Planet Interactive Fiction

December 02, 2021

Choice of Games

Faerie’s Bargain: The Price of Business—Amass a goblin hoard of treasure and wonders!

by Mary Duffy at December 02, 2021 04:02 PM

We’re proud to announce that Faerie’s Bargain: The Price of Business, the latest in our popular “Choice of Games” line of multiple-choice interactive-fiction games, is now available for Steam, Android, and on iOS in the “Choice of Games” app. It’s 33% off until December 9th!

Amass a goblin hoard of priceless treasures! Will you corner the market on memories and dreams? What will you pay for true love, and what is it worth?

Faerie’s Bargain: The Price of Business is a 300,000-word interactive fantasy novel by Trip Galey where your choices control the story. It’s entirely text-based—without graphics or sound effects—and fueled by the vast, unstoppable power of your imagination.

You are one of the goblin merchants in the Untermarkt: a magical bazaar beneath Victorian London that trades in memories, wishes, secrets, and more. The Untermarkt has been a mainstay of London Faerie life since High Queen Elizabeth first forged the Treaty with Titania, Queen of Faerie. As merchant, you are skilled in dealing in all manner of impossibilities: new faces and voices, silks spun of starlight, bottled time, twists of fate, and even stranger things. Here, anything can be bought and sold for the right price. Will you line your pockets, or are the rewards of your trade more valuable than money?

When a mysterious business opportunity takes you by surprise, you have the chance to deal in something new: political intrigue! High Queen Victoria sits upon the Throne, but there are many who would prefer to rule in her place. Who is plotting against her, and what will it take to stop them? And where has the princess gone? To find out, you will have to learn the deepest secrets of the most powerful people in the Untermarkt: noble knights, fabulously wealthy merchants, dispossessed royalty, and more. Will you defend the High Queen, or use your newfound wealth to fund a little revolution?

Your fellow merchants certainly won’t allow an opportunity for profit to slip away. Will you undercut their efforts at the Merchant Conclave, or ignore all the politicking in favor of growing your wealth? And then there’s love—which could come at a greater cost than you ever imagined. Whatever you decide, one thing is certain: It’s time to get down to business!

• Play as male, female, or nonbinary; gay, straight, bisexual, pansexual; asexual and/or aromantic.
• Play as mostly-human, mostly-faery, or an even balance between the two, and shift the levels between the two extremes as the story progresses.
• Buy yourself new eyes, skin, or a whole new body!
• Gain mystical power from your supernatural ally: Mirrors, Roses, or the Fog of London itself.
• Wear hair made of stormclouds, sing with the voice of a Siren, drink from a wineskin of luck, sell dragon scales and flowers from a glass mountain.
• Romance—or betray!—a socialite, a Lord, a Lady, maybe even your Supernatural Ally!
• Make deals with creatures both fae and mortal; trade in favors, memories, magic, bottled time, twists of fate, and more!
• Attend society balls and grand galas, investigate scheming nobles, and defend (or betray) the Empire from threats without and within!
• Rise to a seat on the High Council and rule the Untermarkt along with the highest of goblin and fae elite—or just build up enough wealth to dig yourself out of debt
• Advocate for the rights of children trapped in factories and labor contracts, or exploit their plight for your own gain.
• Play politics to bolster or break the relationship between the Empire and Faerie, to make your own fortune, or to put a puppet on the Throne!

We hope you enjoy playing Faerie’s Bargain: The Price of Business. We encourage you to tell your friends about it, and recommend the game on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and other sites. Don’t forget: our initial download rate determines our ranking on the App Store. The more times you download in the first week, the better our games will rank.

November 29, 2021

Choice of Games

Author Interview: Trip Galey, Faerie’s Bargain: The Price of Business

by Mary Duffy at November 29, 2021 03:02 PM

Amass a goblin hoard of priceless treasures! Will you corner the market on memories and dreams? What will you pay for true love, and what is it worth? Faerie’s Bargain: The Price of Business is a 300,000-word interactive fantasy novel by Trip Galey. I sat down with Trip to talk about goblin markets, fantasy settings, and their experience writing them.

Faerie’s Bargain: The Price of Business releases this Thursday, December 2nd. You can play the first three chapters for free today.

The world of Faerie’s Bargain: The Price of Business is so delightful. Tell me about its origins.

There is a bit of a story to this, actually, so please bear with me! The seed for what would become the world of Faerie’s Bargain was planted back in New York City in 2010. My partner took us to a show called Nevermore —The Imaginary Life and Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe. It’s a show with absolutely stunning visuals and amazingly evocative music in places. Central to that story is the idea of the beautiful art that can come out of a life of misery and pain. So I started thinking of Goblin Markets and how you can pay for things like incredible artistic talent with esoteric coin like a lifetime of suffering. Victorian London seemed to fit well as a setting for the thematic idea because it’s a time period of amazing industrial progress and achievement that was realized at an absolutely abhorrent human cost. One thought led to another and over the next seven years the world took shape though related ideas and characters. The Godson of Despair…Improbable technological marvels made possible by paying for them in misery…The Fog of London and its hatred for the stars was present from very early on. But it all started because one October in 2010 we thought it would be fun to go to a little-known gothic musical on Broadway for Halloween!

Why are Goblin Markets such an intriguing literary trope/setting?

I’m terribly glad you asked because I’ve actually done an entire PhD around this very subject (I am literally defending my thesis on 8th December)! I would argue one reason they’re such a compelling trope is because they encapsulate in microcosm one of the most prominent threads of the Western tradition of storytelling: a character getting what they want/need. A quest has an object or an objective. A romance has a longed-for happily ever after. The heroine of a fairy tale goes into the woods to get the thing that makes it worth the journeying. And all of these objectives take work to achieve, work and sometimes sacrifice. You can think of that as the price the characters have to pay to get what they want. In classical storytelling though, that price is drawn out, it’s hidden as part of the quest or journey. The Goblin Market takes that whole construct and distills it down. Your heart’s desire is right there on the market stall before you. All you have to do is pay the terrible price. What’s it gonna be, boy? Yes? Or no?

At the Goblin Market, that experience is purer, more intense. Characters really come face to face with asking themselves what it is they are willing to give up, to do, to become, in order to get what they want. Do you want a voice so pure and perfect people weep to hear you sing? The price is your looks, your pretty face, your beauty. Is it worth it? People do terrible and ridiculous things for fame and fortune in our world, and intangible prices (like time with your family) are paid all the time to achieve dreams. We respond to it because it’s a very real part of being human. And the Goblin Market is so much more alluring because it can offer things that we cannot simply buy in our world: eternal youth, true love, a happily-ever-after. Who among us hasn’t fantasized about having things not even billionaires could buy?

Plus they’re just incredibly cool!

What was the most difficult part of the writing process for you?

I think the most difficult part of this particular writing process was working linearly. My normal writing process tends to skip forward and back quite a lot. I’ll write the parts I know (though yes, often scenes end up orphaned along the way), and I tend to write the beginning and the end before joining up the middle. For Faerie’s Bargain I had to start absolutely at the beginning and follow directly all the way through to the end. I was not expecting how difficult that would be compared to my normal process and I definitely struggled a great deal in the middle precisely because I hadn’t had the chance to write the end yet. I got there in the end though! (Puns are always intended, even when they’re accidental).

So writing linearly was the most difficult part of the process for me. That and editing. Editing across so many different potential lines of narrative was murder on my poor grey cells! 😂

What did you enjoy most about writing the game?

From a personal standpoint the thing I enjoyed the most was the chance to really dig down into the Untermarkt, all kinds of different deals, and new goblin merchants. I had the most fun describing Blatterbosch’s stall, I think. He’s definitely a character that I’m carrying through into other projects. I also really enjoyed writing the Council chapters. That was something I hadn’t considered at all before beginning Faerie’s Bargain and I’m very happy that this project sparked its creation.

From a professional standpoint hands down it was having to write in such a way that considered multiple ways any given scene could go or evolve. It taught me so much about my own process and the craft of writing in general. So much of creating a story comes down to the choices one makes as an author, so essentially training yourself to think through the myriad ways a scene could break as the default way of writing? Priceless.

Do you have a favorite NPC?

This is not an easy question, at all. If I were forced to choose, no clever wordplay or dancing around the issue allowed, however, I would say The Fog of London. One of the things that draws me to stories about fey creatures is the alien ways in which the minds of such beings might work, how they differ from our own, and what that can tell us about our own shared humanity. So yes, the Fog of London (Plus, the Fog has a definite edge to it that I really enjoy writing).

What else are you working on?

I have a novel set in the same world as Faerie’s Bargain currently doing the rounds with agents. It also, as you might easily imagine, features the Goblin Market in a very prominent role.

In terms of projects I’m actively working on right now, I’m writing a queer short story inspired by all the fairy and folk tales that feature forced dancing (like The Red Shoes). I’m also in the outlining process for a new novel, a post-apocalyptic, high-camp, high-drama, glitter-explosion set in the same world as my short story “The Last Dawn of Targadrides” (available in the anthology Glitter + Ashes).

Of course, if you want another taste of the world of Faerie’s Bargain, I can accommodate as well! I’ve written a novella set in the world which includes one of the NPCs from Faerie’s Bargain, Eli Burghley (aka The Godson of Despair) and one of the supernatural ally options from the game as well (Roses). The story is called “War of the Roses” and revolves around Dafydd, a naturalist and adventurer struggling under a terrible curse. It’s a bit of a meditation on the realities of having an invisible disability, a bit of a blackmail thriller, and was a lot of fun to write! You’ll be able to find out more on my website, www.TripGaley.com!

November 28, 2021

The People's Republic of IF

October Meeting Post-Mortem

by Angela Chang at November 28, 2021 07:01 PM

October 2021 PR-IF attendeesOct 2021 PR-IF meeting attendees

NickM,  Zarf, KaySavetz  (Eaten By A Grue), HughStephen Eric Jablonski,  Dana,  Mark PilgrimKathryn Li, and anjchang (late) welcomed newcomer (William) Joe Durkin. Warning: What follows is probably not proper English, but just my log of notes from the meeting to jog people’s memories:

IFComp is underway!

Star Saga 2: The Clathran Menace (being scanned for archive.org)
https://www.blackgate.com/2019/11/04/vintage-bits-star-saga-an-innovative-hybrid-sci-fi-computer-rpg-series/

https://www.jesperjuul.net/text/gameofobjects/ — academic paper presented in playable form.

Hugh recovered Temple Of Disrondu, a 1982 BBC Micro game (ported to TRS-80)
http://bbcmicro.co.uk/game.php?id=3836
https://strandgames.com/blog/temple-of-disrondu

Hugh showed off his “spineboy” demo rendering of runtime for web!
Spine (Esoteric Software) https://stvle.s3.amazonaws.com/spineboy/index.html?story=spineboy.str

Discussion about depiction of gore for better ratings

It’s November, so Nanogenmo is on

Notable IFComp games – 4×4 archipelago procedurally generated discovery game
Kidney Kwest education and reinforcement for young kidney patients
The last night of the Alexisgrad two-player IF, you and your partner each take on the role of a leader of a great nation on the last night of a war. 

Mention of Gold machine (http://golmac.org/) a blog of playthough of infocom games, more emphasis on the
literary analysis side. A recent post covered Zork – who is the thief here? You’re doing everything the thief is but you’re despoiling things.

November 27, 2021

Key & Compass Blog

New walkthroughs for November 2021

by davidwelbourn at November 27, 2021 01:02 AM

On Friday, November 26, 2021, I published new walkthroughs for the games and stories listed below! Some of these were paid for by my wonderful patrons at Patreon. Please consider supporting me to make even more new walkthroughs for works of interactive fiction at Patreon and Ko-fi.

(See also this list at IFDB.)


Citizen of Nowhere (2019) by Luke A Jones

In this odd, whimsical, and bittersweet game, you play as a young man who rejected the crown after your father, the Bony King of Nowhere, died. You moved to the far north and live a quiet life. Your pet dog, Dylan, is always by your side. But today, the Prime Minister has invited you to a garden party at the old castle. You wonder what mischief you’ll get up to this time.

This game was an entry in IF Comp 2019 where it took 55th place. It is also a sequel to The Bony King of Nowhere.

IFDB | My walkthrough and map


The Mysterious Case of the Acrobat and His Peers (2009) by Amanda Tien

In this interactive adventure, a greenhorn detective must find a missing acrobat and solve the mystery by exploring the circus and questioning everything from tiger trainers to monotone ringmasters to sad clowns.

IFDB | My walkthrough and map


The Mage Wars: Statue (2003) by Jim Fisher

In this lengthy unfinished game divided into chapters, you’ll be playing as various characters, but mostly as Dr. Marcus Philbrook, a man who petrifies himself into a statue in 1997 and wakes up in a museum in 9236. Unbeknowst to Marcus, the world now uses magic, and an evil mage named Noric the dark will soon threaten everyone with his power.

This game was an entry in IntroComp 2003 where it took 1st place. Although the full game was planned for release in 2004, the game remains incomplete. The game is notable for using the ORLibrary.

IFDB | My walkthrough and maps


The Cube in the Cavern (2017) by Andrew Schultz

In this puzzle game, you play as someone with a Ph.D. in both Psychokinetics and Psychohistory. You have found an ancient-looking cave containing a large floating cube where each face has its own gravity pulling you towards the cube’s center! What could be in there? You have a mood ring, a map, and some rope to help you find out.

This game was an entry in IF Comp 2017 where it took 39th place.

IFDB | My walkthrough and maps


Aunt Nancy’s House (1997) by Nate Schwartzman

In this rather unrewarding exploratory work, you are playing as the author visiting his aunt’s house which contains a large assortment of ordinary items, minimally described. Highlights of the tour include waiting for Windows to boot, watching a baseball game on TV, and disambiguating bathroom faucets and taps.

This work was an entry at IF Comp 1997 where it took 33rd place.

IFDB | My walkthrough and map


Goodbye Doggy World (1997) by Meri and Mark

In this incomplete game, you are visiting a spooky pet graveyard featuring wandering fog, a crypt, three tombstones, sn old oak tree, and a gate. Unfortunately, you can’t really accomplish anything but explore as best you can.

IFDB | My walkthrough and map


Gourmet Gaffe (2011) by Hulk Handsome

In this one-room joke game, you play as the inventor of the back scratcher. The Queen of France is pleased with you until you ask for ketchup at her dining table. Sacré bleu! Now you must escape her dungeon before you’re thrown to the mimes!

IFDB | My walkthrough and map


Mirror and Queen (2016) by Chandler Groover

In this puzzleless one-room story based on Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, you play as the queen consulting the magic mirror. The gameplay consists entirely of asking your oracular mirror about as many topics (relating to herself, the princess, and the court) as you can before its puissance is expended.

This was an entry in IF Comp 2016 where it took 22nd place. At the 2016 XYZZY Awards, it was a finalist in the Best Individual NPC category for the mirror.

IFDB | My walkthrough


Missing Grandpa: Lost in Time (2012) by Becky Kinkead

In this severely under-implemented game, you play as someone looking for your Grandpa. Grandpa’s been missing for three days. You have a suspicion where he’s gone and you decided to check his notes in his attic which mention time travel and a hidden door.

IFDB | My walkthrough and map


Will The Real Marjorie Hopkirk Please Stand Up? (1998) by Neil James Brown (as “Steve Parsons for TextFire, Inc.”)

In this demo game, you play as an assassin hired to kill Mrs. Marjorie Hopkirk. Unfortunately, she’s cloned herself ninety-nine times which means you’re going to have to kill her one hundred times to get the job done. (Note: This demo game ends after five assassinations.)

This game was written in Hugo and is one of the participants in the Textfire 12-pack.

IFDB | My walkthrough and map


Xmaton (2007) by Simeon Maxein (a.k.a. “MedO”)

In this short one-room game inspired by Eyezmaze’s GROW games, you play as a homeowner with a new X-Maton machine. It has six buttons to help you prepare your house for Christmas, but what order should you press them in before your family returns home?

This game is also known as X-Maton 2010. It took 10th place in TIGSource’s Text the Halls competition.

IFDB | My walkthrough and map

November 24, 2021

Choice of Games

Cliffhanger: Challenger of Tomorrow—Punch Fascists in the retro-futuristic 1930s!

by Mary Duffy at November 24, 2021 05:02 PM

CliffhangerWe’re proud to announce that Cliffhanger: Challenger of Tomorrow, the latest in our popular “Choice of Games” line of multiple-choice interactive-fiction games, is now available for Steam, Android, and on iOS in the “Choice of Games” app.

It’s 33% off until Dec 1!

Punch out Fascists and unravel conspiracies in this explosive pulp adventure set in a retro-futuristic 1930s world of airships, fast cars, and two-fisted action!

Cliffhanger: Challenger of Tomorrow is a 300,000-word interactive novel by William Brown, author of The Mysteries of Baroque. It’s entirely text-based, without graphics or sound effects, and fueled by the vast, unstoppable power of your imagination.

Here, masked and caped adventurers with ray guns and rocket boots blast down the gleaming Art Deco streets of Manhattan. Sinister criminal masterminds scheme from tropical island lairs. Dinosaurs stamp and bellow in fog-shrouded jungle plateaus. Fearless archaeologists discover incredible secrets and terrible curses under the desert sands. Master thieves plot daring heists among the glittering casinos of Monaco.

And you? You’re Challenger, the most famous adventurer in the world–or, if you like, the most infamous scoundrel. You were raised as an orphan by Dr. Cosmos Zeta at his Tomorrow Institute, where he and his crack team of scientists have developed “zeta rays,” providing free energy for the whole world, and granting mysterious powers to a lucky few.

But now, Dr. Zeta has been assassinated before your very eyes, and replaced by a doppelganger, who accuses you of attempted murder. To clear your name and avenge Zeta’s death, you’ll have to chase the assassin around the world–and beyond!

Will you defend Earth against a sinister mastermind? Will you crush the axis of Fascism that rages across Europe? Will you uncover the shocking truth about the zeta rays?

There’s only one way to find out! Play Cliffhanger: Challenger of Tomorrow today!

• Play as male, female, or non-binary; gay, straight, or bi
• Protect the Earth from interstellar and extradimensional invaders!
• Find friendship, love, rivalry, and enmity among a colourful cast of stalwart heroes, brooding warrior princes, shy scholars, charming rogues, ruthless gangsters, enigmatic spies, inscrutable mystics, fast-talking reporters, and brilliant scientists!
• Travel across a huge, gloriously strange world, from the sky-high speakeasies of New York City to the whispering bamboo groves of Taiwan, from the dark streets of Fascist London to the raucous nightclubs and casinos of the Shanghai Bund!
• Blaze across the skies on a jetpack of your own invention, learn the secrets of invisibility and mind-reading, or swing from building to building using the incredible slingshot grappling hook!
• Conquer the Mansions of the Moon, the last great stronghold of a decadent empire, or attain enlightenment amongst the snowy peaks and ageless monasteries of Shangri-La!
• Build a network of spies, contacts, and allies across the world!
• Play guitar with Django Reinhardt and Duke Ellington, party with Texas Guinan and the Aga Khan, drink whiskey with Al Capone, swap ideas with Hedy Lamarr, and shoot Hitler in the face!

We hope you enjoy playing Cliffhanger: Challenger of Tomorrow. We encourage you to tell your friends about it, and recommend the game on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and other sites. Don’t forget: our initial download rate determines our ranking on the App Store. The more times you download in the first week, the better our games will rank.

November 22, 2021

Choice of Games

Author Interview: William Brown, Cliffhanger: Challenger of Tomorrow

by Mary Duffy at November 22, 2021 03:02 PM


Punch out Fascists and unravel conspiracies in this explosive pulp adventure set in a retro-futuristic 1930s world of airships, fast cars, and two-fisted action!

Cliffhanger: Challenger of Tomorrow is a 300,000-word interactive novel by William Brown, author of The Mysteries of Baroque. I sat down with William to discuss his new game and the crazy worlds he builds. Cliffhanger: Challenger of Tomorrow releases this Wednesday, November 24th. You can play the first three chapters today.

Tell me how you conceived of the world of Cliffhanger: Challenger of Tomorrow. What are the influences on this game?

I liked the idea of doing a game that drew on pulp fiction in the same way that my previous game was inspired by Gothic fiction. So my primary inspirations was the pulp fiction of the 1930s, where excitement and pace always trump plausibility, and the radio and film serials and comic strips that were based on them – Doc Savage, the Shadow, the Phantom Lady, Tarzan, Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers, Tintin, Terry & the Pirates, the Saint… I downloaded a bunch of old-time radio serials, put them on to my iPod, and spent weeks wandering around suburban London with, like, Orson Welles as the Shadow cackling in my ears.

In addition to this, I was inspired by a lot of early twentieth century thriller writers like John Buchan and Eric Ambler, classic adventure films like CasablancaOnly Angels Have WingsThe Maltese Falcon, To Catch a ThiefNorth by Northwest… and, of course, the Indiana Jones films.

The main thing I wanted to capture was the sense of excitement and fast-paced adventure in all these stories, the sense of infinite possibilities. So I set the game in an alternative version of the 1930s where, thanks to a machine known as the zeta ray generator, the Clutch Plague never happened, where the economic boom of the Roaring ‘20s never stopped but instead kept accelerating out of control, with people building ever-higher skyscrapers, driving ever faster cars, and throwing ever wilder and more extravagant parties. A pulp serial kind of a world, where everything is always in motion and every action just escalates the tension.

Who is the PC in this game? Are they the Shadow, are they Flash Gordon?

The PC is a famous New York-based, globetrotting adventurer who has been pretty much everywhere and has a host of friends and enemies all over the world. Other than that, the player can decide which particular pulp archetype they lean into: they might be a science genius like Doc Savage, or a mystic avenger like the Shadow, a Modesty Blaise-type superspy, or a treasure-hunting rogue like Indiana Jones.

This is a world filled with thrills and chills, but also Fascists and Martians. Fun to write?

It’s my sincere hope that players have even as close to as much fun playing Cliffhanger as I did writing it. There’s just something so liberating and satisfying about completely embracing the spirit of the pulp genre, about breathlessly applying superlatives to everything and freely breaking out the exclamation marks, about piling desperate situation on desperate situation and never ever slowing the pace down.

I wrote a lot of the game during lockdown, in those anxious and claustrophobic times, and it felt like a privilege to be able to escape for an hour or so a day into this colorful, glamorous Art Deco world of international travel, intrigue, and adventure.

This is your second game with us, the first being The Mysteries of Baroque. What lessons did you learn from your first effort that you were able to apply to this new game?

This time round, I tried my best to make failure fun. One of the guiding principles of the game was that, as much as possible, the player failing a stats check should take the story in new and interesting directions as opposed to just stopping them from advancing. One of my inspirations was Raiders of the Lost Ark, a film where the protagonist fails at least as often as he succeeds – but Indie never looks less awesome as a result, it just makes him feel more like a scrappy, resourceful underdog who’ll always find a way to fight back or improvise a solution.

What are you working on next? 

I have a few different ideas! One is a follow-up to Cliffhanger, taking place 30 years later in Swinging London at the height of the groovy, psychedelic 1960s – taking inspiration from the Bond films, The Prisoner, Beatlemania…

I also have an idea for an epic science fiction game in mind, inspired by big, weird sci-fi stories like Cixin Liu’s The Three-Body Problem, Brandon Graham’s Prophet comics, Dune and The Book of the New Sun. And a couple of fantasy ideas as well. We’ll see!

November 20, 2021

Zarf Updates

Slice of Sea

by Andrew Plotkin ([email protected]) at November 20, 2021 02:09 AM

It's IGF judging season, which means that I'm writing a lot of reviews which you won't see until the nominees are announced in January.
(January this past year happened in May because of GDC rescheduling. But they're more or less back on track for an in-person GDC in 2022. I am way ambivalent about going, let me tell you.)
However! Occasionally I have to set aside the GDC entry list and play a brand-new old friend. To wit: Slice of Sea by Mateusz Skutnik.
I've been enjoying Skutnik's surreal little pen-and-ink adventures since the Flash days. The Submachine series began in 2005, for Adobe's sake... They were marked by a mix of post-Soviet mechanical grunge, Tesla-esque technology, and otherworldly dream architecture. The point of view was uniquely ambivalent, too: neither the classical first-person Myst/escape camera nor a third-person point-and-click style. You were outside the game world, looking in, but you weren't looking at anyone in there. Somehow it worked.
Submachine grew into a deca-ology with bonus side-quels. In parallel, Skutnik did a bunch of one-offs and experiments -- the Daymare Town series was probably the most notable. I also grew to anticipate his periodic 10 Gnomes whimsies (based on black-and-white landscape photography) and his annual Where is New Year?
But these were all snack-sized games. Even after Skutnik moved on from Flash, he kept the scale and rhythm of a browser-playable diversion. Open it up, play it through, go back to your work day. Does it make sense to talk about a full-sized Skutnik game?
Well, we've sure got one! (Maybe making sense isn't the point.) I just finished Slice of Sea with six hours on the Steam-ometer.
We have a protagonist this time: a little seaweed creature, adrift on land in mechanical trousers. But it's still not a traditional point-and-click. The game takes pains to show that you are with the protagonist, not inhabiting them. The screen is yours to play with; your hand can reach what they cannot. You can carry (in "your" inventory?) items much larger than their body. But then, you must open doors for the bouncing weed-person to reach new screens. It's not a resolved relationship.
Neither is the story particularly explicit. Your goal -- sorry, Weed-friend's goal -- is clearly to advance. But nothing says where you're going. (Okay, the store blurb says "lead Seaweed back home to the sea." But let's play fair.) The world is inhabited by gnomes, chimeras, and nautiloids, all of whom eye you with silent detachment. The landscape of locked gates and unpowered machines makes demands of you; living creatures never do.
The landscape is the game, anyhow. It's a Skutnikite wonderland of dust, cockeyed cities, crumbling archways, and cubes floating in the sky. (Nobody floats a cube like this guy.) But now the landscape has scale. You move from cramped basements to yawning gulfs, and there are a lot of both. For the first time, you'll need to map! Unless you've got a really good sense of adventure-game direction. I do, and I made it through without mapping -- but that was orneriness. I crawled back and forth through the map a lot, trying to remember where I saw that one rock with a diamond-shaped hole. If I'd drawn a map and filled it with notes, I would have spent way less time running around.
(I'll give you one non-spoiler for free: a banner with a hook symbol always indicates that you can go up/back/in. Some in-passages are explicit doors, but not all. Twice I went to the walkthrough, only to realize that I'd overlooked a less-obvious trail leading back into the landscape. Then I figured out what the banners meant. Learn from my mistake.)
The inventory ("your" inventory?) is similarly scaled up. This is a bit of a problem. The game freely loads you up with scads of miscellaneous trash. You don't have to take it all -- it's pretty clear which items are the important gears and gizmos -- but come on, adventure game, of course you take it. Then you spend the game staring at an inventory screen full of junk.
It's thematically appropriate! This is a wasteland of ruined machinery; of course it's rolling with junk. But it does drag down the gameplay a bit, particularly because the game almost never gives you a cursor hotspot for placing an item. (Takeables, yes; buttons and levers, yes; sockets and keyholes, no.) So if you get stuck on a screen, you're probably going to try clicking every item on every pixel, or at least on every significant-looking ink-stain. When you have forty objects in hand, that's a slog. But you still do it, because come on, adventure game.
(The junk winds up being important for a couple of achievements. I'm not very interested in achievements.)
No, click-lawnmowering never helped me. The art provides good focus; you can distinguish the important sockets from the ink-stains. At least I learned to. But I think that cursor-hotspots would give the player more confidence without detracting from the feel of the game.
The other problem with a large game is that the large inventory is really widely scattered. If you're stuck, you're missing a rod or diagram or spark plug or something; and it could be anywhere in the game. You really do have to revisit every single unsolved puzzle and see which one is currently solvable. (This is where the notated map helps a lot. Never, ever forget a locked door.)
But for all that, I never did in fact get stuck. (Aside from the missed banner-paths I mentioned. And one late puzzle that turned out to be a timing problem.) Finding all the stuff, and remembering all the locked doors, was a mental exercise. (Without a map it was, let's say, a rigorous exercise.) But it wasn't hard. Spotting the important features, like I said, was learnable. The puzzles aren't intricate but they get nice variety from the core game elements.
I guess the closest spiritual kin is Rhem? (Speaking of old-school.) Slice of Sea isn't the same style of game as Rhem, but it has the same mindset: sprawling map, puzzles in every nook, take careful notes and you'll make it through. Not really story-oriented. Satisfying to finish.
I've said how much I enjoy the art. Skutnik once again invokes The Thumpmonks for the game's eerie ambient soundtrack. It's not front-and-center like the freaky line art, but it keeps the mood flowing. The title and credits tracks are by Cat Jahnke, who you may remember from Daymare Cat back in the day.
It's fun! It's a trip to another world! It's everything you liked in Submachine but piled to the ceiling. Play Slice of Sea.

November 19, 2021

Choice of Games

New Dawnfall Bonus Stories!

by Dan Fabulich at November 19, 2021 10:02 PM

We’re proud to announce that a new special set of Dawnfall “Bonus Stories” are now available for iOS and Android in our “Heart’s Choice” app. These new stories are a special non-interactive set of short pieces in the world of the game, and are for sale for $0.99!

Soar through space and get back into the rhythm of the universe in these all-new prequel stories for Dawnfall by RoAnna Sylver! With five non-interactive short stories, totaling over 25,000 words, you’ll be able to spend lots of time revisiting this dazzling universe. Journey between distant planets, and see the stunning events that joined your favorite characters’ destinies and turned them into the people that you fell in love with.

  • In “Welcome to Eclipse,” Averis tries to prove himself in his very first Navigation Circle – which includes the prickly Vyranix – and encounters alien worlds and a mysterious spacecraft that is definitely more than it seems.
  • Superstar Zenith is at the top of xir career when a power outage halts a concert and painful reminders of xir past start to surface. What will Zenith do with the memories that make xir feel “Real”?
  • It’s “Aeon’s First Day” as Administrator – which means that when one strange phenomenon after another affects Zephyria, she’s the one who needs to deal with them.
  • Devoted friends Rune and Gwen will support each other through everything, whether it’s joyful experiments to see how far their mystical powers will take them, or just finding “A Fair Trade” in a market on Zephyria.
  • As a Starless Acolyte, Oz has dedicated himself to the neutral guardianship of others’ memories – but he will learn that some things among the “Stars” are so wondrous that even he cannot hold himself apart from them.

Since 2009, the team behind Choice of Games has created high-quality interactive novels in all genres. Now, our new Heart’s Choice label puts romance at the center of the story, and you at the center of the romance. Heart’s Choice games contain no graphics or sound effects, so we can focus on the story. Every game is filled with vivid, fully-developed characters and complex narratives that respond to your choices.

How will you find your happily ever after?

November 18, 2021

Inkle

Heaven's Vault novels, out now!

November 18, 2021 12:01 PM

When we released Heaven's Vault in 2019, it was the biggest storytelling task we'd ever undertaken - a whole world, with 4,000 years of history, and a language or two besides.

Since then, it's gone on to win awards and gain a loyal community of fans, writing in Ancient, creating new words, and piecing together the hidden corners of the Nebula's turbulent history.

And here at inkle we haven't been able to leave the Nebula behind either - which is why, last year, we began work on a collection of stories from the world of Heaven's Vault. That collection grew into a full novelisation of the game, that deepens, broadens, expands and develops the story of the game.

And it's out now:

Buy Heaven's Vault Books

Books

Two Books, One Story

Split across two 300 page volumes, the story follows Aliya Elasra from her first meeting with hew new robot Six to the rice fields of Maersi and into the wild waters of the Cyclones as they search for missing roboticist, Janniqi Renba, and stumble upon an ancient and dangerous secret that threatens the entire Nebula.

Books

The books are written by the game's narrative designer and writer, Jon Ingold (hi!), and they contain new characters, new locations, new lore and new twists (as well as one full-page Ancient inscription per volume, for translation fans!) If you've played the game, there's plenty more here to enrich the experience.

But the books are also written to be read by people who have never played the game (or played any game!) The books provide a different way to enter and explore the world of the Nebula.

Out now, limited release

We've been sharing copies with fans over the last week, and enjoying the building excitement as people begin to explore this new take on the story. We're now opening the store for everyone - but it won't be open for ever: we're planning to limit the release for a few months.

For more information, check out the shop FAQs page - and if you read, let us know what you think.

Books

Good faith!

November 16, 2021

Z-Machine Matter

James Kestrel's Five Decembers

by Zack Urlocker at November 16, 2021 03:27 PM

Five decembers TC 3a

Every now and then a book comes along that you have to tell people about. It grabs you, holds on to you and the only way to release the energy is to share it with others. Five Decembers by James Kestrel is that kind of book. It's the best book I've read this year. 

The book starts as you might expect in a noir crime novel. But that's not giving Kestrel full credit. He's a student of the genre and, like his main character Honolulu Police Detective Joe McGrady, he knows what he's doing. Kestrel is laying the scene in the first couple of chapters as McGrady investigates a murder. But really, he's setting McGrady up for a fall.

It's November 1941 and the book is imbued with the atmosphere of pre-war Hawaii. There's a tension in the air and Kestrel paints an apt picture of Chinatown, the seedy harbor brothels and the sweat and smoke of the police station right down to the captain's 15c benzedrine inhaler. Given the navy build-up you might think you know where things are going, but like McGrady, you haven't a clue. I'll I can say is he lands in Hong Kong December 7, 1941. And from there, it becomes a very different story. Yes it's a noir crime story, but it's much more than that. It's an epic story of love and war and faith and betrayal. 

Although this is the first book under this name, this isn't Kestrel's first rodeo. He studied at the world-renowned Interlochen Arts Academy writing program under Jack Driscoll. He's written six other well-received novels. As historic noir fiction, Five Decembers was a departure and two-dozen publishers turned it down before Charles Ardai at Hard Case Crime took it. Although the path could have been easier for Kestrel, I'm glad it landed with Hard Case Crime. Ardai is also a student of the genre and he likely understood and appreciated the significance of the book more than others. 

Five decembers TC 1I've read a lot of Hard Case Crime over the years, starting with their first book in 2004 by Lawrence Block. They've published some great authors including Stephen King, Max Allen Collins, Michael Crichton, Donald Westlake, Ariel S. Winter, Scott Von Doviak and others. Kestrel is right up there. In fact, I'd say Five Decembers is the best book Hard Case Crime has ever published. No surprise, he's got great reviews in the New York Times, Kirkus, Publisher's Weekly and elsewhere. This book would make one helluva movie. 

With this book, James Kestrel earns his spot as one of the "Three K's of Historic Fiction" alongside Philipp Kerr (Berlin Noir) and Joseph Kanon (The Good German).

Bottom line, this is an absolute page turner. Buy it now and put it at the top of your reading list.

November 10, 2021

The People's Republic of IF

November meetup (online)

by zarf at November 10, 2021 06:01 AM

The Boston IF meetup for November will be Monday, November 29, 6:30 pm Eastern time.

We will post the Zoom link to the mailing list on the day of the meeting.

(We didn’t skip October, by the way. I just forgot to post the announcement. Sorry.)

November 03, 2021

Wade's Important Astrolab

IFComp 2021 review: Closure by Sarah Willson

by Wade ([email protected]) at November 03, 2021 02:22 AM

In Sarah Willson's parser game Closure, teenaged Kira has snuck into the dorm room of her newly ex-boyfriend TJ (using her spare key) intent on nabbing a particular photo of the couple for future reminiscence purposes. As she commits this rummaging crime of the century, she texts her best friend, YOU, THE PLAYER, detailing her every move and asking what she should do next at each juncture. The result is a charming game of rummagey revelations, presented in one's browser with an excellent marriage of content and aesthetic framing, and which took me twenty-three minutes to complete.

closure cover image

I think it would be easy to oversell the game's presentation as the answer to the question of why it works. When Closure is played in a web browser, it certainly puts the player in the right frame of mind to see the speech-bubbled messages appear onscreen as messages do, but what's considerably more important is the dynamic flow of the prose and its accuracy as (pretty articulate, considering the situation!) text message writing. The divisions between successive messages indirectly convey the flow of thoughts in Kira's mind, and also lead the player to visualise the physical actions Kira might be taking between texts. The game can't mention all of her lurching about, lifting and dropping things, her gaze alighting frantically on this and that, her occasional standing back to consider the situation, these things that she must be doing, but I experienced them in a peculiarly vivid way for their absence.

I was actually playing Closure offline initially (I play almost any game offline if given the chance) and even in that situation where the messages didn't appear in bubbles, I already appreciated how well the game was presenting as a text messaging simulation. Prior to IFComp, I had read and responded to some of the author's presentation queries on intfiction.org. It was only via the ABOUT command, which mentioned something like "CSS magic", that I realised perhaps the author had found a solution that was browser-based, and which caused me to check out what she had done with the game online. So I can confirm that Closure works just as well without any CSS assistance.

The game is well-implemented in terms of cleverly fobbing off many typical parser actions in context, or translating them into the game's context in cute ways. For instance:

>x me

i'm using that picture from new year's as your contact photo!! hahaha

Mechanically, it is a one-room game in which you need to search everything in the room to reconstruct the backstory as to why TJ broke up with Kira. This isn't a particularly difficult task, but the revelations are laid out well, with Kira realising things about both TJ and herself in the process and the player being compelled to keep digging.

The next paragraph is 100% spoiler:

From what's learned, it's clear neither character is a titan of complexity (au contraire), nor was their situation. This all suits a still-in-high-school relationship. From being on the outside of Kira's experience, I moved into it a bit, and could think things like, "Yeah, you should have tried to understand TJ's extensive sneaker collection a bit more if you really wanted this relationship, not just made fun of his extensive sneaker collection." Outwardly, this sounds superficial, but I can buy it. People have broken up over infinitely dumber things. I also don't know the nature/extent of the sneaker-teasing; maybe it wasn't actually so dumb an interaction in reality. Also, it wasn't only the sneaker-teasing; there's the liking-metal-music teasing. The conceit is that Kira is texting in harried fashion as she snoops a dorm room, so I can also accept the lack of details regarding these events within the context of the game. Can the game stand up without such details? I've argued here that it can, except that the final revelation of TJ's having run off to marry someone else felt weird and extreme. It's clearly not an impossibility, but it didn't feel like the right end for this game to me.

I think Closure presents its situation as a game about as well as anyone has ever presented this kind of thing in IF. The texting conceit, the thoughts of the responding character as modified by this mode, the prose used to convey it, the dynamics of the text itself and the thoughtfulness of how Kira responds to conventional parser instructions are all handled wonderfully. The only misstep for me was the final revelation.

November 01, 2021

Wade's Important Astrolab

IFComp 2021 review: AardVarK Versus the Hype by Truthcraze

by Wade ([email protected]) at November 01, 2021 11:34 AM

(Update: On November 5 2021, author Truthcraze reworked and extended the ending of the game. You can read about that in his intfiction.org post at this link)

Disclosure 1: I was supposed to help beta test this game. Due to a bunch of bad timing of availability and communication, I didn't. Therefore, when and if I see any bugs in it that I could have staved off, I feel I can only flagellate myself.

Disclosure 2: The author, Truthcraze, had sneakily let it slip in advance (i.e. he told me directly) that this game was likely to appeal to fans of the film The Faculty (1998) amongst other things, and I am a fan of that film.

This game did appeal to me, and continues to do so. It took me 63 minutes and 29.4 seconds to complete.

AardVarK Versus the Hype (AVH) is an extremely funny parser adventure about a bunch of teens whose rock band, AardVarK, suddenly becomes very important for the project of life's continuance when a corporate/alien entity known as Hype starts flogging its soft drinks ("sodas" for the handful of Americans out there) to innocent high-schoolers. The brew's side-effects include mindless shillism and bleeding from the orifices.

The game is set in 1997, a time when popular culture was still dominated by the recent explosion of alternative music into it but before the internet had made any excursion onto the same turf; the game is blissfully free of the internet. If I was going to hazard a cultural thought of the kind I don't know that Truthcraze would approve of in the case of AVH, I'd suggest the simplicity of The Kids versus The Hype conflict is already a bit nostalgic for the eighties, a time when individuals-sticking-it-to-commercial-behemoths plots were easier to articulate. The film Reality Bites (1994) captured the zeitgeist of young Americans of the 1990s trying to retain their cred in a culture that was beginning to facilitate the commodification of everything.

Such drama is not what AVH is about. It's about the eternal comedic struggles of being a teenager (well, eternal since the 1940s or so, so not very eternal at all, actually) and about the nineties version of them in particular. The player gets to control all four members of the band AardVarK at different times with a SWITCH TO (PERSON) command. The switching isn't bound up with complex puzzles. It's essentially for narrative purposes. These teens are boys and girls, punks, goths, would-be frontpeople, singers and guitarists. The nineties wack is clearest in their dialogue stylings. There is a ton of multi-option dialogue in AVH wracked with a mixture of self-consciousness and excitement as the teens try to blurt out their explanations of weird shenanigans and corporate shills.

It's not so much what the characters want to say to each other that changes across options, only how they're going to say it. Bravado, hostility, coolness, honest dorkiness and cluelessness are some of the modes the player can choose amongst. Just reading all the different options, including the 75% not chosen, makes for a good chunk of the comedy. There's rarely any revisiting of unpicked dialogue paths because the story and conversations are too busy screaming forward for that.

The seat of the game is a wonderful repeating set piece joke involving the Gas'n'Stop convenience store, a location that has been thoroughly plundered and destroyed by the time all the main PCs have abused it. There are also jock-guarded parties, night-time trees to be climbed, cars that are rocking, and condom-purchasing jokes executed in good taste. Furthermore, AVH has some cool tricks of delivery up its sleeve. One is the way it will suddenly override the player's typed commands with replacement evil ones if the current PC gets possessed by The Hype. Another occurs in a situation where the PC's car turns over, at which point some of the printed text does the same thing. I don't remember seeing that joke in a parser game before.

AVH is a game that wants to help you finish it. It has graded HINTs you can ask for, but it's constantly prompting for free anyway in an amusingly harried voice. I think part of this stems from the fact that it's trying (successfully) to create a sense of lively action, and having players stand around examining everything is anti-action. The game would rather remind you of the next thing you're meant to be doing than let you gawp. There's also a decent amount of fourth-wall-breaking, and its version of the parser voice versus character voice dance is a cute one. I hit some bugginess across the game (remember paragraph one: I am now hitting myself with a stick) but the only thing that actually tripped me up was a guess-the-verb moment which was cleared up by the HINTs.

I admit I'd have liked some more reinforcement of differentiation amongst the teens identities across the game, what with all the SWITCHing amongst them that goes on, and the victory scene felt rushed (Update: On November 5 2021, author Truthcraze reworked and extended the ending of the game. You can read about that in his intfiction.org post at this link) but these aren't major complaints for a story this funny and engaging. I laughed aloud a lot, admired the many forms of comedy wielded by the writing and loved the Gas'n'Stop situation.

Key & Compass Blog

New walkthroughs for October 2021

by davidwelbourn at November 01, 2021 03:02 AM

On Friday, October 29, 2021, I published new walkthroughs for the games and stories listed below and at IFDB! Some of these were paid for by my wonderful patrons at Patreon. Please consider supporting me to make even more new walkthroughs for works of interactive fiction at Patreon and Ko-fi.


Brain Guzzlers from Beyond! (2015) by Steph Cherrywell

You play as Bonnie Noodleman, a normal teen-ager in 1959’s Canyonville, New Mexico. You’re on a nice normal date on Make-Out Mountain when aliens from beyond guzzle out your boyfriend’s brains! Jeepers! You’ve got to do something about this menace, but everyone’s busy with the Pine Nut Days festival and won’t take your warnings about brain guzzlers seriously!

This game is an entry to IF Comp 2015 where it won 1st place. At the 2015 XYZZY Awards, it won in the Best Individual Puzzle category; the game was also a finalist in the Best Game, Best Puzzles, and Best NPC categories.

IFDB | My walkthrough and maps


Ailihphilia (2018) by Andrew Schultz (as “N. Y. Llewellyn”)

In this game, a DARER AD in a GAME MAG transports you to a land based entirely on palindromes, which are words or phrases that use the same letters backwards as forwards. There, you’ll need to solve many puzzles, destroy the KAOS OAK, and defeat the DIKTAT KID before you can use the TIX EXIT and leave.

This game was an entry in IF Comp 2018 where it took 28th place.

IFDB | My walkthrough and map


Berrost’s Challenge (2008) by Mark Hatfield

Berrost has finally decided you should learn some spells, but he’s also evicting you from his tower. So, as a test of your wit, you’re to search the village for five hidden scrolls containing your new spells. Berrost will be watching your progress from his scrying room.

This game was an entry in IF Comp 2008 where it took 10th place.

IFDB | My walkthrough and map


Ponderances (2014) by Roadcrosser

In this short joke choose-your-own-death game inspired by Star Trek, you play as someone in a rather hot white cube. There’s nothing here but a panel with two buttons: red and blue. Try to escape.

IFDB | My walkthrough and map


Don’t Push The Mailbox (2019) by Ralfe Rich

In this very short joke game, you play as a homeowner. It’s a beautiful day for working outside, but you’re disturbed by the presence of what looks like a mailbox at the foot of your front lawn. What will you do about it?

IFDB | My walkthrough and map


Ibo (2012) by Bahri Gordebak

In this very sparse and very short one-room story, you play as someone tired and wet from the rain, waiting for their tea at a coffee house. You missed seeing the boy approach you. He said something.

My walkthrough and map

October 28, 2021

Classic Adventure Solution Archive

CASA Update - 177 new game entries, 135 new solutions, 153 new maps, 1 new manual, 7 new hints, 10 new fixed games, 3 new clue sheets

by Gunness at October 28, 2021 10:50 AM

An update seems to be long overdue and I'm immensely impressed with the work that's been put into the continuing updates. Thanks so much everybody!

Contributors: FredB74, benkid77, Alex, Bragegatan, sequornico, iamaran, Strident, Richard Bos, Dorothy, DannieGeeko, Garry, Csabo, fuzzel, gamingafter40, boldir, rbiondi, Payndz, Denk, Oloturia, csb1980, auraes, Exemptus, nimusi, Canalboy, farique, RetroBasic, johnssavage, ASchultz, holz, Gunness, leenew, jdyer, Duffadash, ahope1

October 20, 2021

Zarf Updates

The apprehension of the Outer Wilds

by Andrew Plotkin ([email protected]) at October 20, 2021 02:07 AM

It's easy to talk about the brilliant puzzle design of Outer Wilds. It's a metroidvania of pure information. It runs about five layers deeper than you expect even after you realize how deep it runs. You begin as a naive newt; you can explore in any direction; and when you have all the pieces of the story, you also know what the game's goal is, and how to get there.
One hears less about the game's thematic unity. But as much thought went into the story's symbolism as its puzzle structure. They're both necessary and they build on each other. Outer Wilds wouldn't be compelling if it were just a barrel of puzzle mechanics. So let's look at the flip side.
I already wrote the non-spoiler review. This is the spoilery discussion. Seriously: all the spoilers for Outer Wilds. Do not read this post until you've finished original game and the Echoes of the Eye expansion!

So. The signifier of Outer Wilds -- the original game -- is the eye-of-the-beholder. The whole story revolves around the mysterious Eye of the Universe. On the mundane side, everyone has lots of eyes. (The Nomai have three; you have four because you wind up seeing more than them.) And of course the entire game is about observation. You aren't there to change the world -- all changes are rolled back every 22 minutes anyhow. You're there to perceive the world. Your progress is marked by what you see and read.
The theme of perception reflects up to the final goal -- "a conscious observer has entered the Eye" -- and down to individual game mechanics. Your tools are the camera-drone, the flashlight, and the radio receiver with bonus magnifier. Most Nomai machinery is hands-free, operated by a marble that follows your gaze. Quantum rocks respond to your seeing or not-seeing them.
When it comes down to it, everyone else is an observer too. Hearthians presumably build houses and cook dinner and raise kids, but the dominant industry of your pocket home is the space program. Your rocket seems to be the culmination of civilization (even before you learn about the supernova). Even more so the Nomai, science nerds of the first water. They build observatories and space probes and laboratories. They build spaceships, but only so they can fly around and discover cool stuff.
But perception is not the whole of reality.
Compare Outer Wilds with The Witness, another game whose principle is pure perception. As I've written, The Witness is aggressively coy about your identity and your place in its world. It refuses to commit to even being a world. Does the witnessed island have a history or a future? All you know for sure is what you see and what you can follow with your eyes.
Outer Wilds, in contrast, swells to bursting with history. You don't see it at first, but the more you do see, the more it... well, it haunts you. The game is haunted to hell and gone and from every direction. This is the deeper principle, which gives the Outer Wilds its impact: everything you perceive is the ash of a hidden history. You see that history through a glass, and its future reflected in the time-loop's opaque mirror. But both are present -- quite unlike The Witness's enforced distance.
I'm told that Derrida coined the term "hauntology". Not the study of haunting, but the ontology of the haunt -- the existence of what no longer exists. Outer Wilds, balanced as it is between observation and the haunted, concerns the perception of what cannot be perceived. I suppose that should be "epispectremology". But that'll never catch on. Stick with hauntology.
(Or perhaps the term which refers to both perception and spookiness: apprehension. I'll bet a dollar that's written on a whiteboard somewhere in the developers' office.)
The hauntology begins in plain sight (unseen) with the threat of "Ghost Matter". Invisible, deadly, overtly-named, evaporating over geological time: Ghost Matter raises specters of history. What was different in the past? What stemmed from that cause? What happens when the Ghost Matter is gone? You do not yet know. Moving on, you encounter a rock that moves, or perhaps fails to stay still, when unobserved. This is an uncontexted mystery, not yet connected to even the outline of a story. But as the game labels it: "extremely creepy."
Then you forget your questions, distracted by the immediacy of a rocket launch and worlds to explore. But the questions linger.
What you explore, you soon realize, is a Nomai graveyard. Their ruins and their bones far outweigh the system's tentative Hearthian foothold. It's easy to forget the Nomai are ghosts, as you read their chatty enthusiastic nerd-journals and imagine yourself walking among them. But when you turn around, they're all aeons dead. Sooner or later you'll discover why.
So the Nomai haunt you; and you haunt their ruins. But your fellow Hearthians are also ghosts in their way. They breathe, but their world is about to burn. If you know the future (and you do) they are already dead -- shadows on the wall. You know what they are going to say in response to any question. On top of that, the other Outer Wilds explorers have all given up exploring. Stranded, marooned, or merely on break, they all share a complacent passivity. Even Gabbro, aware of the loop, shows no interest in investigating the circumstances of his fate. You are the only one in the system who acts alive.
Or do you? As we said before, you are a silent observer. Your footprints, if you leave any, are immediately wiped away. You are a specter in all but name.
As you fathom the Nomai secrets, more webs of haunt swim into view. The inescapable blank-eyed Nomai mask that watches your life flash before your/its eyes -- what could be more Gothic? The quantum moon, as indeterminate as its smaller cousins. Lurking at its pole, the Nomai elder, caught out of time like a fey Schrodingerian thought experiment.
And then you realize: you are dead, to begin with. The great Nomai experiment does not prevent your death(s). Only your memories are sent back in time; they overwrite and destroy the mind of previous-you. So you haunt your own body, or you are possessed by the iterated Christmas spirit of your impending doom -- take your pick.
Lurking at the end of everything is the Eye of the Universe, the ultimate or original phantasm, waiting for time to wind down. The entire cosmos is haunted by the Eye's signal -- "older than the universe" -- a spectral whisper from something lost billions of years ago. The Nomai heard it and were haunted by it for the rest of their cultural existence, trying futilely to pin down the Eye. If you succeed where they failed, you plant your own ghost-seed of melody to haunt the next cycle of eternity.

Now we reach Echoes of the Eye. Again, if you haven't played the expansion, stop reading here; it's tremendous spoilers time for that.
Echoes is where this post began. Because the Giants are straight-up in-your-face candle-bearing Lyke-Wake-dirgeful spooks. When I first saw them, I said "This game is hella haunted."
(I see people use different names for the aliens introduced here: the Elk, the Owls, the Strangers. I settled on "the Giants" and I'll stick to that.)
I said that the signifier of Outer Wilds is the observing eye. Echoes inverts that. Twice!
The inverse of the observing eye is the projecting ray: the light that casts a (false) image. The Giants' technology is activated by focusing light on it. Their Wheel (and their story) is full of image projectors and film reels and hallucinations. Their sunny windows are, if you look carefully, digital display screens.
The other inverse of the observing eye is the blinded eye. The Giants' symbols (and your signs to find them) are the eclipsed sun and the extinguished flame. Their secrets are revealed by plunging into darkness. You will spent much of the game stumbling through gloom with a lantern that barely illuminates your feet.
(A second-order symbol: the Nomai write in literal branching dialogue. Whereas the Giants communicate in filmic images -- cut scenes, as it were. This doesn't tie directly to the themes of observation and obscuration, but it sure makes sense in game-design terms, doesn't it? I think it's one reason the Nomai feel so present as you read their texts, whereas the Giants remain impersonal shadows on the cave wall.)
This thematic stuff isn't sprinkled on like, like symbolism on a high-school essay. You can't plunge through the game and ignore it. It must sink in. It's how the doors work, and the secret doors, and the hidden passages. It's how you find the Stranger in the first place. It's the story of the Giants themselves. They heard the song of the Eye, but when they peered into it, they saw only the projection of their own fears. The end of the universe approaching in fire and ash -- the same truth you've been facing all along -- but the Giants saw a threat. And in their blindness, they blinded the Eye.
From the beginning, they preferred mirage to truth.
And the hauntology of the Giants? Surely I hardly need spell it out. Your first glimpse of them is decaying corpses holding spirit-fire lanterns. If you look farther, you might see them walking -- but not alive.
The Giants are everything haunted about Outer Wilds, only bereft of its campfire-warmth. They are haunted by the Eye of the Universe. They are haunted by the memory of their homeworld. They retreated into a dream of that home; they haunted that dream until they died; oblivious, they haunt on. Their symbols are illusion and the eclipsed sun. The occult, you see.
You haunt the world of the Giants. You discover them haunting their own afterlife. And then, of course, you die. Only as a ghost can you meet the Giants on their own terms.
This aye night, this aye night, every night and all
For the world only has this aye night left.
Fire and flet and candlelight
"Flet" is home, by the way. Hearth and home and candlelight; the Giants cling to them. Or to their cast shadows. If your wits are nimble and light, you can get there by candlelight... But it's an eerie light, no warmth to't, and the fire smells of drowning.
And Christ receive thy soul.

October 15, 2021

Wade's Important Astrolab

IFComp 2021 review - The House on Highfield Lane by Andy Joel

by Wade ([email protected]) at October 15, 2021 10:23 AM

The House on Highfield Lane or The House... on Highfield Lane if you believe the punctuation on the cover image – and which in any case I shall now on refer to as House – bills itself as 'horror without the horror'. I would probably bill it as a mystery, fantasy and sci-fi parser adventure, which ironically covers all the major genres minus horror and romance. The PC is sassy teenaged Mandy who, fresh from school one afternoon and still done up in its accoutrements, finds herself compelled to enter this house in her neighbourhood after finding a letter addressed to its occupant. Wide-ranging, puzzly adventure game shenanigans ensue in a steampunk-leaning environment. There are big-small spatial gags, some quirky NPCs, a Frankenstein-styled laboratory and creepy silver-faced background folk who always manage to run away.

The House on Highfield Lane cover art

Summary

House took me a bit over two-and-a-half hours to complete. I spent more than an hour just exploring and fiddling with things without managing to solve any puzzles, though thoroughly in the mood all that time and not with any sense that I wasn't getting anywhere. I then turned to the provided invisiclues webpage for help, and used it a fair bit from them on because of time pressure, thinking (in vain as it turns out) that I might be able to get through the game in less than two IFComp hours.

House induces curiosity and enchantment, demonstrates interesting and sometimes challenging design, and is a great first outing for the latest iteration of the Quest authoring system. Indeed, it's the best-implemented Quest game I've ever played, though still not perfect in this regard (though what game is?) House is kind of hard, though, in a complex way. I don't mean that the puzzles are all complex. I mean that what's hard about it is complex to tease out, and has a nature I suspect will fall quite differently across different players, as might its third person narration. Ultimately, I loved the atmosphere of House, and quite liked the puzzles in spite of my troubles with some of them and the invisiclues.

P.S. The heroine swears A Lot! Mostly with the two most common rude words. I'm not going to say them because this blog is not a home to filth.

WEIGHTY CRITICAL DISCUSSION SECTION

I found the key joy of this game to be its development of a prolonged atmosphere of unyielding mystery. There's a derangement of reality at work that reminds me of Alice in Wonderland, as do Mandy's flip reactions to this reality. And like in Alice, there's a sense that there is some overriding meaning behind the weirdness. That's mandatory in this kind of game to prevent the feeling you're just solving a bunch of arbitrary puzzles.

The prose is narrated in third person present tense –

"Conscious that dust is about ninety percent dead skin, Mandy decides not to study it too closely."

– which is one of the less common viewpoint choices adopted for IF. I think the first way this choice helps House is that it gets the player through the unreality barrier faster. The game starts with what is arguably a lot of unexplained weirdness. My initial sense of separation from Mandy (she's not 'You' or 'I') helped me accept the lack of explanation. Once inside the house, Mandy quickly runs into some major discrepancies of physical scale and geography. Perceiving Mandy in the third person helped me appreciate the scale of theses scenes visually, as if I really was standing back and seeing a film frame of a relatively tiny girl in a room hundreds of metres high. Over time, Mandy's flip comments on the situation brought out her personality, and made me feel closer to her.

Returning to the topic of the game's puzzle challenge: That the first relevant puzzle entry I looked up in the invisiclues after playing for close to 70 minutes was named for an object I hadn't yet seen or heard of speaks to the difficulty of writing comprehensive invisiclues. This event did worry me, though. Was I really so out of touch with this game? Or had I missed some fundamental mechanic?

Fortunately, neither case applied, but I would say House's puzzles lean hard for a variety of reasons. First, some of them are old-school-styled, involving a lot of mechanical experimentation and repetition (rotate the object, look outside, see if anything happened. If it didn't, rotate the object again, check again etc. And have the idea to do all this experimentation in the first place). Second, this game is rich with interesting objects that seem like they'd help solve multiple puzzles, but usually only one solution is acceptable. I could think of several objects I possessed that could very feasibly be used to catch another falling object, amongst them a giant floppy hat and a magically embiggened chamber pot, but the game didn't have any programming in place for these attempts. The solution to this particular problem involved roping in an NPC I didn't even know I could communicate with, since he didn't speak when spoken to. Teaching players all the ways they can interact with NPCs in your game is vital for any game. Since the base level of game content here is solid, I don't see it as a great omission that House didn't have heaps of alternate solutions in place already, but I do see it as a necessary site for improvement when a game is at this level.

Finally, there may be a stylistic issue that obscured some of the game's numerous props, all those paintings and windows and pipes and levers and bureaus and drawers spread out all through the text. Most IF games cater to this angle of interpretive difficulty by using presentation systems or logic to set elements off; the exits, or prominent objects or geographical features, etc. House wasn't so great at this, presenting most of its prose in solid blocks, so I forgave myself for missing some stuff.

The lead character of Mandy isn't built out of personal details, but out of a lot of behaviours and attitudes players might recognise from girls in this age group. I especially like the way her cynicism for schoolwork is tempered by the occasional excitement she experiences whenever she realises she can apply something she learned at school to real life. Her frequent sarcasm makes her a good fit for the classic strain of sarcastic parser voice that also gets a workout in House.

This game is the maiden voyage for QuestJS aka Quest 6. QuestJS was developed by Andy Joel, author of House and current head of the Quest project, and is a JavaScript incarnation of the Quest engine. House is a great ambassador for the new Quest, which is what you want in a maiden voyage. In the first place, it's engrossing and well-implemented by any standards. Second, it's the best-implemented Quest game I've played to date. I've been playing Quest games for about a decade and they've always been a bit querulous. You could only play on PCs, playing online was too buggy, and the parser was flakey. House seems to have eliminated all these problems, and the standard of its parser is way up. Unfortunately my transcript was missing all my own typed commands, but this feels like an easy tech fix.

I feel I have to address the game's final riddle (no spoilers to the actual answer here, though if you want to know even less about the question than a measure of spoiler-safe info, stop reading now. Then again, wouldn't you have already stopped reading much earlier?)... it is, as a joke, pretty good. As a puzzle, it's probably terrible because it relies entirely on the player's own knowledge if they want to be able to solve it themselves, with the out that they will soon be given the answer if they can't. But they don't know there's an out coming when the riddle happens. And the game had previously enforced a PC/player knowledge divide in the opposite direction, with a riddle to which most players would know the answer but which they weren't allowed to solve until they had first made the PC research that answer in-game.

The kindest spin on all this is that the game adopts two opposite positions as a joke. Even then, I'd ask is it worth doing this when there's a high risk of annoying players on one or both occasions? Reviewer Bitterly Indifferent wasn't as indifferent as he generally claims to be in the case of the knowledge enforcement of the first riddle, as evinced by his linked-to review here. This type of enforcement was, coincidentally, recently discussed on intfiction.org in this topic. The upshot is that I don't think ending any game with this kind of riddle is a strong way to go out, and even in the case of this game, which at least gives you the answer if you can't get it, it will be received as an unrewarding ending by a subset of players.

October 13, 2021

Zarf Updates

Outer Wilds: Echoes of the Eye

by Andrew Plotkin ([email protected]) at October 13, 2021 12:36 AM

I wrote my Outer Wilds review while halfway through the thing.
[...] And it's, I'm pretty sure it is, no I'm sure, it's incredibly clever.
Play this one. Don't wait for me to talk more about it.
-- my comments, June 2019
Then I never said any more about it. But what would I say? The awards and plaudits piled up; you knew that. Any specifics would be spoilers, and -- just this once -- spoilers really are verboten.
I replayed Outer Wilds last month, in preparation for the Echoes of the Eye expansion. Replaying was strange. I enjoyed revisiting all the familiar sights and refilling the log book. I unpacked the tiny solar system like a well-remembered toy. But it was hard to connect that to the original experience. The shock of the world transforming in my head, over and over. The cycle of seeing, exploring, understanding, and letting go of what I thought I knew. I missed that. Replay is not discovery.
Then I started Echoes of the Eye and -- it all came back. Only, of course, not. This was different. New beings; new worlds; new uncomfortable realizations. Nothing at all like the nostalgic realizations from last time!
(Memory is such a liar. No wonder people get hooked on remakes of the stuff they loved at age thirteen.) (By "people", I mean me.)
Anyway. The shock of your expectations exploding and the world rewriting itself in your head. That's what you want. Play Echoes of the Eye. If you haven't finished or started the original, that's fine. You can buy the expansion and play the threads in parallel if you want.
I will say that the "less fear" gameplay option was a wise move. (Not a spoiler -- the game mentions it up front.) I am entirely and vocally worn out with Amnesia-style "hide from monsters in the dark" gameplay. This isn't that but it's similar enough, and far enough from the "core" game of pure intellect, that I really stumbled. I switched to "less fear" and got through with no further trouble.
Mind you, "less fear" does not mean "spook-free". EotE is not a horror game, but it is hella haunted. Another post for that, maybe.
And, mind you further, "game of pure intellect" glosses over a lot. Outer Wilds demands a certain degree of controller-flying skill. It's the game's big flaw (and I say that while insisting that the game is flawless). Many people who would really enjoy the investigation are turned off the first time they wreck a landing or bounce off an airlock door.
I'd love an assistive mode for precision flying and jetpacking. It's a tough design problem. Perhaps unsolvable. Many of the game's secrets are about how you move, what you can try while moving. Some destinations are intentionally difficult because you're supposed to find an alternate path. It's hard to imagine how to convey those limitations and discoveries outside the existing mechanics of "try it and see". But it would be a big win if someone figured it out.
Anyway. If the flying is too difficult, park yourself on a friend's couch and insist that they handle the controller for you. They're not allowed to refuse. Tell them I said so.
Echoes of the Eye is over; I have found my way through. I can never experience that again. More like completely different from this, please.

October 08, 2021

The XYZZY Awards

XYZZY Awards 2020: winners

by Sam Kabo Ashwell at October 08, 2021 11:41 PM

Voting is complete on the 2020 XYZZY Awards, and the recipients of the Awards are as follows:

Best Game: Vampire: The Masquerade — Night Road (Kyle Marquis)
Best Writing: Jolly Good: Cakes and Ale (Kreg Segall)
Best Story: A Rope of Chalk (Ryan Veeder)
Best Setting: Jolly Good: Cakes and Ale (Kreg Segall)
Best Puzzles: The Impossible Bottle (Linus Åkesson)
Best NPCs: Jolly Good: Cakes and Ale (Kreg Segall)
Best Individual Puzzle: Leaving the house in The Impossible Bottle (Linus Åkesson)
Best Individual NPC: tie: the parrot in The Magpie Takes the Train (MathBrush), and Kingfisher in Vain Empires (Thomas Mack, Xavid)
Best Individual PC: The doppelganger in Doppeljobs (Lei)
Best Implementation: The Impossible Bottle (Linus Åkesson)
Best Use of Innovation: The Impossible Bottle (Linus Åkesson)
Best Technological Development: Adventuron
Best Use of Multimedia: Crocodracula: The Beginning (Ryan Veeder, Harrison Gerard)

Congratulations to the winners!

October 06, 2021

Wade's Important Astrolab

IFComp 2021 review: The Spirit Within Us by Alessandro Ielo

by Wade ([email protected]) at October 06, 2021 09:36 AM

The Spirit Within Us is a parser-driven thriller with crime and mystery elements that opens with the injured and bleeding PC waking up in a bedroom. Amnesia-game-fearers need not fear per se; the amnesia is well justified and quickly overcome. The whole game plays out around this house setting in what feels like real time, and ultimately with an emphasis on realistic action.

The Spirit Within Us cover image

The author describes Spirit as psychological, but I found the prose too sparse and some of the content too vague for it to succeed at that level. It is evident English isn't the author's primary language and its use here is functional. The section of the game based in the house presents as an almost default set of IF content: a bunch of rooms, doors, fiddly doors, openable things and plain objects from daily life — sinks, toilets, boxes, etc. If it weren't for the timed interjections of the PC's returning memories and the few interesting book props, this phase could be a boredom challenge for the player.

The author wrote the game and its parser from the ground up using C. While that parser effects the basics, the game's needs have definitely outgrown it. My transcript shows I once entered seventeen commands trying to eat a pill from a packet of vitamins before I succeeded, and twenty-three trying to execute the last action required by the game. What to do was obvious, but I had to consult the walkthrough to get the right phrasing.

The story that is revealed and the violent situation that grows out of it in light of the player's explorations and recollections are more compelling on paper than in the game. They're particularly filmic, as well. I've seen a lot of thriller and horror films make good use of the "waking up in a messy and potentially violent situation" scenario when they're also withholding some information from the viewer. Spirit is in this terrain, but unfortunately doesn't have the prose detail to sell it.

There's also a health timer element for the PC that induced a bit of unintentional amusement for me. The PC starts losing hit points from his injuries as soon as the game starts, and the player has to keep finding enough food and supplies to keep them up until the end. This mechanic does seem to be well balanced in terms of raising player stress levels while not being too savage under the hood. I finished the game without dying on my first play, and with plenty of health left, and this only took me about twenty-five minutes. (I acknowledge that geographically, I had good luck during my playthrough. After I'd made the whole map in my head, I could tell I'd fluked the ideal direction to explore in on a couple of occasions.) But the amount of time I'd spent rummaging around for food – fruits from gardens, leftovers from kitchens et al. – seemed to be too great a portion of the game experience. It's the major mechanical feature atop the find-and-use puzzles and some semi-randomised combat.

From the epilogue, I learned that the author's stated intention was to create a game with some moral challenge/choice. But again, the psychological content wasn't evident enough during play to make it clear I was making any moral path choices, at least in terms of my choosing them against apparent alternatives. If an action seems the obvious one needed in a game, I will take it. I don't come to these games to test my own morality, and I know this a difference between me as a player type and some other player types out there. Certainly the ending text I received was of the kind to indicate what the other endings might be compared to the one I got, but I'm not interested in replaying to see them.

I like the kind of story and situation this game presents, but its sparseness of writing and implementation mean the story doesn't really land, or with the right impact. The game's title is also too vague, in retrospect. I'd still say Spirit may be of interest to players who like a game with a bit of contemporary grit. And its mystery remains a little abstract, which is to say, I have questions about the backstory and I'm not sure whether I'm supposed to. This situation could just be due to the limitations of the prose. Even if it is, the particular degree of vagueness where the details have ended up is not a bad one.

October 05, 2021

These Heterogenous Tasks

IF Comp 2021: Goat Game

by Sam Kabo Ashwell at October 05, 2021 09:42 PM

Goat Game is a tightly-crafted piece about complicity and corporate careers, the difficulty of effecting change, and how this intersects with how you relate to people. The characters are all anthropomorphic goats. There isn’t really any reason for or against … Continue reading

October 04, 2021

These Heterogenous Tasks

IF Comp 2021: The Last Night of Alexisgrad

by Sam Kabo Ashwell at October 04, 2021 03:42 AM

The Last Night of Alexisgrad is a choice-based game for two players. This is an unusual but venerable format – the first I’m aware of is the Duel Master series, first published 1986, which were sold as boxed sets of … Continue reading

October 03, 2021

These Heterogenous Tasks

IF Comp 2021: The Mermaids of Ganymede

by Sam Kabo Ashwell at October 03, 2021 05:42 AM

This game is not in any way a reference to Vonnegut’s The Sirens of Titan; rather, it’s a straightforward space-adventure story that has, y’know, actual space mermaids in it. It’s divided into chapters; each chapter takes place in a different … Continue reading

Wade's Important Astrolab

IFComp 2021 review: Dr Horror's House of Terror by Ade McT

by Wade ([email protected]) at October 03, 2021 04:46 AM

I always start an IFComp season with a horror game, since horror is my home turf, mentally, spiritually, fan-wise and way-of-life-wise. This year I chose to go with the parser game Dr Horror's House of Terror (DHHoT) by the redoutable Ade McT.

(Link to ballot page with links to game: You might need to be registered with IFComp to see it? Search for 'house of terror' at https://ifcomp.org/ballot) 

I didn't finish DHHoT in two hours and, as far as I can tell, I was a long way from finishing. This outcome alarmed me, as I'm one of those people who seeks to avoid really long games in IFComp (re: the rules; you must lock your vote at the two hours of play mark.). I was given fair warning: the game is labelled "Longer than two hours". However, with my horror chutzpah I'd thought, "I bet that time label overestimates the duration and underestimates my great skill levels." I did not find the label to be an overestimation. I did not find my skill levels to be great, but they were sufficient.

Summary!

In this comedic horror adventure with a surfeit of exclamation marks, you play an actor of questionable skill appearing in the new vampire flick for Mallet Studios. After incensing the film's director, you find yourself embroiled in supernatural life-or-death shenanigans all over the studio backlot. The game is lively with dialogue and NPC action, solid with mostly mechanical puzzles, and has a deft light touch over an underscore of the uncanny that grows out of its highly varied studio settings. Implementation is very good but not great (there are a lot of omissions of inconvenience, and I feel more actions could have been implemented) and I didn't totally understand the mixed-up time aesthetic as a choice. Overall, an engaging long form puzzler with some extra juice for folks who appreciate the films referenced and the luvvie world. The playtime is three hours plus, and how much plus I don't know yet.

Detail!

Geographically, this game can be viewed as a series of hubs. Most of the hubs are sets for different horror films. These sets riff on the production styles of both the 1930s/1940s Universal horror films and 1960s/1970s British Hammer films, and on the classic monsters that appeared in both studios' films. The hubs have self-contained puzzles as well as elements that help you solve puzzles elsewhere. So even though the map isn't huge, this style of puzzle construction takes a lot of work to tackle. The environment quickly goes from being gated to semi-gated to open, meaning you may have to explore everything in the open area before you can work out what puzzles there are and what tools might help solve them all. I should point out there's a hint file with the game that I didn't use. I felt the difficulty was about right for me and that I'd be more satisfied going without.

The surface tone of DHHoT is initially light, and the humour is very perceptive of the world of dry-witted British luvvies, all these actors constantly caught up in the preciousness of their work and the gossipy connections of thespian life. This lightness becomes darkly funny as the game pushes you into a confused reality, the adjacent film sets and their different worlds being quite disorienting. The monsters may be real and the actors may not be acting, but even as the latter realise this they're still speculating on how life's going back at the Old A, or the prospects of the chap who went to Brazil to appear in "If you like it, Missus".

When there is gore, it has a slapstick silliness about it that fits the overall lightness. The creepiness of the game is in the reality gulf depicted in its cloistered studio world. Your actor pals are largely oblivious to the nature of the weird, trapped life they're leading, and your'e the only one who notices the grisliness of some of the studio props (or not-props). Still, your PC takes goings-on at least half in their stride, and they have to, narration-wise, or the game would be entirely bogged down in reactions to every strange occurrence. It's solid with prose already for a game of this pitch.

At first I assumed DHHoT was set in the 1960s or 1970s, based on the kind of typical-for-Hammer vampire film Mallet are making in the opening scene. But then I came across a keypad-locked door and security cameras. After that, I encountered the elaborate set for a werewolf film which definitely seemed to be a version of Universal's famous backlot from the 1940s, and not something Hammer could or would have done in the 1970s. The game also distracted me every time it mentioned the name of the character Blake Lively, a contemporary female actor in reality but a male Laurence Olivier-type playing a vampire in this game. It may be that the author christened him thus primarily for the sake of the joke of having Blake Lively's name on the cover of the game, and I have a sneaky admiration for that kind of commitment.

I ended up concluding that DHHoT is set in no particular real time. Its reality is constructed out of anachronistic ideas related by theme that the author wanted to put into this world. I actually wish it was set in a particular time and place, because that would have made its specific references resonate more strongly with me. People who don't know this turf as well as I do, and those who've grown up in the postmodern maelstrom of the 2000s, will probably not notice or care about this.

After a few hours, I had cleared one-and-a-half hubs and explored another two. There were hubs I hadn't even entered yet. So that speaks to the ultimate volume of this game.

September 29, 2021

Key & Compass Blog

New walkthroughs for September 2021

by davidwelbourn at September 29, 2021 07:42 PM

On Tuesday, September 28, 2021, I published new walkthroughs for the games and stories listed below! Some of these were paid for by my wonderful patrons at Patreon. Please consider supporting me to make even more new walkthroughs for works of interactive fiction at Patreon and Ko-fi.


Captain Cutter’s Treasure (2021) by Garry Francis

In this game, you play as Jim, a tavern worker who wakes up in the broom closet. You soon learn that, years ago, the pirate captain, Cutter, had his former crewmates (including your boss, Harold) hide a treasure for him, and now he wants it back. Return the treasure by sunset or else Harold’s daughter, Brenda, will suffer the consequences.

This game was an entry in PunyJam #1 where it took 1st place.

IFDB | My walkthrough and map


J’dal (2012) by Ryan Kinsman

In this adventure game, you play as a young black woman named J’dal, born on the other side of the sunset. Everyone else here is white. You, Dad (who adopted you years ago), the experimenter Stolas (who Dad met when turnside), and the thug Roderick have been hired to find an artifact hidden in the mine west of town. They need you for your superior night vision.

This game was an entry in IF Comp 2012 where it took 16th place.

IFDB | My walkthrough and map


Kook U (1997) by sbfaq

In this silly but very rude game, you’re the Network Administrator at Kook University. It’s your job to restart the Network whenever it’s down, but Dean F. L. Uffy also demands that you stop the USENET Abuse by six terrible students or else you’re out of a job!

Content warnings: profanity, drug use, comedic deaths and murder, references to illegal forms of pornography, and horrible poetry.

IFDB | My walkthrough and map


Danny Dipstick (2021) by Garry Francis

In this small game, you play as Danny Dipstick, a dork who’s had no success picking up chicks at the local nightclub, but tonight will be different. With your neighbour’s advice, you will fix your problems, you will talk to a nice girl, and you will get her phone number.

This game was an entry in ParserComp 2021 where it took 13th place.

IFDB | My walkthrough and map


Eight Miles High (2014) by Josh Giesbrecht (as “Lambert Lambert”)

In this short choice-based game inspired by a song lyric, you play as someone who arrives at an airport, then takes a limo to some street. You’re not sure where you are and it’s hard to focus in all this rain.

This game was a participant in the first ShuffleComp event.

IFDB | My walkthrough and map


Sohoek Ekalmoe (2020) by Caleb Wilson

In this short story, you play as a plant called Sohoek Ekalmoe, “one who sunders the paving stones”. Your enemies cast you into this deep shaft a year ago, but now it’s your season to grow.

This story was written for NarraScope 2020.

IFDB | My walkthrough and map


Chipmonk (2019) by Jason and Luke Swanson

In this small simple adventure, you play as a monk named Chip, equipped with your trusty katana. Your quest is to kill the dragon known as The Destroyer. You begin in the cave entrance.

My walkthrough and map

September 28, 2021

Renga in Blue

Arrow of Death Part 1: Finished!

by Jason Dyer at September 28, 2021 09:41 PM

(Reading my prior posts on this game is necessary for this one to make sense.)

I didn’t have much left to go before finishing. Really, with the exception of the rather strange last puzzle, everything was a matter of figuring out the parser.

First off, only 5 minutes after I made my last post, I realized that while holding the log I could GO FLUME and the ride would begin. I assumed you sat down the log and got on it, which seems reasonable, but I guess not. This leads shortly to a beach with a cliff, which you can climb to find a mighty eagle.

With the sighting of Feathers I realized this was the second “ingredient” in my Arrow of Death; I had the arrowhead already, and with feathers I just needed the shaft. However, I was completely and totally unable to interact with either the eagle or the feathers other than — rather unhelpfully — I could kill the eagle with my sword, causing it to disappear.

Frustrated, I went back to the other part I had verb trouble with — the chained slave — and once again found immediate success. I tried FREE SLAVE which instructed me to CUT his CHAINS, so I suppose it’s a really firm sword I’ve been toting around.

Once you free the slave he will follow you. Heading up to the boulder that had me stumped, trying to MOVE BOULDER told me that I received some help, and it opened up a cave.

That’s all that was in the cave. Nothing magic or even new information — I already knew I needed feathers! I spent a long time trying to SEARCH CAVE and the like but even the noun CAVE wasn’t recognized.

Bouncing around futily trying to examine things for the nth time, I went back to the eagle and tried another crack at extract feathers. Here I was saved by my “verb list” procedure I had gone through earlier…

…and I realized, off of my “rare” verbs in the far right column, that PLUCK worked. (I first added it back when playing Vial of Doom and later used it in Ulysses and the Golden Fleece. It has shown up in no other games so far.) PLUCK FEATHERS not only put feathers in my inventory but got the Eagle to fly me to a new area.

And then … I’d like to describe some fabulous adventures here, but it seems like the author ran out of space, or gave up? There’s a brook you pass by…

…there’s a hut with a dead dwarf that has a silver medallion…

…a lot of random grassy locations with nothing…

…and a Cellar with a MASTER FLETCHER. I assumed that after collecting the shaft for the arrow I would be returning here.

Finally, past a marsh, I encountered a willow, and immense parser frustration.

The Guardians of the Willow are the final obstacle for the game, but I have no idea what they even look like! They prevent the action CUT WILLOW without any details. All I know is I was able to take the silver medallion I just got a few minutes before, and throw it; they chased the medallion, distracted.

Guardians
Chase Medallion!

Then I was able to CUT WILLOW and get the last piece of the Arrow, and the game ended, informing me to continue the story in Part 2. Not even a scene returning to the Fletcher and assembling the arrow, booooo.

CONGRATULATIONS!!
You can now make the Arrow
See ARROW OF DEATH (Pt.2)

I think the one thing this game emphasized for me is just how solid the original Scott Adams games are. Now, I had legions of complaints, of course, but I never felt like I was in a scenario where an item was in the room description that couldn’t be referred to, or where I circled for an hour finding the right verb rather than using any kind of logical reasoning. (They had their own, unique problems, mind you, but just not in implementation.) I do strongly get this was possibly Brian Howarth doing the ports from his original TRS-80 games in haste, really wanting to get back to writing new games.

At least the slightly askew ZX Spectrum graphics grew on me. They’re not traditionally pretty, but they’re trying their best. As an aside, I tried out the Z-machine z6 conversion using Frotz, and it lets you see the room description and room graphic on the same page as you play; it made the static nature of the graphics seem a touch more sensible, as I never had a situation where I would read text and then switch to graphics to see a scene that did not resemble the text much; having them both delivered at the same time made the issue feel less irritating.

An example. There’s supposed to be a chained slave here, but I’m honestly not sure what I’m looking at.

I confess this just wasn’t as strong as The Time Machine, and at least Golden Baton had a memorable ending. I’ll just save overall judgment until part 2, I suppose, but that will have to wait until sometime in 1982; I’ll keep with the ZX Spectrum for when I get back to the worlds of Howarth, and his first game that was written solely for the Scott Adams database system.

The People's Republic of IF

September Meeting Post-Mortem

by Angela Chang at September 28, 2021 01:41 PM

September 2021 PR-IF meeting courtesy of Zarf

The People’s Republic of Interactive Fiction convened on Monday, September 20, 2021 over zoom.  KaySavetz  (Eaten By A Grue), Zarf,  Hugh, Stephen Eric Jablonski,  Dana, NickM, Hilborn, welcomed newcomer Steve Washington (@esaevian). Thank you Zarf for providing the chat transcript below:

EctoComp 2021 has been announced: https://itch.io/jam/ectocomp-2021-english

Trope Tank is still hoping to get set up this month. MIT has set up a “Tim Ticket” system for campus visitors, so it might be possible to have an on-campus meeting in Nov or Dec. We’ll see.

(Footnote from Zarf: Even if this is possible, I am thinking we should stay with zoom meetings through the end of the semester. We can re-evaluate for January.)

NM is working on a new Curveship (JS) release — focusing on narrative style rather than parser-style IF.

Nick Montfort to Everyone: Curveship-js 0.4 coming soon!

Hopefully some version will be fun to develop & create stuff with before long

Adam Sommerfield posted about an abandoned attempt to work on a Deadline sequel with Dave Lebling and Marc Blank.

https://intfiction.org/t/cancelled-project-spiritual-successor-to-deadline-witness-etc-may-be-of-interest-to-someone/52525

Hugh set up a repository and did some very quick map sketches for this:

https://gitlab.com/jkj/39years

Talked a bit about different detective game models.

Kay Savetz to Everyone:

Puny Inform v3.0 is out — https://twitter.com/FRamsberg/status/1440011822313185280

https://github.com/johanberntsson/PunyInform/releases

Experimental work adding WebAssembly output to the Inform 6 compiler:

https://intfiction.org/t/inform-6-says-hello-webassembly/52399/12

This is very preliminary; not much of the I6 class system is implemented yet.

Emily Short ran a Seltani jam: https://emshort.blog/2021/08/22/seltani-jam/

Zarf was the only person who contributed anything, but we had about a dozen people show up for a Seltani tour.

Zarf’s post about the new experiment:

https://blog.zarfhome.com/2021/09/a-plenitude-of-alchemical-domains.html

Andy Baio posted about a lesser-known Jason Shiga interactive comic, Hello World:

This uses a split-page system to track game state and permit a “menu” of different choices in each state.

Also mentioned Knock Knock (Zarf showed off his copy).

Zarf also showed Adventure Games: Playing the Outsider(Aaron Reed, Anastasia Salter, John T. Murray).

Ryan Veeder’s Mud Warriors has been ported to GameBoy:

https://intfiction.org/t/the-release-of-ryan-veeders-mud-warriors-on-gameboy/52534

Screenshots:

Gameboy emulator:

https://www.bannister.org/software/kigb.htm

Zarf Updates

Recent narrative games: summer 2021 edition

by Andrew Plotkin ([email protected]) at September 28, 2021 02:26 AM

Lake

A game about taking a vacation. You take two weeks off from your high-stress software company job (in 1986, it's eight-bit stuff) in order to drive a mail truck. You have just enough scheduling to optimize your route, just enough scenery to learn the roads, the radio has just three songs on rotation, and sometimes you need to whip a three-point turn at 40 mph. Which is all we ever wanted out of GTA, right?
Really, the truck-driving is there to pace out a bunch of meet-the-neighborhood story threads. Follow through whichever ones you want. It's basically a dating sim with 80% less dating. (Some dating if you want to go there.)
And it works because the game itself is a vacation. You take a few days off off from playing flashy, world-saving, tower-jumping, monster-smashing, brain-busting games. You putter around in a truck! There are no stakes! You can't win or lose!
This is kind of brilliant, and also kind of self-defeating. What the game conveys is that none of this matters. But it's supposed to be a story about a grounding, self-discovering moment: you return to your home town, connect up with old friends, meet new people... figure out what's important. But it's so low-stakes that I couldn't feel very involved. Even when I was driving off with the hot video-store owner. "Summer fling, don't mean a thing..." Sorry, Angie.
Well, it's a charming ride, the writing is fun, the sunrises are lovely, and I really did appreciate the break.

The Artful Escape (of Francis Vendetti)

It's... it's the world's easiest platformer, except you're on a psychedelic Bowie head-trip and playing power chords makes you sail through the sky. Sometimes there's a little Simon-style chord-following challenge under the glittering neon speaker-stacks of space. Again, very easy. Who cares? It's a gonzo sci-fi rock opera experience. It's not about the music; it's about the light show. (The narrative nods at this.)
It's also about the heavy-frame glasses, so it has my vote.
My only complaint here is that the story gets unnecessarily salty about folk music. The protagonist is trying to escape his folk roots to become a glam star. I get that. This is mostly framed as personal expression and self-discovery and it's fine. But a bit at the end sneers about "the dreary taint of folk music" (or some such phrasing) with no pushback. It was -- sorry -- a sour note. Especially since the sound track features quite a bit of soulful folk. (Luke Legs doing the title and main-menu tracks.)
That's a footnote, though. Playing this is like injecting album covers directly into your ocular nerve. Do it.

Psychonauts 2

I don't have a lot to say about this -- it's a big release; people have said plenty. But I really appreciated how much the story centered consent, concensus, and teamwork.
The original game, after all, was basically about gate-crashing people's heads and using their hangups as an amusement park ride. The adventure-game form practically mandates this sort of ego-trip approach. But P2 makes an effort to break away from it. The first big story arc has Raz jumping into someone's head to "fix a problem" -- which causes a big problem, and then he has to fix it. And then he apologizes! And for the rest of the game, whenever Raz needs to head-dive, there's a line where he asks permission. It's a small thing, but the writers went there, and it makes the game shine.
Similarly, the big cast of background characters all get their moments of storyline and their moments of heroism. The game is about Raz, but in the story, sometimes he's the sidekick.
Also appreciated: the generous easy-mode options. I turned on "invincible" for most of the boss fights. Made it a better game -- for me. You do you.

OPUS: Echo of Starsong

A visual novel mashed up with several other genres: abstract puzzle, adventure game, Out There-style space puttering. The visual novel is on top, and I'm not saying that just because all the dialogue is floating heads with a range of facial expressions. (Plus the infamous Giant Sweat Drop of Fluster.) All the exploration and puzzles and minigames are there to pace the big dramatic romance plot.
When I say they're pacing, I don't mean they're extraneous or slapdash. Every piece of the game carries its share of the narrative. You get walk-and-talk while you explore. You get bits of worldbuilding and history from every random encounter. You get NPC banter in the email screen that hands you quests. You get tragic space girlfriend music out of the puzzle system. The designers have clearly thought through their narrative design in intense detail, and then polished the heck out of everything, too.
(I will raise one tiny quibble, just because it was such an uncharacteristic oversight. If your story does a "one year goes by" timeline skip between chapters -- with plot consequences -- you can't put me back in the same ship with exactly the same amount of fuel, scrap, hull damage, and cargo. That's a Voyager-level writing goof. At least throw some money and gas in the tank to show that the offscreen year was a working year.)
On the up side, the game seems to use a full-fledged storylet system for its encounters. Each location (aside from the big adventure-y areas) has just a handful of exploration choices. But some of them are contextual; for example, crappy jobs that will hire you for pin money if you're broke. If your ship is badly damaged, you might run into a repair truck in flight. Stuff like that. It's not ostentatious but it does a lot of the game's balance work.
Anyway. Everything is about the story, so how was the story? Eh, it was fine. Space Boy and Wise Parental Guardian meet up with Space Girl and Orphan Kid Sister. Then, big spoiler here, Wise Parental Guardian dies because George Lucas said so[*]. It's a romance. There's shouting and pining. It all leans heavily on tropes. There's plenty of story, but the characters have roles rather than personality as such.
The game does better with backstory. The Thousand Peaks is a big messy solar system filled with lost ancient ruins, and also more recent ruins because of the Big War. You scout the ancient ruins for artifacts and lumen energy (what the Big War was fought over). I was originally skeptical -- it seemed like a re-run of Heaven's Vault minus the cool linguistics. But the game eventually won me over through sheer weight of detail. There's dozens of asteroids and space stations and ruins and spaceships and factions, each with its own glimpse of the world. Even a one-paragraph description or one-choice side-quest conveys its own angle. It slowly adds up to a dense web of history which left me kind of awe-struck.
Points for sharp use of the frame story, too.
I know it's faint to praise the worldbuilding when the story doesn't entirely measure up. I enjoyed playing, though! There's nothing wrong with relaxing into the tropes and mouthing along. That's half the TV I watch. (No, I'm not admitting which shows.) If I wasn't all that caught up with the characters, I still had fun fussing with the map and the puzzles and the economy -- which is what they're for. And the narrative craft really is top-notch.
[* Footnote: Did George Lucas say so? I've seen at least one account that Obi-Wan was not killed off because of a Campbell obsession, but because Lucas expected to introduce Anakin Daddy Skywalker in the sequel, and having two Wise Parental Jedi Knights would be redundant! No, I don't remember where I read this. Yes, there were so many Star Wars drafts that probably everything was true once. Large Luke says "Never mind".]

September 27, 2021

Renga in Blue

Arrow of Death Part 1: The Edge of an Awesome Precipice

by Jason Dyer at September 27, 2021 10:41 PM

(Continued directly from my last post.)

The VIC-20 Digital Leisure version of Arrow of Death Part 1, which was cut by the author into 8K, half the size of the original. Howarth was “persuaded somewhat against his will” into doing the arrangement and “felt he was cheating the people who were buying the games”. (Source.) Source from Gareth Pitchford, picture via @AgentReyes2 on Twitter.

A bit of progress over last time. I carefully re-re-re-checked each room and found that in the opening courtyard in the game if I did LOOK COURTYARD I would find a rope. This happened in the Kitchen as well (with a hook) but rather frustratingly, the actual syntax doesn’t even work elsewhere: LOOK THRONE in the Throne Room gives an error-type message, the same as LOOK VAULT in the Vault. It came off as a pointless bit of bad UI — someone could easily have “trained” themselves that the syntax didn’t work at all before finding any items — moreso than a well-hidden secret.

I was able to use the rope with the hook and attach them together, put the hook in at the top of the ledge, climb down to the armor, tie the armor up, and then drag it up by pulling the rope back at the top of the ledge.

This let me go into the dark cave (shown above, even before it gets revealed in the game) with armor on, and able to survive walking into darkness. After some thought, I retrieved the orb that showed the cave and rubbed it again while inside the darkness, and it lit up showing a serpent. Multiple whacks of my sword were sufficient to take the serpent down, and I was able to retrieve an arrowhead after the fight. I assume this is a piece of the titular Arrow.

Nearby the cave location in the TRS-80 version is this precipice. It doesn’t serve any puzzle-solving purpose so I can understand why it was cut from the more minimal remake, but I still liked the cinema of it.

I thought I’d have opened up more areas by solving what I did, but I was at a dead end. Another combing through all the rooms, and this time, while in the forest and frustrated…

…I decided to try out the hint that the beggar had earlier (“when all seems lost, WAIT”). I assumed previously this clue meant WAIT was intended to be tried out in some location that felt like a dead-end (like the Cave which had the serpent) but apparently it was really intended for the forest. Using WAIT teleported me to a new location, where there was a riverbank and a barge with a ferryman. The Ferryman held his hand out — and the amulet I found off the Messenger had a picture of a barge — so I GAVE AMULET which was sufficient to get passage.

This led me to a new area with a ruined forest, a chained slave in a clearing (who can’t talk to or interactive with via any verbs I’ve tested, an apparent dead end at a rock wall, some toadstools, a large boulder (I’m not strong enough to carry it), a “cookhouse” for some giants, and a giant building.

If you try to enter the giant building you “trip” and give yourself away to giants living within.

The “cookhouse” has a cauldron with broth. You can take the toadstools and POISON CAULDRON (not any verb referring the toadstools themselves, which would be the usual thing) leave, and then somehow in the interim between leaving the cookhouse and going to the main giant building the giants have quaffed the poison so you can safely walk in.

This leads to an upper level with a log and a log flume. Any attempts to drop the log on the flume and ride it or otherwise get it moving have been denied by the parser.

So to summarize, I’m stuck on:

a.) the log/flume part, which may just need the right verb to get the two to do anything together

b.) the chained slave part, which may just need the right verb to interact (I don’t otherwise have a key or something helpful in breaking a chain)

c.) a heavy boulder, which I might assume I need to enlist a giant for except I knocked them out already (was that a mistake?)

d.) and a dead-end rock wall which I again have found no luck with

At least progress is progress, but it is frustrating knowing what might be stopping is getting the right phrasing (POISON as a verb took me a while, for sure).

The People's Republic of IF

August Meeting Post Mortem

by Angela Chang at September 27, 2021 01:41 PM

August 2021 PR-IF AttendeesAugust 2021 PR-IF Attendees

The People’s Republic of Interactive Fiction convened on  Tuesday, August 31, 6:30 pm. Zarf,  Hugh (StrandGames),  DanaCarrington (Eaten By A Grue), NickMStephen Eric Jablonski,  Josh Grams,  anjchang, and Dan Boris welcomed newcomer Kathryn Li.


IFComp submissions open. Now you can vote on the games Real problem is voting against others.

publicity for ifcomp?

taper#7 submissions deadline moved sept. 15th

In-person meeting update– covid protocols are stringent and lab space issues at the moment

kay reading monsters!

zork zero!

Inquiring minds want to know “What will be next” for Eaten By A Grue?
Maybe–Works that happened by the authors after they left infocom?
Zork_the_undiscovered_underground
infocom.xyz is still up–it’s not the original infocom
Retron77 machine
Activision/Infocom discussion history
Inspired by Adventure
When Atari came up with Atari VCS, they didn’t expect it to be such a huge hit for decades. No concept of DRM back then. No 3rd party games for the system- it was all inhouse.
David Crane and “Chess for atari maker” -no royalities, no salaries
Four people just left and founded Activision, solved the problem of how to program ATARI VCS.
Rob Fulop did that with iMagic. After that people started doimg stuff without having the insider background, by reverse engineering the chip!
ET was the worst video game ever but then others fixed the bugs.

Check out GrueScript:a tool for creating point-n-click parser-like text adventures/interactive fiction. See the announcement here https://intfiction.org/t/announce-gruescript/52104

Twining: Critical and Creative Approaches to Hypertext Narratives Book is out
https://www.fulcrum.org/concern/monographs/ms35tb924

A History of Adventure Games Book is out
https://bookshop.org/books/adventure-games-playing-the-outsider/9781501385827

EmilyShort game jam in seitani on September 19th
https://www.meetup.com/Oxford-and-London-Interactive-Fiction-Group/events/280273311/

Cyan released a VR game called Myst, reimagining Myst in 1993. It’s very very pretty

Josh grams reports that Stacey Mason just finished her PhD. It’s called “Exquisite Corpse” He’s been attending the #fortnightfictionjam she hosted. Josh and others made the Exquisite Poem Generator — Check it out!

Staceys new game about narrative things was mentioned, but might not be available yet

Carrington workimg on a game in PunyInform. A bug if you create a verb and an object with a life routine, verbishness disappears somehow. Zarf says verbs should take precedence. Could be a scope or version problem (debug vs release)? V3 compiler.