“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
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.
the above may make the endeavor seem pretty wearisome (taxing?
handful?). Yes, yes it is, like carving something out of stone with a
two sizes too small. Why do it? Why not be content with playing English
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.)
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?
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?
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?
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.
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 code.google.com, 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?
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.Saugus.net Halloween Contest Reviews
|Author Email:||pete SP@G snackypet.com|
|Release Date:||October 31, 2009
|System:||Z-Code (Inform 7)|
|Reviewer Email:||maher SP@G filfre.net|
|Author:||Marius Müller (Taleslinger)
|Author Email:||marius.ts.mueller SP@G gmail.com
|Release Date:||October 31, 2009
|System:||Z-Code (Inform 7)|
|Reviewer Email:||maher SP@G filfre.net|
|Title:||Love is as Powerful as Death, Jealousy is as Cruel as the Grave
|Release Date:||October 31, 2009
|Reviewer Email:||bowsmand SP@G gmail.com|
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
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 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
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.
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.
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.”Back to Table of Contents
|Author Email:||Gregory.Weir SP@G gmail.com
|Release Date:||December 4, 2009
|System:||Z-Code (Inform 7)|
|Reviewer Email:||maher SP@G filfre.net
|Author Email:||Rosenloev.1 SP@G gmail.com
|Release Date:||April 22, 2009
|Reviewer Email:||maher SP@G filfre.net
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.
|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|
|Reviewer Email:||uux SP@G mail.ru
- 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;).Back to Table of Contents
|Author Email:||salgadofilipe SP@G gmail.com
|Release Date:||July, 2009
|System:||Z-Code (Inform 7)|
|Reviewer Email:||bainespal SP@G yahoo.com
|Title:||The Quaking of WarCrysis 3: Resistance of Black Doom
|Author Email:||shamus SP@G shamusyoung.com
|Release Date:||January 18, 2010
|System:||Z-Code (Inform 7)|
|Reviewer Email:||maher SP@G filfre.net|
|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 textfyre.com|
|Release Date:||November 6, 2009
|System:||Glulx (Inform 7)|
|Reviewer Email:||maher SP@G filfre.net
|Title:||Walker and Silhouette
|Author Email:||cejpacian SP@G gmail.com
|Release Date:||December 9, 2009
|Reviewer Email:||uux SP@G mail.ru
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.Back to Table of Contents