ISSUE #57 - February 18, 2010

The Society for the Promotion of Adventure Games

Edited by Jimmy Maher
February 18, 2010

SPAG #57
is copyright (c) 2010 by Jimmy Maher.
Authors of reviews and articles retain the rights to their contributions.

All email addresses are spamblocked -- replace the name of our magazine with the traditional 'at' sign.

IF News

IF at PAX East: Intrepid Journalist Needed!

Writing IF in a Second Language by Marius Müller

Interviews with the Top Finishers of IF Comp 2009:
    Eric Eve, Author of Snowquest
    Sarah Morayati, Author of Broken Legs
    Ben Collins Sussman and Jack Welch, Authors of Rover's Day Out Halloween Contest Reviews:
    The Lighthouse
    Love is as Powerful as Death, Jealousy is as Cruel as the Grave

Other Game Reviews:
    Ghost Town
    In the Rye Episode 1: Lots of Trouble
    My Uncle George
    The Quaking of WarCrysis 3: Resistance of Black Doom
    The Shadow in the Cathedral
    Walker and Silhouette


Appropriately enough in light of the ongoing Jay Is Games Casual IF Competition, I recently read the new book from Jesper Juul, A Casual Revolution. Subtitled "Reinventing Video Games and Their Players," Juul's book argues that the meteoric rise in popularity in the last five years of sites such as Big Fish Games, Sandlot Games, and, yes, Jay Is Games, as well as the appearance of more socially-oriented console games such as the Guitar Hero series, represent a sea change in the way that videogames are perceived by mainstream culture. This is, in short, the moment when videogames come out of the smelly basements of the hardcore and take their place alongside music and television as normal, everyday entertainments.

Although I certainly don't agree with everything he's written over the years, Juul is always a thoughtful, careful scholar, and he makes a pretty good argument for his case here, even if said case struck me as more of a summing up of the developing conventional wisdom about casual gaming than a bold new thesis. His historical argument is that videogames spent their first several decades not only growing in complexity and artistry, but also growing more and more alienating to those who were not already aware of their conventions, and who lacked the time or motivation to learn said conventions; in other words, the vast majority of the general population. He points to articles that followed Pac-Man's 1981 debut, for instance, that already found it "surprising" how much that game, unlike most, appealed to women and non-arcade rats. My biggest a-ha moment came early in the book, when Juul states that instead of trying to make their games appealing and accessible to a broader range of players, videogame makers kept chasing after the already converted, whom they courted through better and better graphics. The Nintendo Wii, he notes, is by far the least impressive graphically and technologically of the three big players of the current console generation, yet it has been not only the most commercially successful but also the most zeitgeist-changing.

It's a compelling argument, although I wish Juul had taken it further to add a bit more heft to this rather slight (and slightly repetitive) book. It seems to me that many of the classics of the 1980's and early 1990's, games like Archon, Defender of the Crown, and The Fool's Errand, were casual games in form if not in label, being playable in short bursts and having that elusive "easy to learn, hard to master" quality of play. I would have liked to see Juul position the current casual game scene more solidly as a reaction to the dismaying straitening of hardcore videogames into a handful of genres and a handful of juvenile, un-subtle, and always depressingly ultra-violent storylines. But then again, casual games have their fair share of soulless matching tile and hidden object clones, and seem as terrified to venture away from their cute and perky fictions as mainstream games are from their adolescent power fantasies. Perhaps Juul did not want to cast too many stones inside that particular glass house.

But how, you may be asking, does all of this apply to IF? Well, that's exactly the question I was asking myself as I read, for with IF's recent exposure on Jay Is Games many have begun to ask whether it might find a place with the communities of casual players, communities that certainly dwarf our own in numbers. I'm also prompted to write on this subject by an unfortunately dismissive comment I made recently on, a comment that I believe had some truth to it but that is certainly deserving of further qualification. Juul presents five qualities which he believes to be intrinsic to the current casual game phenomenon. I thought it might be useful to ask how IF matches with each of these qualities.

Casual games are possessed of positive fictions that often take place in (a cartoon-ized version of) the everyday world; a bakery or a golf course, for instance. Hardcore games, on the other hand, are possessed of dark, "epic" stories generally involving orcs, space marines, vampires, or some combination thereof. And IF is all over the map here. We have our share of lighthearted games, but we also have our share of orcs, space marines, and vampires. More excitingly, we also have games that fit into none of these categories, games with the sort of literary and thematic depth that both mainstream and casual games shy away from. So, then, a subset of IF fits the model of of casual gaming fiction, but much does not. I would hate to see us lose that portion which does not in some quest to satisfy the Jay Is Games audience. (Not that I think this is happening or likely to happen.)

Casual games are possessed of simple, straightforward interfaces that make them easy to pick up and play with minimal or nonexistent instruction. Hardcore games present a bewildering array of controls. Like most of the general population, these pretty much stop me at the gate any time I try to play a modern FPS or RTS game; I simply can't be bothered. And what of IF? Well, this subject has provoked endless theorizing over the last three decades. On the one hand, IF's interface is conceptually ridiculously simple: type what you want to do next. In practice, though, we all know that things are not so straightforward in even the most polished effort. Can we find a way to introduce our players to IF conventions without asking that they read a lengthy ABOUT text? I don't know, but I don't think anyone has quite gotten there yet. As long as the status quo persists, this will remain a huge barrier to acceptance with casual gamers. Even the idea of a tutorial game that we ask everyone to play first would seem problematic, for that throws us back to the hardcore model of expecting that our players be familiar with the conventions of our genre before they play our game. It's not that those conventions are so terribly complicated; indeed, I believe their complexity is often overstated in discussions within the community. Certainly the interface complexity of a Blue Lacuna is nothing in comparison with a hardcore favorite like Mass Effect 2. (Thematic complexity is of course another kettle of fish entirely.) It's rather that the player has to be motivated to spend an hour or so learning those conventions. 

Casual game are easily interruptible, load quickly, multitask politely on the desktop with other applications, can be paused and saved at virtually any point, and are amenable to being played for either a few minutes on a coffee break or for hours at a time. IF games possess these qualities as well, so no worries here. Hardcore games, meanwhile, relentlessly expand in size and complexity from year to year, sufficient to always make getting into and out of them as difficult and time-consuming on our modern multi-gigahertz machines as it was on my old Amiga 500.

Casual games minimize frustration, choosing to reward success rather than punish failure. Hardcore games, with their limited save points and brick wall difficulty curves, often do the opposite. As Juul is careful to point out, this does not mean that casual games are always easy. As someone who once spent a substantial portion of his free time (not to mention time wherein I should have been productive) trying to beat the final level of Zuma, I can certainly attest to this. Indeed, in his interviews with casual players Juul somewhat surprisingly found that more are likely to quit playing a game because it is too easy than because it is too hard. Casual games do, however, give their players a fighting chance, introducing complexity and ramping up the difficulty only gradually. And, perhaps more importantly, they minimize the tedium; once a player has completed that difficult level, for instance, she will never have to play it again unless she wants to. Once upon a time, IF epitomized the hardcore gaming ethic, being littered with difficult, often illogical puzzles, not to mention endless battles with the parser and the geography. Every player who remembers the supposed "golden age" of the 1980's can tell stories of playing for days and days, reaching the end... and finding she forgot to do something back on the fifth turn, making the game unwinnable. There are still too many games like that today, of course, but the second approach that Victor Gijsbers described in SPAG's last issue is quickly becoming conventional wisdom for many of us. It's not only an approach that aligns us more squarely with the casual gaming model, but it's also an approach that I believe is simply essential if IF is to grow as a form of gaming and/or a form of literature. Viva la revolution.

Finally, like the best hardcore games a good casual game has the quality of "juiciness," meaning that virtually every action the player takes is rewarded with interesting, appropriate feedback. Again, one could never describe IF of the golden age as juicy, but we're getting better all the time. Just providing descriptions for all scenery objects is a big step, a step that Inform 7 in particular seems to have greatly encouraged, as even untested, substandard games written in that language often describe their worlds in relatively complete fashions. Context-specific failure messages in lieu of such generic text adventure yawners as "Violence isn't the answer to this one" is another big step, one that fewer take but most of the best games do. Through such error messages we as authors can actually teach the player about his character and the storyworld in a natural, non-frustrating way. Moving forward, I would like to see more flexibility in accepting alternate ways of accomplishing things. If the player tries something reasonable to his character and his situation, it should either work or give him an interesting, plausible reason why it doesn't. This means that if I am carrying an ax with me I should not have to solve a sliding blocks puzzle to open the door in front of me. Or, if I do, the door better be made from steel. And whatever you do, don't tell me that "Violence isn't the answer to this one."

So, then, the best of modern IF conforms quite well to qualities three through five. Some but by no means all conforms to quality one, and quality two remains problematic. And what do I think of all this? Well, I think that IF shares many qualities with casual games, perhaps even more than it does with hardcore games, but it also remains in many respects more demanding of its player than the typical casual effort. This is not entirely a bad thing. Still, we should continue to strive to get even better at qualities three through five, for I believe these to be unambiguous positives. We should continue to experiment with new ways of introducing IF conventions to newcomers, in the hope of finally stumbling upon something that truly works. And we should welcome any casual gaming fans that embrace IF, but we should not lose our soul in the process. I firmly believe that IF as a form has the potential to say more than Cake Mania; we should celebrate that potential. Perhaps we can even convince the Jay Is Games folks to give more substantial IF a try after we lure them in with these one-room "escape" games. Regardless, and while we should pursue the casual gamers where appropriate, we should also keep looking for ways to reach another important group who might appreciate what we have to offer even more: readers. 

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Jay Is Games IF Competition Casual gaming site Jay Is Games is running a competition for one-room or at least snack-sized IF with a theme of "Escape!" It's attracted no fewer than 30 entries, including some big community names as well as plenty of newcomers. All are available now for download or browser-based play. You can also comment and share entries directly from the website. (Other competition organizers may want to take note...) This is a very important development in the ongoing quest to gain some more exposure for IF outside of, well, places like this. SPAG's next issue will feature reviews of all 30 games.

One Room Game Comp 2010

Franceso Cordella is running another One Room Game Comp for games that consist of, you guessed it, just a single location. Entries in English, Italian, or any other language are welcome. The deadline for submitting for games is March 6, 2010 -- perhaps not enough time to develop something from scratch, but if you have anything in the oven that might suit...

Spring Thing 2010
And Greg Boettcher is running another Spring Thing this year, primarily for (polar opposite alert) longer works of IF of the sort that don't really fit well into the other, more snack-sized competitions. Send him your intent to enter by March 1, and your finished game by March 31. And Greg could always use some help with prize donations.

Post-Comp Comp
Every year there are plenty of promising games to be found in the big annual Comp that are damaged by bugs, a questionable design choice or two, or their authors simply running out of time. Sarah Morayati is running a new Comp for some of those games -- as well as some that many of us thought were pretty nifty just as they were -- to have a second go-round. You have until February 28 to replay and re-judge The Believable Adventures of an Invisible Man, Byzantine Perspective, Rover's Day Out, Snowquest, and Yon Astounding Castle! of some sort. Rank them -- in order of most improved, not absolute quality -- from first to fifth and send your votes to Sarah at sarahcryst SP@G Obviously you need to have played them the first time around to participate.

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IF at PAX East: Intrepid Journalist Needed!

As many of you know already, IF will have a significant presence at the upcoming PAX East gaming convention to be held March 26 through March 28 in Boston. Jason Scott will be premiering his long in-progress and much anticipated documentary on IF, Get Lamp, and J. Robinson Wheeler, Robb Sherwin, Aaron Reed, Emily Short, and Andrew Plotkin will be participating in a panel discussion on "Storytelling in the World of Interactive Fiction." Also, Andrew Plotkin has arranged for a "People's Republic of Interactive Fiction Hospitality Suite" at the Back Bay Hilton, wherein will take place some more informal panel discussions as well as plenty of opportunity for socializing and evangelizing to curious newcomers. All told, it could add up to the most significant mainstream gaming exposure IF has received since the early 1990's. I'd love to be there myself, and I'd love to cover it in SPAG. Unfortunately, I can't do either, due to having expatriated myself to Denmark last year. That's why I need you.

If you are going to PAX East, and would be willing to write about the experience for SPAG, please contact me. While you certainly don't have to limit your activities at the convention to only those that are IF-related, I would like firsthand reports from the big panel discussion and the film premiere, as well as a general slice of the life in the suite. Some photographs would be wonderful as well. So, aspiring IF photojournalists, here is your opportunity. You would be doing a wonderful service to SPAG and to IF in documenting this important -- nay, historic -- coming out party.

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Writing IF in a Second Language by Marius Müller  (marius.ts.mueller SP@G

“If you can read this, I am death”

I actually started to really learn English because of a videogame. Although it's true that I’ve had had English in school from 3rd grade or so, it never really sparked my interest; it was all about grammar, vocabulary, and stories of Bob and his cat which was stuck up the tree, at which point  he _____(have) to get it down. Then, my parents got their first PC. Sad but true, I didn’t play my first IF from tape or on a college mainframe; I was born in the 80s. Our computer was a 386, and it ran Windows 3.1. A colleague of my father gave him some floppies: mostly office software, some games. One of the the latter was Space Quest II, an early Sierra game featuring graphics but still heavily text-based.  Only when I replayed it years later did I see the humor, the whole wackiness of the situation, the silliness and references. Eleven-year-old me saw a very scary sci-fi adventure tale of a wondrous new planet, ugly monsters, life and death. I was intrigued; I was thrilled. Scared witless, I played for hours on end. Speaking of witless, the game was, of course, in English, which  explains why I didn’t get the  humor, couldn’t get many things to work, and was generally pretty clueless. (The point where I was stuck the longest was a maze, though.  Grrr, mazes.)

My interest in the English language was rekindled in high school. I chose English as an Abiturfach (something resembling an A-level course.)
To help with my skills, a friend gave me some books, mostly Pratchett, in English, and so my journey began. DVD's started to become big, and another friend and I started watching the English language tracks to improve our ear for the language (and also as a weak excuse to keep ourselves from doing some real studying.)

Then one day, I was unenthusiastically browsing a German Cthulhu forum where they talked about Mythos-based games. One of the games linked to was Michael Gentry's Anchorhead. I was intrigued; I was thrilled. As with Space Quest, I had my Oxford Advanced Learners on my lap at all times. I was hooked on IF. I fondly remember having a crack at cave crawls, puzzlefests, Speed-IF's, quite amazing at the effort and talent that went into so many games. The broadness of perspectives, the cleverness of the writing, humor that works, overrated established authors. How couldn't I be?

However, playing these games have showed me the limits of my grasp of English quite painfully. In books or movies, you can skip words or phrases you don’t understand. In IF, it is, of course, never that easy. Something you don’t quite get might contain a hint you need. A message you brush off as atmospheric might be important, and of course, the whole mood of a piece might be important to understanding it. This has the very odd effect that sometimes games which are written in plain, simple English are easier to understand for me than the better-written ones. For instance, I didn't really understand Broken Legs because the writing is too good. The innovative descriptions, the whole subtlety and ambiguity of is amazing. And way over my head. 

Eventually I reached the point where I wanted to write a game myself. At the time, Inform 7 had just gone public beta, and as I had virtually no programming background, the natural language aspect intrigued me, and I stuck with it. I  decided to participate in the 2006 IntroComp with a game called Jack in the Box (a conscious wordplay, in case you're wondering; it's about a man called Jack who enters a magic box, not they toy or the food chain). I hope that one day enough time will have passed  so  I can say, “Well, I was young...” Boy, what a mess this game is. Among the faults my game has (just from being a first game), there are some language issues that make me cringe today. Spelling, grammar, it all is an utter mess. Misuse of similes, misplaced words,  missing synonyms. (The quote that began this article is from a letter in the game.)

While you might argue that you don’t need to write in a second language to mess up a game this badly, one interesting error is the use of “headlight” instead of “skylight.” This is no oversight – I didn't look up the wrong word or anything. I was convinced a headlight is a small window, high on a wall. (Maybe because it's overhead?) And didn't bother to check. Did I mention Jack in the Box had next to no beta-testing?

Language errors  are blaringly obvious, but once you get past the beginner's struggles, there are other more subtle problems. Call them cultural. These especially apply to games which are set in the US, but even a game set in a generic contemporary city or country  may suffer problems.  Do you use the metric system, or imperial units? What kind of money? Do you mention supermarket chains, or more generally, brand names? (I don't mean product placement such as easily recognizable things like Kleenex.) Do you try to emulate an accent or dialect? My giddy aunt, that can be a tough one, me old china.

Let's say you see those problems and decide to write a classic cave crawl instead. You still have atmosphere to worry about. For example, suppose there is a pond. You might give its size (converting the metric to imperial units), but that is not very evocative. You want to say it's “trüb”. Off you go looking for the English word. A German-English online dictionary gives “caliginous / cheerless / cloudy / dingy / dreary / dull / hazy / mirthless / muddy / turbid(ly) / unclear.” It can be complicated enough to find the word that's technically right; To find the one that conveys the mood  you're aiming for... that's often a tough one. (I would've gone for murky, by the way.)

Finally, if you use Inform 7 as a programming tool, we come full circle to the problem of understanding. The IDE uses phrases very similar to natural language, and easy ones at that, so no problems there. The problem is understanding the manual.  First, there is the language barrier, then there is the technical aspect. I did very little programming before I joined the IF community, and I often find it hard to understand the manual. This can make writing in a second language quite the chore for non-natives. You have to translate the manual in your head, then understand it, apply it, code, find decent (or at least understandable) text for your descriptions, and then hope you didn't accidentally or unknowingly fall  for any of the trappings mentioned above. Maybe this is different for other programming languages that don't depend on natural language so much. A complaint often aimed at Inform 7 is that people think it understands more than it does- come to think of it, that may be a problem for native speakers, too.

In conclusion, the above may make the endeavor seem pretty wearisome (taxing? strenuous? a handful?). Yes, yes it is, like carving something out of stone with a chisel two sizes too small. Why do it? Why not be content with playing English games or writing games in my mother tongue?
Technicalities aside (Inform 7 is very easy to learn, as opposed to most German languages until recently), I blame the Internet. I like the thought that people all over the world will play your games and maybe even enjoy them. My last game had testers from Finland to Cambodia.

What it really boils down to is this: if you're reading this, I'm sure you're well aware of how immersive Interactive Fiction can be (much more so than most static fiction) and all of its thrills, how much fun it is to discuss, the triumph of finally being able to code that car chase or releasing a game, the anticipation of new transcripts or reviews, the glorious wreckage of your brain as you think up inspired XYZZY responses, or why  “>JUMP” works while the PC is hanging from a cliff. I wouldn't want to miss it for the world, and on top of this, hey, I learn some more English.

(Marius would like to thank Jonathan Blask and J. Robinson Wheeler for their help with, you guessed it, cleaning up his English in this article.)

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Interviews with the Top Finishers of IF Comp 2009

As usual at this time of year, I am proud to present interviews with the authors of the top three games from the recently concluded IF Competition. Thanks go to all of them for taking the time answer my questions so thoughtfully.

Eric Eve, Author of Snowquest

SPAG: As a perennial top finisher in the Comp, you're no stranger to regular SPAG readers at this point. I understand, though, that you've been elected to the office of "Assessor" at Oxford for the upcoming academic year. Perhaps you could explain to those of us not versed in the vagaries of the English university system exactly what that means...

Eric: So far as I know the office of Assessor is unique to Oxford University. Each year three ‘ordinary’ academics are elected by their respective colleges to the offices of Senior Proctor, Junior Proctor and Assessor (each college taking their turn on a prearranged rota). The office of Proctor dates back to the thirteenth century, but that of Assessor is somewhat more recent, having evolved out of a role first created in 1960. Collectively the Proctors and Assessor act as representatives of Congregation (the body of all teaching members of the University, who in Oxford have ultimate sovereignty over the university) to keep watch on the administration (largely by attending dozens of University committee meetings, by membership of the University Council, and through regular meetings with the Vice-Chancellor). The Proctors also have a number of ceremonial functions (particularly at degree ceremonies) and a responsibility for student discipline and the conduct of university examinations, while the Assessor has particular responsibility for student welfare and funding. 

While acting in their official capacity the Proctors and Assessor are distinguished by wearing a dark suit with white shirt, white bow tie and bands.

SPAG: When we spoke at around this time a year ago, you had just had a new book published, The Healer from Nazareth: Jesus' Miracles in Historical Context. How has its reception been since?

Eric: I haven’t exactly been overwhelmed with feedback on it yet, but the reviews I’ve seen so far have been very favourable, and I now have another book contract from the same publisher (for a book about the oral tradition behind the Gospels).

SPAG: Do you have any personal contact with another Oxford academic who has made a minor contribution or two to IF, Graham Nelson?

Eric: I’ve not had a great deal of personal contact with him, but we have met for lunch a couple of times.

SPAG: But we are actually here to discuss IF, and, more specifically, your entry this year, Snowquest. You mention in your notes to that game that you decided to force yourself to work within the confines of the .z8 format rather than allowing yourself the expansive luxury of Glulx, in the hopes of producing an end result that was leaner and more focused than some of your earlier efforts. How do you feel about this decision in retrospect? Would Snowquest have been a better game if you had had more storyspace to work in, or do you think the restriction produced the effect intended?

Eric: I have slightly mixed feelings, to be honest. I decided to restrict Snowquest to .z8 format for a variety of reasons: partly to counter my tendency to write games that are a bit too big for the IF-Comp, partly as a technical challenge, and partly so that the colours would work properly in the exit lister. I’m reasonably happy that keeping Snowquest to z8 format broadly achieved these objectives, but there were places where the implementation could have been deeper if I’d allowed myself to switch to Glulx, although then there’d have been the danger than I’d have ended up making the game too big again! So, in the main I’m reasonably happy with my decision to restrict Snowquest to Z-Code, but I very much doubt it’s a restriction I’ll be in any hurry to place on myself again.

SPAG: The aspect of Snowquest that impressed me most is the barren winter landscape that is the setting for most of the game. Do you have any personal experience with mountaineering, or did you draw your impressions entirely from books and other background research? Anything you found particularly inspirational in this regard?

Eric: I have no personal experience of mountaineering at all, and I didn’t consciously do any research for the game, so the impressions must have been drawn from books, films, photographs, and my imagination. Well, that and my personal experience of snow; quite apart from the odd amounts of snow we’ve had in Britain from time to time, I have spend four Januaries in Vermont, the first of which (in 2000) was very cold and snowy indeed.

For whatever reason, the idea of a trek across a barren snow-clad landscape to find some source of ancient wisdom in a mountain was the generative image of the game; but this was an idea that popped more or less fully-formed into my mind from no obvious particular source.

SPAG: Conversely, most of my criticisms of Snowquest come when the game departs from this straightforward story of survival, as in the long Blade Runner-esque dream sequence and the ending. I felt at times like you tried to cram too much into too small a game (see the question above), and that the game might have worked better if it had remained entirely in the mountains. Are you satisfied with the overall structure of the game?

Eric: Yes, broadly, apart from the ending (more on which below). I wanted to do something a bit different in Snowquest, and not least to try to confound player expectations. If I’d kept it as a straightforward survival story, I wouldn’t have felt that the game had done anything interesting or new. One could, I suppose, imagine a version of Snowquest minus the early dream sequence which ended with the protagonist triumphantly discovering  the Book of Yashor (and perhaps returning to Old Mundle with its secrets), but then, however well crafted it may have been, it would have been just another  rather predictable fetch-quest. Indeed, a very early version of (or perhaps, precursor to) Snowquest was rather like that, and I wasn’t at all pleased with the result. I felt the game needed some kind of twist at the end to be ultimately satisfying.

I’m aware that more than a few players didn’t like the dream sequences or the twist at the end or the way Snowquest played with perceptions of reality, but I’m still happier to have ended up with something a bit risky and controversial rather than something completely safe, conventional, and a bit too predictable. In a way, reading the variety of differing opinions reviewers have expressed about the game, and the various ways in which they have tried to interpret it, is more rewarding that winning the IF-Comp with something more straightforward might have been.

SPAG: You did mention to me in our preparations for this interview that you had two possible endings in mind for Snowquest, and that you now regret choosing the one the you did. Can you tell us what the other ending would have been, and why you now wish you had gone that way instead?

Eric: Sure, but I should first issue a major spoiler warning for people who are thinking of playing the post-comp release, which incorporates a version of the other ending: you might want to skip over my answers to the next two questions until you’ve played the new version. (If you’re not planning to play the post-comp release, or you’ve already played it, then by all means read on).

The earliest alpha and beta versions of Snowquest ended with a form of the FBI agent plot in which the parcel really did contain drugs. This was even less satisfactory than the ending released for the competition, as became immediately apparent from tester feedback. I then came up with a completely different ending in which Mr Wolf was a visitor from the future who had come back in time to stop Jennifer crashing in the storm on the way to Farpoint Weather Station, since this visitor from the future knew that Benjamin Yashor’s weather measurements would prove critical to countering climate change in his timeline, but couldn’t take place unless the electronic components carried by the PC were safely delivered. In many ways this ending tied in much better with the themes of the first part of the story, but in its beta version it seemed to create more problems than it solved.  Not least of these was that the figure from the future was now friendly instead of threatening, so the ending presented no final challenge, and no scope for the final stick-throwing puzzle which many beta testers really liked. Also, this time-traveling ending seemed to create an insuperable number of plot holes. I therefore went back to a version of the false FBI agent plot, which gave the player a clear challenge at the end, while trying to salvage some of the best parts of the time-traveling ending, such as the importance of the weather measurements at Farpoint.

Another issue I was originally concerned about was the whole credibility of the time-traveler ending: your own comment elsewhere that you were glad that Snowquest turned out to have a mundane ending was the kind of reaction I was anticipating in making Wolf a false FBI agent rather than a visitor from the future, which I feared some players might find just too far-fetched.

So at the time the false FBI agent plot seemed like the least bad choice, but in the light of the reviews I’ve since read I think I probably ended up with the worst of all worlds. On the one hand the false FBI agent plot didn’t really fit well with the first part of the story, while on the other hand the elements borrowed from the time-traveling plot didn’t cohere too well with the false FBI agent plot. Moreover, while I thought I’d covered the plot problems reasonably well, I obviously didn’t do so in a way that satisfied most players, either (in some cases) because they failed to notice the explanations given, or (in others) because they didn’t find them credible.

With the wisdom of hindsight I think I would have done better to stick with the time-traveler plot and try to sort out the problems with it (which is what I’ve done in the post-comp release). Even if that risked alienating some players who might prefer something more mundane, it would have made Snowquest more thematically coherent overall. The time traveling plot is arguably a better match with the slightly surreal nature of the earlier vision, and the explanations given by a time-traveler from the future could have been a much better match to the events and images of the first part of the game than those given by a false FBI agent.

SPAG: Sarah Morayati, author of Broken Legs and whose own SPAG interview follows yours, is running a Post-Comp Comp for authors who were not satisfied with their games as first released to have another chance to polish and bug-fix their work. You just mentioned that you revised the ending for this version. Can you tell us about the other changes you've made? 

Eric: Yes, the ending is the main thing that’s different in the post-comp version I’m submitting to Sarah’s competition. Basically, I’ve gone back to the time-travel plot (which I now think would have worked better all along), while trying to iron out some of the wrinkles that made me hesitate about it first time round. If nothing else, Sarah’s comp will give me a good opportunity to see how some people react to this different ending.

The other changes are fairly minor, mainly fixing the odd bug and typo that turned up in the comp version (thank you everyone who sent in a transcript or pointed out a problem in a review). I cut out the tennis game scene from the early dream sequence (mainly to give myself more room to play with in the revised ending, but also because I don’t think it’ll be much missed). I’ve also slightly tweaked the conversation with Old Mundle so that he’s a bit less heavy-handed in prompting the player what to ask next.

SPAG: You also produced another game earlier this year, this one a World War II period mystery called Shelter from the Storm. While I have you here, perhaps you could tell us a bit about that worthy effort's inspiration and writing process.

Eric: Following various discussions on RAIF I’d for some time wanted to write a game in which people could try out different narrative voices and tenses to see which worked best for them. The immediate inspiration for the story was the film I Was Monty’s Double, which I’d just watched on DVD while looking for plot ideas. In that film an actor who looks a bit like General Montgomery stands in for him while the real Montgomery is preparing for D-Day (in order to mislead the Germans). This gave me the idea of an actor being employed by British intelligence to impersonate a senior officer, but to vary the idea I made it a German who was to be impersonated. Putting the action in a remote country house suited the plot reasonably well, but also suited the format of IF, allowing a limited cast of characters and a limited geography, the storm being a convenient plot device to force the protagonist into the house and keep him there. The idea of locating the house on the edge of Salisbury Plain came directly from my father’s war reminiscences, since he was posted to Salisbury Plain (to work on a mock-up of the Siegfried Line) on receiving his commission in the Royal Engineers in 1940. From that point on it was largely a question of devising a plot with just enough characters to create a number of plausible suspects for the murder mystery, of planting the right clues in the right places, and then orchestrating the action to plug any obvious plot holes (with a great deal of help from my beta testers) and to have the protagonist solve the mystery at about the right point in the story.

SPAG: One thing that always strikes me about so many of your games is that they take place in quite vividly imagined and well-developed storyworlds. Certainly the universes of (for instance) Square Circle and The Elysium Enigma could support many more stories, yet you've never indulged in sequels. Is this a conscious choice, as in Arthur C. Clarke's famous declaration that he "doesn't do sequels" before he, well, started to do (mostly wretched) sequels, or are you just too excited by the next storyworld to dwell in the previous one too long?

Eric: I haven’t made any deliberate policy decision not to do sequels, but I’ve tended not to do them because I’ve been trying to do something a bit different with each new game (at least, different for me, if not necessarily different from other IF). There’s also always been the sneaking worry that a sequel might not live up to the original, but end up as something of a sub-standard derivative rehash.

The two examples you cite are rather different. The genesis of Square Circle was the eponymous puzzle; everything else was devised to give the puzzle a reasonably interesting setting. If that ended up creating a universe rich enough to support other stories, that’s just a happy accident! It’s very different with The Elysium Enigma, the universe of which has been with me for many decades, and in which I’ve written (and rewritten) a number of extremely amateurish novels that should certainly never be published. So that universe not only could support, but already has supported, many more stories, if only in my imagination.

SPAG: I haven't done an exhaustive inventory, but I suspect you to be the most prolific IF author of the past five or six years, even out-producing the tireless Emily Short. Like Emily, your contributions to IF's technical and philosophical underpinnings have also been immense. So, a simple question: why do you do it? Some aspects of IF development are of course great fun, but there's quite a lot of difficult drudgery in polishing a game for release, and the global readership is not exactly, shall we say, immense. Are the rewards worth the labors? (But then again they must be, right? Else why would you do it?)

Eric: Well, I suspect there have been several equally prolific authors (David Whyld is one that springs to mind who has been vastly more prolific than I), but to answer your question, I do it because I enjoy it. As you say, some aspects of IF development are great fun, and even aspects of the beta-testing phase can be enjoyable, not least seeing testers’ reactions and thrashing out ideas with them. But, as you also say, there’s also quite a lot of difficult drudgery which one just have to grit one’s teeth and get on with. Two things make the rewards worth the labours: the first is the chance to indulge my creativity in a form in which I seem to be reasonably proficient, and the second is the feedback from players. Although the global readership for IF is relatively tiny, the proportion of that readership that write reviews or give other kinds of feedback is relatively huge, and subjectively it’s the volume of feedback more than the number of readers that makes the effort feel worthwhile. To give a concrete example, writing and polishing Snowquest was considerably less work than writing and polishing The Healer from Nazareth, but I’ve seen far more reviews of my latest IF than I have of my latest book!

That said, I doubt I shall be quite so prolific in the future, or at least the immediate future. For one thing, I shouldn’t be surprised if taking on the role of Assessor leaves me less time for IF during my year of office. For another my current WIP is one I want to take my time over, so I don’t expect I shall be releasing any IF works in 2010.

Back to Table of Contents

Sarah Morayati, Author of Broken Legs

SPAG: In addition to being a newcomer on the IF scene, it's my understanding that you're also a bit younger than many of us. That's always refreshing to see! Perhaps we could open this interview by having you introduce yourself to SPAG's readers and tell a little bit about yourself.'

Sarah: I'm a student at UNC, finishing up my third year. I'm studying English and journalism, which unfortunately means that what I'll be doing in five years or so is anyone's guess, although it'd hopefully involve some sort of writing. On the more personal side, I'm a latent theater geek, as well as your garden-variety geek. My non-IF hobbies include collecting CDs, reading everything I can find and thinking of less rote ways to describe my hobbies.

SPAG: Where did you first learn about IF, and what about the form interested you so much that you decided to put into it the huge commitment that is required to produce a game of the polish and complexity of Broken Legs?

Sarah: I'd known about IF for almost a decade, actually -- I used to spend a lot of time on this online games site Free Arcade, and they had a section for "text adventures." It had Adventure, some of the Scott Adams games, the works. And somehow, this was the best part of the site. I don't know why. But a subsequent Google (well, at the time it'd be AltaVista) trawl led me to the Adventure Blaster compilation, which I still think is one of the best introductions to IF for newbies out there if about a decade outdated. It got me into IF, at any rate.

As far as writing, I'd first told myself that I was going to enter the 2008 comp, but after a month or so, it became pretty sure that my Inform 6 coding exercise of a cave crawl wasn't exactly going to do very well. I certainly wasn't proud of it, so why should anyone else be? And then the comp deadline rolled around and I started to really regret that decision -- enough to tell myself that no matter what happened, I was entering in the 2009 comp with something I could be proud of.

SPAG: You've mentioned that you've spent some time around theater circles, and that's pretty clear from your game as well. Would you care to tell us a bit more about these experiences?

Sarah: I was a huge chorus and musical theater geek in high school. Think Glee without the AutoTune. My sister was more into it than I was, but I still did a few productions -- school revues, children's theater, community shows, the like. Once I got to college, though, most of this stopped; my questionable acting skills, absolute lack of anything resembling dance skills and sudden escalation of time spent at the newspaper shut that down pretty quickly. My sister did, though. Last year, she'd fly out to New York and California and all over the country a couple times every month auditioning for schools. And while, from everything I've heard, her experience doesn't really resemble Broken Legs (thank god), it was nevertheless my inspiration.

SPAG: In writing Broken Legs not only did you have to deal with all of the usual complexity of writing a substantial work of IF, but you also overhauled the standard Inform parser's normal responses to a greater extent than I can recall seeing since last year's Violet, and that's a major, often frustrating undertaking in itself. Perhaps you can tell us about the development process of the game, and how long each stage took.

Sarah: The basic idea of the game had existed since last fall, but it was just that -- an idea, a vaguely sketched room, some flavor responses and nothing more. I didn't really have Lottie's voice down yet. I had absolutely no plot save an amoebic idea of what would have been a terrible puzzlefest. (Search the cabinet, which is in a waiting room for some reason, to find the milk that was somehow left in there, and pour it into the conveniently placed water bottle...) From time to time I'd attempt to hammer out characters, puzzles and/or a plot, but it went nowhere.

And then everything came together one afternoon. I know it's clichéd to describe it as an epiphany, but that's exactly what it was. All the characters, what they were like, how they'd interact with each other, the like. So I spent a couple hours diagramming things and went from there. While there were slight changes from the initial plan (it wasn't originally going to be as sequential as it ended up, but that would have required about five times the time and coding; Mary was originally supposed to just back out after witnessing all of the sabotage, but I thought that was a cop-out; that sort of thing), the finished product more or less resembles what I wrote down that day.

What wasn't a part of this vision was the ending. This was more of a "hmm, it'd be sort of cool if..." thought midway through coding one day. And eventually, with some input from ifMUD to make sure it wasn't complete crap, I rewrote/re-tinkered a few parts of the game to accommodate it.

SPAG: When one thinks of Broken Legs, one aspect -- more specifically, one unforgettable character -- tends to rather overshadow its many interesting aspects. I speak, of course, of the PC, Lottie Plum. You've made it clear in other places that Lottie is not (thank God) you. So, who is she? Do you know her? (I hope not.)

Sarah: Lottie is not me. Honest! I thought I should get that out there again. She's a mix of several different people, including (I'm ashamed to say) me during middle school. But then, she isn't so implausible. Look at the titles of a bunch of Broadway songs -- "I'm the Greatest Star," the like. Look at the character types reality TV, advertising, and the like are pushing onto kids at younger and younger ages. While her character's obviously exaggerated for humor, it's far from inconceivable that she could really exist.

SPAG: What was it like spending so long with Lottie? Did you ever feel the urge to start making catty, disparaging comments about everyone and everything around you? Did you ever wish, after spending countless hours with her, that you'd chosen to make Lottie just a bit nicer?

Sarah: It wasn't exactly pleasant. It frightened me how effortless it was to write in her voice, which of course spurred all sorts of angsting about "does this mean she's really me?" There was a period during beta testing where I couldn't stand to look at the game. I hated that I had spawned it, hated that I had gotten too far to give up, and hated that I was about to unleash this person upon the world. Of course, some of this might have just been the fact that I was in the middle of beta testing. And I eventually got over it.

SPAG: As you wrote recently in your blog, Broken Legs is one of a dismayingly small percentage of IF that passes the Bechdel test, meaning essentially that it contains substantial interactions among at least two named females, and that these interactions do not revolve exclusively around the subject of men. This is not really a surprise, of course, when we consider that IF arose out of and is still largely beholden to the still male-dominated tech/nerd culture, and that the creation of believable character interaction is still a sore spot in IF theory. That's also a big reason that having a voice like yours working in the form feels so refreshing. And yet on the other hand, as you also mention in your blog, your game does not exactly paint women in the most positive light. Do you feel like a Traitor To Your Sex? Okay, I'm just being silly... but I am interested in knowing more about your thoughts on these subjects, if you'd care to share them.

Sarah: First, I'd just like to make it clear that this phenomenon is by no means restricted to IF. It's a big issue in TV and film, for instance -- I think the canonical example was that the only movie one person could think of was Alien, because two women were talking about the alien. If a smash hit has mostly male characters, nobody raises an eyebrow, but if it has mostly female characters, it's a Great Big Anomaly worth several trees' worth of shocked speculation. So if IF has the same problem, it's a reflection of the culture more than anything.

That said, I definitely did struggle with this. On the one hand, I do try to have female characters in everything I write, as much because that's what I know as because I'm trying to make a tiny dent in things. On the other hand, nobody in Broken Legs is exactly a role model. Part of this comes with the environment -- it's significantly more competitive for women in theater just because there are more of them -- but that obviously doesn't let me off the hook.

I should note, though, that the characters aren't all equally horrible. I was a bit surprised when a couple reviewers implied this. Seraphina, for instance, isn't so bad, or at least I wasn't trying to portray her as such. And you have to keep in mind that everything you see about the characters is heavily filtered through the PC's eyes, and she's hardly an egalitarian. In some places this is more clear than others.

Finally, the male characters are, if not as prominent, as bad as the female characters. If you had to ask me who the absolute worst character in the game was, I'd say Richard Plum. That bit about the hitman isn't an exaggeration.

SPAG: I mentioned in my own review of Broken Legs that in overhauling the Inform parser so totally in service of its characterization it reminded me of Violet. I have to say that it also reminded me of Violet in another way: much of its enjoyment for me was spoiled by puzzles that I just found too hard, unfairly so. How do you feel about the puzzle design in retrospect -- and do you plan to make changes in a new release?

Sarah: Well, puzzle design is something completely new to me. I've been writing for years, and I'd done some dabbling in programming, but neither of these really prepared me for making puzzles -- or, as the case may be, making puzzles that are comprehensible to others. This constantly came up in beta testing; if anything, the initial version was even more unclued than what made it to the comp. While I'd still keep the basic design of the game if I were to do it over again, there's a lot I have to learn by way of cluing puzzles.

That said, I do plan to address a lot of this in the post-comp release. It'll be a bit delayed -- the work I planned to get done this month got derailed by about a million things at once -- but it'll exist. Hopefully it'll be finished or near-finished by the time you read this.

SPAG: You're holding a Post-Comp Comp for authors who wish they'd done a better job of preparing and polishing their games first time around. Care to tell us a bit more about it?

Sarah: I came up with the idea after eavesdropping (it was during the judging period, so I couldn't do much more than eavesdrop) on ifMUD on #craft. The conversation eventually turned to the fact that there's no shortage of bugs, mistakes and generally poor choices in comp games, but there's a huge shortage of post-comp releases. It's not restricted to newcomers, either; it's an across-the-board shortage. And since so many out-of-comp releases are raising the bar again and again, some people were worried that the Comp would develop a reputation as a dumping ground for half-finished, halfhearted games. So I floated the idea for the Post-Comp-Comp on the authors' forum, and I was pleased to see that there was so much interest. Anything that inspires people to improve the body of IF is good in my book.

SPAG: I understand that you've got some other IF projects on the go. Any teasers you'd like to share?

Sarah: Barring another major real-life intrusion -- and I'm pretty sure I've used up my quota of those for the year -- I'm entering the 2010 comp. The idea's pretty sketchily formed at the moment, but I'll drop this hint: it's horror.

The other project I've got in the works is an even bigger departure. It's puzzleless, for one. It's going to be real-time -- it's the reason why I coded the Basic Real Time extension -- with a soundtrack. Right now it's only in extremely skeletal form, but I'm hoping to get it done at least in the next few years. I probably won't release it in the comp.

[Sarah was also kind enough to put me in touch with the star of Broken Legs, Ms. Lottie Plum herself. So, without further ado...]

SPAG: So, Lottie, when Sarah came to you to ask if she could write a game about your experiences in the world of theater, what was your initial reaction? Why did you decide to say okay?

Lottie: My initial reaction? Like, what initial reaction was I supposed to have? I thought she was like a complete freak and basically nobody who ever needed to exist anywhere in the world. But then she said I'd be sort of famous. And if someone is such a no-life that they're going to promote me places why would I turn it down? It's not like American Idol ever called me back.

SPAG: Have you played much IF yourself?

Lottie: No. I have better things to do and I'm actually really surprised that I'm wasting my time with this interview thing. It doesn't even have cameras.

SPAG: Were you surprised when Broken Legs took second place in the Comp? Or were you disappointed that you and Sarah was not able to manage any clever sabotage to knock Rover's Day Out out of the running? On the other hand, there were a host of weird interpreter problems with Rover, weren't there? Hmm... Lottie, were you at work behind the scenes after all???

Lottie: Well, it's not like I was happy because there is just no way I should be beaten by some stupid story about a dog. Like, it was so ridiculous that I didn't even play the thing. Why would I? I don't like go around watching other people play my roles or sing my songs. So they just totally deserved whatever was screwy about it.

SPAG: So, how's it going for you now at Bridger? Or have you already made the leap to Broadway?

Lottie: We don't talk about that. Period. Oh, and I'm not speaking to you anymore. Bye.

Back to Table of Contents

Ben Collins-Sussman and Jack Welch, Authors of Rover's Day Out

SPAG: Since neither one of you were hugely well-known as authors before Rover's Day Out, perhaps we could begin by having you each tell a little bit about yourself and your history with IF. 

Jack: By day, I'm involved in cancer research, so there isn't much of a connection to IF or other forms of creative writing. As part of work, I have been known to write the occasional program or script to make my life easier, but I'm not a professional programmer by a long shot.

I had played IF back in the mid-1980s, mostly on my 16k PMC-80, a TRS-80 clone -- yes, green and white text and programs on cassette tape. I started off with playing some Adventure International games, which were miracles of compactness. In 1986, a friend introduced me to the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy game. It was the first time I had played an Infocom title and also the first time I had touched a Mac. I didn't sleep for the next 30 hours or so. I absolutely loved that game. After that, there's a big gap up to around 2006 when Ben mentioned in passing that IF isn't dead. He told me about the IF community and inform, showed me RAIF, and let me loose on an unsuspecting world.  

Ben: For a while I was working in the Chicago theater community as a professional sound designer and musical theater composer, but eventually I had to choose the more traditional path of being a professional programmer. I was a co-designer/founder of the Subversion version control system back in 2000, and then became a co-founder of the Chicago Google Engineering office in 2005. I now manage a team of about 10 Google engineers. If you've ever hosted an open source project at, that's the product I develop by day.

My first exposure to IF was as a 9 year old kid on my Apple IIe; my mom brought home Infocom's Deadline and I was hooked. The plot was too complex for me, but in my tweens I really got into Trinity, Hitchhiker's, Leather Goddesses, Suspect, and my absolute favorite -- A Mind Forever Voyaging. I then accidentally rediscovered IF a decade later when I stumbled across Graham's z-machine work in the late 90's. I was running a z-interpreter on my Apple Newton and watching Inform 6 evolve. I quietly watched RAIF through most of the aughties, playing each year's IFComp winners, but remained a relatively silent fanboy. 

SPAG: In doing a bit of research for these interview (yes, I do do some research for these things...) I see that your previous IF authorship credits consist of one IntroComp entry each. Although, ridiculously difficult puzzles aside, I quite liked Nine-Tenths of the Law in particular, I can say confidently that Rover's Day Out represents a huge leap over those earlier efforts. Was the experience of entering the IntroComp, of getting work out there and getting feedback, valuable to each of you? And you do ever plan to return to those intros and complete them? 

Ben: I think I accidentally introduced Jack to the Inform language when he, after a long D&D session as gamemaster, pointed out that one of his scenarios would work perfectly as a solo text adventure. I drafted up a sketch of what it would look like in Inform 7, and I think this got him excited about writing text adventures -- he immediately jumped into Inform 6 and wrote Nine-Tenths of the Law.  

Jack: Yes. I think the year before, you'd briefly shown me Lost Pig, and had planted the seed in my head about Inform. I jumped into Inform 6 because I knew that it was the layer under Inform 7, and I wanted to have some sense of the history of the language. I figured it would be better to "start at the beginning", and worked my way through the DM4, with Nine-Tenths of the Law serving as my laboratory. I threw just about everything I came across into the Nine-Tenths, every entry point, all the weird functions and boundary cases. In retrospect, that made it a great project for learning the language, but it's a lousy way to write a game. 

Ben: Whatever the case, I should reiterate what I said to Jacqueline earlier: Rover's Day Out would never have existed if it weren't for the awesome IntroComp she runs every year. Jack and I each participated in that as a way of "learning" Inform; nothing forces you to learn faster than a deadline! It allowed us to get our "newbie first games" out of our systems, which are typically pretty awful in the "hello world" sense. One gets so involved in the learning the technical intricacies of the language that you lose sight of the important things like story and character. Instead of focusing on what you're writing, you're all excited about how you're implementing it instead. I think both our IntroComp games suffered from this greatly. I can't speak for Jack, but mine was awful. :-)

In any case, IntroComp directly prepared us to work on a much more complex game as a team. The language-learning distraction was out of the way, so we could focus on the writing instead. 

SPAG: How did you decide to come together as an authoring team? How did you divide the designing, writing, and coding? 

Ben: Jack and I are old friends. We know each other from a larger pool of friends, connected in various ways -- but particularly from various D&D events. We've been teammates in competitions at GenCon together, and Jack is a great writer of roleplaying game scenarios -- so his skill easily translated into IF writing, I think

Jack: Mostly it translates, except for scale and difficulty. The complexity of IF games climbs very quickly when you start adding more props, more characters, and more degrees of freedom of action. While this richness and open-endedness is fine when you've got a live person moderating the game, it's a steep task for rule-driven game mechanics plus a parser. As for difficulty, particularly for verbal puzzles, something that may fly in a group of ten players working in parallel may come across as poorly clued and all but insurmountable in IF. In a group, each person can pitch in their own take on a puzzle, and people play off each other's insights and incremental advances, but in IF the hinting has to be more obvious and persistent, and there needs to be some way around the really difficult puzzles. Apologies for certain puzzles in Nine-Tenths of the Law (as well as the color scheme). 

SPAG: It's very interesting to learn that you both come from a tabletop RPG background. Perhaps I detect the beginning of a trend here; some other authors who have a splash in IF circles in the last few years -- notably Victor Gijsbers and S. John Ross -- also cut their teeth in the realm of funny-looking dice. And of course it would be great to forge stronger links between these two hobbies. (Says the guy who spent two years doing a Call of Cthulhu scenario adaptation.)  

I also think that tabletop RPG materials are something of an untapped resource for IF authors. Settings, adventure seeds, sourcebooks, complete adventures and campaigns, even books of cool names are all readily available at places like Drivethru RPG. Much of this material could be put to good use by IF designers in need of inspiration.  

Jack: Sure. I don't want to overplay the RPG angle -- we tend to play a couple games a year, and those games don't pay much attention to the commercial reference material, we just sort of roll our own, playing somewhat fast and loose with rules in favor of more "dramatic" sessions. That ability to toss away the rules on a whim makes it hard to bring that style of RPG into IF, which is entirely deterministic.

I think that some of the resources you mention could be a good spur for developing games, but it's not trivial to remediate an RPG into an IF story. I'd also be careful about drawing too directly from copyright-encumbered sources that might make life difficult for people creating derivative works. 

Ben: The key element of good RPG experience is the ability to invent compelling stories. That's Jack's big strength. I think my own strength comes more from the theater community -- I have an overdeveloped sense of drama. When Jack erupts in a font of ideas, I tend to direct and narrow them down into a story arc that "feels" right. 

Jack emailed me a complete 'screenplay' -- a hypothetical transcript of the game -- in May 2009. I was so excited by it, I volunteered to help him write it. From there, I took on the role of Editor/Producer/Co-Implementor. Jack had all the brilliant ideas and writing, and I introduced him to standard software development practices. I suspect we may the first team ever to use version control and a bug tracker to collaborate on a game! Most authors write alone, so the need for collaborative software tools isn't so great. But I recommend them to everyone, even if working solo. 

Jack: This pseudo-transcript took about three months to write, while I fought down the compulsion to start coding. Having this reference document in hand was central to our collaboration, as we could work on different sections while remaining consistent with the overall structure. In retrospect, I wish we had solicited more comments at this stage. The reference document "baked in" a number of design decisions that proved unpopular in general distribution. Some of the plot elements and game mechanics were too ingrained to fix when we received comments about them during beta-testing or after the actual release of the game.

Taking this experience into consideration, during development of the reference document for our next project, Hoosegow, we asked a broad group of reviewers for comments ranging from overall plot and voice to fairness of the puzzles and technical implementation. We're hoping that this will improve that next game in ways that beta-testing can't address. 

Ben: Honestly, we sort of sniffed our way through the collaboration at first. We were timid when we first started implementing the story. We weren't even entirely sure it would be something worthy of entering into IFComp; this was meekly decided later on.

Our process was typical software engineering. We started with a design document (the imaginary game transcript), then filed tasks in the issue tracker which we then 'took' for ourselves to prevent stepping on each other's feet. I had to teach Jack how to use the Mercurial version control system, but once he figured out merging, we were all set. After three months we had a workable game, followed by a month of beta-testing (with 8 friends!) and bug-fixing. The whole project is now up on Google Code Project Hosting, with the source under a Creative Commons license.

In a nutshell: Jack has all the great ideas, and I'm more often the editor. [Jack inserts an editorial comment here: sometimes, this is not the case and roles are reversed]. I help shape the flood into a reasonable stream. :-) And I think this is one of the secret-sauces to any creative endeavor, whether it be writing, composing music, making slides for talks, cooking, etc.: you need a partner to bounce ideas off of, someone to act as "quality control" and make sure you're still grounded in reality.

I've said too much. Jack?

I've enjoyed the collaborative nature of the project, and completely second Ben's comment about having someone to bounce things off. Everyone needs a little reality check now and then.

On a technical note, collaborative tools really reduce the burden of getting this sort of project done. The reference document for RDO was written in GoogleDocs, where could both work on it at the same time. For our current project, we drafted the document in Google Wave, and had our early phase reviewers directly edit and comment within that shared space. Formal version control for the project code added some overhead, but it was well worth it. We now have a team of loyal beta-testers who are contributing bug reports (all too regularly) via project issue trackers. I'm not sure I would remained this organized if I were working on a solo project, so the very fact that this is a collaborative project keeps me both motivated and adds discipline. 

SPAG: So, tell us a bit about the genesis of Rover's Day Out itself. It's an impressively intricate, multi-layered piece of fiction. Where did all of its pieces come from? Were you inspired by any written or filmed science fiction? 

Jack: My intention at the beginning was to write a game based on false narrative, but have it be fair to the player. RDO isn't based on a specific story, but is a reaction to the sort of story where characters are in some kind of artificial world, and find out at some point that -- surprise -- they're not in the real world, they're in some sort of construct. And then the scales fall away, and they can see the big picture. That sort of a story feels unfair, in the same way as a bad detective novel that never gives the reader enough to solve the crime. So, the intention here was to give the player some sense that what they're seeing and hearing isn't the full story. Since the work is interactive, my intention was to give the player some agency in peeling back the layers of illusion over the course of the game, arriving at the end with an accurate view of the game world.

While thinking along those lines, I had the idea to include side commentary from David and Janet, a sort of in-game fourth wall. I started off thinking that their comments would mainly be humorous, like the talking heads in Mystery Science Theater 3K, but as I played with the dialog (and hunted for an ending), it occurred to me that their dialog could provide establishing background early in the story and that the characters themselves could enter into the story towards the conclusion.

After seeing the story for the first time, Ben and I discussed whether anything like this had been done before. He suggested A Mind Forever Voyaging, and I thought about Suspended, but we thought there were enough differences to make this project worth pursuing. Subsequently, some reviewers have drawn analogies to some other IF works, including LASH, which I hadn't known about when I started the project. 

Ben: I was definitely worried at first about the similarities to AMFV, especially the way the games both have similar crises at the very end. But Jack had never played it until I mentioned this to him, so I proclaim him innocent of imitation. :-) 

SPAG: In reading the brief post-mortem you posted on the newsgroup on Rover's Day Out, I'm struck by a couple of things. You say that you first wrote a transcript of how you would like Rover's Day Out to play, before you wrote a single line of code, and say that you still feel that this is a wonderful way to approach IF design. But you also state that one of your disappointments with Rover is that it is rather too linear. Could these two items be connected? Wouldn't writing from a transcript tend to almost inevitably lead to a linear game design? Perhaps it is not the right approach for a more flexible, player-directed story... 

Jack: I agree that there is a tendency to write towards linearity when drafting a document that reads from top to bottom, but one way or another, the ideas have to get down into some medium so we can discuss them. It felt natural to write the game more or less in the order of events within a text editor. Even in the RDO transcript, though, I put in some parenthetical notes about flow control, i.e., what would happen at nodal points in the story. We did not map out a formal skein because the number of branch points wasn't excessive, and some tended to join up again later in the story, but I think it would be reasonable to write labels into the transcript and sketch out a reference skein for more complicated projects.

In working on our present project (Hoosegow), we had the same concerns about linearity, so we started with a graphic representation of the puzzles and the various end states, and then created a network showing which combinations of actions would be required to reach those end states, and which key intermediate states would be prerequisites. Then, we wrote the transcript top to bottom with reference to those states. That hybrid approach lends itself well to developing puzzles with multiple solutions and games with multiple outcomes.

We'll keep experimenting with ways to draft and refine the game during design, and I doubt we'll ever choose the same method twice. 

Ben: I agree with Jack's analysis. A good story needs to have an overall plot arc consisting of specific key events and scenes. The trick is to give the player some illusion of freedom by creating multiple solutions to puzzles, multiple paths to get to the next event, and so on. These main routes through the plot are still mappable when writing a transcript for the game, assuming you're careful about it. 

SPAG: A funny thing about your game is that it generated a surprising amount of negativity, even anger, from reviewers, much more so than is usual for a first-place finisher. I recall Lost Pig and Violet, for instance, being almost universally lauded by reviewers, to the point that it was fairly obvious even a week or two into those Comps what game would win. Certainly some reviewers were frustrated by some unfortunate interpreter issues, but even some who weren't were really, really annoyed by the linearity and repetition of the early stages of the game. (For the record, I wasn't among these; I found Rover interesting and engaging right from the start, and predicted it as the winner quite early. Yes, I'm just clever like that.) Were you frustrated early on in thinking your work might not be appreciated? And were you surprised when enough people saw your game's exceptional qualities to make it the winner? 

Jack: Funny, huh? For us it was a month of knuckle-biting self-doubt and confusion. On one hand, we had some very positive responses, on the other hand, I know that some people felt the game was good in a technical sense, just not fun. I feel like we particularly failed in that latter case, because our intention was to tell a fun story. I will say that the reviews that were published during the Comp were very helpful for understanding why our story turned off some people, and that feedback should help us with future projects.

I was surprised about some sources of criticism. It seems to me that sci-fi has been so overdone in IF that many people are automatically biased against the genre; all things being equal I think stories that are not based in sci-fi will generally do better in the Comp. From general reaction, I would also note many players have a very low tolerance for technobabble (even technobabble based on real science).

I was also surprised by the number of comments we got about making the status-bar a source of information in the game. I heard a lot of , "but I *never* look at the status bar!" comments, which begs the question of why we have status bars. I suppose the obvious answer is "to give status, not critical information."

The big one, though was the repetition. You have to do the same mundane tasks several times. Yes, we knew this was annoying, and we tried to abbreviate it as best we could but cutting the repetition early in the practice runs and allowing some streamlining in the later game. When we revised RDO for post-Comp release, we have tweaked this further, but we cannot entirely get rid of it. As I said, it's a design decision that was baked into the game at an early point. The central story in RDO concerns an AI that has to work through tasks in a specific order. To the AI, each run is new. It wouldn't be self-consistent to have things work differently in later runs. Our hope was that the player would see the earlier runs as a learning experience, and that the repetition was pay off later in the game when the player has to not only repeat some of the tasks, but understand what they mean. 

Ben: There was a common pattern I noticed. People who were already methodical programmers seemed to enjoy the repetition -- they immediately recognized the repetition as meaningful and a giant clue saying "Hmmm, I should be learning something as I do this". And they were subsequently rewarded later in the game for their "training". Most normal people (no offense to programmers) Just Want To Do Something Already, had no patience for the repetition, and didn't even consider that it might eventually result in delayed gratification. My wife, for example, who is normally MUCH better at solving IF puzzles than I am, didn't even finish playing Rover because of this. 

SPAG: Rover is quite rooted in tech / open source (not to say nerd) culture: the crashing Windows -- excuse me, Windex -- operating system that must be replaced with the more stable Linux... er, Flosix, etc. I played the game with thoroughly non-techie wife, and much of this stuff that had me smiling or laughing was pretty much inscrutable to her. Similarly, understanding your game relies fairly heavily on an understanding some common science fictional concepts. Every author is always entitled to make the game she wants to make, of course, but: did you ever worry about somehow limiting your readership -- or are we such hopeless nerds in the IF community that you just confidently assumed we'd understand? 

Jack: It's likely that the IF community is somewhat enriched for the technically savvy, but the game was meant to be played by a general audience. One of the benefits to a game set in a world-as-metaphor model is that common objects can be manipulated in an understandable manner. 

In the Comp, the only thing you have to go by is the game title, so I'd imagine many people came to Rover's Day Out expected to walk their dog and teach it some tricks. In the post-comp setting, the game is flagged as sci-fi, so people will at least know what they're in for. 

There is a lot of detail in the game, and it's meant to be a reward for anyone who has the interest or special knowledge to look for it. There's no requirement at all to try out Unix commands in the game, but they're there if you want them. Similarly, there are many memories, discussion topics, etc., that most people will never access. One of the design decisions in this game was that most players would only see the tip of the iceberg in terms of game detail. We figured we needed that level of detail because different people would explore in different directions, and we wanted the game to have depth no matter which direction was explored. The downside to this approach: it took a lot of time and wore out a few keyboards. 

SPAG: I did indeed expect a slice-of-life story when I saw the title, most likely another Ralph derivative where I got to play another adorable dog. I wasn't hugely excited by that prospect, and was thus rather pleased to learn that Rover's Day Out was truly Something Completely Different.

Ben: I suspect the opening paragraph was enough of a surreal jar to indicate to players that they weren't in Kansas anymore. :-)

One of my favorite parts of this game is the intricate detail of the future history, revealed by the 'remember' command. It's also one of my biggest frustrations: I really wanted our testers to discover all the excellent backstory, but we could not get them to use the 'remember' verb. Even coming right out and screaming about the verb after examining the picture, players still didn't explore the backstory. Sigh. 

SPAG: The game offers quite a lot of little treasures for those who are thoroughly in the know. I had great fun in the latter stages navigating around using Unix instead of text adventure commands (while my wife looked on more baffled than ever). Did you hear from many other players who caught on to this? I didn't see it really mentioned in any public reviews that I can recall. 

Jack: Only a few. I think we mention it in the "amusing" at the end of the game. During the Comp, I had wondered if it might get mentioned in blog posts and become more general knowledge. Putting the commands in the game was fun, so much so that after a week of doing nothing but putting in the Unix commands, Ben had to remind me that we were writing a game and not an emulator :-)

I kind of regret that we couldn't make the Unix commands more powerful. The Unix commands allow you to directly interact with the real objects in the game, bypassing the veneer of simulation. Unfortunately, to keep the game balanced and to constrain its complexity, we had to put some kind of limit the utility of these commands. That's why the player can't become the superuser and why some commands are disabled from the virtual terminal. 

SPAG: It's of course becoming increasingly accepted in IF design that games should emphasize story, exploration, and fun over frustration, and this is a movement I wholeheartedly support. I wonder, though, if it's possible to take it too far. We failed quite resoundingly when attacked by the Myomitas on the way back home, to the tune of succeeding in "0 out of 8" ways of eliminating them, yet we were still allowed to go on and finish the game successfully. This left me feeling rather emasculated, which may or may not be a personal problem of course. What do you think? Is the design choice to make it literally impossible to fail in Rover's Day Out the right one? 

Jack: If I were writing a game outside a Comp setting, my natural inclination would lean more towards the Zarfian-cruel end of the spectrum. The way we implemented this boarding scene in RDO did feel a little too generous to me, but on the other hand, in beta-testing, most players flailed around fairly ineffectively during their first playtest. If zero out of eight meant getting carved to pieces and then blown up, it would have been a very poor pay off for slogging through the apartment chores in the earlier part of the game. So, we decided that no matter what happens, the player would get to the next scene. Our reasoning was that from the player's perspective, there would still be a sense of jeopardy (at least the first time they played the game) and that even if their actions weren't particularly effective, they must have been doing *something* during that time (hopefully, not hitting z-repeatedly, hoping for a quick and merciful death in the cold vacuum of space). 

SPAG: But did you consider trying to make the puzzles in this section a bit easier, rather than just giving the player a pass no matter how badly she screws them up? You also could have just put the player back at the beginning of this sequence if she did fail, made that a sort of automatic save point. 

Jack: The dreadful truth is, we had originally made that section a dream. If you recall, the AI dreams every time the ship makes a hyperspace jump. In mid-beta testing, one of testers did us a big favor by being very frank and saying that the world does not need another dream sequence. We stepped back and realized that the section didn't work at all as a dream sequence, but it had already been coded. Consequently, we reached down the game's throat, ripped out its entrails, jumbled them about and shoved them back in. That's how we ended up with the current boarding scene. Adding more finesse wasn't possible within the time constraints of the comp, and in the post-comp revision, we decided not to change the nature of the game dramatically. 

If you accept the boarding scene as real, though, it would be jarring to loop the player back to the start of the sequence, and might create confusion about whether the scene is yet another simulation, a dream, or real. As for making the puzzles easier, nope, didn't consider that. I'd rather have challenging puzzles with weak enforcement than gimme puzzles with heavy consequences. That's just a matter of taste, though. 

Ben: I think there's a trade-off here. On the one hand, yes, most players get emasculated during the boarding scene. On the other hand, I think the tradeoff is a general sense of real crisis and excitement. Timed puzzles where the world crumbles around you are fairly rare these days, and it's a nice adrenalin-stimulating "wake up" after having infinite time to goof around in your apartment. 

SPAG: You reworked Rover a bit and entered into Sarah Morayati's Post-Comp Comp. What sorts of changes did you make? 

Jack: We considered fixing interpreter-related issues to be top priority, then general bug fixes, and finally enhancements suggested by reviewers during and after the IF Comp.

From the beginning of the Comp, we had an interesting experience with interpreters. The Comp recommended Spatterlight, and within a few hours of the Comp going live, we got bug reports. We had tested on Spatterlight, but not after adding the Blue Screen of Death. It turns out that Spatterlight could not handle a GLK graphic function correctly, so we wrote a patch to work around it. Next came notices that some of the text showed up garbled in Gargoyle. That really threw us because we had tested the game in Gargoyle in both Linux and windows, and considered it a main platform. In trouble shooting, we learned that it worked just fine on our 64-bit Linux test machine, but not on 32-bit Linux installations. Another patch. We wanted it to run on interpreters without status bars (to make it run on ClubFloyd for instance): another patch. Finally, we could not run the game on the Java-based zag interpreter. Zag seems not to have been maintained lately and lacks many of the features required to play an Inform 7 game, so we had to perform major surgery on RDO to make it run under Zag.

We also had a number of interpreter-related issues regarding the formatting of text, for instance, the conversation between Janet and David. All this boils down to a lot of heterogeneity in the interpreters. It's not so bad as the world of web-browsers and their issues with standards compliance, but it does add a lot to the effort required to really polish a game for a Comp.  

Ben: The whole thing smells like Java again, doesn't it? Java was once heralded as a savior -- "write once, run anywhere". But years later, Java programmers changed the slogan to "write once, debug everywhere". The z-machine has the same problem. :-) 

Jack: In terms of bug-patches, there were so many that I can't even remember them -- that's why we have a bug tracker -- but with enough people beating on the game, I think we've now managed to nip most of the loopholes and exceptions that were buried in the code. My favorite bug was a disembodied Rover howling from Limbo. We found that bug because a player had mentioned they particularly enjoyed that effect, and we had no idea what they were talking about.

Finally, with about 20 people doing reviews of games during IF Comp, we had some fertile material for revisions. One reviewer pointed out that violence should be an answer at one point, and we agreed. Some reviewers suggested alternate, reasonable ways of getting things done, and we always like to provide parallel solutions, so we implemented some of those suggestions. And, of course, even after many waves of editing, there were spelling errors, misplaced commas and the like. 

SPAG: So, what's next? Will you continue to write IF, and will you continue to work together or return to your solo projects? 

Jack: We had a blast writing RDO, and the next joint project is already "in the can". I'm sure we'll do more projects together, and as we take on each one, we're going to try to focus on a specific area. In RDO, the our goal was just to produce a game on time. In the next project, we worked on building a game structure around puzzles. We have a couple ideas for other games, and of course, there's the sequel that we alluded to at the end of Rover's Day Out. 

SPAG: Would care to tell us a bit about Hoosegow, your game in the current Jay Is Games competition, before going? I haven't played it yet, but it looks to be quite different from Rover. 

Jack: After Rover, we wanted to try something down to Earth, without fantasy or sci-fi elements. The competition specified a theme of "escape", but that left us a lot of latitude. We spent a month kicking about ideas and threw out (or shelved) some of the more conceptual pieces and decided to pursue a very concrete interpretation -- escape from a jail cell in the Old West.

Back in IntroComp 2007, Ben had written a short piece about two misguided gunslingers who came up with a poorly conceived plan to blow up a train tunnel and rob the train. That intro was never realized as a full game, but we decided it could serve as the backstory for the escape game.

Escaping from jail is a hackneyed theme (heck, even the Brady Bunch did it -- see episode #50), so we knew we'd have to really put our mark on it to bring it off. Our plan was to focus on two areas: puzzles and humor. Any grandiose ideas we had about clever ways of implementing conversation went out the window when we had five weeks to get the project from concept to code.

Between family and work commitments, we couldn't really focus on the game until January, but once we got going, we moved quickly. We shopped the story concept around to a number of readers a number of readers, including a few reviewers that hadn't enjoyed Rover. Our intention was to see if we had some blind spots and to try to get a more broad-based review than we had with Rover.

We received some really excellent advice on plot and structure, but also on the process of writing itself, including character development, setting and style.

As that process was concluding, we translated the prototype transcript into Inform 7 code, and we were beta-testing the front end of the game while writing the second. It wasn't a pretty sight, but we managed to compress six months of Rover development into about five weeks of Hoosegow development -- and here, I'm including the first week of the competition, where we continued to patch the game based on player feedback. 

Ben: I agree that Hoosegow is a large exercise in atoning for the Sin of Linearity committed in Rover's Day Out. There are multiple solutions and paths through the puzzles leading to escape. And we also played quite a bit with keeping the environment seeming "alive" while the player experiments and retries things; characters keep doing "stage business" on their own, events happen independently of the player, and so on. My only regret is that we didn't have more time to dive into the Really Hard Problem of NPC dialog. My hope is that for our next game (a sequel to Rover's Day Out?), we can study all the great research Emily Short has done on this topic and try to create some realistic and intricate interactions.

Back to Table of Contents Halloween Contest Reviews
Every year the city of Saugus, Massachusetts, holds a Halloween ghost story contest open to entrants from anywhere in the world. These stories can be traditional static fiction (the vast majority) or IF. Last year in an unprecedented explosion no further than three works of IF were entered. What follows are reviews of those three games.

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Title: Awakening
Author: Pete Gardner
 Author Email: pete SP@G
Release Date: October 31, 2009
System: Z-Code (Inform 7)
Version: Release 2
Reviewer: Jimmy Maher
Reviewer Email: maher SP@G

While a work of "horror" in the sense that you play an apparently newly molded vampire who has just crawled from his grave as the game begins, Awakening is more Mel Brooks than Anne Rice, playing freely mixing and matching Gothic clichés such as the graveyard, the deserted and run-down cathedral, and the creepy old caretaker. It's very old school in its construction, perhaps unsurprisingly in light of the fact that its author created a number of commercial text adventures back in the day, but thankfully free of the typical old school annoyances, and generally well-implemented by the standards of its genre. Its puzzles are unlikely to stump you for very long, but are enjoyable enough to solve. There's even an NPC, that being the just mentioned caretaker, who is at the heart of the most memorable puzzles.

Of the three IF works entered into the 2009 contest, this is my favorite. It's no masterpiece, but it does what it sets out to do competently and reasonably successfully, and never really tries the player's patience in the process. That said, I was left wishing it had offered just a little bit more: more personality in its (perfectly competent) writing, more allowable interactions (particularly with the caretaker), and just a bit more ambition. Perhaps we'll get those things in another game from Mr. Gardner; this feels a bit like a first Inform 7 game pumped up into releasable form. In the meantime, this game isn't a bad way at all to kill half an hour or so. And welcome back to IF authorship, Mr. Gardner; I hope to see more of you. 

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Title: The Lighthouse
Author: Marius Müller (Taleslinger)
 Author Email: marius.ts.mueller SP@G
Release Date: October 31, 2009
System: Z-Code (Inform 7)
Version: Release 1
Reviewer: Jimmy Maher
Reviewer Email: maher SP@G

The Lighthouse is quite a short game, and, as its title would imply, very much Lovecraftian horror in spirit. It's neither poorly implemented nor poorly written, but nevertheless broke down for me quite quickly when I found myself losing faith in it as a piece of fiction.

You play a young tourist determined to visit historic and creepy old St. Buwch Lighthouse. Naturally, the day you visit is marked by a tremendous downpour. In such circumstances the dead body you find before you even make it to the lighthouse door hardly comes as a surprise. Being the protagonist in an adventure game, your first thought is of course to search the body, on which you discover an empty bottle of sleeping pills. This leads you to announce to another character just a little later that he "committed suicide." Would anyone really leap so definitively to that conclusion from that evidence? One might say it looks likely he might have committed suicide, but to just announce it as an open and shut case rather strains credibility. Further, when asked, "You aren't the Johnson boy, are you?" you reply that "That must be the young man I found... outside." Again, you have made quite a conjectural leap, this one even more breathtaking than the one before. Clearly it's important to the story that the player come into possession of these facts, but simply inserting them into the mouth of the protagonist is hardly the proper way to go about it. I briefly wondered whether I might be the evildoer covering my tracks -- but, alas, no such twists were forthcoming. Things get even more absurd a bit later, when you are expected to attack and kill a heretofore thoroughly unthreatening someone based on your spotting "a flash from her hand -- as if she's carrying something made of steel." Perhaps you are playing an omniscient of some sort.

In the end there is a suitably creepy, if firmly genre-bound backstory to uncover, with some interesting final  choices to make that can lead to one of several endings. Nor is it overly difficult or frustrating, although it might require a bit of learning by death if you don't routinely leap to attack people who carry something shiny into your vicinity. But all its positives are so undone by the clumsy plotting that they lose all impact. Mr. Müller has shown himself capable of producing original, memorable work; his Bedtime Story was my favorite of the 2008 Introcomp. With this game, though, he's rather badly missed the mark, assuming said mark was the creation of a believable piece of fiction.

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Title: Love is as Powerful as Death, Jealousy is as Cruel as the Grave
Author: Michael Whittington
 Author Email:
Release Date: October 31, 2009
System: TADS 3
Reviewer: Duncan Bowsman
Reviewer Email: bowsmand SP@G


I’ll be upfront: my personal experience probably biases my interpretation of this story in ways that maybe not everyone else can account for. Having taught English in Southeast Asia I have a special affinity for the scenes and characters crafted by Mr. Whittington in Love is as Powerful as Death, Jealousy is as Cruel as the Grave; they all seem just so much more real to me for having my actual experience there to which I can compare them, and ring true. I don’t wish to say that the game isn’t flawed -- it has its flaws -- but I do wish to emphasize that I think the narrative in this Cambodian ghost story stands far above any problems in its coding.

Could it use more polish? Maybe, but a strong story is already there and on the strength of it I still definitely recommend Love is as Powerful as Death.


Most of the story unfolds through conversation-based gameplay using the verbs ask, tell, and say. The writing generally ensures conversational subjects are clearly marked and easy to trigger. >TALK TO X or >TOPICS will re-display available subjects at any time, though sometimes omitting context-sensitive options. Topics are also numerous and varied enough that choice -- or, in a few instances, the illusion of it -- remains consistently present. Responses remain not only colourful, but authentic. In my experience the game’s conversation mechanic, while simple, does create something truly engaging.


I did run into speedbumps and you probably will too. Scenery description shines like the burning jungle sun, humid and wet with your own uncontrollable sweat; implementation is sparse. There’s some…

> Guess-That-Word

> Guess Word

> Guesswork

> Guess work

> Guess “work”

> Guess the Verb in triggering conversational responses at times. Though I felt frustrated at some points -- and I’ll admit, I don’t often have a long fuse -- the game’s writing held me in it. The unflinching sincerity in the game’s representation of Westerners in Southeast Asia, its detailed imagery, and a sense of foreboding, of a mystery to unfold kept me going.


Love is as Powerful as Death contextualizes its characters realistically. They are the focal points of this game. These characters struggle with their values, previously-held certainties, and even each other in an alienating environment. There’s an existential desperation in all of them, even if not all of them seem aware of it. Each is also characterized by unique diction and dilemmas that complement their characterization. 

For his own part, Roger (our protagonist) comes off as an alienated, analytical guy who wants to do good work, but gets pushed around -- or aside -- too easily. He obviously resents this, but can’t always reassert himself in the manner he would like. The story’s diction helps bring a lot of Roger’s interior character to light through both little word choices (like when he attempts to be witty in the opening scene) and in whole passages that deviate from expected portrayals (like the description of the mausoleum). In fact, it’s largely the whole characterization of Roger and the way it exposes his rising internal conflict that made the overall effect of the ending work for me. It gave me chills in a way I don’t think I can fully describe just now -- especially not without spoilers.


I do remember being a bit bothered by, strange as it may sound, the description of a ham and cheese sandwich in the game. First of all, the name of the item is merely “ham sandwich” and it’s not until the player actually decides to >X HAM SANDWICH that we see it is a ham and cheese sandwich. Such derisive attention to cheesestuffs surely merits only a Cheez Whiz rating for this game, if that. Second, third, and infinitely, there are all kinds of considerations that could go into a sandwich, after all. Obviously, what sort of cheese is on it? Is it cheap, processed, pre-sliced American? A mild Emmentaler? A thick, irregular hunk of cheddar hacked off from a block or wheel? Then we get that it has ham “from the deli in town,” but that hardly seems descriptive given the vast potential differences between how ham— let alone delicatessens— might be prepared. How thick is the ham? Is it like from home? Was the deli open air, swarming with flies? And what kind of bread was it on? Personally, I always think of ham & cheese as being on that sort of soft, white bread that squishes when you grab it and leaves the indents of your fingerprints.

When I found this isolated, little piece of the Occident [in a tupperware (sic) container, no less] I considered how a friend’s mom used to always pack his sandwiches at school and thought, “What an interesting juxtaposition. What sort of associations might it bring up for our protagonist?” Only I discovered that Roger had very little to say about it or its taste for that matter. I was sorely disappointed at first, but later considered how lack of detail in some of the more mundane objects featured could serve the narrative. Roger is probably not a sandwich connoisseur, and details like the things we eat can often end up glossed over in our memories over long periods despite their contextual importance, especially if something much more memorable, more horrific or unsettling overshadows them in the telling.


The last part stops all the talking.  it’s traditional IF compass-and-picking-up-stuff style.  more local stuff.  …it made me feel more alone. Conrad Cook mentioned in his blog at one point that it’s easier to track movement of one expression into another than to determine the meaning of expressions in isolation— I wonder if that stands for gameplay as a method of expression?


Without spoilers, it’s hard to talk about the ending. Creepy. For a second I thought maybe I’d missed something -- it felt sort of sudden and ambiguous -- but it gave me pause -- then vertigo. I swished it over in my brain and gave it another read. It lingers still in my mind, somehow all-too-real and yet almost like an episode of The Twilight Zone


“This is how later you would remember these events, almost as if reliving them, going over the details again and again, trying to recapture the feel of events, putting yourself into them as if they were happening for the first time.”

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Other Game Reviews

Title: Backup
Author: Gregory Weir
 Author Email: Gregory.Weir SP@G
Release Date: December 4, 2009
System: Z-Code (Inform 7)
Version: Release 1
Reviewer: Jimmy Maher
Reviewer Email: maher SP@G

Backup is a science fiction game somewhat reminiscent of Infocom's classic Suspended. You play the "third backup unit for the Eastern Cascade Facility computer network," said facility being a sort of receiving and shipping station for goods and workers in the "Prosperity Commission," an economic federation of many planets. Normally you are kept offline in reserve, but you've been woken up now because a group of scruffy granola-eating rebels have attacked the base, disabling the primary computer systems and threatening to derail the capitalist dream the facility represents. You are the last hope for the free market on this world -- if you choose to be. Yes, Virginia, there is a moral choice to be made in this one.

Gameplay is, as Mr. Weir openly acknowledges, very reminiscent of C.E.J. Pacian's Gun Mute. After orienting yourself to your computerized, disembodied consciousness, you will find that you can take control of a drone robot equipped with a "plasma sword" that looks suspiciously like a lightsaber. Indeed, plasma swords are "the only weapons which function in the facility's weapon dampening field." The meat of the game consists of a series of progressively tougher combats with the invaders of the facility, whom you encounter one by one as you work your way closer to the plasma reactor which they are hard at work destroying and you are supposed to protect. Cleverly, when one of your drones gets "killed," you are not killed as well; your consciousness merely returns to your computer core to manufacture and inhabit another drone. Thus it is effectively impossible to lose while playing Backup. On the other hand, it's not explained why the invaders remain so passive, allowing you to send robot after robot against them, and never simply march into the computer room and pull your plug.

Backup is not a long game at all, and so the ultimate resonance of its moral decisions is more limited than it might if you had the opportunity to spend more time with this world and these characters. That said, Weir handles the moral quandary fairly even-handedly, even if I suspect I know on which side his sympathies really lie. (Hint: they don't lie with the corporation.) Is it better to have an economic system with the maximum individual freedom and the minimum government interference, allowing those with intelligence and ambition to make truly staggering amounts of money -- and leaving many other to wallow in poverty? Or is it better to have a system that regulates (and taxes) things more tightly, perhaps frustrating the more ambitious and even throttling innovation to a certain degree but also guaranteeing everyone a certain minimal standard of living? Or, in short, is economic freedom or economic equality preferable? These questions are interesting ones for me in particular, having recently moved from a country that lives by the former policy to one that lives by the latter.

For all that, though, I was left a bit disappointed by at least one aspect of Backup. I was very intrigued by Weir's statement that Backup "requires tactical thought as a challenge rather than puzzle-solving," as I am very interested in finding ways to build more realistic, fluid storyworlds for IF. I was therefore disappointed to realize that Weir's claim is really rather a hollow one. Just as in Gun Mute, defeating each of your opponents in Backup is just a set-piece puzzle, and one that often involves a fair amount of trial and error and authorial mind-reading at that. An interesting wrinkle is the ability to defeat opponents violently (killing them) or relatively nonviolently (just beating them up a bit and knocking them out), another aspect of the game's moral dimension, but in no way does this game feel "tactical." 

But it is implemented acceptably if not superbly, and even features a nice little training section to easy you into the mechanics of using your plasma sword. As usual from this author, Backup delivers an enjoyable, well-written experience with a wrinkle or two that you might not have expected. It's well worth an hour of your time.

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Title: Ghost Town
Author: Finn Rosenløv
 Author Email: Rosenloev.1 SP@G
Release Date: April 22, 2009
System: ADRIFT
Version: 1.05
Reviewer: Jimmy Maher
Reviewer Email: maher SP@G

Ghost Town is not, first of all, a remake of the old Scott Adams game, but rather an entirely new effort that may just be the first IF game I've ever played that came from my new home of Denmark. It's also a very ambitious effort: lengthy, heavily plot-focused, and featuring occasional music and some nice hand-sketched artwork that suits the mood quite well. It's in fact among the most ambitious creations I've ever seen in ADRIFT. But that, of course, is a two-edged sword. After being thrilled upon installing Windows 7 to learn that it allowed me to completely uninstall Microsoft's bloated media player, imagine my delight when the ADRIFT Runner told me I had to reinstall it if I wanted to hear the game's sounds. Every time I fire up the ADRIFT Runner it seems to find new ways to confound and annoy me. 

The plot of Ghost Town has you coming into an unexpected inheritance from your long-dead and heretofore completely unknown great-grandfather, conditional upon your spending a single night in the deserted old ghost town of Battle Creek, New Mexico. This doesn't, of course, make a great deal of sense, but it does afford you a reason to go into Battle Creek and chase and be chased by things that go bump in the night, as well as giving you the opportunity to meet a hot lawyer chick, whom you first see from an angle that pleases you very much.

Hot chicks are in fact a pretty important part of this game; you'll meet several more as it continues. While there's nothing wrong with  a bit of harmless escapism, I found something just a bit creepy about this game's handling of its women. They are so obviously objectified, so constantly ogled over that I often felt I was learning more than I really cared to about the author's own fantasies. Doubtless the reactions of other readers will vary, from feminist outrage to complete approval. For my own part, I will merely say that the wait for a truly sexy piece of IF continues.

The writing is rather haphazard, sometimes contradicting itself within the same paragraph. X ME, for instance, yields this:

Although you actually do know what you look like you decide to run through your statistics again.
You are male (not a bad thing...) not too bad looking, some women even think you are handsome.
You stand 6´6” dark hair which is just slightly longer than a crew cut which suits you just fine. The dark color goes nicely with your green/gray eyes and your chiseled chin gives you a determined look that most women find hard to resist.
You are wearing a pair of well worn jeans which is a little too long so you have found it necessary to roll them up into cuffs. But hey.. you're an old fashion guy anyway. A plain white T-shirt and a pair of sneakers complete the picture.
.  You are wearing well worn jeans, a pair of sneakers and a T-shirt.

Do "some women even think I am handsome," or do "most women find me hard to resist?" There's a fairly wide gulf between these two statements, after all. And yes, the odd spacing and misplaced period are in the original.

And unfortunately the general parser- and storyworld-shoddiness that marks so many ADRIFT games pokes through in this one as well. You will often spend time struggling not with the situation in the storyworld but with the interface. At one point early in the game, for instance, you're riding shotgun with the hot lawyer chick in her SUV. She tells you to watch out for a certain small path that should lead to Battle Creek. I struggled for a long time here, as no longer how long I WAITed the scenery outside never changed. Finally I realized that the game for some reason expected me to move the SUV about with compass directions, even though I wasn't even the one driving.

It strikes me that this game was implemented as a linear series of events, and its author never really considered what might happen if the player did not follow the path set for her. Although four beta-testers are listed, I at least once found myself stuck and had to restore due to having completely confused the game with an unexpected action. Perhaps the testers were playing from the walkthrough?

It pains me to have to write such a harsh review, because it's quite plain that much work went into this game. But a lack of final polishing combined with the general shoddiness of ADRIFT undoes it in the end. A big game like this needs to inspire faith in the player -- faith in its fairness, faith in its implementation, faith in its storyworld modeling, and faith in its author. This game, alas, does not do that. It's very difficult to persevere with it for many hours when one is constantly wondering whether each new problem is a legitimate puzzle, a bug, or just a game of Parser Fun. In the end, I did what I suspect most of you would do; I gave up.

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Title: In the Rye Episode 1: Lots of Trouble
Author: MS Alzheimer, Master of Shadows, brevno, xlomid, goraph, Serwj Volk
 Author Email: most of the authors can be contacted at the URQ forum
Release Date: 2009
System: URQ
Reviewer: Valentine Kopteltsev
Reviewer Email: uux SP@G

[It's always interesting to peek at the activities of the non-English IF communities. Valentine does just that with this capsule review of a recent CYOA-style game from the Russian URQ community. -JM]

- Is that you, daddy?
- Sonny, you better don't touch this sore subject...

In this short game, which is announced as the first episode of a serial, you play the youngest son of an Irish farmer. They left you back to look after the farm and to do chores, while the rest of the family goes to the fair...

Brilliant humour (several phrases will linger in my mind for a long time) and an astounding dynamism of action somewhat reminiscent of the late stages of Shade by Andrew Plotkin are this work's main assets.

Some drawbacks are also present - both stylistic and programmatic. They are mostly of "a master's negligence" kind, but the authors overdid it somewhat.

Don't be irritated by the shortness of this review - the game is definitely worth playing... that is, if you can read Russian;).

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Title: My Uncle George
Author: Filipe Salgado
 Author Email: salgadofilipe SP@G
Release Date: July, 2009
System: Z-Code (Inform 7)
Version: Release 1
Reviewer: Paul Lee
Reviewer Email: bainespal SP@G

My Uncle George is a simple interactive short story of the modern sort. It has no puzzles. The game is based upon conversation with the NPC prominently named in the title. The endgame is soon reached as the player is confronted with a significant decision to make. The ending text varies depending on what the player chooses to do.

The story is pretty much the same regardless of what ending the player reaches. The fate of the PC himself is barely affected at all by the outcome. There are essentially three such outcomes, denoted by messages that can appear within the standard game-over asterisks. Within the three outcomes, there is some variation of the ending text, depending on the specific action that the player had taken.

This sparing plot is presented in first person, which allows the player to become more closely acquainted with the PC's thought processes than second person. The stream-of-consciousness narrative voice produced by the tense is integral to the game. In general, I believe second person is better for interactive fiction, but the style of this work would be lacking if the author had not used first person. The writing is good enough to make an impact on the player without being excessively emotional. The exception to the high quality of the writing is the dialog, which attempts to be natural and colorful. However, it seems standard for colloquial dialog, as if it were trying too hard. The main method employed to give the characters their own voices is frequent use of profanity.

Like the writing, the worldbuilding is excellent and well-crafted. The game world seems much more fully implemented than it actually is. There is only one room in the game, but the PC can hear things going on in adjoining locations. The PC and Uncle George are the only characters that are actually coded, but the player learns about several background characters not only through dialog, but also by witnessing the direct results of their actions. In fact, some of these background figures seem to be better characterized than the one coded NPC. Multiple sessions, exploring different dialog options, flesh out the PC by revealing information about his life and family.

It would be nice if the conversation system were as well-developed as the worldbuilding. Unfortunately, dialog is revealed through the use of only one command, the tried-and-true ASK. Most topics that the NPC can be asked about produce several lines of interchange between the two characters, which at least helps the bulk of the gameplay to feel slightly less like an interrogation. Still, a more detailed approach with topic suggestions and the TELL command would have been more interesting and more interactive. I'm not sure if a conversation menu system would have worked because more than half the game could then potentially be reduced to selecting menu options, but I think it would have been better than the minimalist approach taken. Granted, the simple conversation system is thoroughly implemented in that just about any topic that reasonably fits the context is recognized. Additionally, I discovered a few topics that have nothing to do with the story or setting, but are simply natural things to say in a real conversation.

The strongest point of My Uncle George is its rich and detailed atmosphere. The genre is everyday slice-of-life, even if the story is not about a routine event. I prefer more speculative scenes myself, but the level of detail executed with the skillful writing was enough to hold my interest. Conversely, the weakest point is the plot. It is a bit disappointing that the action taken by the PC in the game has no effect on his fate. The NPC's fate does hang in the balance to a greater degree, but his character was not developed enough for the player to sympathize with him much. My Uncle George is a worthy little piece of IF, and it makes for an interesting way to spend half an hour.

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Title: The Quaking of WarCrysis 3: Resistance of Black Doom
Author: Shamus Young
 Author Email: shamus SP@G
Release Date: January 18, 2010
System: Z-Code (Inform 7)
Version: Release 1
Reviewer: Jimmy Maher
Reviewer Email: maher SP@G

I quite like Shamus Young. If you aren't familiar with him, he writes prolifically about videogames and (occasionally) tabletop RPG's on his blog, and also draws a biweekly comic for The Escapist. He brings a perspective that I don't find too often in mainstream videogame criticism; he's a bit more mature than most, always willing to say it like it is, and quite frequently genuinely funny. And so I check in on his blog from time to time, even if some of what I find there, such as video of a complete playthrough of Mass Effect, strikes me as about as interesting as reading the phonebook. I particularly appreciate his tireless advocacy for better storytelling in mainstream videogames, and his willingness to call out even critical darlings like, yes, the Mass Effect series for their failings in this area. I was immediately interested when I learned that Mr. Young had created a new IF game, not only because he has quite an Internet following and thus might introduce IF to some newcomers, but also because I was genuinely curious to see what he would come up with.

The game is, as the title would imply, a satire of pretty much every FPS game of the last ten years. Ridiculously over-the-top opening cinematic, cardboard action movie characters, ultra-violent gameplay, and even the occasional sound or graphics glitch... it's all here. FPS conventions are skewered with a keen eye. The response to your taking one of the medkits you find incongruously lying about is typical:

You tear open the MedKit and immediately use everything inside at once.  Why save any for later, right?

Unfortunately, many of the bugs you'll encounter do not exist in the game being satired but rather in the text adventure doing the satiring. And incongruous responses and unimplemented scenery abound. To be fair, Mr. Young clearly said when he posted the game on his blog that it wasn't done -- literally. There is no ending; you merely come to a point where there is just nowhere else to go.

Whether he ever finishes it or not, this is of course a slight work, and if you are blissfully unaware of the genre being satirized you will likely find it baffling. If you've played your share of FPS games, though, or even watched someone else playing, you might find it worthy of a laugh or two even in its current rather dishevelled state.

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Title: The Shadow in the Cathedral
Author: Designed by Ian Finley,
Written by Jon Ingold,
Programmed by Graeme Jefferis and Jon Ingold
 Author Email: webadmin SP@G
Release Date: November 6, 2009
System: Glulx (Inform 7)
Version: 1.0.20091114Glx
Reviewer: Jimmy Maher
Reviewer Email: maher SP@G
Textfyre's first commercial IF release, Jack Toresal and the Secret Letter, was an underwhelming experience for most who played it, or even those like me who just played the demo. Not only was it hampered by an unwieldy and bloated Silverlight-based interpreter, but it seemed to have lost its soul somewhere along the way of striving to appeal to a market-researched young adult demographic. It therefore makes me doubly happy to be able to say that Textfyre's second release, The Shadow in the Cathedral, does not suffer from the same problems. First of all, you can download and run it in your interpreter of choice as a good old Glulx story file. But more significantly, it's a solid, occasionally spectacular piece of plot-focused IF, featuring a well-imagined storyworld, an interesting story, and some crackerjack writing.

The world of Cathedral is at bottom Victorian steam-punk, hardly a setting that has been lacking in fantasy fiction of the last twenty years. It's painted vividly, however, and embellished with some original details, the most obvious of these being the society's obsession with clocks, to the extent that the eponymous cathedral exists essentially to provide a scaffolding for and a place to worship the Cathedral Clock, which hangs "large as the setting sun" in its dome. You play Wren, a young orphan who was taken in by the nearby abbey to serve as a "2nd Assistant Clock Polisher." Shortly after play begins, you witness something you really shouldn't have, and then it's off to the races to foul a Dastardly Plot that reaches right to the top of the church hierarchy. Things don't slow down much at all for the next six to eight hours; the plot just keeps rushing you breathlessly along. You may well feel as out of breath as Wren by the time you get to the end.

Cathedral's plot is essentially a linear series of events, affording the player little to no opportunity to reshape things to her liking. The danger of this type of construction, especially when it is as frenetically paced as it is here, is that the player can feel like a sort of football, kicked from one NPC to another and given granular tasks to solve but no say in the big picture; a role more typical of a corporate middle manager than the hero in a work of fiction. And to be sure, Cathedral does suffer from this to some extent. It is always either Wren (voicing his thoughts to the player) or (more often) the NPC's, whether villains or heroes, who have the Big Ideas that send the player scurrying about, reacting but never really acting. But I know from experience that creating heavily plotted IF is difficult, especially in a larger scale work such as this one. The strengths of the rest of the game were enough to let me easily overlook this aspect of it, even if I do hope for a bit more design ambition for the next game in the series.

Chief among those strengths is the writing, which is done in first person and has the sort of wide eyed "gee whiz" quality one might expect from its genre, but nevertheless feels thoroughly natural, never coming across as a man struggling to write down to children. A lovely touch are all the clock-related puns and exclamations Wren and others indulge in, such as "Clockwise!" and "Skip a tooth!" Such things really bring the storyworld to life, as does the fairly well worked-out philosophical basis of the game's society, which posits that clocks and other mechanical creations are fundamentally superior to nature. (Exactly the opposite of our own culture, with its cult of the natural and organic.)

Cathedral is quite a lengthy game by modern standards, and the amount of actual content it offers is even more considerable, for you will not spend a substantial portion of your hours with this one wrestling with puzzles, as you might in old school epics like Curses or Ingold's own The Muldoon Legacy. There is rather always something new happening, always fresh text to read. It doesn't place too many demands on its player, with the result that it feels oddly like a more casual version of conventional IF even as its length distinguishes it from the more common snack-sized games of today. I actually would have liked to have been allowed to spend a bit more time just poking around and exploring some of the crannies of its world, but there always seemed to be another crisis to deal with. I also wouldn't have minded some more intricate puzzles, puzzles for which its storyworld certainly had the potential, but in the end I will always take puzzles that are too easy over puzzles that are too hard.

Of course, Textfyre expects money for this game -- $9.95 US to be precise. In that light, the smattering of bugs and inappropriate responses that I encountered stick out a bit more. Ironically, I suspect the testing process was complicated by this being a commercial product, with the (presumed) requisite need for NDA's and the like. Regardless, and while it's not a disaster by any means, the game perhaps have used a few more than its five listed testers. Likewise, it's bare-bones presentation, featuring no illustrations or other embellishments whatsoever, seems problematic for Textfyre's stated goal of drawing its customers primarily from those unfamiliar with the joys of textual IF. (Ironically, in this area it has the opposite problem from that of Secret Letter, which looked like the victim of an explosion in the interpreter factory.)

But the big question for those of us who already know about the joys of a screenful of text and blinking command prompt is, is Shadow in the Cathedral worth spending money on in light of the huge variety of free IF available today? Well, it's certainly not a technological or artistic game-changer, but it is a thorough compilation of current IF design wisdom placed at the service of a richly intriguing plot and setting; exactly the sort of work, in other words, that should be happening in IF now that the endless formal experiments of the late 1990's and early 2000's have pretty much exhausted themselves. I have my doubts about many of Textfyre's approaches, but I certainly don't regret spending $10 on this product. If you believe as I do that good work is worth paying for, I don't think you'll be disappointed after purchasing Shadow in the Cathedral.

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Title: Walker and Silhouette
Author: C.E.J. Pacian
 Author Email: cejpacian SP@G
Release Date: December 9, 2009
System: TADS 3
Reviewer: Valentine Kopteltsev
Reviewer Email: uux SP@G

In the editorial for the SPAG issue # 55, Jimmy Maher told about his IF-authoring experience, and wrote, among other things, these phrases:

I now wonder if there might be a better way, a way to simplify the job of the IF author... I am even considering... whether putting some constraints on the player's interactions would really be such a bad thing.

Well, most members of the Russian IF Community know the answer: menu-based games! (Or, to use a more habitual term, CYOA). And yes, in spite of being developed with a parser-oriented platform, Walker and Silhouette clearly is menu-based.

The player advances the story by clicking her/his way through what the game author calls "keywords" - highlighted object and/or action references in the descriptions displayed. (Alternatively, the object names can be typed at the prompt, but it's really not worth bothering.) This approach works fairly well (that is, if you don't have a deep abhorrence of menu-based adventures). I'd probably even go a step further than the author did, and would remove the last parser rudiments that neither are needed to finish the story nor add anything in terms of entertainment value. In fact, the few "traditional" commands not fitting the overall game paradigm that remained in the game are likely mimesis breaker if the player decides to use them for some reason. (I didn't test this aspect of the game thoroughly, but for instance attempts to talk to a character resulted in inappropriate responses several times). On the other hand, there's been at least one moment when I felt the game insisted on its menu-based nature too much. It was sort of a riddle, for which I knew the correct answer, but just typing it in at the prompt didn't work, and my protagonist and I had to (uselessly) spend several turns guessing.

If a bit more technical criticism is allowed, I'd complain about some (pretty many, in fact) responses to keywords remaining unchanged on successive clicks, and the player characters not disposing of some items in their inventory in time (which, again, leads to mimesis breaks when these items are referenced to later in the game). However, all these issues are rather minor.

The story is about the police detective Nate Walker and the former dissident Ivy Blissheart joining together to investigate a murder. Several little details - e. g., the game being structured in chapter-like segments, circular bruises all over the victim's body, visiting the Asylum, tentacled monsters, and the cane carried by one of the PCs - reminded me of another work, namely, The King of Shreds and Patches. I can't tell whether it was gentle parodying, an influence the author of W&S remained unaware of, or just pure coincidence. One thing is sure, however - it's not plagiarism, since in every other respect, Walker and Silhouette is entirely different. It's lighthearted, it's loaded with great humour. The writing is brilliant. As you might have guessed from the previous lines of this review, the PCs are switched in the course of the game. W&S certainly isn't the first work to do that sort of thing, but it still uses this device quite effective. Literacy is an aspect where Walker and Silhouette succeeds unreservedly.

The puzzles are mostly on the easy side (which is not surprising for a menu-based game), but satisfying to solve nevertheless. The only exception probably is the final fight, which demonstrated how difficult it sometimes is to keep a puzzle fair and realistic at the same time. The author clearly opted for fairness here; on the other hand, he used this opportunity to insert a couple more of his hilarious jokes, so that in the end, I didn't mind. For those who prefer reading the story rather than playing it, there's a clever hint system (activated by the current player character thinking).

I liked Walker and Silhouette a lot. Sure, that's partly because I prefer humorous games in general; however, I also felt it's somewhat deeper than just comedy. But I'd better stop expatiating about it now, since it'd be just spoiling the fun for the reader.

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