Posts Tagged ‘IF Only’

IF Only: Magnetic Scrolls In Your Browser

Magnetic Scripts website

Starting with The Pawn in 1985, Magnetic Scrolls wrote some very successful text adventures. I missed them the first time around. I was strictly an Infocom and Scott Adams player, tied to games released for the popular US platforms. Magnetic Scrolls started out on the Sinclair QL, then moved to Atari and Amiga versions. I don’t think I even heard of Magnetic Scrolls in the 80s. By the time I became aware of them as a piece of IF history, it was difficult to get a legitimate copy. Read the rest of this entry »

IF Only: Games of linguistic experimentation

cover of Nord and Bert

Interactive fiction, especially parser interactive fiction, has a tradition of wordplay games: pieces where you manipulate spellings, untangle anagrams, and solve puzzles using common proverbs and idioms.

Infocom’s Nord and Bert Couldn’t Make Head or Tail of It went to town with these concepts, with different game sections devoted to different types of pun and spoonerism. In Simon Christiansen’s PataNoir, you resolve all the puzzles by interacting with items that appear in the game’s copious metaphorical vocabulary. Ad Verbum (Nick Montfort) uses spelling as a source of constraints, as in the room where you can only use words beginning with a particular letter. Roger Firth’s Letters from Home is an interactive crossword where the player wanders an old house looking for items that sound like letters of the alphabet (tea -> T, of course) in order to deploy them in a letter puzzle. The prolific Andrew Schultz has made wordplay and encryption games the main subject of his work.

But there’s another category of games-about-words that don’t quite qualify as wordplay in the same sense, but that make heavy use of IF’s textual nature all the same. These are games where you’re actually working out a language, or at least an encryption, as you play; learning and then deploying a new vocabulary and possibly a new syntax as well. Read the rest of this entry »

IF Only: Alcyone on Kickstarter

Logo and banner from Alcyone

Fresh on Kickstarter is a science fiction IF piece called Alcyone: The Last City. A look at the screenshots will suggest something familiar to dedicated IF fans: it looks a lot like StoryNexus, the Failbetter engine that powers both Fallen London and (behind the scenes) Sunless Sea/Sunless Skies. Read the rest of this entry »

IF Only: Games from Spring Thing 2017

cover from Ishmael

Spring Thing is a yearly festival for interactive fiction, with two sections: the Main Festival, where the games are in competition and anyone may vote for a favorite; and the Back Garden, for unranked games that the authors wanted to share but not receive a ranking. This somewhat unusual structure means that the Back Garden has become an attractor for games that might not be well suited to a traditional competition: experiments, academic projects, multimedia-heavy efforts, and samplers of unfinished work. The games are freshly available this year, and here’s a sampling: Read the rest of this entry »

IF Only: Le Reprobateur is a refreshing, multimedia story

screenshot from Le Reprobateur

Le Réprobateur is an extremely unusual piece of French multimedia IF. It is a personal favorite of mine — so odd, so unlike anything else out there — but for the past few years it has been difficult to recommend to people, because it was not only commercial, but also unreliable about installation. (At least, so reported the friends who tried to play it.) But Le Réprobateur‘s author François Coulon has just re-released it, for free, in a browser-accessible format, and now anyone can get at it. The browser version is a tiny bit less elegant here and there than the original presentation, but what you get in exchange is something that actually functions on a modern computer. Read the rest of this entry »

IF Only: The Works of CEJ Pacian

Weird City cover slice

“Hello,” he adds, a moment later. “I think I’ve found the way in. A small metal door with a fiendish puzzle lock.”

>x lock
There are a large number of small moving parts.

“Yes, quite fiendish indeed,” Peyton says. “And very intricate.”

He draws back a foot and then kicks the door hard. The puzzle lock comes apart with a twang. “Too intricate for its intended purpose, really. Let’s head down when you’re ready.” — Love, Hate, and the Mysterious Ocean Tower

CEJ Pacian is a versatile and prolific IF author, writing with many different tools, mechanics, story lengths and genres. Playing through Pacian’s catalog, I get the sense of an author impatient with intricate puzzle locks that get in the way of story; an author constantly looking for new ways to design around the conventional limits and boundaries of text adventures. Read the rest of this entry »

IF Only: A Question of When

Fifteen Minutes Cover Clip

IF time travel games come in several flavors. There’s the grand exploration flavor, where you’re visiting different historical eras and checking out the set-pieces, but different eras don’t really affect one another much. Occasionally they’ll use paradoxes as a threat — you have to accomplish A and not B, or else you’ll throw off the timeline! — but usually they don’t do too many strange things with causality.

The commercial IF era produced several good pieces like this; Trinity and TimeQuest are probably the best regarded of that set. There’s L. Ross Raszewski’s Moments Out of Time, which is about exploring a particular fictional environment with foreknowledge of how it’s all going to end. And while the puzzle design is now considered a little unfair in spots, Neil deMause’s Lost New York is fascinated with its city as a historical site.

Then there are the games where the time-travel aspect deeply affects gameplay. Time travel mechanics can be particularly rich at conveying consequence and outcome, because you can hop back and forth, tinkering with your decisions and seeing all the different ways things might have worked out. And text as a medium can often afford to depict a wide range of wildly varied settings and outcomes, since no one’s modeling or animation budget is being strained to portray these possibilities. Here are some of the best. Read the rest of this entry »

IF Only: dressed for the party

Plundered Hearts cover slice

Plundered Hearts (Amy Briggs/Infocom, 1987) was Infocom’s one and only romance. It was also very much ahead of its time. Emulating the conventions of romance meant offering richer non-player characters, and spending more interaction time with them. There was a definite plot, not just a sequence of puzzles in an underpopulated landscape. There were set scenes where you could be clever and turn the tables on your enemies. There were multiple possible endings, depending on whether you wanted to give your heart to the sexy pirate after all.

Not only that, but it was easy enough to complete, even before we all knew how to find walkthroughs on the internet. When I got to Plundered Hearts as a teenager, I’d been playing Infocom and Scott Adams games since the age of six, without ever seeing the end of a single one. This was the first text adventure I ever actually finished.

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IF Only: Thaumistry and Southern Monsters on Kickstarter

Southern Monsters Screenshot

Kevin Snow’s work is notable for drawing strongly from specific cultures and folklore traditions. Snow’s two previous works, Domovoi and Beneath Floes, take on folk tales from Slavic and Inuit culture respectively. For Beneath Floes, he collaborated with the Nunavut-based game studio Pinnguaq (Singuistics, Qalupalik), which is why the game is also available in Inuktitut.

Both Domovoi and Beneath Floes deploy illustration as well as text; both show a taste for the uncanny as opposed to the simply horrific. Beneath Floes overlaps the supernatural threat and the threat that comes from our own failings and guilt; and while I enjoyed Domovoi, I thought Beneath Floes was more mature, more complex, and better written.

Now Southern Monsters promises to be Kevin’s biggest and most personal work yet, and it’s on Kickstarter and Steam Greenlight.

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IF Only: Apocalypse Eve

Prospero Cover Clip

Apocalypse is a popular topic of IF. Brian Moriarty’s Trinity explored the threat of nuclear annihilation, back in 1986; Phantom Williams’ 500 Apocalypses got several mentions here last year, from me and from Philippa Warr. Max Kreminski’s Epitaph takes a more Spore-like approach, as you’re allowed to try to nurture procedurally generated civilizations to survive longer than a few turns, and instead (most likely) rack up an impressive collection of failures.

Whatever kind of apocalypse you’re trying to model, interactive fiction probably has something to offer. Here are some of the most interesting.

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IF Only: Remembering Textfyre

Shadow in the Cathedral Cover

For quite a lot of the 2000s, IF enthusiasts hoped for a future in which parser IF would become commercially viable again. There were various theories about how to do that, but one company made a more serious attempt than most. Dave Cornelson put together Textfyre, a company that would create interactive fiction aimed at roughly middle school-aged children. The games would have a custom interface that resembled a book, and they’d be released as parts of a series, to encourage repeat sales. There would be handmade maps and artwork, so that these games would feel like quality products. And they’d sell for a serious price, $25 each. Read the rest of this entry »

IF Only: Looking back at 2016 in Interactive Fiction

Vesp Screenshot

We have, at last, reached the end of 2016. I’m not going to do a top-ten list — both because a lot of the games I might put on this list are things I’ve already covered elsewhere in previous columns, and because I think some of the most interesting things to happen in 2016 were about trends rather than single hits. But here are a few highlights of the year past. Read the rest of this entry »

IF Only: What to watch for

Screenshot of Interactive Fiction Database

Most of my columns look at a particular author, game, style, or theme in IF that you might be interested in trying out. But if you’re new to interactive fiction entirely and want to branch out into finding new work of your own, where would you look? Here’s a quick tour of some interesting things to look at and watch for.

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IF Only: The Works of Steph Cherrywell

Cover art for Jacqueline Jungle Queen

Steph Cherrywell is the creator of web comics (not necessarily safe for work) and graphic novels, such as Pepper Penwell and the Land Creature of Monster Lake. She is also one of the standout creators of comedy parser IF from the past couple of years, carrying over into interactive fiction her skill as an illustrator and her taste for riffing on naive adventure stories.

In Jacqueline, Jungle Queen (parser, Quest 5), the eponymous heroine is a spunky reporter who winds up stranded in the jungle and needing to explore her way to freedom. It’s available to play online. The online version offers a self-updating map, a permanent inventory list, and some other nice goodies. Just be aware that the website times out if you leave it alone for too long, so don’t expect to leave the game half-finished in a tab and come back the next day.

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IF Only: Bears and Shoes

Cover art for Bear Dad

IF Comp 2016 is still running as I write this — though by the time you read it, we’ll be down to the final days. Most years recently, I’ve been certain what game was going to win by this point in the process. This year, I truly don’t know. Partly, that’s because the crop is so very large. With nearly 60 entrants in the pool, there are still a couple of games I haven’t even had a chance to look at at all. But partly it’s also just a wildly diverse group of games and stories, trying very different things. How to compare the grief-filled short choice-based memoir Ash with the story-sparse parser-based logic puzzle that is Inside the Facility?

Still, I have a few more recommendations from this year’s collection. Read the rest of this entry »

IF Only: All About The Setting

Banner image for IF Comp

IF Comp 2016 continues to run, with a diverse range of fascinating games. And there’s still time for you to play and judge five of them if you wish!

This week, I’m taking a look at some Comp pieces that are particularly rich in setting. Letting the player explore a place deeply and really get to know it has always been one of the strengths of interactive fiction, and the XYZZY Award for Best Setting is hotly contested most years.

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IF Only: Games of Mystery and Discovery from IF Comp 2016

Banner image for IF Comp

IF Comp 2016 is still running, and I’m back to suggest a few more possible highlights if you’re interested in trying out the games. I am not going to have a chance to cover nearly all of the 58 entrants in this column, though, so I strongly encourage you to check out the site, pick out some games that interest you, and possibly even vote. Voting is open to anyone who has played at least five entries.

This time I’m looking at a few of this year’s IF Comp games that — in very different ways — invite the player to explore, discover and piece together a narrative.

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IF Only: IF Comp 2016

Banner image for IF Comp

My friends: IF Comp 2016 is now open.

If you’re new to interactive fiction, you may not be familiar with the IF community calendar, so let me quickly explain why you’ve arrived at the best time of year.

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IF Only: The Works Of Ryan Veeder

Screenshot of Winter Storm Draco

There are a handful of IF authors whose work is consistent and satisfying, who repeatedly and frequently release things their fans rush to play. Andrew Schultz turns out a wordplay puzzle game or two a year. Caelyn Sandel wrote a serialized Twine story called Bloom, with a steady supply of new installments. And then there’s Ryan Veeder, a master of short parser games who produces several a year, often outside of any competition setting.

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IF Only: Alien Life

Axolotl Screenshot

Stories about alien life raise interesting questions about what humans are, and whether there’s any other way we could be; about communication between very disparate cultures, and whether it’s even possible; about extremely alternate perspectives on earthly life. If you also like these stories, this week I have four pieces of IF about alien life forms to suggest:

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