I’ve been taking a look at some of the games in the 17th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition and though I’m not going to refer to these as “the cream of the crop”, having not harvested the entire crop yet, they should fulfill a variety of your text-based needs. With storytelling in games high on the agenda today, it’s a particularly interesting moment to look at the different ways narrative can be explored through interactive prose. Far from fetch quests and attempts to second-guess a limited vocabulary, interactive fiction at its best can allow a reader-player to discover stories in all kinds of interesting ways. This way to words about words.
I’m going to talk about The Play first, which has been getting good press elsewhere and deservedly so. Casting the player as the director of a rather shambolic theatrical production, it’s a character piece that tasks you with handling a cast who are believable, amusing and frustrating. There’s no need to hammer away at your keyboard either because the whole thing takes place through hyperlinks. Told you there’s no need to second-guess the game’s vocabulary, not in this day and age, although admittedly you’ll be doing a bit of that with some of the later entries. Oh, and you can play it right in your browser by clicking here.
The Binary is another hyperlink-based entry and possibly my favourite of the ones I’ve played so far. I won’t say too much because understanding the way the story is uncovered is a large part of the enjoyment. It’s another you can play in your browser and there’s also a prequel, Vicious Cycles, which I’d recommend playing first. They are conceptually and narratively linked though not necessarily sequential, so there’s no harm in playing The Binary first but it’s a slicker experience than the earlier game and I always prefer to go from old to new so as not to deslick my experiences. Both games are short, mere glimpses really, but the nature of the telling acknowledges and defies the apparent brevity of the scenario. Clever.
To round off what I’ve enjoyed so far, two games that I’m going to loosely link to my favourite game of last week, The Binding of Isaac. First up, and the most traditional of the entries I’m going to discuss, is Cana According to Micah, a “translation” of the biblical story in which water was turned to wine in order to jolly along a wedding. Unlike The Binding of Isaac’s rather loose poo-besmirched take on Biblical events, this is accurate enough to be a study as well as a retelling of the Marriage at Cana. There’s some interesting character work and though there is jocularity it seems a faithful exploration.
And then there’s Kerkerkruip, which goes and gets a load of roguelike in the interactive fiction pot. I can’t tell if it has potential for enjoyment or if it’s more of an experiment than an experience. I’d probably have to play a lot more. The developer has lots of detailed development diaries over here that are worth a look if you’re interested in seeing how something like this comes into being. It’s the only one you can’t play online, so you’ll need the .gblorb file from here and an interpreter from here. If you really want to get to grips with Kerkerkruip, you’re well-advised to look at this beginner’s guide as well.
So, we’re done here then? Not quite.
Look, it’s a link to Aisle, as well as Alec’s article about it from years ago. Still one of my favourite explorations of interactive storytelling, seemingly so simple yet capable of telling so many stories that are distorted and/or clarified by the nature of the medium.