Groundhog Day: Aisle

By Alec Meer on July 25th, 2008 at 11:08 am.

AND IN THE GAME

There’s more Interactive Fiction in the world than there are mad hobos, but Aisle stands out as both an approachable entry point to the form and as a fascinating, deeply affecting experiment in its own right. It’s from way back in 1999, so I can’t hope to defend against snotty cries of “OLD!”, but I’m guessing few of you will have played it. More of you should.

Unlike the spiralling storylines and puzzles of much IF, here you have only one move before the game ends. Each of the accepted commands – and there are several dozen, all of which you’ll need to deduct or guess at – leads to a different ending. Not necessarily a resolution, but certainly lending a finality to this particular moment in time:

So what do you do? Buy pasta, think about Gnocchi, try to talk to the woman, take your clothes off, start shouting… Some endings are moving, others tragic, others funny, others lurid, others mysterious. It rewards experimentation, logic, lateral thinking and craziness in equal measure.

Crucially, a number of the less eventful endings provide hints as to your character’s backstory, which in turn fill your mind with possibilities as to new actions you could attempt. Hence, Groundhog Day – each attempt you make at the game is informed by the events of the previous one(s). You revert back to exactly the same situation every time, but though the world hasn’t changed, your knowledge has – and with that comes an uncanny sense of progress.

The game’s available from here, a teeny 120Kb. It’s in one of those blasted .z5 formats, so you’ll need an Infocom interpreter app if you don’t already have one – WinFrotz did the trick for me, and very straightforwardly so. Updated – an in-browser no fuss, no mess version of Aisle can be found here. Thanks, Rook.

Warning: there is a Your when it means to say You’re. Otherwise, the writing is elegantly sparse and very often moving.

Big thanks to Joe Martin for the tip-off.

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62 Comments »

  1. Bobsy says:

    ODL!

    I mean, er, old?

    I have a pretty low tolerance for IF to be honest, which is a shame because I know I WANT to like it. In general, it’s the search for the correct sort of command that lets me do what I want to do that irritates me, but of course Aisle is a different kettle of gnocchi. So yay for that.

  2. Rook says:

    You can now play it online rather than downloading, hopefully here via http://parchment.toolness.com (press space bar a lot if a white screen appears).

    But the writing in that first screenshot you have is terrible.

  3. Joe says:

    Have to say, I never went with the whole stripping off thing in any of my games. Sometimes I wonder about the minds behind these articles…

  4. LlamaFarmer says:

    Oooh, this is good! Just trying to fully work out the back story, just about there, trying to find out the reasons for events that have happened.

    Funnily enough, I’ve never really been up for trying IF because I assumed that the software you need to play them would be fiddly and complicated, but it’s so simple! Any other IF recommendations? I’ve heard good things about 1893: A World’s Fair Mystery.

  5. Joe says:

    Trinity is supposed to be *the* IF game of choice. Abandonware too.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trinity_(computer_game)

  6. James G says:

    @Bobsy

    The wrestle with the interpreter is something that should only last a while, it becomes second nature after that. You learn what kind of commands will work, and which wont, and how to phrase things. Or at least that’s how it is with me, although I’ve played a lot of IF from a fairly young age, so perhaps that helps.

  7. Chris Evans says:

    This is….interesting to say the least. Trying to figure out what words work is the most interesting.

  8. cullnean says:

    In a few years time, at your engagement party, she will describe your actions today as “mad, impulsive and so you”. However that’s not necessarily accurate. Youhaven’t been impulsive for a long time–not since the breakup with Clare and the Rome business.

    Well, it’s about time you started being yourself again. And the perfect way to start? You walk up to the brunette, “Do you fancy going for a drink after this?”

  9. TheLordHimself says:

    A game I can play at work!

  10. rei says:

    @llama

    Anchorhead should not disappoint:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anchorhead_(game)

    I also recall really enjoying Losing Your Grip:
    http://www.phy.duke.edu/~sgranade/lyg.html

    I’ve heard good things about World’s Fair Mystery, too, but I haven’t bothered to look into buying it thus far. It does look amazing, though.

  11. El Stevo says:

    smile

  12. heretic pride says:

    actually the backstory isn’t consistent; some of the actions reference each other, whereas others are completely contradictory (eg “call clare” vs “remember clare”)

  13. Chris Evans says:

    @Cullnean – how did you get that to come up?

  14. Ben Abraham says:

    I TRIED THE SMILE COMMAND! ^_^

    It made me win.

    Edit: Don’t forget to look through the opening sentence if you get stuck for more words! ;-)

  15. The Hammer says:

    Oh! Oh! Oh!

    I remember Aisle! It was once linked to me on a forum. Was marvellous stuff. It made me grin, laugh, sigh, look on solemnly, and I was very impressed with all the endings.

    Oh, and nice alt-text, Alec. :P

  16. D says:

    Nice one El Stevo. Now I wonder if this guy’s delusional.
    @heretic pride – Ah, that explains it.

  17. cullnean says:

    spoliers!!!!!!!!!

    my 2 favorite endings type in

    ask woman for a date or ask woman her name

  18. MetalCircus says:

    Does anyone remember a game similiar to this called Bob or something? I played it a number of years ago on a website, and one of the possible story lines were that you became a multi-million selling rap artist, out-selling snoop dogg. It was mental!

  19. Ben Abraham says:

    Spoilers!!!!!!!!!

    Most shocking ending I’ve seen yet? Simply “Jump”

  20. The Hammer says:

    “Think about work.”

    <3

  21. Man Raised By Puffins says:

    Your spoilers are showing up in the side-bar. Thanks guys.

  22. Björn says:

    This is lovely; thanks for the links!

    I’m still not sure which of my endings I’m happiest with (and it’s getting harder finding out more about the backstory).

  23. Nick says:

    Yeah, what Man Raised By Puffins said.

  24. MetalCircus says:

    “You look at the gnocchi–Looks the same as the gnocchi that you and Clare had the night before she left you. Rome; the most romantic city in the world and she left you there. Why? Who? Why? You ask yourself the questions with your fists. You tear out your hair and punch your face. You run out of the store and drive home.

    Later you lie in bed, questions tattooed across your body in bruises–no answers, just pain.”

    Oh man, that’s just so beautifully written.

  25. JohanV says:

    I’d never played Aisle before. I stopped when I found the ending that had Clare being with him in the store, all the other ones were so tragic while this was a happy ending and that’s how I want to remember the story!

  26. The Sombrero Kid says:

    remember crash

  27. Thiefsie says:

    remember hospital.

    nice game… wonder how many solutions there are?

  28. Sum0 says:

    Aisle is a mini work of genius. You don’t have to be into the big clunky Infocom text adventures to enjoy IF: alternatives include the beautiful Photopia, a short (15-30 minutes?) piece of IF examining the life of a teenage girl, Alley, from numerous viewpoints and time periods (Pulp Fiction-stylee) which features very little in the way of puzzle solving, but really highlights the unique nature of the genre. Be sure to play it in colour.
    Another that comes to mind is Galatea, an IF centered entirely around a conversation with the titular character, a animate statue of a beautiful woman carved from marble by the ancient Greek sculptor Pygmalion. Rather than the old “use oil-covered chicken with ancient temple”, these sorts of IF really work with the unique capabilities of text rather than being constrained by it (in the way that a novel can do things that a movie can’t), and if you’re a gamer you owe it to yourself to try them.

    …Oy, and how could I forget Shade? Set in your apartment as everything in your life falls to pieces…

  29. Fox1 says:

    Woot! I did a bunch of the sad ones, and then tried “smile.”
    Made me happy, I’m having a better day already.

  30. Dan says:

    Is it wrong that I find throwing pasta at the woman funny?

    Silly actions aside, this is a remarkable work of fiction. That it can convey so much about the protagonist: his past, emotions, thoughts, etc., in such a small amount of text is astonishing. I feel like I know the guy, and sad for him.

  31. TheLordHimself says:

    I found some of the endings quite moving and some just purely hilarious. The quality of the writing is really good.

    My only peeve is the way there is not one story. I would rather only one of the X number of things that involve Clare happen and you have to find that out via trying different commands that reveal little bits.

    But it was still great.

  32. Biggles says:

    “throw gnocchi at woman”

    : )

  33. Joe says:

    My favourite is still

    “Call Clare” – simple, but heartwarming.

  34. Alex says:

    I’ve played Aisle before and loved it, it’s really well-written.
    Also worth a look is Jigsaw, although it’s a bit more “use macguffin on hard-to-find detail” puzzly. Oh, also Rameses.

  35. Joe says:

    “Die” is pretty funny.

  36. Narcolei says:

    –Spoiler Alert–

    If you try to interact with “it” the game will tell you what story you just finished.

    >look at it
    You can’t see “it” (Clare’s illness) at the moment.

    I’ve found four:
    (Clare’s Illness)
    (the accident)
    (pasta) , the breakup with Clare
    (your murder of Clare)

    I can’t get much info about the murder though

  37. aldo says:

    Ah, so not all the ‘rome’ bits are bad memories;
    You remember the meal like this: Clare sat opposite. It was warm but an evening breeze took the uncomfortable edge of the heat. You ordered and the food took a while to come. The wine made your face red. You walked back after the meal via the Spanish Steps. You sat amongst the crowds until the police moved you on so that they could wash the steps ready for the tourists in the morning. You strolled back to the hotel down backstreets, past the four fountain junction; a crossroads with fountains built into the houses on each corner. You knew from experience that the water in them was ice cold, even in the afternoon heat. You ran a finger through the water as you walked past and wiped it on your trousers before taking Clare’s hand in yours. Which seems like a good place to end.

    For the murder, try ‘think about hospital’. not much more info,but a little perspective.

    edit; walkthrough, for those who want it; http://ifarchive.heanet.ie/if-archive/solutions/Aisle.wlk

  38. RotBot says:

    ~more spoilers~
    .
    .
    .
    .
    ‘remember murder’ and ‘remember institution’ are the ones where you apparently kill Clare.

    ‘remember death’ has Clare dying of disease.

  39. Abe says:

    Pushing the shelves is my favorite so far.

    “Shelves. Like little prisons. Tempting you with their goods. Bastard shelves.”

  40. inle says:

    Another “one move” game is Rematch; instead of a multilayered text vignette, it’s an intricate, clever puzzle:
    http://ifdb.tads.org/viewgame?id=22oqimzgf8snv002
    (It’s in TADS format: follow links on the page if you don’t have an interpreter.)

  41. Will Jennings says:

    Wow, I’m thrilled this showed up on RPS. I beta-tested Aisle and remember it fondly. Such a brilliant observation that when you act in a game, you might not just determine what happens, but also what *happened*.

  42. sean w/o an h says:

    SPOILER!!

    .

    .

    .

    for more murder, try “throw sauce at woman” – it’s much less fun than pasta…

  43. MadTinkerer says:

    Most of the endings where you’re a homicidal lunatic (“remember murder” etc.) are rather grim. But “gibber”, “panic”, and “push trolley at woman’s trolley” are pretty hilarious.

    CLASH OF THE METAL BEASTS!

  44. SanguineLobster says:

    The first time I went through this game I remember wondering if “Forget Clare” was supposed to be the ending.

  45. Therum says:

    My favorite IF game is probably Photopia – I wrote about it on Play This Thing, and there was an article on RPS a while back. It’s just…amazing.

    Slouching Towards Bedlam is also really neat.

    I still have a stack of IF games I need to play. This’ll go on that list – I need to be in a “mood” to play IF, and I haven’t gotten in that mood for quite some time.

  46. Satsuz says:

    Most of my favorites have been recommended somewhere in these comments, but you missed one.

    Suveh Nux is an awesome short puzzly-type IF game. Not life changing, but I love it anyway. It’s not too difficult, but I still felt like a genius when I finally solved it.

  47. malkav11 says:

    In general you can’t go far wrong by downloading the various IF Competition games from the life of the competition and playing at least the first five or ten. The top three in particular are nearly always amazing.

    Specifically excellent authors include Adam Cadre, Emily Short, Andrew Plotkin (aka zarf), Graham Nelson (developer of the Inform IF language), arguably Robb Sherwin (whose games tend to provoke violent reactions one way or the other)… and doubtless others that I can’t currently remember.

  48. Dorian Cornelius Jasper says:

    I am still trying to figure out what’s going on. There’s Rome Clare, Market Clare, and Home Clare! Yeesh.

    EDIT: Waitaminute! Try smiling.

  49. Cossak says:

    calling security is a pretty good one, in terms of story though, asking the woman her name is interesting. Great game, thanks.

  50. john says:

    I’m a bad person for trying this, but ‘rape woman’ and ‘murder woman’ are both options.

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