do not do this without the permission of the letter-writer, so if you write to me and would be open to seeing your email appear as a blog post, feel free to mention that fact. On the other hand, I do not guarantee to print every letter that grants permission.



[Identifying information removed.] I’m in the formulation phases of an honors project, for which I am working to create and advocate for interactive fiction as a literary medium. In doing so I’ve been trying to explore interactive fiction and engage with creators, and I’ve repeatedly had people refer me to you! I’ve been spending time reading your blog and your IF work, and I was wondering if you would answering a few questions (or, at least, directing me to more reading material). 

• First, I am a bit curious about how you would define Interactive Fiction. When beginning reading about it, I began with my preformed definition of the medium that has since been a bit challenged. Initially, I had been using the term to describe any fiction that is interactive, i.e. video games and visual novels, as well as traditional text-centric fictions. Would you say that Interactive Fiction, at least in regards to how it is broadly discussed, is more of a straightforwardly defined medium consisting of text-based fictions, multilinear or otherwise? Where is the line between video game/visual novel/interactive fiction?  Nick Montfort, in Twisty Little Passages, suggests that a work isn’t truly interactive fiction if it does not utilize a parser and have an interactive world. What do you think about this? (I know that this is probably a question without a very quick/easy or objective answer, but I would still love to hear your thoughts).

I intentionally avoid trying to specify such definitions.

In recent years, we’ve seen a lot of community upheaval around what is or is not “real” interactive fiction, which somewhat mirrors the broader arguments about what is or is not a “real” game. These are not bloodless battles: they’re pitched fights about who gets access to resources, coverage, and respect. In that context, I’ve become much more cautious about trying to provide exact labeling instructions for IF.

I’d also say that it’s common to see choice-based and hypertext work included in lists of interactive fiction and submitted to IF comps these days, so it seems that at least a significant part of the community is inclined to include those.

• In your article “The Prose Medium and IF” (which has been extremely enlightening and helpful for me), you mentioned the unique way that detail needs to be handled in interactive fiction: that it should be avoided when it doesn’t help the player find the next piece of the puzzle, or that emphases need to be placed on the elements that are uniquely relevant to the players’ interactions. Would you say that this is true for choice-based IF, or is this an artifact of utility in parser-based IF? I’m particularly interested in choice-based IF, and was curious if this was something that I needed to keep an eye on moving forward.

Choice-based IF has its own different needs and affordances. Here is some discussion on cadence and length of text between choices; on phrasing of the choices themselves and how to reveal them; on choice phrasing and structure in my piece Bee; and on some of the differences within the choice-based ecology.

• How important would you say puzzles/investigation are to interactive fiction? Is that element of exploration and problem solving part of what makes interactive fiction unique compared to traditional literary media? And to stretch that a bit further, what types of stories are best suited for interactive fiction? 

“Part of,” sure, perhaps. It’s not essential, though.

Some genres of IF have traditionally used puzzles to structure and pace games, and puzzles can be a good way of guaranteeing that the player reaches particular information in a fairly open-environment style of game design. But there are loads of puzzleless works of IF.

And to stretch that a bit further, what types of stories are best suited for interactive fiction?

I hesitate about questions like this because they would seem to imply that some stories are bad for IF, and I don’t like to tell people what cannot be done. It may be that there’s a good way of doing something, and I just haven’t thought of it or seen it pulled off before.

I can say, though, that there are some story types that I like much better in interactive form than in other forms. Horror, for instance: when I’m watching horror and watching some other fool stumble into the dark basement, I tend to feel exasperation at the character (why are you so stupid?) or detachment (okay, I know what’s about to happen, so I’m going to brace myself). In interactive horror, I’m the one choosing to uncover the next bit of the horrible mystery, drawn forward by my own curiosity, and I find that tension really productive.

I also really enjoy interactive pieces — text IF or video games — that offer a lot of deep optional world building. In a novel, too much extra stuff about the backstory can really get in the way when you want the plot to keep moving forward, but the exploratory nature of an interactive medium means that you can fold in a whole bunch of additional information about your world and let the player engage with the aspects that interest her.

Why use it, as opposed to traditional prose, or video games, or something else that perhaps has a stronger platform and broader audience?

There’s probably an argument that it’s easier to sell and get feedback on some kinds of IF than on some kinds of conventional fiction, and indie video games are facing severe discoverability issues right now, so it’s not really clear that “write a video game instead” is going to get you a broader audience in any particular case. The maximum reach is higher, but the minimum reach may be just as low, and the time/energy investment is bigger too.

But assuming you’re asking about artistic rather than practical motives:

interactive text can compel attention and offer exploration, challenge, constraint, complicity, etc. in a way that non-interactive prose does not.

Maybe useful, if you haven’t run into it yet, is this article on Inform 7 for fiction authors. It was written at a time when we were still mostly talking about IF as a descendant of the text adventure, with puzzles and the parser as typical features, but it does delve some into what might appeal to writers in general.

In particular, it mentions challenge/complicity/exploration as advantages of interactive media. I sometimes add other things to that list, but those three always stay in place.

— interactive text is able to convey interiority, jumps in time, interwoven backstory, and other elements that are harder to get into non-textual interactive media.

• I’ve noticed that quite a few of your works are adaptations of myths and fairy tales. Is there a particular reason for this? Is adaptation somewhere where interactive fiction can shine?

Two reasons.

From a storytelling point of view, I’m often interested in exploring the experience and perceptions of characters who appear in a well-known story but who aren’t the point of view character in the original. The story of Pygmalion and Galatea as originally told is all about what Pygmalion feels and thinks.

Then there’s also the huge gain you get in player knowledge if you cast them as a character they’re already aware of. You don’t have to spend the first several scenes of the game establishing their backstory and motivation; instead you can let them step right into playing.

But I don’t think of this as adaptation exactly — these are all new works.

Sorry to come at you will all of these questions out of the blue! All of these things and more have been stewing in my mind for a while now, and from what I have heard from other creators, you are something of an authority, haha. I really enjoy your work and have gotten a lot of value from your blog, and I would absolutely love to hear your thoughts.

There you go!


Hello Emily Short, 

[Identifying information removed.] I am doing research in order to formulate my thesis question. My thesis is going to be on the current state of narrative in games, how it is told, and how we can improve on what we know (about narrative in games) – based on what we see in creative writing methods. Unfortunately, I don’t have a much more specific explanation than that, because that’s what I’m trying to find!

It appears you are an ideal person to ask this question to, seeing as if you have loads of experience in the interactive fiction field, and are a very knowledgeable role model for someone like me, trying to break into the narrative design field. I see that you also follow Event[0], the newly-released indie game, on twitter, which would be more of the direction I would like to go in as far as interactive fiction goes. 

TLDR: I was wondering if you might be able to point out any possible directions I could go, as far as storytelling and game theory goes, or point me in the direction of any current projects, papers, or methods (theory) that I could possible test. I would like to contribute to the field of knowledge for narrative in games, but don’t really know where to begin.

If you have any time at all, I would love to discuss this with you.

It feels like there are several possible thesis ideas suggested in this letter, and they would lead in quite different directions:

  1. What kind of craft is taught to games writers vs. what is taught to writers in other spaces? What practical constraints and freedoms apply to games writing that do not apply to other forms of writing? Are there lessons from elsewhere that can be trivially imported into the games space that no one has yet thought of?
  2. Are there academic models of narrative in games available to test or explore more deeply?
  3. What storytelling techniques are common in games? What is available in independent games that we don’t see much in console games? Are there promising directions for new game development that would touch on these topics?

So to look at those separately, both as proposed projects and in terms of possible resources:

Assessing game writing craft relative to other creative writing craft (point 1)

I’m inclined to be a bit wary about this approach because I worry there’s an implicit assumption game writers don’t really know what they’re doing, and that things would improve a lot if only they would pay attention to traditional writing craft.

Games writers are not unaware of traditional creative writing methods, but both the institutional and the formal constraints on games writing affect what can be done there — as well as provide some new opportunities that don’t exist in conventional fiction. Writing for games is genuinely a different skill from writing traditional fiction, and proficiency in the one doesn’t guarantee proficiency in the other.

Still, one way in might be to study the transmission of game writing craft through the instruction materials that are widely available.

There are lots of books written to teach people how to write for games. As always, some of these are better than others. A search like “writing for video games” on Amazon will turn up many recommendations. If your thesis is about what craft and technique is explicitly taught to game writers vs. what is explicitly taught to creative writing students, you might want to make a thorough survey of these.

You could also look at syllabi for courses about writing for games, workshops and content offered in venues such as the GDC Narrative Summit. You could then compare these with ways that writing craft is taught in other media.

An alternate approach might be to look at crossover points: authors who have worked in both games and traditional fiction, or reviewers who read and review both, and what they say about the two media. Spooky action at a distance is a review blog that looks at both interactive fiction and speculative fiction; Max Gladstone is a published SFF author who has written about his choice-based game creation; Tom Bissell comes from a traditional journalism/writing background and written for AAA, and has a New Yorker interview about the topic. (I don’t completely agree with his conclusions, but that’s fine.)

Finally, if you’re looking at the craft and experience of game writers, I recommend playing The Writer Will Do Something: it will only take a few minutes; and though it’s satirical, it contains a lot of truth.

Testing academic models about game narrative (point 2)

There are indeed lots of models of narrative in games. Again, I would be a little wary here: in particular, I tend to look sideways at articles where the writer argues from first principles about a new different way games ought to be written, without themselves having written any games themselves, let alone tested their new theory. But that’s not to say that these models have no analytic power.

  • Interactive Digital Narrative is a recent, heavily academic book about interactive storytelling in games, hypertext and other forms of new media. I’ve written it up in three posts starting here. Many of the articles are about attempts to build systems that will tell stories, but there are some that look more at formal approaches to understanding what is going on in game narrative; these articles will in turn have bibliography that might suggest further courses of research.
  • Narrativity of Computer Games is a post summarizing a lot of academic discourse on this topic and providing a number of onward links.

You likely also won’t get very far researching this topic without running into a discussion of narratology vs. ludology: mercifully less of a hot argument now than it used to be, this concerns the question of whether games really can or should focus on story, or whether they should be considered purely as rule systems and collections of mechanics.

Then there are a handful of older books that I continue to find useful because they have fundamental things to say about the game/narrative connection:

Exploring the canon of games and narrative techniques therein (point 3)

Obviously, because so many new games are coming out every year and because there is story in games of every level from AAA console games to indie IF, it is impossible to keep fully up to date on what is narratively interesting, or to be familiar with every possible technique.

So trying to fully cover what is going on in game narrative would be massively out of scope for an academic thesis, but you could select some particular trends or areas of interest to dive into.

If you wanted to start assembling a list of games that were regarded as narratively effective (recently or in the past), you might consider:

I’d also recommend

Once you’ve played some games that interest you, you might want to read reviews about what was new/interesting in their narrative approaches. Critical Distance is a site that collates links to game criticism, and focuses on longer and more thoughtful writeups, so a good way to find criticism about a particular game is just to search the Critical Distance archives and see what comes up.

So that’s three sets of suggestions, but they’re really just initial approaches, and a few hints about where to look. Any of these would need a lot of refinement and selection to turn into a real thesis topic with a well-defined question.

Interactive Friction

IFComp 2016 Review: The Little Lifeform That Could by Fade Manley

by snowblood ( at October 21, 2016 12:44 PM

These are quick thoughts about an entry in the 2016 Interactive Fiction competition.

Start as an amoeba, end up as the ruler of a galaxy-spanning civilization. A great concept, if not entirely original. Despite the incredible scope, it ends up feeling slight. Partly this is because of the playful, whimsical tone, but mainly its due to the massive gaps between the little vignettes. One minute you're developing into a multi-celled organism, where you get two choices about how to develop, the next you're already leaving the sea and crawling onto the land, a gap of millions and millions of years. Less of an evolution, more a series of snapshots. It feels like a prototype for a much more involved, detailed strategic evolution simulator, which is, admittedly, something I'd like to play. The game is written with ChoiceScript (the Choice of Games engine), and it's a clever use of the medium. Normally stats are tracked to define relationships with other characters, here its defining the fundamental aspects of you and your society. Its a generally happy, cheerful view of civilisation, which interestingly also seems to have its diametric opposite entered into this year's competition: 500 Apocalypses by Phantom Williams grieves over the death of civilisations whilst Fade Manley's game celebrates its birth and life. So far this year we have had Britain voting to leave the EU, and the US voting to leave reality. Apocalypse is in the air, so will this third vote, in the 2016 Interactive Fiction Competition, between an optimistic vision of the future and a massively pessimistic one, be the vote that decides the fate of the world and confirms the coming of Armageddon? You decide!

October 20, 2016

Interactive Friction

IFComp 2016 Review: The God Device by Andy Joel

by snowblood ( at October 20, 2016 09:38 AM

These are quick thoughts about an entry in the 2016 Interactive Fiction competition.

The title and blurb promise a philosophical science fiction story. What would the implications on civilisation be if a device existed that could make people worship you and do your bidding? None of those implications are addressed in The God Device. Instead, we're off on a breathless chase movie in which our heroine, a young archaeology student on an alien planet, must keep the eponymous Macguffin away from The Bad Guys. A more suitable title might have been Choose Your Own Male Gaze: the author wastes no time in getting the protagonist into a skimpy top and denim shorts, using her "feminine wiles" to evade capture and coerce NPCs at the drop of a hat. To complete the Mary Sue trifecta, she's also great at fighting! And super-smart! Anyway, who cares about the galaxy-shaking implications of her archaeological discovery, or her imminent death at the hands of murderous hyper-intelligent killers? Let's head to the club and look for some one-night-stand sexy action! Do you want to hook up with a guy, or a girl? Yes, these are actual choices in the game. I may have missed something: I explored several branches, saw multiple endings, and managed to score 10/10 in one, but apparently, like Spinal Tap's amps, this one goes all the way to 11. There genuinely is an actual "God Device" here on Earth: it was a helmet created by Stanley Koren and Michael Persinger to study the effects of religious experience by stimulating the temporal lobes. Many wearers claimed supernatural experiences. There is great scope for some cool speculative fiction here, its a shame this story chooses to go its own, oddly problematic way. 

Adventure Blog

IF Comp 2016 Review: All I Do is Dream

October 20, 2016 03:01 AM

All I Do is Dream is a simple game, with a simple premise and a simple execution. You are stuck at home in a spiral of depression and self-hatred, while your loved one is out working hard to feed both of you.


Stripped bare in both writing and presentation (it uses the default black Twine theme), players who have been through similar circumstances will find this game eminently real and sympathetic. Perhaps even too sympathetic. That’s the problem with this game - it hits all the notes of the typical narrative of depression too perfectly. Its mechanics, its turns of phrase, even down to the way it’s structured - everything is too predictable.

Yes, you will attempt to do a variety of household tasks in an attempt to feel less worthless. Yes, your lethargy will foil you every single time. Yes, you will end up sleeping the entire day away. And yes, you will find something small at the end, a seemingly trivial act of self-expression that nevertheless plants the seed of hope that you will - one day - break out of this destructive cycle. A simple story that ultimately ends up being sort of… run-of-the-mill.

I think the issue is exacerbated by the fact that I felt railroaded into certain aspects of the narrative. You can’t progress the story until you’ve attempted every single action available, which basically strips the narrative structure bare. You become hyperaware that you’re being manipulated towards a singular emotional conclusion.  

I would’ve preferred a time-based structure, where each action eats up a certain amount of time, and the story progresses when your time is up. Perhaps have a clock that keeps ticking away in the background, even. That would’ve felt more immersive and true to life, for one - to have the anxiety that mounts with the sense of wasted time - and also allowed players to express their own particular patterns of behaviour within the confines of the game.

(Readers interested in alternative treatments of this topic should check out The Cat Lady, a point-and-click adventure game. There’s a sequence in it that still sticks with me today, where the eponymous protagonist has to complete a simple list of basic tasks like cooking for herself, but with an incredibly limited energy bar that depletes with each action. It’s more or less impossible to finish what you need to do without your energy bar hitting zero, at which point you break down and collapse on your bed, sobbing. The specificity with which the mechanics modelled a depressive episode left an impact that no other game has managed to match so far.)

A final critique of the ending: when I first played the game, the final choice seemed broken - it didn’t end the game, but just kept repeating the same question over and over. The game has been “fixed” since (the game simply ends with another short line), but in many ways I prefer the original looping end. It was a missed opportunity, in some ways, to not have the final choice loop back to the starting of the game, which would drive home the feeling of being trapped in the cycle and not being able to break free.

Because that’s something that happens - day after day after day where you keep falling into the same patterns.

Of course, that would mean you’d have to figure out how to show the process of recovery. Perhaps if you play the trumpet enough, you start to unlock other endings and actions. Perhaps with each iteration, you gain enough energy to complete one household chore per day. Perhaps you begin to connect with characters other than your girlfriend. Or perhaps it just spirals lower and lower, and the only way you can break the cycle is by closing the tab and walking away.

I wonder if that’s not the core reason why I came away from this game feeling somewhat dissatisfied - it hints at recovery at the end, but doesn’t delve into the real, meaty, interesting questions of how you live and cope with depression. I wanted to like this piece more - it’s sincere, it’s competently made and paced, it made me smile at times. It accomplishes all its intended goals. I guess it’s just that its goals aren’t as ambitious as I would’ve liked to see.

Rating: 5/10

October 19, 2016

ZIL Crazy After All These Years

GENERIC-OBJECTS as conversation (ASK/TELL) fodder

by Roody ( at October 19, 2016 10:56 PM

Note: None of the code in this post adheres to the formatting recommended to me for ZIL programming so I apologize if the look of it drives anyone crazy. While debugging the problem at hand, I use an indenting system I find most readable, but if I ever release any game source, I'll try to format it as suggested. I also might write another post here at some point sharing what those format conventions are.

The ZIL manual lists two ways for setting up ASK/TELL conversations:

  1. The (EVERYTHING) syntax addition allows for verb definitions where any object is accepted, whether or not it is scope.  Like so:
  2. It also mentions GENERIC-OBJECTS objects that are out of scope and can't be physically interacted with.  It specifically mentions Deadline's "new will," the missing mystery document a player might be inquiring about.  Despite not being physically available, these objects are always in scope.

Originally, I thought was a little unclear why ZIL needed both methods, as I figure that if the (EVERYTHING) syntax works, you could just stick those objects in a room no one will find them and, hey, no one will interact with them.  It occurred to me while writing this, though, that an author might want different error messages for trying to interact with tangible objects compared to idea/topic objects.  You don't want >EXAMINE FREEDOM to respond with "You don't see that here." Unless your game is kind of an ass about freedom.

Anyhow, the current ZIL/ZILF compiler doesn't support the (EVERYTHING) method, so it was recommended to me that I try to handle everything with GENERIC-OBJECTS.  I imagined this was going to be sort of a headache.  I figured I'd have to write fancy code to take GENERIC-OBJECTS out of scope when they had a real object counterpart within scope; if I had a flashlight in my game, I'd have to have a GENERIC-OBJECTS object for it for when players ask NPCs about it when it is another room, but when it is in scope, I don't want "Which flashlight do you mean, the flashlight or the flashlight?" responses.  This ended up not being a problem, but I'll get to that later.

My lack of enthusiasm to play around with all of this resulted in a several month break from ZIL code, but I got the itch back recently.  Of course, it didn't help that I initially got off on the wrong foot because I had forgotten the name of the scope thing I needed so I just quickly skimmed the ZIL model, saw another type of scope object called LOCAL-GLOBALS, and thought, ah, that must be it.  Unfortunately, LOCAL-GLOBALS objects are something else, something better used for tangible things that show up in several rooms like a river or something.

After wasting a good couple hours on that, Jesse McGrew set me off on the right GENERIC-OBJECTS path.  Right away, my disambiguation worries became a non-issue because it turns out GENERIC-OBJECTS are only parsed at a last resort so they never have the same "parser weight" as an actual object in the same room.

The only remaining issue was that while interacting with a non-present object properly responded with "You don't see that.", the message took up a turn.  Consistency among error messages is one of my many goals with any IF language I work with.

Luckily, Jesse was there to the rescue again and pointed out the "hook" where we could fix that.  He gave me this code:

First off, if one were to use this code, they'd put it before "parser.zil" is included. REPLACE-DEFINITION tells the compiler, "hey, when we get to this code, we'll use this instead" (I'm probably getting this wrong on some technical level but it's how I took it).  You can only use REPLACE-DEFINITION on certain hook routines, but as this post shows, it can be useful they're there.

The interesting thing about this code is, as you can see by the name, it runs after the command has been performed but we still have time to say, "change the command to INVENTORY" (so it doesn't take a turn).  This is another one of the things I find endearing about ZIL; an impressive amount of the game loop can be modified through code (unlike many later IF languages where more aspects of the game loop are set in stone by the game engine).

Jesse wrote the above code without testing.  It probably worked just fine right out of the box, but as far as I could read it, I thought it seemed a little wrong so I instantly started re-writing it.  It took several attempts, but I eventually got something that worked:

At this point, it occurred to Jesse that instances where the PRSO (the direct object) or PRSI (the indirect object) are 0 could run into problems, specifically with the "<IN? , PRSI ,GENERIC-OBJECTS>" check.  I figured the worry was the Vile Zero Error From Hell.  First off, out of curiosity, I wanted to see if my interpreters would catch it.  As many interpreters today straight out ignore Vile Zero Errors From Hell, finding one that even pointed it out took several tries.  Eventually, I got DOS Frotz to say, hey, something is wrong.

So yes, I had to add some code to check for 0 values.  My final code ended up looking like this:

Basically, this code says, GENERIC-OBJECTS should not take a turn when used as direct objects, and if it's an indirect object, only take up a turn if it's part of ASK/TELL.

Originally, I tried to spread out my code a bit more, but the way these DEFMAC things seem to work, they really only allow for one element.  That's why my solution basically is one conditional with several other conditionals wrapped inside it.  I asked Jesse about it, and it turns out there's another command, BIND, which allows for routines-within-routines.  Not only that, but the BIND code can have its own local variables... and not only that, but you can also give those local variables starting values, something you can't do with "AUX" variables for your random routine.

In the code:
<BIND ((A 1) (B 2) Z T W) ...>
A would have a starting value of 1 and B would have a starting value of 2.

Anyhow, here is a final version of the above routines, using BIND to make the code easier to read (hopefully):

Setting up this conversation stuff should be the last speedbump for a while, at least until I start working on QUEUEs (ZIL's version of daemons/events) although I expect that all to work fine (with just some extra design effort on my part). I may also write a menu system at some point, mainly as a distraction to keep myself from working on, gasp, ACTUAL GAME CODE.

EDIT:  Okay, it turns out I wasn't done with the above code.  I was going through all of parser.zil's verb routines making sure that applicable routines gave "You don't see that." type responses for GENERIC-OBJECTS.  I was reminded that >THINK ABOUT [object] is a default verb there, which of course should be allowed for taking up a turn.  In testing out the code, I noticed that behavior would be broken after a couple turns.  I had thought BIND treated its variables as local variables if not given a starting value, but no, they act more like global variables (so, ERR, once set as 1, would always stay 1).  Here is the fixed code:

Interactive Friction

IFComp 2016 Review: Detectiveland by Robin Johnson

by snowblood ( at October 19, 2016 11:05 AM

These are quick thoughts about an entry in the 2016 Interactive Fiction competition.

I previously complained that this author's last game, The Xylophoniad, failed to use the excellent point-and-click user interface that the author had created for Draculand. This latest release, an old-school detective noir thriller, fixes that complaint in Spades. (See what I did there? 'Cos of Sam Spade? Never mind.) This is a visual and aural presentatation that pops: pretty graphics, some era-appropriate tunes, a clattering typewriter font, Detectiveland has been polished to the hilt. The core story is fun too, with no cliche of the genre left un-mined. Femme fatales, dangerous gangsters, corrupt politicians, it's all here. Where Draculand was content to simply riff on the sparse, terse writing of the old Scott Adams adventures, Detectiveland expands on the format, giving room for some top-notch comedy writing (the letter from a publisher to an H.P. Lovecraft wannabe is great). Puzzles are generally straightforward and logical. One new element has been introduced: you need to be 'holding' the appropriate object in order to see its specific action-verbs. Some puzzles involving dropping an object in the vicinity of other people/objects seemed inconsistent with this 'holding' idea though, possibly they could be re-thought. The pacing is good: there are three separate cases to work on, simultaneously if you like, and a wrapper that raises the stakes and ties together all the cases. Two secrets that also allow for a hidden, optimal ending provide some replayability. If Draculand provided the proof of concept, Detectiveland is definitely the finished article. After gothic horror, greek mythology and now detective noir, it makes me wonder what other familiar milieux would be appropriate for this kind of lightly comic tone. Medieval times? Haunted mansions? Desert islands? I look forward to whatever Robin Johnson comes up with next.

October 18, 2016

sub-Q Magazine

Welcome New Staff: Editor Nicole Delcore, First Readers Gail Marsella and Blaize Kaye

by Tory Hoke at October 18, 2016 01:01 PM

I’m delighted to welcome aboard our new editor, Nicole Delcore, and our new first readers, Gail Marsella and Blaize Kaye.

Nicole is a student and poet pursuing a degree in English at Tufts University. Her interests include playgrounds, dogs, and dyeing her hair unnatural colors.

She joined sub-Q a year ago as a first reader, and I’m grateful for her many hours of service helping choose stories for publication. As editor, she will join our editor rotation to make final selections, prepare contracts, and galley the completed work.

It takes an editor about five hours to pilot a submission to publication. Nicole takes up the commitment alongside Devi, Kerstin, and PJ to bring sub-Q‘s readers their biweekly dose of IF.

In addition, Gail Marsella and Blaize Kaye join us as a first readers.

Gail teaches chemistry at the college level and writes SF on the side.

Blaize lives in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, with his wife, kid, and cat. He spends most of his free time thinking about books and computers.

As first readers, they join Slush Master Stewart Baker and tackle a commitment of two hours a week to read and vet stories fresh from the queue.

These additions to our staff help strengthen and protect sub-Q‘s anonymous submissions process.

Interested in giving Nicole, Gail, and Blaize something new to read? Read our submissions guidelines and submit!

The post Welcome New Staff: Editor Nicole Delcore, First Readers Gail Marsella and Blaize Kaye appeared first on sub-Q Magazine.

Interactive Friction

IFComp 2016 Review: Black Rock City by Jim Munroe

by snowblood ( at October 18, 2016 11:57 AM

These are quick thoughts about an entry in the 2016 Interactive Fiction competition.

Jim Munroe is a chronicler of youth sub-cultures through interactive fiction: punk rockers (Punk Points, 2000), metalheads (Everybody Dies, 2008), online gamers (Guilded Youth, 2012). With Black Rock City, Munroe turns his gaze to the weird world of the "Burners", and strikes... dust. Lots of dust. Its well-written, filled with evocative turns of phrase, neatly capturing the hazy, drug-addled Mad Max vibe. Get the full Burning Man Festival experience, without the $400 ticket cost plus travel to the Nevada Desert. There are no real objectives, but lots and lots of branching. Munroe chooses to avoid (from the branches I've seen) any of the more criticised aspects of the festival: the ecological impact, the millionaires living in luxury camps, the massive commercialisation and the rampant domination of electronic dance music. For Munroe, it's an entirely positive experience, which is fine. It's a personal account of the aspects that speak loudest to the author.

October 17, 2016

Adventure Blog

IF Comp Review: A Surreal Experience at Burning Man

October 17, 2016 05:01 PM


We see you. We hear you. We love you. 

Those are the words that begin Black Rock City, a clever and surreal little choice game from  Jim Munroe. and also the apparent theme of the piece. 

The game takes place at Burning Man, but a fantastical variant; there are flying carpets and pirate ships and all manner of strange and curious characters. There is also the approaching dust storm, an event which takes on apocalyptic proportions. 

Keep reading

IF Comp 2016 Reviews: Fallen Leaves, Mirror and Queen, 500 Apocalypses

October 17, 2016 05:01 PM

It is now two weeks into IF Comp 2016, the most exciting annual event of the interactive fiction community! If you haven’t already, head over to to play and rate the entries.  We’ll be publishing our own reviews here up until the deadline of November 15, so make sure to keep your eyes on this blog! (Note on ratings: for simplicity’s sake, we’ll more or less be using the sample judging rubric by the IF Comp organizers here.)

Previously, we talked about how “16 Ways to Kill a Vampire in McDonalds” is a pitch perfect example of a well-designed puzzle game. In contrast, this post focuses on those entries that defy the very notion of being “games” altogether.  


Fallen 落葉 Leaves

A work that aspires to defy categorization, but can be categorized as a procedurally generated poem that changes with superficial player input, like a less charming version of those paper fortune tellers that we all played with as kids. You choose a verb and an adverb, and the game generates a new poem based on your choices.

In case you can’t read traditional Chinese, the two characters in the middle of the title mean “fallen leaves”. Shocking, I know. If I was analyzing this entry in a college lit crit class, I would probably mention how the shapes of the characters themselves are reminiscent of fallen leaves, enhancing the title in both meaning and form. I’m used to my language being used as exotic decoration, so it was entirely unsurprising to see that the entry itself samples from the Shijing, a work of poetry that requires copious footnotes and understanding of the historical context to even appreciate on a surface level, but is torn apart and reconstituted here for - what purpose exactly, again? Apart from gratuitous Orientalism?

It never bodes well for a work if the author has to explicitly articulate its theme in an overwrought note before the experience even begins. That tells me that the text is so devoid of meaning, it cannot communicate anything on its own merits. The central message of “Fallen Leaves” is this: “Imagine if interactive fiction - shockgasp - didn’t HAVE to actually be games? See how UN-game this piece of art is! Down with capitalism and market forces!” The problem is, that is the extent of its message. It thinks that its generic “critique” and “disruption” of the medium, in of itself, is profound enough that it doesn’t seek to offer anything beyond that. The poetry falls right into the typical “oatmeal” problem of procedurally generated text - you can rearrange oatmeal in countless different patterns, but every single serving of it is disgustingly bland. On that note, adverbs are probably the single worst way to inject literary colour into any text, let alone a poem. Not even the act of making choices conveys any particular meaning or message. 

The only reason this game isn’t getting a score of 1 is because as a piece of interactive fiction, it’s functional. Too bad it lacks anything even remotely resembling a functional soul. 

Rating: 2/10

Mirror and Queen

“Fallen Leaves” assumes that interactive fiction generally has win conditions and end points. Thankfully, interactive fiction is far more diverse in its designs and ambitions than certain people might think. “Mirror and Queen”, for instance, handily destroys that assumption in three short sentences:


Now that is what I call respect for the player’s time and intelligence.

Even the title is efficient: you can probably already tell from it that this game features the Evil Queen from Snow White, locked in that iconic conversation with her own reflection. Its central conceit is simple: you REFLECT on various subjects with your mirror, on the cusp of your infamous decision to kill the princess. That decision, by the way, never changes, no matter how hard you think about PACIFISM or FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC.

If you play it straight, what you have is a humanized portrait of a very old, very tired, very powerful woman. The fatalistic design drives home the message of the futility of defying time and mortality, the feeling of literally having no other choice left to you.  

And yet… the most fun I have with it is just flinging shit at the parser and seeing what sticks. The below is one of my favourite exchanges with my dear old mirror:


I’m actually rather amazed at how responsive and flexible the parser is, even if I chose not to play “in character”. I love the image of my queen losing all ability to give fucks and throwing a tantrum for McDonalds in her tower, only to be admonished by her unfailingly butler-y eldritch abomination of a mirror.

The result is an interactive mood piece that is comic, tragic, and meditative in turns, depending on how you play it. Just like with a real mirror, who you are is reflected right back at you. A fine addition to the copious body of Snow White fanfiction, and one that I’m glad to have experienced.

Rating: 6/10

500 Apocalypses

Hoooooboy. This entry. This damned thing is everything “Fallen Leaves” wants to be. This is art. This is poetry. This is interactive fiction.


“500 Apocalypses” is one of those entries that is utterly poised and polished and confident and committed to being nothing but itself. It is ostensibly a curated catalogue of entries taken from a mysterious encyclopedia of apocalypses from across the universe. It is so devoted to this conceit that when I first skimmed the blurb, I honestly thought that it was non-fiction, some sort of game about real dead civilizations, so much so that I almost passed over it because I thought that it would be some kind of dry history exhibit.

But it turned out to be so much better. Even if it doesn’t actually record actual dead civilizations, it is a collection of emotional truths about the devastation of worlds, snippets of fiction and poetry which feel so much more real than the real thing. A fitting entry for a year that feels as apocalyptic as 2016. No matter what your ultimate opinion of this game, it’s hard not to feel a sense of awe as you step into the carefully curated exhibit, a series of dots that get smaller and smaller as you scroll down, each of which contains a literary snapshot of a dead or dying world. The shrinking gives you the same kind of vertigonous feeling as when you think about all the tragedies that are happening in the world, large and small - all the lives and cultures and nations and universes that are being snuffed out with each breath you take. 

There are so, so many ways a world can die.

And the author makes sure that you feel it. The prose is limber, moving from minimalistic, stark brutality to lush descriptions to dark comedy with ease. It felt like a buffet of all the darkest of human emotions, expertly cooked and plated by a gourmet chef so that there’s always contrast and variety in the flavours, resonating with each other to create a larger, richer tapestry of human suffering.

And just like a buffet, if you eat too much at once you’ll throw up. Other reviewers have accused this piece of being torture porn, of wallowing in human repulsiveness just a tad more than strictly necessary. The “problem” with this work, honestly, is that the writing is too vivid and evocative and endlessly creative. I personally sampled just some of the hors d'oeuvres before making my exit, but the few images it left me with were so strong I feel like I’ve already had my fill. It’s going to take some time for each image to properly digest before I have space for more. I feel like this particular work is best savoured in small bites; I’ll likely be visiting it again and again over the next month.

For now, I will leave you with the apocalypse that I find the most haunting.

He was one of the handful of unfortunates meditating in a timepool when the black holes collided. Everyone was consumed in an instant, but he, afloat in the darkness, experiencing each breath as one million lifetimes, was aware of the separation of every atom of his being in the most extraordinary detail.

One comfort, here, is that, in his subjective reality, their world still exists.
He is still reaching for the timepool’s controls in a panic that spans eons…..

Rating: 10/10

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Wade's Important Astrolab

IFComp 2016: It's a third of the way through.

by Wade ( at October 17, 2016 03:49 AM

IFComp is about one third of the way through and I've reviewed one sixth of the entries. I started suddenly this year (ie no thoughts even the day before about reviewing entries) and defaulted to doing what I did the first time I reviewed IFComp, which was in mimicry of what everyone else was doing – trying to review everything. I review partially for all of me, authors and reviewing (judgement).

Reviewing everything used to be more doable because there were far fewer entries. Now there are almost 60, and pausing to take stock of what I'm doing, I think that continuing to adhere strictly to my randomised playlist and then just stopping suddenly when the comp ends with a big, randomly determined unplayed/unreviewed list remaining is not going to satisfy me. Aiming to be satisfied is a carrot that helps you keep reviewing at speed, especially in any kind of time fight.

So I'm going to break off the randomised list and prioritise playing and reviewing more things I expect I want to play and review. In reality this makes little difference to onlookers because they haven't seen my list and they don't know what I want to play and review. It probably favours returning entrants, since there are a lot of authors whose second+ game I want to check out because I liked something they did before.

Maybe it's more useful to list a few things I'm deprioritising or know I won't review:

  • Where someone entered two games and I know it's them because they didn't disguise themselves with more silly pseudonyms, I'll only review one, just to spread reviews around.
  • Steampunk games are deprioritised because I just don't like steampunk. I'm still interested in playing Felicity Banks's alt Australia game because I'm Australian, but I give no commitment right now. I promise nothing!
  • I'm not reviewing Rite of Passage because I helped test it, and re: Slicker City, as ASchultz is a friend of mine I'll probably hold on his game until after the comp.
  • I'm not interested in Manlandia. And I think I am probably not interested in This is My Memory… based on other reviews. But the latter is also short.

October 16, 2016

The Gameshelf: IF

Alchemy game notes, circa 2003

by Andrew Plotkin at October 16, 2016 06:47 PM

Here's a bit of a thing. I happened to look at my "game design" folder, which is of course full of random snippets of text dating back years. The oldest file is from 2003:


Research: enter a book "room", use standard IF search techniques to explores, find "exits" to other pages or other books. Books can be hidden in "real life", or just not indexed in the library. Similarly, a section of a book might not be findable until you find a reference elsewhere, and search for it.

(Library is a real-life room; the books you're familiar with are pulled out, handy. Reading one enters the book "room".)

Alchemical operations form a deep skill tree. As you perform operations successfully, they're added as single action. ("distill alcohol", "resublimate thiotimoline"). Lots of room to explore. Operations have logic, but also exceptions.

Time limit? If you screw up, or take too long, your supplies and tools are restored to their original state -- new day begins -- but you retain your skills. Maybe even get pre-made supplies of stuff you're very familiar with.

Operations take particular amounts of time? So there's an optimization problem, even for skills you've learned. (Ameliorated by pre-made supplies.)

No idea what the story looks like. Something about the reason why you are taking this alchemical test and have an infinite number of retries.

That's all I wrote back then. It's old enough to have MacOS-Classic line breaks instead of Unix/OSX line breaks.

When I started planning HL in mid-2010 I started a new notes file, but I left the old one in place. Obviously some of that old stuff went out the window. Although now I like the idea of books as environments which you "enter" to do research. Maybe I'll try that again someday.

For more fun, here's a snippet from the 2010 notes file:

Planetary types: (A marcher doesn't normally visit these, but they're familiar from the academy and from sailor's stories. The protagonist has never seen one before; he's only visited Gaian lands, and rarely left the Retort except in inhabited places.)

  • Gaian lands: where people can live.
  • Hadean lands: rock, little or no air, "night" sky. (The Moon, Mars.)
  • Helian lands: like Hadean lands, but with a big honking sun. (Mercury.)
  • Erebian lands: like Hadean lands, but covered in ice and with little sun. (Pluto, etc.)
  • Thalassan lands: oceans (of something) and atmosphere. (Titan, probably.)
  • Aeolian lands: only clouds visible. (Jupiter, but also Venus.)
  • Hermetic lands would be fairyland or Atlantis. Places populated by the Wise. The term is from popular fiction rather than science.

All of that is canon, but it's only briefly referred to in the released game.

I'm holding onto the domain as a placeholder. For what, I don't know yet.

Wade's Important Astrolab

IFComp 2016 review: Tentaculon by Ned Vole

by Wade ( at October 16, 2016 01:31 PM

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.
Read more »

IFComp 2016 review: You are standing in a cave... by Caroline Berg... ! ... ?# ...!

by Wade ( at October 16, 2016 10:49 AM

You are standing in a cave... is a parser-driven adventure of perennial adventuring. Stuck in the title cave with only a random collection of stuff in your pockets, you, the viewpoint adventurer, must unstick yourself and escape. The environment is full of props and clues designed to speak tantalisingly to each other in the language of puzzles via your adventuring brain. The climbable, the ignitable, the combinable; they're all here.

This is plainly not a game for people who dislike puzzles. There will still be a dropout rate amongst people who do like puzzles based on either roughness of implementation or lack of upfront glamour / hookiness. Also, there's the issue that the game's title could as easily be read as a joke about the banality of some old adventure game as the unremarkable but straight-shooting meat and potato entity that it is. Though it is a more versatile statement than it first appears to be. Consider this existential juggernaut of a title: You are standing in a cave / You are dying in a sewer.

While cave's first room looks dull and prototypically cavey, things quickly become more involving if you give it a room or two.
Read more »

October 15, 2016

Far Far Futures

Elements in the Last Seven Cybertexts of the IFComp

by Joey Jones at October 15, 2016 10:01 PM

Here I’ll be looking at replayability, enrichments and dead ends in seven games from the 2016 Interactive Fiction Competition. I’ve …

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