My SPAG Valentines!

Yes, that’s right — your Valentines are finally* in! (Love has no season, why’s there gotta be a separate day for it, grumblegrumpexcuse.) Thanks for the response! We have three entries, and befitting the broad nature of modern-day IF, they are all in different forms: one in Twine, one in Inform, and one in text. They are below:

Valentines are hosted via Dropbox, except which is in sonnet form, and below:

Bravo to the scribes of Inform 7:
like Prometheus’ theft of fire,
such a gift could be sent down from heaven —
advent crowed by troubadour and crier.

Thinking thoughts out loud is all one’s needing
to create a universe uniquely
yours — and all your furtive fruitful seeding
blooms in others’ gamboling obliquely.

Now must I kowtow upon the floor.  You
gave us all the tools for work and playing
freely and without a catch, therefore: to
Mister Nelson’s crew, here’s much hooraying!

For a gift, you see, that keeps on giving;
text adventures’ triage back to living.

Thanks everyone! We hope to see you again next Valentine’s Day, with even more author and developer love.

* Your editor is clearly the Gretchen Weiners in this scenario.

My Compy Valentine: A Valentine’s Mini-Festival, Sponsored by SPAG!

Valentine’s Day is a time for giving thanks! Kind of like Thanksgiving, but with more baby animals, puns, and painful rhyming verse.

That’s why we’re seeking “SPAG Valentines”: very short IF works in which IF WRITERS show their appreciation to the DEVELOPERS who make their creative works possible. Think of it like a cross between a mini-comp and a speed-IF.

Here are your instructions:

Choose your Valentine: anyone in the community who helped create your favorite IF language, interpreter, development interface, extension, script, macro, CSS theme or any other component you’ve used in your IF work (including works in progress)
Use IF tools to create a Valentine’s Day greeting for your Valentine
Use your development system / language of choice
Use your dubious poetic skills to praise the fruits of your Valentine’s programming labor
Somehow incorporate your Valentine’s work into the greeting itself, if possible
Send your completed Valentine’s Day greeting or a link to by February 15 (as we know, the big day itself is not one for scrambling for deadlines)

Objectify your Valentine
Reveal long-hidden romantic passion for your Valentine
Miss the Feb. 15 deadline to submit your Valentine’s Day greeting!

Issue 61.5: Letter from the Editor, Masthead, and Call for Submissions!

Today is Groundhog Day. I’ve been holed up in a coffee shop in New York all day, and for the past several hours all that’s been visible out the window is static-thick snow; I can’t imagine what a groundhog, with its slush-eye view, would see. Now Groundhog Day, the movie, is a rather IF-like conceit: if at first you don’t succeed, try, try forever until you win the story; perhaps no movie except Run Lola Run has been the source of more IF comparisons. So really there was no better day to officially relaunch SPAG!

We’re biased at SPAG, in that we’ve worked for several decades(!) now toward the preservation of IF; but we believe that interactive fiction is one of the most dynamic artforms out there now. Never before have there been so many authors working in so many different forms, pushing the limits of what IF can be and how it can reach people. The medium truly is, in the perhaps regrettable words of the New York Times, “having a moment”; and we want to be there to help shape and document it.

For our relaunch, we’re bringing you a mini-issue, containing:

a SPAG Specifics entry by the ever-thoughtful Victor Gijsbers!

a brief review of the Year that Was by your editor-in-chief!

– The letter from the editor you’re currently reading. Mathematically speaking, that means my verbiage takes up a whopping two-thirds of this issue, so without further editorial ado I’ll turn it over to the part you’re really here for.


SPAG has been a one-man show for most of its existence, an era that ends today. If you’d like to get involved in SPAG on the editorial level, please get in touch! Here’s who you’ll be working with, either way:

Editor-in-Chief: Katherine Morayati

Katherine Morayati is an IF author and critic; her credits include Broken Legs (second place, 2009 IF Competition) and a swath of other, smaller works and reviews. In her other life, she’s a music critic who writes as Katherine St. Asaph and helps run a mini-constellation of blogs.

Managing Editor: Matt Carey

Matt Carey is a longtime IF follower and the author of a number of acclaimed (pseudonymous) works, both parser and Twine; he’s also the former editor of the science-fiction zine Labyrinth Inhabitant.

Senior Editor/Webmaster: Dannii Willis

Dannii Willis is the previous editor of SPAG, the maintainer of Parchment and the developer of Kerkerkruip. He hopes to one day produce a work of IF himself, but for now his creativity is directed toward the ones and zeros of technology.


The next full issue of SPAG will come out in April! and its theme will be: Society/Preservation/Text/Adventure. Interpret this theme as strictly or as loosely as you’d like, and feel free to deviate, or not, as you will. Some ideas, to guide you — perhaps you’ll think of more:

SOCIETY: Interviews with IF figures, prominent, niche or otherwise interesting; guides to setting up IF-related events in your city; outreach; coverage of local events; parts or whole of the IF community, whether writing or dev communities; compelling personal essays if you’ve got those sort of chops.

PRESERVATION: The storage and rediscovery of older IF works, either within the IF community or Internet archival efforts; the canon, and everything surrounding; efforts to re-release adventure and/or IF works; replayability/rereadability.

TEXT: IF’s crossover into other literary forms, such as poetry, flash fiction, scriptwriting or traditional hypertext; the art and science of writing IF prose; IF in translation; books and IF; static fiction authors’ involvement, hypothetical or not, in IF.

ADVENTURE: Puzzle design; design tutorials; IF and the graphic adventure community; experimental IF; adventures in the still-largely-uncharted land that is commercial IF; generally, a catch-all for whatever weird, niche or enthusiast ideas you may have.

OTHER, NON-THEME STUFF: Did I mention “design tutorials”? We want those. Another thing we want: traditionally, since its inception in 1996, SPAG has run reviews of interactive fiction, particularly the entrants in the annual IF Competition. It’s never been the only contender in this arena; Usenet gave way to IFDB gave way to forums and blogs. So to avoid spewing into a flood of spew, we are going to look for two specific kinds of reviews:

  • SPAG Specifics. In-depth reviews of a piece, preferably about one salient aspect. Why is this good? How does it work? Victor’s piece, in this mini-issue, is a nice guide.
  • Super-brief capsule reviews of the comp field. Fun is good, irreverent is good, supportive is good. Christopher Huang’s Breakfast Review is the crème de la crème (in coffee, with a pastry) of this sort of thing; while I don’t advise you rip off his gimmick, that’s what we’re looking for here.

Send all pitches to, along with a brief bio of yourself, and writing samples if you prefer. Also appreciated: a rough sense of word count (we’re an online publication and flexible, but we’re probably not gonna run 50,000-word novellas, nor 140-character tweets, unless stated above) and an estimated time of completion (aim for February or March, leave time for line edits, follow your gut.)

We highly encourage submissions from experienced IF critics as well as newcomers, and we are particularly interested in applicants who are under-represented in IF writing. However, all are welcome, including those who have previously expressed interest in writing for the website. To paraphrase a call for submissions from one of my old haunts: We are not so interested in anything you have ever written anywhere ever. All we care about is how well you can play our game.


There’s really no place to plug social media links while maintaining the flow of an article, so I’ll put it here: we are on Twitter, at @spagazine! Follow us, retweet us, swell our numbers to the trending heavens.

SPAG Specifics: Puzzles come to life in “The Hours”

An analysis of the puzzle mechanics in Robert Patten’s The Hours, by Victor Gijsbers.

SPAG Specifics are in-depth discussions of IF works and can contain frequent spoilers. We recommend that you first play the works discussed if you are bothered by spoilers.

The HoursThere is a scene halfway through Robert Patten’s The Hours, from the 2011 IF Competition, where the protagonist meets Maurice, a scientist who designs time travel equipment. In keeping with genre conventions, Maurice’s laboratory has just exploded; and in keeping with other genre conventions, he is all too willing to tell and even demonstrate to us how it happened. We already learned in an earlier scene that one travels through time by wearing a “tick,” which only works when submerged in water. Maurice is working on ticks that will allow you to travel to the future. But current test results are not encouraging, as he is about to show us. Maurice gives the player character a glass of water, takes a tick that is programmed to travel into the future, and drops it into the glass, where it promptly disappears – as it should. So what’s the problem?

“Traveling into the undefined gives off a great deal of heat and disrupts molecular cohesion. I can’t send a person into the future — when the tick arrives, it explodes.”

Maurice gestures to the ruins of the door.

“Just like last time … But how do I know my last experiment was not a fluke, do you ask?”

(You weren’t going to ask, actually.)

“Because I’ve done it more than once, and I only bring the ticks a half-minute into the future! In the same place! In this case, in the same glass. And every time, kablooey!”

Terror drains Maurice’s face. “Oh.”


This is a lethal situation. If you don’t type exactly the right command at that prompt, you will be blown into smithereens by an exploding tick. But this is not an old-school IF puzzle, where you have to try dozens of moves to slowly work out the solution. On the contrary, it is almost inconceivable that you do not immediately and automatically type in one of the few commands that will save your life.

> drop glass

You throw the glass. It busts in midair.

This is a satisfying moment. You understood the author, you felt drawn into the scene, you did that which was obvious to you, and the game responded in exactly the way that you hoped.

But given that the puzzle was trivially easy, how can it be satisfying? Doesn’t the satisfaction of solving a puzzle depend on the difficulty of that puzzle? Suppose that I give you the following two puzzles; in both of them, the aim is to regroup the letters such that the name of an animal appears:

  1. elehpant
  2. roamlldai

We can agree that the second puzzle, while perhaps not particularly interesting, gives at least some satisfaction when solved. The first, on the other hand, is barely fit to be called a puzzle at all. You know the solution as soon as you see the puzzle, and the knowledge does not satisfy.

Let us compare The Hours to All Things Devours, a game from the 2004 IF Competition that also revolves around time travel. The puzzles in All Things Devours are hard. You must wrestle with a complicated system until you come to understand its rules; you then need to come to several critical insights; and finally you must combine them in smart ways to achieve your goals without causing a lethal time travel paradox. Congratulations! Solving these puzzles is a real achievement, and it feels that way.

Now look at The Hours. If it stood to All Things Devours as our puzzle 1 stands to our puzzle 2, then The Hours ought to be a particularly unsatisfying game, and ought to have been more satisfying if its puzzles had been more difficult. But neither of these conclusions is true. Dropping the glass feels good, even though it is no achievement at all, and if the dropping of the glass hadn’t been clued so well, if the player would have had to search for the right command, this might have been a frustrating moment in the game rather than a moment of small joy.

There must, then, be a kind of satisfaction that is independent of achieving a difficult goal: a kind dependent on the puzzles being trivial. But what kind of satisfaction could that be?

One option is that in interactive fiction, where getting stuck is always a possibility, knowing what to do to advance the game is in itself a pleasurable experience. The scene where I drop the glass would then be satisfying simply because it is crystal clear what I need to do. But this theory is highly problematic. Imagine a travel scene in which one needs to follow the always present road signs to one’s destination. At every point I know what to do:

> x sign

The sign saying “Stockholm” points north.

> n

You arrive at a small mill. There is a sign here.

That scene would certainly not be interesting. Why not? Is it simply that this scene is repetitive, and requires me to do the same actions over and over again? No – while repetition would obviously rob the glass scene in The Hours of its power to satisfy, the travel scene would be boring and unsatisfactory even if it consisted of only one location to traverse.

Before discussing another, more interesting option, I want to talk about the final puzzle in The Hours, the one for which the glass dropping scene is only the preparation. Near the end of the game, the player character is captured by her original self, Alpha, and strapped to a table where her organs will be ‘harvested’. Alpha arrogantly tells you about her genius and how she will achieve eternal youth because of all the bodies cloned through time travel that are at her disposal.

At this point of the game the player is completely helpless; you cannot take any action that will allow you to escape. Of course, you don’t know that, and so you are going to do what a player in such a situation will always do: check your inventory and see whether you’re carrying anything that might help. You have only one thing: a tick set for the future, contained in a jewelry box. Unfortunately, that isn’t going to help you. After all, ticks only activate in water. So you dismiss the possibility, and look for other way to escape, while Alpha keeps on droning about her superiority.

At that point, another captured clone, Omega, causes a fire. This text appears on the screen:

A flaming mass of rock shoots into the operating room. The impact flips the operating table, severing the straps.

The sprinklers above spray a torrent of water into the cavern.

You tumble to the floor. The jewelry box pops open. The tick lights up in response to the water, and is gone.

The fires are out, but now everything is drenched. The robots have stopped moving.

Alpha still has her scalpel, and it looks like she’s going to use it on you anyway. All you have is an empty jewelry box.


All I have is an empty jewelry box? Ha! Without a moment’s hesitation, and with a growing grin on my face, I type the one command that will let me survive:

> throw box at alpha

You throw the empty box at Alpha. She catches it in surprise.

The rest, of course, is a fiery explosion, and victory. Again the puzzle is trivial. The whole game has been designed with this moment in mind, to make it obvious to me that throwing the box at my enemy will cause her death. And again the moment is very satisfying, even more satisfying then the one with the glass, because this time I don’t just save my own life, but also defeat my primary and hated antagonist.

So what is it that makes these scenes so enjoyable? My suggestion is that it is something I would like to call immersive agency and which consists in (a) a sudden identification with the player character that (b) leads to recognition and performance of the (or an) action that (c) is gleefully acknowledged by the game to be the (or a) right one. Let’s work that out that step by step.

(a) Normally, the thinking of the player can be quite distant from that of the player character. For instance, nobody believes that the protagonist of an interactive fiction is in the habit of methodically examining every object in the room. As another example, when the player is stuck mulling over a puzzle, it need not be fictionally true that the character is stuck in the same way – the entire fictional time of all our attempts to solve the puzzle may be just a single second, and the character may not even realise that there is a puzzle to be solved. But in the scenes I picked from The Hours, this gap disappears. The player and the player character have the exact same realisation at the exact same moment; and this gives the feeling that we really step into the scene. For a moment, our thoughts and feelings coincide with those of the protagonist.

(b) The sudden insight of the player and the player character takes the form of knowledge that a certain action must be taken; and the player and player character both have the power to perform this action (on their respective levels of reality). Thus we do not merely step into the scene, we take control of it.

(c) In all collaborative story telling, control over the story is only real if it is acknowledged by others. In improvisational theatre, I need the other actors to pick up on my ideas and run with them. In a roleplaying game, my fellow players must agree that I had the authority to make the claims I just did; otherwise, they will not become part of our shared fiction. And in a piece of interactive fiction, the program must respond in a way that shows it has understood my action and has changed the state of the world accordingly (if such a change is required). By allowing me to take the action, and by describing it in such a way that it becomes clear that this was the action I was meant to take and that it has the result that I had anticipated, the game acknowledges my control.

These three elements together constitute a form of agency that is not as ubiquitous in interactive fiction as one might naïvely think. Much of our interaction with games comes in the form of exploration, puzzle solving, or decision making. It is only with a small minority of our actions that we take control of the action in the way I just described in (b) and (c); and even then, it is rarely the case that we have the sudden feeling of identification described in (a). But this type of agency, when it is achieved, is very satisfying. Perhaps more than other types it really immerses us into the fiction, if only for a moment, and allows us to experience almost first-hand that element of human experience that interactive fiction ought to be particularly good at representing: action.

Thus, immersive agency is one way of fulfilling the old promise that “You control the story”. It gives us the experience of acting out the actions that determine the narrative. As such, it is a welcome addition to that other way of fulfilling the promise: giving the player choices that change the outcome of the story – the kind of experience that Alabaster, Floatpoint, Fate and Blue Lacuna have attempted to give us. (These different experiences can perhaps be linked to what in roleplaying theory has been called “actor stance” and “author stance”, but that is a topic for another essay.)

What makes The Hours interesting from a design perspective is how the entire game has been set up to enable several moments where immersive agency becomes possible. I discern two major lessons. First, the necessity of detailed preparation that allows the player to perceive non-standard actions as obviously the right ones. The way that the glass scene sets up the jewelry box scene is an excellent example of this. Second, the necessity of distracting the player. The Hours gives us an elaborate and somewhat dizzying time travel story with several characters that turn out to be clones of each other, with alternate realities, and so on … none of which is terribly important to the narrative, but all of which keeps us busy so that we haven’t been thinking about exploding ticks for a while when the moment comes that we need to think about them again. Without this distraction, the player might see what is going to happen too clearly; and she might then feel too manipulated to enjoy the control when it is finally given to her. But now she has been spending her mental energy on keeping track of the story, and the moment of agency comes as a sudden and surprising present.

In conclusion: extremely trivial puzzles can be very satisfying, if they are used to create moments of immersive agency. Given that I have been very critical about the ideal of immersion in the past, and have doubted its ability to give much satisfaction, this conclusion comes as something of a surprise to me.

The Year that Was

Sentiment on the Internet seems to be that 2014 was a bad year. Perhaps so. In IF-land, however, 2014 was one of the most exciting years in a decade that’s been full of them. Simply put, IF’s hasn’t had this large an audience and this vibrant a field of creators since the 1980s. A brief rundown of The Year that Was:

February 14: IndieCade East enters its second year at the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, Queens. (The author, who lived in Astoria for years, takes a perverse sort of pride in the fact that New York’s IF events these days, largely take place in Manhattan and Queens, and not in Brooklyn.) While not an IF-only event, interactive fiction or IF-adjacent works showcased included Elegy for a Dead World, Ice-Bound and the excellently titled Sext Adventure.

April 6: The 18th annual XYZZY Awards ceremony was held, as always, on ifMUD! Some facts about the 2013 XYZZYs:

2013 is the second year in a row, after 2012, in which the majority of XYZZY Award winners were women. Part of this can be attributed to the rise of Twine – but not all; Coloratura and Olly Olly Oxen Free are both traditional parser works.

2013 is the year of the coolest thing ever: the acceptance speech for Trapped in Time, a PDF CYOA, was also a PDF CYOA. This is a fact. It is in no way opinion.

2013 has the best out-of-context Best Individual Puzzle, dethroning Violet’s  “disconnecting the Internet” (oh, how puzzling):  “creating the meat monster,” from Coloratura. This also is a fact. Indisputable, cold fact. Nothing about it is opinion.

May 11: Results came in for Spring Thing, an annual competition traditionally intended for longer, more experimental, critically meaty works – a preview of Aaron Reed’s epic Blue Lacuna lived there, as did Victor Gijsbers’ The Baron. 2014 was no exception: winner The Price of Freedom was polished, expansive in story, and part one of an ambitious trilogy — something surprisingly rare in the IF world. Spring Thing’s returning next year as a festival and showcase; and if you are reading this, there’s still time for you to concoct an idea!

July 6: Interactive fiction, according to The New York Times, has a moment. As we all know, interactive fiction has had a lot of moments! You’ve read about several here. But this year, IF was so presumably momentous to merit a mention in the Grey Lady; despite a baffling swipe at one author’s prose from a writer who thunk the clunker “Interactive fiction, which once went by the name ‘text adventure’,” it was a hard-won piece of visibility for IF in one of the most prestigious outlets in the world. And it wasn’t the NYT’s only time this year covering IF; the New York Times Magazine ran a full-length piece on Twine in November.

July 31: 80 Days, a piece by Inkle, is released for iOS (its Android counterpart arrived in December); it’s one of the rare IF works to receive widespread critical acclaim, even being praised by The Telegraph as one of the best novels of the year. (That’s novels. As in, DeFoe, James, Austen stuff.)

September 13: Boston’s Festival of Independent Games has traditionally been a haven for IF enthusiasts (who tend to be independent and into games); this year featured a live playthrough of IFcomp winner Coloratura and tutorials in Inform and Twine.

October 30: Hadean Lands, Andrew Plotkin’s five-years-in-the-making magnum opus, is finally released. It’s by far the most expansive piece of interactive fiction the scene’s seen in years, and the sort of alchemy of worldbuilding and puzzlecrafting that’s not just difficult, but Zarfian-difficult, to get this right.

November 8: WordPlay, run by the Hand Eye Society, enters its second year in Toronto. Every year the IF community has something like a summit, and this year Canada was it; the event featured a live reading of Aisle, premieres of works by Deirdra “Squinky” Kiai and Porpentine, a talk by Plotkin on the aforementioned Hadean Lands and an entire, usually-packed room showcasing IF and IF-adjacent works, of all kinds.

November 16: The Interactive Fiction Competition announces its winners. 42 authors entered – historically, a high-water mark – and the top five was remarkably diverse: Hunger Daemon, a traditional Lovecraftian-lampoon parser work; Creatures Such as We, a space dating sim using ChoiceScript; Jacqueline, Jungle Queen!, a parser romp made in Quest; AlethiCorp, a surveillance satire with an entire Web interface; and With Those We Love Alive, a multimedia-enhanced Twine piece. They’re all beyond worth your time.

December 22: Twine 2.0, the long-awaited second release of the hypertext tool, is released. Long in the works – it was previewed at No Show Conference in 2013 – the new system notably adds browser-based support for creating Twine pieces.


Hello, SPAG readers! No doubt you have been curious as to the future of this magazine and this space. Consider your curiosity sated! Not only will SPAG continue to publish, we’re very excited about what’s coming down the pipeline. Coming soon:

  • New editors!
  • New Content(tm)!
  • A way for you, the reader and potential writer/artist/person with skills not mentioned here, to get involved!

We’ll have more details on Feb. 1; for now, watch this space, and know that exciting things are to come.

An apology

So I really dropped the ball with SPAG, and I’ve realised it’s time to own up to that.

I had sincere hopes of publishing SPAG regularly, but for many reasons it didn’t happen. Real life got busy. One particular article stumped my editorial instincts so that I avoided the whole project for a while. I received only a handful of articles which made me worry that even if issue 62 were published there would be nothing for after that. (Though my inactivity was probably the cause of that – who would submit articles to a website that’s been quiet for two years?) But ultimately I’ve realised that I’m not the right person to be in charge. I’m a strong P in the Myers-Briggs personality system – I’m much better at maintaining other people’s Inform extensions than writing a story myself, or even than writing my own extensions. I much prefer to be a second-in-charge than a leader, and being a leader over no one but myself is the worst of all.

So it’s time that I ask for someone else to take over. I’m still willing to be involved, especially in a technical/webmaster role, but SPAG needs someone else to be the editor. It needs someone with a stronger vision for the site too. I still think that hosting short reviews is something that the community is more than covering at the IFDB and all the blogs, but what else SPAG could become I’m not sure. In depth SPAG Specifics reviews? A place for curating IF? An indie publisher? Please contact me if you have ideas or would like to help. I don’t want this site to stay dead.

My greatest apologies go to the authors whose articles I’ve been sitting on. I really do hope they will get published soon.

SPAG Specifics: Creating, inverting and making good the detective genre

The plot and style of Jon Ingold’s Make It Good owes a lot to the Infocom classic Deadline, the game which really defined the genre. In this article we will compare these two games to see how this genre has been shaped over the last three decades.

SPAG Specifics are in-depth discussions of IF works and can contain frequent spoilers. We recommend that you first play the works discussed if you are bothered by spoilers.


Deadline coverIn 198l, Infocom had a major hit on its hand with the first two games of the Zork trilogy. Zork, however, was an adaptation of the mainframe game Dungeon. It was not an original commercial game. Wanting to see if they could repeat the success of Zork, players were surprised when they came out with Deadline. Deadline was an original game in many respects. While the original Zork games were a collaboration between Marc Blank and Dave Lebling, Deadline was the first solo game for Marc Blank. It was also the first game Infocom made outside of the fantasy genre. Perhaps most importantly, Deadline was the first game to come with “feelies”. Feelies are physical objects, articles, or papers that give background information about the story and characters. Deadline came bundled in a portfolio with a letter and an autopsy report of the victim, amongst others.

In Deadline a wealthy businessman has died in his home by an overdose. The official verdict of the police and coroner is that his death was a suicide. Others, however, are not so sure. The player character is a police detective who is assigned to go to the house of the deceased and look for signs of foul play. The player also encounters other characters who knew the deceased. The detective has only twelve hours of story time to find evidence and accuse a possible suspect, hence the name Deadline. The player of course will discover that the victim’s death was not a suicide. To win, however, you must must find motive, means, and opportunity to arrest the right suspect.

For a game from the early days of the interactive fiction format, Deadline holds up rather well. The NPCs are well developed but not deep as characters. They were innovative at the time for being able to follow their own schedule. The parser is not as good as later Infocom releases, and it lacks abbreviations for commands, such as x and z. It still contains a few guess-the-verb problems. The story for the most part is logical, and finding and analyzing evidence is straightforward. Any time you wish for an object to be analyzed, your assistant, Sergeant Duffy, will take the evidence to the lab. As a mystery, the story holds together without any major plot holes. One thing that makes Infocom’s mystery games interesting is that, unlike most puzzle games, both then and today, the puzzles rarely involve manipulating objects in a MacGyver-like fashion. Problem solving involves analyzing evidence and questioning suspects. Traditional adventure games puzzles are less common. This was a pattern that Infocom mysteries kept through Witness and Suspect. In each game, the player had to find both motive and means in order to arrest a suspect. In each game, there was an assistant who would analyze evidence for the player. And, in each game you were allowed to arrest the character when you thought there was enough evidence to convict him or her. This structure was unique for Infocom and, even more surprisingly, has rarely been used since.

The design of Deadline does have one major flaw that makes the game not only hard but unfair by modern standards: it requires the player character to be in the right place and at the right time to find important information. One has to play many times to know where and when to go, unless you use hints or a walkthrough. There is one trigger event in particular that is extremely unfair, because the timing is so tight that you can easily not know you missed the necessary event — let alone know it is necessary. Being a mystery, the solution should rely less on events outside out of the player character’s control, and more with the player’s ability to make inferences from the evidence given. Despite its flaws, Deadline is a good game and an important part of IF history.

Make It Good

Make It Good coverJon Ingold’s Make It Good clearly shows its inspiration from Deadline. The situations are similar: both involve a murder in the house of a wealthy man. In both, you have a limited amount of time to solve the mystery. There are a small group of suspects in both games that require being questioned. Both games give you an assistant who will analyze evidence for you. Despite these similarities, the styles of these two games are quite different. The player character in this game is a detective with a drinking problem who is in danger of getting kicked off the force. As in Deadline you have an assistant who will analyze evidence for you. Unlike Deadline, he treats you with contempt. In Deadline, your assistant would run any evidence you asked for into the lab. Here, if you give him an object that cannot be analyzed, he will refuse to help you. The puzzles also require a certain amount of timing. Make It Good is tough game, but it is more fair to the player than is Deadline. There are a few places were non-obvious actions are called for that may be hard for the player to think of, however it does not require any events that are so precise that one could overlook them.

The most significant distinctive of Make It Good is how it plays with what the player knows compared to the player character, who initially knows far more than the player. This is a somewhat modern gimmick that goes back to Andrew Plotkin’s Spider and Web. Ingold himself used this in his earlier games Fail-Safe and Insight. The player has to learn not only what the other characters know, but what their own character does too. It is not obvious at first, but there are certain hints early in the game. The character you play is also much more morally ambiguous than the detective in Deadline. It requires the player to do a number of things that are unethical. In many ways, this shows the modern IF community’s interest in the art of storytelling. Modern authors are more interested in exploring techniques in narrative than many of those from the early days of IF; they are also more interested in characterization. It is hard to imagine Infocom ever having a player character like the one in this game. Infidel came closer than any of their games in having a morally questionable character as a protagonist. In many ways, the story is an inversion of the typical mystery game. I believe this is intentional on Ingold’s part. It often works. In some ways it does not.

The weakest part of the story is the endgame. Having yet another surprise within the original plot twist is clever, but when you think about the facts, they do not quite fit what was discovered earlier in regards to a crucial piece of evidence. What perhaps is weakest about the ending is the fact that it leaves the plot dangling. This is perhaps intentional on Ingold’s part. The player is left to guess what would happen next — and then the game ends. Perhaps there will be a sequel someday.

What Ingold has done is take the assumptions of the mystery game genre and turned them on their head. Like most modern day interactive fiction, storytelling is as important as puzzle solving. And, similar to some modern-day designers, he tries to use different narrative techniques to experiment with the medium. But despite the unusual nature of the story, the puzzle structure is a throwback to old IF, especially Deadline. Make It Good takes the puzzle style of Deadline while at the same time trying more modern storytelling experiments of new IF. In both terms it succeeds — but also sometimes fails. Oddly enough, the part of the game that I found the weakest came from the tension between the narrative technique and the nature of the puzzles themselves, showing that sometimes these two objectives can cause problems for each other. Regardless of its flaws, Make It Good is still entertaining both as clever game and as a story.

Depicting Grief — An interview with the author of Eurydice

Eurydice, a meditation on grief that juxtaposes Greek myth with a lovingly observed contemporary setting, took second place in the eighteenth annual IF Competition. Its author, who asked to remain anonymous, agreed to answer some of our questions.

Sam Kabo Ashwell: Why IF? What made you choose this strange little medium rather than straight prose or CYOA or postmodern folk dance?

It was, in all honesty, partly ignorance. Well, that and being quite poor at postmodern folk dance. I wouldn’t hold it up as a beacon of good practice, but there can be something quite liberating about not really knowing what you’re doing because it encourages you to just jump in and go for it.

I’m actually finding it really difficult to look back and interrogate my own motivations. Writing Eurydice was such a process that I almost think the person who began working on it isn’t the same person who’s trying to talk about it now. I do know, however, I had absolutely no interest in writing straight prose. Like the world really needs another emo short story about a dead girl. Although I suppose that leaves the question of whether the world needs a piece of emo IF about a dead girl. But, y’know. To be stop being self-conscious about it for a fleeting moment, I think that’s part of the reason I wanted to work within an interactive framework. Grief is simultaneously solipsistic and universal, and there was something quite meaningful to me about a text that developed from that contradiction. More generally, I’ve played a fair bit of IF and I’ve always had a vague intention to try and write some, but I suppose having something I felt impelled to write about finally crystallised intent into action.

Eurydice coverThe other thing, I guess, and I apologise in advance if this sounds horribly self-important, but one of the things I’ve always found striking about certain depictions of grief is the way the writers seem to have deliberately sought out demanding forms as the vehicle for their expression. ‘Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night‘, for example, is a villanelle – a form so rigid and awkward to use that I can only think of about five good ones in the English language, and mainly they’re exercises in technique rather than emotion. So there’s something quite stunning, I think, about that poem because the content and the form are at such terrible variance: so much pain, anger and despair, shining – fly in amber style – through the restrictions of the chosen medium. Similarly, Tennyson’s ‘In Memoriam‘ has an incredibly fixed rhyme and stanza structure, even for Victorian poetry. To me, the very neatness of it, the bouncy-bouncy rhythm and the apparent simplicity of the rhymes, only centralises the stark, unanswerable questions about the nature of grief, loss and divine love (whether or not you think this has been plausibly resolved into “yay god!” by the end).

And, obviously, I’m not trying to say I totally decided to make like Dylan Thomas by writing in Inform 7 instead of on a piece of paper, but I think there is value is bringing intellect to emotion (also I’m frankly a lot more comfortable with the first than the second). And Inform 7 is not remotely comparable to a villanelle, because it makes a lot more sense, but there’s something quite comforting in … actually I think I’ve come back to Tennyson: “But, for the unquiet heart and brain / A use in measured language lies.” Or, in my case, natural language.

So, I think what I’m saying in a massively long-winded way is that, from both a personal and a creative perspective, it’s useful to act and think against the grain of grief, and it also obliges you to present that grief in a form that could conceivably engage someone else – whereas an unstructured burble of pain has no value to anyone, except possibly a Kleenex.

How was your Comp experience?

To be honest, I didn’t really have a comp experience per se because, once I stuck Eurydice into the competition, I thought the most sensible thing I could do was keep the heck out of the way. Of course, I played the other games and that was fascinating and humbling all at once. And also a bit terrifying because the competition, by necessity, requires you to view everything comparatively and that’s basically like sitting there going “Well, do I think this live salmon is better or worse than this deck chair.”

I’m also just … um … kind of stunned that I came second. I’m very aware that it was a bit of a polarising game and, being a first effort, flawed in many ways (also my proof reading is the suck), so I’m incredibly touched by the kindness of people. And also because it was a pretty grim subject, I was glad (and wildly relieved) that I’d managed to present it in a fashion that some people were able to get something out of. Rather than just making everyone miserable for no clear reason.

Now that it’s over, I’m slowly working my way through transcripts and reviews – which, once again, leaves me all flustered and grateful, since it’s like … wow, not only did these people take the time to play the game, but they’re also taking the time to say insightful, articulate and useful things about it (and occasionally really lovely things, too). A couple of people even took the trouble and time to send me their annotated transcripts and suggestions, which was so above and beyond the call of duty it bowled me over.

Of course, it can also sometimes be difficult to read very negative reviews but, ultimately, if you put something in the public domain then anyone has the right to really hate it. And, to be honest, once I’ve got over the instinctive ouch response, it just makes me feel like I wrecked some poor stranger’s day. I’ve generally avoided discussion, not because I don’t give a toss, but because I suspect it would really easy to turn into a raging auteur. At the time, I thought I had what were perfectly sensible rationales for making the choices I did (I’m talking holistically here, I did not at any point in the design process make a rational choice to proof read the game badly) but they’re pretty irrelevant both to the player’s interpretation of the text and whether or not it was an effective game for them.

So what I’m (again, long-windedly) getting at is that my competition experience, even from a distance, has been extremely positive.

If you could go back to the start of the project, would you approach anything differently? Where do you most want to improve as an author?

Yeesh. There’s tonnes. There are a bunch of niggling things (which I’ll hopefully fix as best I can in the post-competition release), for example I’d try to be a little less purple in my prose, I’d proof-read way better and I’d try to be less self-conscious and awkward in the meta text. I’d like to neaten things up across the board, like sort out the way the room names are printed, implement a few more custom responses, and sort out the naming of the mythological characters, even though it’s blatantly obvious who they are anyway. More drastically, if I really was back to the drawing board, I’d pay a bit more attention to the actual mechanics of the game as a whole – as Emily Short pointed out in her review, the hidden-objecty-ness sits quite awkwardly with the ‘art game art’ feel, and is incredibly obscurely implemented. In the more general sense, I really need to be better at using Inform 7. You can get to a certain level of base competence just by flailing around but to actually use it to its full potential takes … actual work and, y’know, ability.

Also I should have really implemented something to let the player hug Celine. I mean, that was a pretty darn serious oversight. What kind of monster am I?

From the perspective of a first-time author, what is community support getting right and what could do with improvement? Could the IF community be doing more for new authors?

I didn’t really use the community as much as I could have / should have when I was writing Eurydice, which probably explains (a bit) how rough it is in places. I brute forced and make-shifted a lot of my coding, because it genuinely hadn’t occurred to me to ask for help. I feel a bit bad for Inform 7, actually, because the whole experience was a bit HULK WRITE SAD TEXT ADVENTURE BADLY SMASH.

In terms of working with Inform, though, the scope of the documentation is, just on its own terms, amazing. I mean, even if the super-extensive and remarkably entertaining manual isn’t doing it for you, chances are somebody, with a completely different style and approach, has written something on the subject as well. Or someone else has already asked the question, and received a million answers, on a forum somewhere. So in terms of providing resources the community is tremendous. I’ve had significantly less experience with, um, interacting with Real Humans. But everyone I’ve spoken with has been kind and helpful – but, then, that’s a self-selecting sample, and you’d have to be a pretty serious level of annoyed with me to actively get in touch to tell me how badly I wrecked your day.

A lot of reviews talked about how they really liked the depiction of the housemates, and Persephone; but the story ultimately occupies this very traditional IF space where the protagonist is very isolated. What sort of games would you be making if NPCs magically became easy?

I’m really glad the depiction of the housemates came across well to some people – it was a way, at least, of injecting a little energy and amusement into the proceedings. (Also churlish bitterness – I’m quite pleased at how many attempts there were to kill Laurie). As I said earlier, grief can be a very isolating experience so, in that respect, I was deliberately trying to create a world that felt, um, emptily full of people. In an earlier version of the game, I did actually have a full conversation system implemented, so you could do the whole TALK TO and ASK ABOUT and TALK ABOUT thing, but I stripped it right back and replaced it with TALK TO because I actively wanted something in which the interaction felt very shallow, limited and static.  So, even if NPCs had been easier to implement, I wouldn’t have done anything different in Eurydice. As for actually answering the question (sorry), I honestly haven’t really considered it. I’m still a bit dazed about having managed to write one piece of IF to really be able to get my head round the possibilities of trying to write more.

Eurydice is about mourning, about the progress of a single emotional state. It’s abundantly clear from the outset that you’re pursuing a doomed cause. What’s it like to work on a piece like that, particularly a mid-sized game that isn’t going to be finished in a hurry? 

Looking back at it, I’m slightly bewildered that I did it. But, at the time, it didn’t feel like a big deal – it just happened to be what I was working on. It was quite an emotional experience but I actually found it quite cathartic. Expressing everything that – at the time – felt inexpressible.  And just to be excruciatingly honest for a moment: I was in a bad place in my life and couldn’t bear to be around people, so what else was I going to do with my time?

Are there any works — IF or otherwise — that you can point to and say, without this Eurydice wouldn’t have happened?

I’ve played quite a lot of IF but I can’t really claim any direct influences because we come back to the salmon and the deckchair problem. Also a lot of the IF I really admire is so beyond anything I could actually accomplish that it would feel sort of hubristic.

I’ve already burbled on about quite a bit about poetry, but Eurydice does open with a quote from ‘In Memoriam’, so I should probably stand up and admit that it was a hugely important text for me. It’s a bit random, to be honest, because it’s very much a Sad Victorian Is Sad And Worried About God kind of poem. And it should probably only have a limited amount to say to a 21st century atheist with a completely different worldview. But, although I don’t entirely buy the comfortable re-establishment of faith and order the poet gruellingly forces himself towards, there’s something I find exceptionally comforting about the sections where he’s basically going “omg, what does this mean, this totally sucks and I hate everyone, and nobody understands, and I’m miserable all the time and maybe I’ll just stand outside his house crying and being really creepy.” Except, y’know, in iambic tetrameter. I feel sort of the same way about C. S. Lewis’s A Grief Observed. Not a big fan of the consolation, but strangely cheered by the anguish, the railing and the despair.

As I keep saying there is (or can be) something intensely isolating and dehumanising about grief. For starters, we all experience and express it differently. But, let’s face it, there’s nothing quite as awkward or antisocial as someone in pain – there’s even something about it ‘In Memoriam’, when T makes a throwaway reference to the fact his friends and family want him to get over his grief because it’s gone on for ages and he’s making everyone uncomfortable. And I remember reading that and feeling, in some strange way, deeply moved and grateful that there was some Victorian fellow out there who was just as alienated and annoyed as I was. Stumbling across these moments, in ‘In Memoriam’, Birthday Letters and A Grief Observed were like threads connecting me back to the world, making me human again.

Sorry to turn this into quote soup, but there’s a bit in The History Boys, where Hector says something like: “the best moments in reading are when you come across something … which you had thought special and particular to you. And now, here it is, set down by someone else … and it is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours.”

And, in a way, and without indulging in delusions of grandeur, I would very much like to hope that perhaps Eurydice could be like that for someone else. I don’t mean to overreach but it’s, I don’t know, meaningful to me to think that perhaps texts can be a chain of connections between people. Though, of course, that doesn’t mean it’s a cruel or ignorant rejection if someone doesn’t like it, or that they spat in the outstretched hand or cut it off with a kitchen knife. The things that speak to us at certain times are entirely personal, and utterly diverse, and that’s the way it should be.

The endings seem partially structured around the classic Kübler-Ross stages of grief; was this originally conceived of as a more prominent element? To read things naively for a minute, how much is the central message of Eurydice “fantasy is a form of denial”?

I know there are shifting moods of depression, anger, denial and what-have-you in the game, and that the central journey seems to be a move towards acceptance of a kind, but I wasn’t specifically trying to reference the K-R stages of grief.

Although I’m sure it can be a useful model or some people, I often find that it gets applied in a slightly unhelpful way. It’s not like you start out as Level One Griever in Denial and gradually work your way up to Level Five, where you accept that your princess is in another castle and you’re never going to see her again, ever. I think K-R originally proposed the model, not as ‘stages’ exactly but as elements of the landscape of personal grief – so more of a sandbox, really, where you can do the missions in any order, repeat certain levels or skip others altogether. However, because the K-L thingy is practically part of our cultural consciousness now, I think when you look back on your own grieving process, you tend to start fitting your behaviour into the prescribed patterns because it’s simply human nature to want to find meaning in activities that may, or may not, have been pretty abstract and meaningless:  “Ah, yes, when I pulled all my bookshelves down, I was experiencing Anger and then when I cried in the shower I was experiencing Depression.” When, actually, it’s probably a lot more random and complicated than that.

I think ‘fantasy is a form of denial’ could be a message you could choose to read out of Eurydice. Ultimately, what you want to take away is up to you. But, I suppose, for me, the cornerstone of grief is its finality. It’s been a while now but my rational mind still flinches from it. It’s very strange. I mean obviously I know, and I understand, that dead people are dead, and that’s that. But I can’t really meaningfully encompass the enormity of the unchanging truth that I will never see Celine again. That every year I am alive is a year she will still be dead. Perhaps it’s easier if you have faith in life after death. I don’t know. But, for me (and I know keep saying ‘for me’ but I want to emphasise that it’s just a personal reading and other readings are equally legitimate, I’m not trying to make blanket statements about grief or texts or life) it was less about fantasy versus reality, denial versus acceptance than that central question: how do you understand the foreverness of loss?

And, for me, the ‘Fable’ ending, where you sort of merge into the mythology while at the same time diverging from it, was about simply not being ready to deal with that foreverness rather than actively failing to deal with it, if that distinction makes sense. I know it’s not entirely supported by the game mechanics (which is my mistake as a noob) because ‘Fable’ is easier to get than, say, ‘Flowers’, so it feels like it might be a Bad Ending, but I didn’t particularly see it that way. I wasn’t trying to propose a right way or a wrong way to do grief. I’m not sure, but I think people thought the mechanics were less forgiving than they actually were – it was more about balance than having to go all out in one direction. So, yes, if you embrace all the mythology stuff then you’ll end up with ‘Fable’ but you can still get ‘Flowers’ without having to find every irritating hidden object.

Beyond straightforward milieu stuff, the protagonist of Eurydice is heavily ambiguous — a number of people felt they were female, and I got the impression of intentional ambiguous-gender and was surprised when I found something that seemed to make them explicitly male. Gender aside, it’s a piece that keeps a lot of information from the player, while doing very strong work with suggestive detail. What was the scheme here? How do you judge how much information the player should be given?

Yeah, that thing that seemed to gender the protagonist was me messing up, and I’ll be changing it. I did start Eurydice as a personal project but then, the more I wrote and the more my own emotional state changed and developed over time, I found myself moving from the specific to the universal. And it got to the point that I realised that I didn’t want the player to be limited by my identity, my experiences and perceptions, and my relationship with Celine. I know the lack of definition for the protagonist annoyed some people but, for me, it became very important that the protagonist could be of any gender, and that they could build their own relationship with Celine out of the spaces in the text, friends, lovers, ex-lovers, unrequited love, whatever you wanted.

Having a ‘scheme’ suggests I knew what I was doing but for the most part I was just going with ‘what felt right’. Not so much information that it limited the player into being a certain type of person (i.e. me) but enough so that they could establish their own coherent and meaningful reality out the patchwork of memories, experiences and details given by the game. I mean, I don’t know, but I think (I hope) you could see and interpret things quite differently depending on who you talked to or what you engaged with. Truthfully, I need to do more of this, as there were quite a few things that people wanted to interact with it that I’d completely failed to implement. And lots of them were things that made me go slightly smooshy to be honest, like wanting to give Celine a coat, which suggested perhaps that some players had genuinely come to care about her and want to help her. Which, in turn, makes me feel like she isn’t completely gone. Ahem. Smoosh.

What was most interesting about Parchment transcripts? Did people generally play as you expected?

I’m still analysing them, to be honest, prior to starting working on my post-competition release. They’re incredibly useful and, oh my God, are they fascinating, or what? I mean, I cringe every time someone bangs up against a limitation of the game or an overly florid phrase or a typo, which means I’m cringing a lot. But at the same time I’m tentatively pleased that Eurydice is just about still standing, despite the variety in approaches, which suggests I haven’t done everything entirely wrong. I tried not to write the game with too inflexible an expectation of how the player would behave (I don’t know how well I succeeded) and it’s interesting to watch someone approach things in a manner wildly different to anything you’d previously considered. But it’s also really nice, sometimes, to see someone playing in a way that suggests they’re thinking about it much as I was when I was writing it. Which brings me back to the idea of texts as way of reaching out to each other. Which isn’t a bad place to end. So I’ll leave it there.

Andromeda Apocalypse — Backstage with Marco Innocenti

Marco Innocenti, winner of the IFComp 2012 with Andromeda Apocalypse, has taken time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions. Without further ado, here’s our little exchange.

Felix Pleșoianu: For starters, please tell our readers a few things about yourself, if you like.

Marco Innocenti: I’m not sure what would sound interesting to SPAG’s readers. Let’s go random.

I’m forty, I live in Florence, Italy. I’m a graphic designer. Or, rather, that’s what I do for a living. What I really am I can’t quite say. I would like to be a writer, a real writer, one of those people who, you know, write. Like in: write for 400 hundred pages about something, send it to an editor and get published. That hasn’t happened up to now (I’m stuck before the “get published” part), so I think I’ve resorted to IF.

Ok, that is not the truth. I have been an IF aficionado since the mid-Eighties. I played The Hobbit, and a rather obscure adventure called Gruds in Space. I think I actually learned English to be able to play Gruds in Space. Then it was Scott Adams’ Questprobes and everything eventually rolled down the slope. I’ve been wanting to make a text adventure since when I was fourteen. I did some, back in the ages, in CBM Basic. They were impossible to solve guess-the-verbs, linear stories with almost no inventory and ASCII graphics (well, the Commodore equivalent, that is). More than twenty years later, I discovered Inform 6 and started playing with it, to no avail. When Inform 7 came out, everything changed.

I guess there is a lot of serious thanksgiving to be done, here. Graham Nelson and all his friends made part of my dreams come true.

Portrait of Marco Innocenti

Your debut game last year placed 17th, and here you are winning the IFComp on your second attempt. Is there a secret to your rapid ascension?

Yes: the Holy Spirit.

No, jokes apart, there’s no secret. In the sense that everything that is reasonably predictable happened and things worked out pretty well. This is the common sense guide to “making a better job”. Although, maybe, not that much better.

First, Awakening (my first game) was coded step-by-step as I came up with new rooms and new puzzles. The full story was not in my mind until the very last second, when I wrote the final bit. Although this can be a more funny way of writing a story, it is indeed a rather big mistake in case one wanted to achieve anything above mediocrity. Apocalypse was much more planned and had, fortunately, a more strong world-building since the start. I had this idea in mind and wrote the story around it. OK, something came up on-the-go, but the backbone was there and it was solid enough to sustain a full body.

Pretending I can tell a story — we will take this for granted, just to skip to the interesting parts — all I had to do was to plan it, test it, add color.

Second step: Apocalypse sustained around 900% more testing that Awakening. Two months vs. one week, a lot of seasoned players and coders instead of two or three random people. I don’t want, of course, to sound like my first testers were dumbarses: fact is testers for Apocalypse were a) more related to the game or to my world-building having played and loved my first game; b) more accurate in understanding what was wrong (the first testers were just blind men in a dark alley, in that respect); c) they had a lot more time to figure things out.

Third aspect: I had read a lot of reviews (even for other games), talked to many people and lived a lot more the IF scene. This helped me figure out what the audience would like to see in a game and, more so, what it would hate. When I entered Awakening in my first IFComp, I simply was not aware of these things. I knew nothing about IF apart from the few games I’d played recently and from the classics from the Eighties. Games no one would find entertaining, these days, let’s say it. Who would break his head against Spellbreaker, in 2012? I understood, generally, that the international perception of IF was greatly different from what we have in Italy (we still call them “text adventures” for a reason: we are still after that kind of game, over here). This didn’t shape my work, I can tell you, but rounded the rough edges a lot. As an example: at the very beginning of Apocalypse is a sequence that can be triggered by examining the context. Doing that, though, could be counter-intuitive. So I added a time limit so that the scene was triggered nonetheless after the timer ran out. Looking at transcripts, I understand that was a bright move, as 99% of the players never figured out what to do inside the Hyerotrope, after the scene at the beach front.

Finally, I gave myself more time to work on the project. Jumping in and out of things instead of being forced to code three hours a day, proved very strong as a design approach.

That said, I believe that listening to other people complaints was the best I could do to improve myself. Of course, without listening to the nice words, also, I would never have done an Andromeda 2.

And now for the million dollar question. The credits for your game suggest that you needed some help with your English. What are the challenges of writing in a foreign language? How much work was needed to reach an acceptable standard of quality?

This should be point five in the aforementioned list of things to do to make a better game.

Yes, I had my text read and corrected by Sam Kabo Ashwell, and some tweaking came from the other testers as well. What I can say about writing in a foreign language is that, provided you know said language and have a reasonable vocabulary… it’s not hard at all.

You can’t think in your native language, of course, as this would mean rebuilding The Gostak. This came out pretty easy, as I’m used to thinking in English when talking English, let alone when I write it. As opposed to what some Italian friends thought (and wrote in reviews!), I never ever made the word-by-word translation, vocabulary at hand they suggest. When I want to say “shut the fuck up,” I think “shut the fuck up,” not “chetati, demente”. So, writing in English comes out quite easily. What is incredibly hard, on the other hand, is making it sound perfect. There’s a lot under the hood of a language that people are not aware of. Phrasings, common sayings, actual synonyms. While speaking to an audience can be smooth, the same cannot be said of writing for the same audience. Writing a story, too, is harder still. You have to add color to the sentence, create similes, pump up the tone. Doing it the wrong way (a wrong way that can look almost-good to foreigners but absolutely wrong to natives) is guaranteed. I found out the hard way, and I will always laugh, from now on, at American spy movies in which the main character can “speak and write such a perfect Russian that nobody in Moscow would figure out he’s from Detroit”. Yes, of course: believe it. </sarcasm>

As for the second part of the question: it’s not a matter of how much work, but just if that work can or cannot be done. I wouldn’t write a game in German or French. I wouldn’t have written it in English if my grasp of the thing wasn’t very good. That said, writing in another language is obviously slower than in mine (I’m always looking for the “second term”, while in Italian synonyms come out of the hat like white rabbits, and usually elegantly and pregnant with originality) but not that much slower. What you need, though, is a decent editor that could help you avoid horrible outcomes.

Sam and the others did an excellent job. It took less than I thought (about three days) and what they were most good at was sticking to my style, not trying to change “strange” phrasings that were subtly a trademark of mine.

That said, your mileage may vary, as some people found the lyrics in Apocalypse a bit purple while other thought they made the game a success.

Both of your games so far take place in the same science fiction setting of your own creation. You’ve even organized a fan fiction minicomp that sparked some discussion, even though the participation was low. Does your interactive fiction tie into a larger body of work? Would you call the Andromeda Legacy competition a success?

Andromeda Apocalyse coverThe Andromeda setting is, so far, all in the games by me, Joey Jones and Paul Lee. There is nothing else but, of course, if Spielberg calls me and says he wanna do a movie about the Hyerotropes, there would be movies, too. Almost all that is in my mind is in the games. If you want to know what the Hyerotropes are, or why they are doing what they do, or what color are Sen Kulpa’s panties, well I don’t have the faintest idea. I guess.

What I do know is that I know who will be playing as PCs in the eventual next game in the series, what morals and principles will regulate it and what will be the main theme. I already have a couple of epic scenes in mind and, if I ever regain the strength to make another Andromeda game, I’m quite sure they will rock my supporters.

As for the second part of the question, I can say without any shadow of a doubt that the ALComp was a complete success. I had three entrants (one had to resign due to health problems), both the games spawned were good and they added to the Andromeda mythology a lot. Now all of them have more weight in terms of world-building and I’m very proud of it. Given the premise, having found at least one person willing to be involved in such a strange competition is awesome. I hope it can be done again, in the future. I’d love to see Emily Short write a small game in my canon, as an example. Or read an Inklewriter, Twine or Quest story set in Monarch.

Last but not least, what are your plans for the future? Is there anything else you would like to add?

I have something running.

First, sooner or later I have to post-comp-release Apocalypse. As per tradition, it will involve additional content, although not as much as Awakening — The Final Cut had, and file management to auto-save the achievements.

Then, I should be working on a horror IF with Lutein Hawthorne (author of last year’s IFComp entry The Guardian), that I had to drop due to Apocalypse being in the way.

I have an old-style fantasy game with 8-bit graphics in incubation.

Finally, I’m starting to write a large, long, ambitious Noir game with sounds and music. It will take ages but I guess it’s the thing most viable of seeing a release somewhere between here and the eternity. I want to go serious on this one: for the authorial voice, I’m reading Raymond Chandler to try and have the sound of the language fixed in my brain. It will surely need a lot of additional work by Sam Ashwell, this time. Wonder if he’ll be willing to help, again.

Thank you, Marco, and good luck in your future endeavors.