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 »
costumes and disguises
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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Two IF works on Kickstarter
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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Choices at the end of time
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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An attempt to make commercial parser IF viable
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 »
Trends and recommendations
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 »