Posts Tagged ‘simon christiansen’

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: 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: What Will You, The Detective, Do Next?

Cropped box cover image for Deadline

The first piece of interactive fiction I ever played was Infocom’s locked-room murder mystery Deadline. With a plot that turned on embezzlement and unfaithfulness, not to mention a fiendishly unforgiving set of scheduling puzzles, this is not the game I myself would recommend for a six-year-old. But I suppose my parents figured it wouldn’t do me any harm, and it left me with a long-term affection for interactive mysteries.

The mystery is a natural fit for interactive fiction. The player has a clear goal. The focus of the story is usually firmly on past rather than present events. Locks, ciphers, and other standard puzzles feel at home in the genre. So many classic mysteries are essentially logic problems in fancy dress, so it’s not a great stretch to do the same thing in game form. (In fact, here’s Mattie Brice on why murder mystery writing can teach us about narrative game design in general.)

So if you have a taste for classic whodunnit genres rendered interactive, here are some highlights dating from 1995 to 2016.

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IF Only: Hadean Lands Will Teach You Alchemy

Cropped cover image for Hadean Lands

Back when Kickstarter was relatively young, Andrew Plotkin proved that there was some money in interactive fiction by raising more than $30,000 to develop Hadean Lands. The game concerned the crash of a starship driven by alchemy, one in which the player would have to complete various rituals in order to get the ship moving again.

In full disclosure, I backed the game in its crowdfunding stage, and later helped to beta-test it. But I’m not alone in thinking Hadean Lands is one of the most extraordinary pieces of parser IF ever written, both as a technical achievement and as a piece of escalating puzzle design. Indeed, almost the first response when I started this column was a plea that I would cover Hadean Lands as soon as possible.

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