The Pawn: not good, but somehow fascinating
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 »
Games where the language is the puzzle
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 »
A golem-populated SF city
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 »
Games from the Spring Thing festival
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 »
A Frenchman in a bathtub
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 »
Exploring a decade's work
“Hello,” he adds, a moment later. “I think I’ve found the way in. A small metal door with a fiendish puzzle 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 »
Recommended time-travel IF games
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 »