Planet Interactive Fiction

August 05, 2020

Renga in Blue

Mad Venture: Off and On I Shall Pay You a Visit

by Jason Dyer at August 05, 2020 10:41 PM

Well, I peeked at a map, and this game likely won’t take a few weeks; I have most of the map already. That doesn’t mean the remaining puzzles won’t be hard.

This is most of the right side of the map; I’ll talk about the missing part shortly.

In particular, while I’ve been alert to wordplay (in addition to just regular physical object solutions), I was paying more attention to nouns than to verbs. This was a mistake. Let me reproduce from last time what the beggar said when I handed over a treasure.

The text of what the beggar is saying is an enormous clue: OFF AND ON I SHALL PAY A VISIT TO SEE IF I CAN HELP YOU. This isn’t referring to the beggar visiting the player just based on the passage of time; this is referring literally to the commands OFF and ON, which are shorthand for LAMP OFF and LAMP ON.

What the beggar is trying to communicate is that you can try to get their help by turning your lamp off and on again.

One of the places I was stuck was at a palace guard who needed me to hand over a gold coin.

Turning OFF the lamp here led to a strange THUD.

When I turned it ON again, I found an unconscious guard. Neat!

The actual palace itself didn’t have any puzzles, but was slightly confusing to map (hence my not bothering to add the rooms to the map at the top of this post). It did have a GOLD COIN (well, we could have used that earlier) and a CANDY HEART in a clearing with a loudspeaker.

A SPEAKER IS PLAYING LOUDLY,
“YOU GOTTA HAVE HEARTS,
MILES AND MILES OF HEARTS!”.

The lobby of the Queen’s Palace went meta, and I assume is referencing Micro Lab’s next game (Alice in Thunderland).

August 04, 2020

Renga in Blue

Mad Venture: The Key Is the Food to Your Problem

by Jason Dyer at August 04, 2020 11:41 PM

Mad Venture is one of those games in split-screen format where room descriptions, objects, and exits are consistently displayed on the screen, so the command LOOK by itself (which makes sense in single-window games to reproduce the room description) is a little redundant. In Mad Venture it gives the message

OK. SEEMS SAME SCENE SEEN!

and I suddenly had 20-year old memories flood in.

You see, this reminded me of Nick Montfort’s game Ad Verbum (2000) which I was a beta tester for.

Sloppy Salon
Simple social space, sadly spoiled. Some skewed situation’s sequel, surely. Seemingly, slovenly students sojourned — scraping, scratching, scuffing surfaces.

Stuff: … stainless steel stapler… sizable sofa.

This is a room where only words with the letter S work. To get by this point you need a word meaning “exit the room” which starts with the letter S.

This alerted me to that — at least to some extent — Mad Venture is a wordplay game, where the physical selves of objects are just as important as the words attached to them.

I had previously managed to get small by eating a sandwich, and pop in a rabbit until to an underground area. From there I was stuck; there was a nasty sandwich there, but if I tried to eat it, it ate me back. I was too small to pick up any of the items, including the lamp, so I wasn’t able to travel anywhere.

Previously, aboveground, I had found a book that read “THE FOOD IS THE KEY TO YOUR PROBLEM” that I used as a hint to eat the sandwich; since I sent everything underground, including the book, I decided to try reading it again and was surprised to find the text had changed:

THE KEY IS THE FOOD TO YOUR PROBLEM

Oho, what about EAT KEY?

This opened the map up much wider.

The left half of the underground, as I’ve mapped it so far.

To the west I found a “small, low chamber” that was “filled with dusty rocks”. You might be familiar with this location from Adventure. Keeping the wordplay in mind, I tried to CLEAN ROCKS:

THE DUST SEEMS TO REVEAL “KATIE WAS HERE” SCRIBBLED ON ONE OF THE ROCKS.

The word “KATIE” in this particular word serves to teleport the player back and forth from the lobby of the movie theater where all the treasures need to be dropped.

I mostly haven’t had other progress. I did find a boulder I pried away with a crowbar, and a beggar who wanted one of my treasures.

I haven’t seen the beggar since; at the moment I’m assuming you get a hint later but not an optimal score if you hand over a treasure.

I got stymied by a guard who wants a gold coin, and found a very strange L I B R A R Y that didn’t let any of my objects in.

I also found a puzzle which utterly blew my mind.

Remember, in a wordplay game, words only connect tenuously with their corresponding objects, so–

Actually, let’s pause a moment. What can happen next?

I found a SMILING CHESSER CAT down one of the branches, but I don’t know what to do with him yet.

While FORK does refer to a fork in a road…

Notice the room description change.

…it can also refer to a utensil, so GET FORK works, and removes the fork in the road! This changes the map so rather than there being a northwest and a northeast exit, there’s just north.

what will you do now?

IFComp 2019: The Milgram Parable, The Good People, Each-uisge

by Verity at August 04, 2020 08:42 PM

Only a year late, that’s not too bad, eh?! I spent a little time catching up on IFComp games today.

The Milgram Parable

By Peter Eastman. (IFDB)

Starting with the story of Stanley Milgram’s psychological experiments, The Milgram Parable reads like an allegory, using the setting of a corporate militia. All the elements are there: unquestioning obedience, limited information and one to one meetings with superiors. I guess the sporadic binary choices come with the narrative territory, too.

So the game forces you to make increasingly abstract choices. Showing compassion at the start of the game yields the admonishment that you are quick to judge using very little information; this is what the game forces you to do. Ironic? Purposeful? Maybe. The scope of the game is so narrow, the stakes and emotional impact so vague, that the decisions start to feel academic.


The Good People

By Pseudavid. (IFDB)

This is a conversation-powered, living poem in which two people uncover a village previously submerged by a dam. As they uncover layers of the physical landscapes, so they also uncover the landscapes of the PC’s childhood and family.

Everything is fragmentary, forgotten, which creates a sort of creeping horror. The unpredictable visual design adds to that.

The game has a striking use of images throughout, and whether by design or browser variability, the text design occasionally looks buggy – text sometimes appears in unexpected places, or laid out in odd ways. Here I chose to see that as part of the effect of the game.

The Good People was intriguing, not least because it scratched my particular itch of exploring abandoned landscapes and memories.


Each-usige

By Jac Colvin. (IFDB)

MacLeod the neighbour has a kelpie – the water horse of yore – the same kind of creature that drowned the PC’s aunt.

The story was compact; the writing descriptive and the storyline fairly straightforward. Each decision has realistic moral stakes, and if we’re talking about moral decisions in IFComp 2019, this was much more convincing than, say, the Milgram Parable. Overall this was a polished piece of work and very competently done.

Wade's Important Astrolab

Introcomp 2020 review: Navigatio (The Confession of the Second Man) by P. James Garrett

by Wade ([email protected]) at August 04, 2020 11:52 AM


I don't think I've reviewed any Introcomp entries in my blog before this year (2020). Introcomp is feedback-focused. If I play an Introcomp 2020 game, have enough to say about it and feel that what I have to say is appropriate to share in public, I will review it here in my blog. Otherwise I'll share my feedback by the mandatory private mechanism that's invoked when you vote on an entry, and/or in notes in the Some Introcomp 2020 Reviews thread started over on intfiction.org. And I won't say anything about A Fool's Rescue because I helped test it. 

Navigatio (The Confession of the Second Man) is a parser-driven Introcomp 2020 entry from P. James Garrett. It's the first chapter of the prospective longer adventure and took me about twenty minutes to complete. I'm definitely keen to play more. Coincidentally, the game has some structural and content similarities to the last game I reviewed on IFDB, Napier's Cache.

The PC in Navigatio is a monk's assistant at a monastery in the middle ages. The prologue about his rough upbringing and how he got to where he is is catchy and confidently delivered, even if there was one element of it I didn't quite understand. Then comes the first prose of the game proper –

Frozen Northern Bank

It is the third of a series of strange mornings. Lauds was late, but time has been misbehaving. So have the monks of this community.

– which I really like. It conveys a lot, moving through levels of awareness and connecting ideas quickly.

In the vein of 'assistant' games, the PC is tasked with fetching news and objects, communicating between different NPCs and solving environmental puzzles that get in the way of his goals. The monastery environment is compelling, and apparently the product of some research, sporting religious and manuscript-making details that evoke time and place. The implementation of the physical details is light, and probably the area of the game I'd most like to see beefed up in a later release.

The puzzles in this intro are simple and well-cued. I also nabbed some items that I expect will be of use in a subsequent chapter. The transition to chapter two has several elements that are hooky, including the continuation of a mystery thread set up in the first chapter and a suggestion that the metaphysical nature of the world might change as the game continues. I'm keen to see more either way. Some typos aside, Navigatio is well-written and well-directed, with a strong sense of place (including a few random environmental elements for flavour) and effective characterisation between the PC and his mentor. I would like to see stronger implementation of the environment in an expanded version, mostly so that the game would have a means of elaborating on its world's interesting details.

Renga in Blue

Mad Venture (1981)

by Jason Dyer at August 04, 2020 02:41 AM

Micro Labs published only two adventure games, both for the Apple II and both from 1981: Mad Venture (Dale Johnson and Christine Johnson) and Alice in Thunderland (Dale Johnson, again, and Ken Rose).

From the Museum of Computer Adventure Game History, although I’m guessing this is a picture from an old auction.

This is yet another pure treasure gathering game, although this time the game is very explicit about a time limit, as shown on the box art above. I suspect I will need to create myself a walkthrough to win.

Or possibly: cling helplessly to one. For I’ve known about this game for a while, where the one thing I’ve heard is the difficulty is really high. We’re talking another aspirant for Quondam’s throne of Most Difficult Adventure Ever, here. Of course, I can’t know how hard Mad Venture is until I try it, but I am still blocking out a few weeks.

While Alice in Thunderland is more explicit about the connection, Mad Venture has a vague sense of Alice in Wonderland to what I’ve seen so far. This led some people on the intfiction forums to speculate this was one of the first adventure games with a female character (Alice) but while I’d say the argument holds for Thunderland, I’m pretty sure the hero for Mad Venture is intended to be “you”. (Keeping an open mind, though, until I get deeper in the game.)

You start outside a movie theater where you are told to bring the treasures in 185 moves or bust. Nearby there’s a bunch of items, a rabbit hole (described as too small to enter), and a cave.

I moved all the items to this room to get them in one screenshot.

Going west:

YOU ARE IN A LARGE UNDERGROUND CHAMBER. A PASSAGE WEST HAS BEEN BOARDED UP! THERE IS A SIGN POSTED HERE THAT READS: “CAVE CLOSED FOR REPAIRS. DEPOSIT ALL NON-PERISHABLES IN CHUTE FOR FULL REFUND.

THERE IS A “DEPOSIT” CHUTE HERE.

The book has a faded cover which states “LE…CAR” and the inside notes “THE FOOD IS THE KEY TO YOUR PROBLEM”. This made me think the sandwich was somehow helpful but my first attempt at eating it while standing by the deposit chute led to death.

YOU HAVE BEEN CRUSHED TO DEATH BY A FALLING OBJECT!!
YOU ARE DEAD!

After some experimenting, I found that the sandwich has a better effect while eaten in the initial cave room.

YOU ARE NOW 4 INCHES TALL.

(There’s some rooms where you die and some where you transform — I’m not sure the pattern.)

This lets you be small enough to pop in the previously mentioned rabbit hole. Any items dropped in the DEPOSIT chute await below.

Notice there’s a “nasty sandwich” that’s new. If you try to GET SANDWICH you die with the message “THE SANDWICH GETS YOU FIRST!”

If anyone is inclined to follow along, there’s an easy-to-use online version of Mad Venture at the Internet Archive.

August 03, 2020

Renga in Blue

Pirate Island (1981)

by Jason Dyer at August 03, 2020 12:41 AM

Can you get your treasure back to your ship ? Beware of the crocodile and the natives ! Don’t dig for treasure till you’ve read the map !

— Ad from Your Computer Magazine, January 1983

Paul Shave’s third release for 1981, like Atom Adventure, used his Create Your Own Adventure system.

Via Everygamegoing.

Also like Atom Adventure, the goal is to gather all the treasures, and many of the objects are randomly scattered. Unlike that game, it doesn’t have super-tight timing (although I haven’t gotten a full score yet, so maybe I’m wrong).

Most of the game is set outside, so a light timer isn’t really an issue. (There is a tinderbox you can light for the purposes of one room.)

There’s an initial “short-term” timer with a crocodile that eventually shows up and starts following you. The crocodile has a ticking sound (yep, it’s a Peter Pan reject). Eventually, the crocodile bites your head off, but if you have a knife, you can kill it and cut it open, revealing a clock.

Note that by bad luck you may run into the crocodile before you get the knife and just die on a particular run (this is another similar element to Atom Adventure).

A “long-term” timer is formed by “natives” that show up at random and shoot poison darts at you. There’s a village where you can buy antidote from other (different?) natives for TWO PIECES OF EIGHT and you can APPLY ANTIDOTE in order to avoid dying.

The antidote is not well described, so this is a likely result from first trying it out. I admit being more amused than frustrated, since this wasn’t far in.

However, the antidote only has so many applications, so you eventually will succumb to a poison dart if the game goes on long enough.

Additionally, the antidote is considered one of the treasures, and there’s a pirate that shows up at random that will swipe all your treasures and take them to his “lair” which is just a spot in the forest. It’s possible to have very bad timing and get the antidote swiped from your inventory right before getting shot with a poison dart, so the pirate inadvertently does a combo special with the natives conspiring to kill the main character.

As noted in the screenshot above, there’s a place marked GRUD OMASSI. If you say these words anywhere on the island you get teleported back to the GRUD OMASSI spot and have all wounds healed. This makes for a nice backup plan for getting stuck by poison where the antidote is too far away. (It works twice, but the third time kills via a lightning bolt, so it’s still an emergency-purpose-only situation.)

The natives that sell an antidote also have an idol which counts as a treasure, but if you try to steal it, they cook you over a pot.

I’ll save some extra commentary on this for the end of this post.

I mentioned getting a clock from the crocodile already. If you give them the clock they gather around it, fascinated, which distracts them enough you can steal the idol.

To win you need to sail away, but the catch is there are two ships. Observe on the map:

There’s a “ship” both on the north side and south side, with a shore and rowboat conveiently placed. You need to LAUNCH BOAT, ENTER BOAT, and ROW BOAT to get to the ship, at which point you may find the HISPANOLA (good!) but it may be the SANTA MARIA (bad!). If you board the Santa Maria you find pirates who make you walk the plank: game over. The placement of the two ships is random, so you have to check and may need to turn around to go to the other ship.

Assuming you do get on the correct ship, you can RAISE ANCHOR and SET SAIL to victory. (The game doesn’t tell you about RAISE ANCHOR; just like drinking the antidote, it expects you to step into a losing game once. “Dying from things that are realistic and logical but in gameplay terms unfair” is sort of a running gag for Pirate Island.)

You may notice a lack of 16 out of 16 in the screenshot above. Each treasure is 2 points, and I’ve managed to max out at 12 with a RUBY RING, GOLD NUGGETS, JEWELS, IDOL, ANTIDOTE, and SILVER BAR. (The first four are randomly placed, the antidote is always bought at the village, and the silver bar you get from a gorilla by trading a banana.)

I sometimes end these with “whelp, the game was too painful, that’s it” but for some reason, the missing points here really gnaw at me. I think it has to do with the advertising blurb I quoted at the top of this post, which you might notice mentions a map for digging. I have found a SPADE in the game and tried digging the ground in every location, so no dice at random luck: I think the map is necessary to find whatever treasures remain. But I have no idea how to get the map! In addition to what I’ve mentioned, I’ve found a PARROT (which perches atop the player’s shoulder), some WOOD SHAVINGS, a BOTTLE (which can be filled with WATER), and some CHEESE. I haven’t been able to make use of any of them. I had strange notions of “reconstituting” a map by combining wood shavings and water, but no luck (at least with the parser commands I tried).

(If you’d like to take a crack, download the Atom Software Archive here, the program Atomulator here, drop the archive files in the “MMC” directory, then start the emulator and pick shift-F12, which jumps to a menu that accesses every available Atom game, including PS3A, Pirate Island.)

Oh, and the natives. They are definitely just old-timey cartoon stereotypes. I especially felt uncomfortable stealing the idol. The pieces of eight (which you use to buy the antidote) incidentally count as a treasure, so it’s possible to get a full point spread you need to steal the antidote in addition to the idol. This makes me tempted to just bail out early for story purposes like I did with It Takes a Thief. But really, where is that map?

ADD: You can see in the comments I missed a location, so I found the map and an extra treasure. No idea on the last treasure; I still have to spend the pieces of eight to get the antidote, and haven’t found a way around that.

August 01, 2020

The People's Republic of IF

June Meeting Post Mortem

by Angela Chang at August 01, 2020 06:41 AM

Pr-IF June 24, 2020

zarf, bdesilets,  hilborn, nickmkaysavetz  (Eaten By A Grue), kgagneMark Pilgrimanjchang, JP Tuttle, dan, Bill Maya attended. Warning: What follows is probably not proper English, but just my log of notes from the meeting to jog people’s memories:
Kay Savage shared Scavange – a text adventure for the Atari 8-bit

Darkcode1 https://mirrors.apple2.org.za/ground.icaen.uiowa.edu/MiscInfo/Hardware/a2memory

Ken asked if “Lantern” crossed this group’s radar? The author, Evan Wright, wrote about it for Juiced.GS, a hardcopy magazine.

https://www.floppydisk.com

Feneric has played the bulk of the NarraScope Game Jam games. (There are a few he can’t play because they’re MS-Win only.) anjchang has played some too. Mention of the massive itch.io social justice bundle

anjchang asks if anyone has played The Infections Madness of Doctor Dekker

Kay’s baby name generator for the 100DaysOfCode https://twitter.com/KaySavetz/status/1275803895852199936/photo/1

Kay mentions the BASIC 10 line contest https://gkanold.wixsite.com/homeputerium

Check out the ANTIC Interview 385 – Software Automatic Mouth: Mark Barton https://ataripodcast.libsyn.com/antic-interview-385-software-automatic-mouth-mark-barton

Mention of Weird Al’s “Word Crimes” music video? https://youtu.be/8Gv0H-vPoDc

feneric notes that one of the NarraScope Game Jam entries was something like that. It’s time-based and emits lines of text on its own schedule.

anjchang is reading a kinetic poetry thesis by Álvaro Seiça http://bora.uib.no/handle/1956/17267 in preparation for the upcoming Taper zine deadline.

Ken suggested GIANT QR CODE

J.P. Tuttle mentioned Blender things: https://imgur.com/a/S6qX2 @Party reference https://files.scene.org/view/parties/2019/atparty19/real_wild/jpt9_wild_gfx.tar.gz

July 31, 2020

Renga in Blue

Assignment 45, A Harry Flynn Adventure: Finale and Analysis

by Jason Dyer at July 31, 2020 10:41 PM

I stopped keeping track of how many Harrys we lost (20?), but victory was eventually ours.

I will narrate the rest of the game, then dive into some exploration of structure. There’s been a lot of theoretical work on the effect of overall choice-structure, but not as much on the micro-pieces therein.

Last time, our hero had made it to the hostage storage area.

BY NOW DR. NON HAS RADIOED FOR HELP. KRUEL REINFORCEMENTS ARE ON THEIR WAY.

1) STUDY THE STORAGE SYSTEM
2) FREE EVERYONE BY DISABLING LOCK MECHANISM
3) EXAMINE THE FILES
4) CALL UEC ON SLED RADIO
5) GET MECHANISM TO PRODUCE MORE PELLET KEYS

Just as a reminder, the hostages are “DATA PATTERNED AND LASER STAMPED” on slides, and we’re trying to rescue a princess. Dr. Non gave Harry one “pellet key” as a “free sample”, but it only works on one slide.

Trying to free everyone:

We start by trying to disable the lock mechanism.

TAMPERING WITH THE LOCK STARTED A BASE DESTRUCTION SEQUENCE. HARRY HAS 60 SECONDS TO DECIDE WHETHER TO:

1) ABANDON THE BASE 2) TRY TO ABORT SEQUENCE

Both are Bad Endings.

HE ALMOST HAD IT, THEN *BOOM!*

Next Harry. Taking his time, he examines the storage system…

FILES
PELLET PRODUCER
LOCKING MECHANISM

…then tries and fails get the mechanism to make more pellet keys.

BY ATTEMPTING TO BYPASS THE PELLET TIMER, HARRY SETS OFF A SIGNAL WHICH ERASES ALL THE FILES! MISSION IS A FAILURE.

The next Harry reconsiders and examines the files more carefully.

THERE ARE MANY FILES. SINCE THE GIRL WAS JUST TAKEN, SHE SHOULD BE AMOUNG THE LAST ENTRIES. BUT HARRY HAS ONLY 1 PELLET.
WHICH FILE IS THE RIGHT ONE?

1) LOAD THE FILES UP AND BRING THEM TO UEC
2) DISABLE LOCK MECHANISM
3) TAKE A GUESS
4) GET MECHANISM TO PRODUCE MORE PELLETS
5) CUT OFF POWER TO STORAGE COMPUTER
6) GO BACK TO SHIP AND USE RADIO

While not obvious, this is the last choice of the game!

First Harry tries cutting off power…

WITH THE POWER OFF THE SYSTEM BECOMES TOTALLY INOPERATIVE.
SHOULD HARRY:
1) TURN POWER BACK ON
2) EXAM SYSTEM WITH POWER OFF

…but examining the system leads to electrocution.

Then he tries to load all the files at once.

WHEN HARRY ATTEMPTS TO REMOVE A PANE FROM ITS HOLDER, THE FILE DISSOLVES. THE GIRL AND ALL OTHER HOSTAGES ON THE PANE ARE DESTROYED. MISSION FAILED.

The next incarnation makes another attempt at producing more pellets, but it turns out as badly as last time, wiping out the system. Finally, he tries going back to call the UEC.

HARRY DRIVES BACK TO THE SHIP AND CALLS UEC. COMPU-CEN SUGGESTS TAKING MICRO-PHOTOS USING THE MEAD CELL AND ANALYZING THEM ON THE SHIP’S COMPUTER.

IN ADDITION, UEC IS SENDING A TASK FO TO SECURE THE BASE.

HARRY RETURNS TO THE STORAGE AREA, AND FOLLOWING COMPU-CEN’S ADVICE IS ABLE TO IDENTIFY THE GIRL’S FILE.

HE SLIPS THE PELLET IN AND A HOLOGRAPHIC IMAGE APPEARS. IT IS KURVI CALLEASE. SHE IS ALMOST MAGICALLY
BEAUTIFUL. THE IMAGE FILLS AND SHE COMES TO LIFE, BUT IMMEDIATELY FAINTS.

HARRY CATCHES HER AND CARRIES HER TO THE SLED. THEY SPEED OVER THE YELLOW SANDS TO HIS SHIP. ABOVE, THE SKY FLASHES WITH RED AND BLUE LASER STROBES AS UEC AND KRUEL FORCES BATTLE IT OUT.

THE GIRL AWAKENS. A TEAR IN HER EYE REFLECTS THE FLASHES OVERHEAD.

‘WHO ARE YOU?’
‘HARRY FLYNN FROM UEC AT YOUR SERVICE.’
SHE PRESSED CLOSE TO HIM, HER HEAD ON HIS SHOULDER.

‘TAKE ME HOME, PLEASE, HARRY.’
‘YOU’RE AS GOOD AS THERE.’

CONGRATULATIONS,
MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!

Deep thanks to everyone who participated! (I’ll figure out who gets the Steam keys next week.) I wanted to try something a little different, but also, I thought taking a slow journey through the steps might reveal some interesting nuances of game design that’d be easy to miss if I just spilled out the whole plot at once.

Before I analyze a few moments, it’s important to note that this seems intended as a skill-based game; that is, if you think through things carefully, you can make the right choices and not die. This is in contrast to the wild-bouncing structure that can happen in one of the Choose Your Own Adventure novels at the time, where the point is almost more about exploring every node rather than reaching any kind of “success”.

All dotted lines lead to “bad endings”, mission failure and/or death.

The start, riding a sled outside the compound, was relatively sedate: it took at least two choices before a Game Over, and all the initial wrong choices could be backtracked.

But there was still some player confusion; the MEAD cell Harry had could be used to determine laser fire would work on the barrier — “Info” on the map — but choosing then to do an immediate hand laser (as opposed to going back to the sled and using that laser) leads to death. Paradoxically, I think the player who is more reckless at the start and just starts shooting is less likely to lose lives here.

After Harry is captured, and the structure gives four choices.

1) BREAK BONDS
2) ROTATE MIRROR FROM SUN
3) USE MEAD CELL
4) PRAY

Pray is an informational choice: it gives Harry the idea that he should use his MEAD cell. Interestingly enough, we picked that one on our playthrough, but when we picked using the MEAD as hinted, the response of “NOTHING HAPPENS” was enough to turn people away. They then went with both BREAK BONDS all the way to the Bad End, and the same with ROTATE MIRROR FROM SUN before going back to USE MEAD CELL.

The “confirmation” structure was deceptive; if the MEAD cell had worked right away the scene would have been over much faster.

Let’s look deeper at the very last choice.

1) LOAD THE FILES UP AND BRING THEM TO UEC
2) DISABLE LOCK MECHANISM
3) TAKE A GUESS
4) GET MECHANISM TO PRODUCE MORE PELLETS
5) CUT OFF POWER TO STORAGE COMPUTER
6) GO BACK TO SHIP AND USE RADIO

When I went through I personally got flummoxed; it really seems like genre expectations are to do something heroic, even if it’s “mechanically heroic”. But the correct choice is to go back and use the ship radio, which sounds like an intermediate step and not something that would win the game at all. (Our players were similarly deceived, and the only option not chosen was “TAKE A GUESS”.)

In general, I found myself fairly grouchy with the game in its original form. There are no saved games, so it takes a lot of repetition to work to the end, and there were a lot of “cheap shot” branches. Especially bad was this one, after Harry “successfully” fakes his death.

NO ONE WILL BE LOOKING FOR HIM NOW.
SHOULD HE: 1)ESCAPE 2)TRY TO CAPTURE DR. NON 3)GET THE GIRL

All three choices lead to death. In practice, this means repeating a bunch of actions to that point (thinking it was the next part of the plot) only to repeatedly meet with failure.

I can see why, plot-wise, it is impossible to do the correct action (destroy the base with the mirror) after Harry fakes his death (someone would have to find his … clothes? … the game never spells out how the faking works … but that means Harry can’t use the mirror any more). Still, in a gameplay sense, this was terrible, in the sense that if I was spelling out a Bill of Player’s Rights for Choice-Based Games this would make one of the entries; don’t block apparent success in a dead-end where a player will have to try all the choices before they realize they’re in a dead-end.

This is the message you get if you pick N to the prompt that asks if you want to try again after losing. This emphasizes the attempt to make the game skill-based. While I appreciate the interesting bits of deception, when I played there just wasn’t enough to grasp the pleasure of working things out; it was more sorting out what happened after I had already died.

Emily Short

End of July Link Assortment

by Mort Short at July 31, 2020 10:41 PM

Events

Aug 1 is the next scheduled meeting of the SF Bay Area IF Meetup.

Contests

ifcomp-blank-screen.jpgIFComp 2020 is accepting entries! Authors should register their intent to enter by September 1. The entries themselves are due by September 28.

A full description of the rules can be found here.

If you have the spare income and the inclination, you can also donate to the IFComp’s fund here.

The September deadline means that we’re still a ways off from playing and voting on the comp games themselves, but in the meantime…

downloadIntroComp will be entering its own play/voting phase at the beginning of August. The last of the entries should be submitted on July 31, and after this, players can check out the games themselves. For IntroComp, the voting deadline is August 31.

 

Talks, Articles, and Podcasts

Ryan Veeder talks about making the classic Taleframe Crocodracula: The Beginning accessible. You can also play here, but the blog post is a delightful read.

cover-preview.png

I mentioned Victor Gijsbers’ YouTube channel earlier this month, but he has since uploaded two new videos, both of which are worth a look. Of particular interest to new players is this introduction, which explores four examples of both choice-based and parser-based IF.

sub-Q Magazine

Author Interview: Matt Dovey

by Natalia Theodoridou at July 31, 2020 01:42 PM

Matt Dovey is very tall, very British, and most likely drinking a cup of tea right now. He has a scar on his arm that he’ll lie to you about. He now lives in a quiet market town in rural England with his wife and three children, and still struggles to express his delight in this wonderful arrangement. Although his surname rhymes with “Dopey”, any other similarities to the dwarf are purely coincidental. He has fiction out and forthcoming all over the place: you can keep up with it at mattdovey.com, or find him timewasting on Twitter as @mattdoveywriter. If you enjoyed Bone Poet, you’ll probably also enjoy Squalor & Sympathy (fantasy) and The Ghosts of Europa Will Keep You Trapped in a Prison You Make for Yourself (science fiction). 

Matt is the author of our August story, “The Bone Poet & God.”

This interview was conducted via email in July 2020.

Matt Dovey

 

sub-Q Magazine: One of the things I loved about this story were the lush, vivid, and detailed descriptions of the natural world. What role does nature play in your work?

Matt Dovey: In trying to answer this question I glanced back down all my other published stories and realised that the power of nature plays a part in arguably about half of them. I honestly hadn’t noticed before; as with so much about writing, your subconscious is spilling out without your knowledge. Writing: it’s like therapy, except slower and full of rejection!

One of my favourite words, and one that’s not nearly used often enough with its full and true meaning, is sublime. To be sublime is not simply to be beautiful: it’s to be beyond the scope and comprehension of a human mind. I am absolutely and undoubtedly an atheist, so I find my wonder and beauty in the sheer, impossible, inconceivable scale of nature. Geological time is a staggering thing when you stop to think about it, let alone universal time and scope. I think the power of that scale is something that keeps coming up in my work, intentionally or not–Quartet of the Far Blown Winds is a deliberate musing on it, but something like Remember to Breathe has it as a background assumption for the setting. I hadn’t meant to comment on nature, there: nature is just a force that happens to the story, where the characters are helpless against it.

It’s interesting to realise that every time I’ve done magic in a story, too, it’s been a natural force, part of the world and not drawing from some other plane or some such. In Bone Poet & God it’s a part of the bears, a part of their world; Homebrew Recipes is a very obvious nature-magic story, but even Squalor & Sympathy‘s magic is something innate and inherent to everyone.

 

sub-Q Magazine: Ursula approaches her poetry and her bone magic, to an extent, not just as a combination but as a collaboration of and with words. So you got me thinking about that in relation to the writer’s work. I think that all short stories are, in a way, a collaboration between author and reader, and interactive stories even more so. But you have also collaborated with our very own Editor-in-Chief on another short story in the past. What role does collaboration play in your writing life?

Matt: Well not a one of my stories has ever gone anywhere without getting feedback on it from other people first, so it’s pretty fundamental I guess. First drafts–in fact, all my ideas, in writing and in life–tend to be a big rush of creativity and possibility and I could do THIS and I could do THAT and it’s only when I sit down to talk them through with other people that I re-evaluate and notice all the flaws and holes and bits in need of patching up. Most of my process for anything longer than flash is a jigsaw puzzle of problems and patches, and I have to juggle all the pieces in the air as I try and work out how they all relate and which ones I need and which ones I can put down before I finally spot the pattern and it all clicks together. Most of my published stories are on their 3rd or 4th major version, with big structural changes between them.

And, as you say, all fiction is a collaboration between author and reader. Stories exist in a nebulous space between both parties: shaped by the author, but also shaped by each reader’s experiences and perceptions and assumptions. A lot of writing is working out where you can lean on that baggage that readers bring, and in deliberately leaving enough space for them to fill in the gaps and personalise the story to them, giving it a greater connection. An example I had to learn early on: if I’m describing a room I’ll have an image in my head based on a room I’ve known in real life, but I don’t need to describe it completely because it doesn’t really matter (and is reeeally boring prose, too). What matters is the emotional connection I have to it, and to recreate that connection for an unknown reader I have to give them enough details to latch onto but enough space to make it their own. You have to consciously give up some control to the reader, in order to get them to buy in.

Actual collaborations are like play. Certainly with Stewart–Coruscating Queen was mostly a game of “try to stitch the other person up with where you leave the story, and see how they get out of it” (and I will never not mention that Stewart totally cheated one night and decided he would “revise what we’ve written so far” instead of trying to solve the problem I had left him, and so the sword-pulled-along-via-shorn-ponytail is my own solution to my own problem). Even ones I’ve written with other people that are less jokey are still playful, though, even when the story itself is horror; it’s all about the joy of trying to delight the other person, and being delighted by the way their brain works in turn.

 

sub-Q Magazine: What do you think your breastbone rune might be?

Matt: Probably “sorry”. I am a bit too British in that regard and apologise in all circumstances, up to and including “someone has paid me a compliment”. “I really enjoyed your story!” “Sorry about that.” (Apologies don’t need to make sense to be made.)

 

sub-Q Magazine: Do you have any favourite recent games or interactive fiction pieces?

Matt: Like everybody else in the world I bought the itch.io bundle for BLM, and a new life by Angela He in that collection is short and beautiful, both the art and the writing. Two more well-known (and not necessarily recent) games that both made me ugly-cry are Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, which wouldn’t work as anything except a game–that moment, oh my god, it broke me–and Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, which is simply the pinnacle of the art as far as I’m concerned, a studio operating at the absolute peak of its powers in all regards. It’s only ten hours long but the character design, sound design, world design, combat design… everything works together as whole, each aspect supporting every other aspect. I rambled about it drunkenly as soon as I finished it, in fact, if you want unfiltered and awe-struck thoughts on it. I cannot recommend it enough, though I must caveat it with all the content warnings.

 

sub-Q Magazine: What’s next for you?

Matt: Frustratingly little, ha. The last 18 months of real life have been pretty emotionally draining for all sorts of personal reasons, and writing–fundamentally an emotionally draining task–has been all but impossible at the end of another long day. I was finally getting some space back in my life for it and then the world ended in March. But it’ll come back again! It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

I have got a third story out at Diabolical Plots next year–a very silly piss take of DOOM, attempting to answer the infamous question of “what if you could talk to the monsters?”–and I just had a short flash piece out at Tina Connolly’s Toasted Cake podcast that might be a pleasant way to pass twelve minutes.

The post Author Interview: Matt Dovey appeared first on sub-Q Magazine.

July 30, 2020

XTads etc.

XTads pre-beta 13 is out

by xtadsetc at July 30, 2020 01:42 PM

XTads is a TADS 2/3 interpreter for macOS (version 10.12 Sierra or higher). It’s a GUI application, with native macOS look and feel. Game output is text-only, with partial support for HTML TADS features.

In this version:

    • Bug fixes.

XTads is forever a work in progress. Bug reports and suggestions are always welcome – see contact info in the program’s About panel.

Executable: https://www.ifarchive.org/if-archive/programming/tads2/executables/XTads-prebeta-13.zip

Source: https://www.ifarchive.org/if-archive/programming/tads2/source/XTads-prebeta-13-src.zip

XTads test game collection

by xtadsetc at July 30, 2020 01:42 PM

This is a collection of 800+ small TADS 2/3 test games that I use to regression-test XTads, a TADS 2/3 interpreter for macOS.

Details and download link at https://xtadsetc.com/test-game-collection/

July 29, 2020

Zarf Updates

Trademarking Infocom, again, part two

by Andrew Plotkin ([email protected]) at July 29, 2020 03:12 AM

I posted yesterday about a company called SmartMonsters, who are running a port of (MIT) Zork in a MUD framework. They are trying to register the "Infocom" trademark.
But it turns out that someone else is trying to do the same thing. If you look at the URL infocom.xyz, you'll see a bare-bones site which claims "Infocom and the Infocom logo are trademarks of Infocom LLC." According to business records, Infocom LLC is a company formed in Colorado Springs in 2015.
Now, a US trademark search turns up no mention of this crew. And it looks like they've been claiming the "Infocom" trademark for years with no registration. But I am told that they are objecting to SmartMonsters' use of it. I don't really know how the trademark-tussling process works, so let's just say it's "in contention".
(I need hardly say that registering the Infocom trademark gives you no rights at all to the Infocom games. Those are covered by copyright, an entirely separate matter.)
So what are they doing with the trademark? The answer is a job posting that appeared last week:
In this position you will be provided with the source code for a proprietary assembler that consists of slightly under 4,000 lines of code. The source code you will study was written in assembly language to run on the TOPS-20 operating system on the PDP-10 mainframe computer. [...]
In this position you will play an important role by writing a functional specification document that describes the functions, program flow, error handling, and other information of the assembler that the person operating inside the clean room will need to know to develop a compatible replacement program. The replacement program is expected to be able to process the same input files and to generate bit-identical output files. [...]
The final specification will be made available under GPL-3.0-or-later. The software developed inside the clean room will be released under AGPL-3.0-or-later.
"Freelance Specification Writer" posted by Infocom LLC
This is an exact description of Infocom's ZAP assembler, which was part of their ZIL toolchain. (ZILCH turned ZIL code into Z-code assembly; ZAP turned the assembly into a Z-code game file.)
The source code in question turned up in the Infocom source-dump which appeared last year. Nobody noticed it right off. But a few months ago, a sharp-eyed user spotted ZAP buried in the MiniZork source directory.
The file "zap.mid" is MIDAS assembly code, an MIT variant of PDP-10 machine language. And it is indeed about 3800 lines long.
The job post describes a classical clean-room setup. You do this if you want to make a work-alike copy of someone else's program that isn't derived from their source code. The result does the same job -- "identical output", like the post says -- but you own it. This is legal because algorithms aren't copyrightable. (It may be ethically sketchy -- that's another whole question. But it's legal.) (Unless the algorithm is patented, but that's not the case here.)
So that's what this company is trying to do. The next question is, why? This is where my brain falls flat on the floor. And not just mine. I asked Jason Scott. He passed the word along to the old Infocom folks. Nobody, I mean nobody, can figure out what the point is.
The infocom.xyz site has two games up, which look like Lode Runner clones -- Linux only. This doesn't give much clue what line of business they're in, other than "not in it for the money".
(Yes, I sent them email, in case they were willing to tell me. They said "no further comment beyond what has already been made public.")
Let's be clear about what already exists. There are several open-source compilers that handle Z-code assembly. zasm does it; Inform 6 and ZILF both include the capability. We also have throrough descriptions of the Z-machine architecture, both Infocom's original document and the modern reconstruction. And of course there are dozens of open-source interpreters which play Z-code games.
All of these tools derive from the reverse-engineering work that went on in the late 1980s. The InfoTaskForce's seminal Z-code interpreter is archived here.
That was no kind of a "clean-room" project! The InfoTaskForce group dug into Infocom's proprietary games and interpreters, figured out how it all worked, and reimplemented it. (The Infocom spec document I linked didn't turn up until years later.) If Infocom, the original company, had wanted to make a legal issue of it in 1989, they probably could have. But they didn't.
After that, everything discovered by the ITF was public knowledge. The modern Z-machine spec (originally written by Graham Nelson) was a collation of that knowledge; Graham did not have to decompile Infocom interpreters. That spec has a Creative Common license (BY-SA-4, noted here). It's freely usable in every practical sense.
You can say that all modern Z-code/ZIL tools are "tainted evidence", due to the original ITF reverse-engineering. But it's a tenuous argument. And it still leaves the question of what you'd use a "less-tainted" ZAP assembler for.
Academic purposes? Studying Infocom's tools and processes is a worthwhile (and fascinating) goal. But it makes no sense to use a clean-room tool for that. You want to study every scrap of information available!
Compiling Infocom's ZIL source code for fun? There are plenty of people doing that already, using existing open-source tools. Some folks are even tackling bug fixes and modernization. (Yes, Activision's copyrights are a question here. The concensus is that volunteer updates to the source code are fan activity and basically okay. Don't go selling them, is all.)
Compiling Infocom's code for profit? A clean-room compiler or assembler doesn't give you any leverage there. You're still building a game file derived from proprietary source code. Again, selling it without Activision's permission would be right out.
Writing new, original ZIL games for fun? As I said, this is already a popular hobby. The forum is buzzing with ZIL programming chatter.
Writing new, original games for profit? I gotta tell you, ZIL is not the right tool for that job. Even if you think you're going to get rich off parser IF (tricky at best), you'll want a modern tool which can handle dense, highly-detailed games. Of all the Infocom alumni who revisited parser IF (Marc Blank, Mike Berlyn, Bob Bates), none of them chose ZIL.
For the sheer challenge of the hack? Maybe? But people usually don't put down money for that sort of fun. This setup involves hiring a documentation writer and a copyright lawyer, for a start.
So I'm left with nothing. My best guess is that they want to write unauthorized sequels to the Infocom canon, but they don't understand either the legal realities (a clean-room assembler gains you nothing) or the IF community. My second guess is that they want to contribute a legally unencumbered open-source tool, but they don't understand that this has no practical value. I dunno. They're certainly doing nothing to dispel the impression that they might have sketchy intentions.
On top of which, they consistently present themselves as "Infocom". Not "Infocom enthusiasts" or even "a new generation of Infocom". This tweet (from last year) is an eye-rolling example. I also see a discussion thread in which someone said they were (briefly) selling the old Infocom games without permission? I can't verify that, but jeez.
I guess we'll find out, or else they'll sink without a trace and we never will.

July 28, 2020

Zarf Updates

Trademarking Infocom, again, part one

by Andrew Plotkin ([email protected]) at July 28, 2020 03:09 AM

It must be a Monday -- someone has trademarked "Infocom"!
No, this doesn't happen every Monday. But over the past twenty years, a surprising number of people have tried to register "Infocom" as a game-related trademark.
The original Infocom company trademarked their name in 1979. Activision purchased the company and the trademark in 1986. But, of course, the Infocom brand didn't last long after that. Activision allowed the trademark to lapse in 2002. (They let "Zork" lapse in 2003. Curiously, they renewed the trademark on "Return to Zork", which remains live today.)
This set off a weird slow-motion frenzy in which some Infocom fan or other would notice the dead trademark and try to do something with it.
  • Oliver Klaeffling filed a registration in 2007. He posted a web page for a game called Triumvirate, apparently a fan-sequel to Trinity. (I wrote about this in 2010.) The game never appeared.
  • Omni Consumer Products also filed a registration in 2007. This is a silly but real company run by Pete Hottelet. It sells real version of fictional products like Fight Club Soap and Stay Puft Marshmallows. Omni held onto the trademark until 2016.
  • Bob Bates, one of the original Infocom folks, filed a registration in 2017. This was shortly after his Thaumistry kickstarter. The game shipped that year, but the trademark registration was not completed.
And now, just a few months ago, a company called SmartMonsters has filed for it.
Interestingly, this registration only covers "online, non-downloadable" videogames. If you look at the SmartMonsters site, you'll see that it runs a set of old-school MUDs. By old-school, I mean they are strongly oriented around RPG-style stats, skills, and XP. This is what all MUDs were like before the "social" TinyMUD/MUSH/MOO tree branched off.
One of their available games is a port of Dungeon. It claims to be "mashed-up from several of the 1980s C ports". It's running in a MUD framework, but it's not multiplayer. It's also pretty alpha; I couldn't manage to take inventory or attack the troll.
The SmartMonsters people are clearly long-time MUD-and-IF folks. Their IF resources page links to IFDB, the forum, and a bunch of classic games (including mine). Their bio page describes co-founder Gary Smith as "...the guy who ported Zork from MDL to C on the PDP."
(I'll note that this is an unrecovered port! All the extant C versions of Zork/Dungeon are translated from Bob Supnik's Fortran version. I dropped SmartMonsters a note asking about it. They say Gary's C port is lost, but he might have a VisualBasic port lying around from the old days...)
I'm pleased to have stumbled across SmartMonsters. But that's not the weird part of this story! There's another company trying to pick up the Infocom trademark right now. I'll post about them tomorrow.
("How do you keep a dornbeast in suspense?")

July 23, 2020

Choice of Games

Werewolves 2: Pack Mentality–Overpower the Human Sovereignty Movement!

by Mary Duffy at July 23, 2020 01:42 PM

We’re proud to announce that Werewolves 2: Pack Mentality, 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 July 30th!

It’s a war between your werewolf pack and the Human Sovereignty Movement! Lead the pack to victory before extremists turn your packmates against each other.

Werewolves 2: Pack Mentality is a 360,000 word interactive novel in Jeffrey Dean’s acclaimed ‘Claw, Shadow, and Sage’ series, 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.

This thrilling sequel to Werewolves: Haven Rising seamlessly integrates your choices and experiences into a new tale of survival and loyalty, desperation and betrayal.

After escaping the Haven werewolf detention camp and tasting freedom for the first time in your life, you and your pack must infiltrate “The Nail,” a top-secret underground military prison for werewolves, and liberate the prisoners. But integrating these new wolves into the greater pack will prove difficult, testing bonds and straining leadership to the breaking point.

In your fight for freedom, you’ll confront the phantom of your father and his legacy of self-hatred, as well as the opposing fanaticism of werewolf supremacists more interested in domination than peace. In the end, the greatest threat to your pack’s survival may be what you fear most, as your inescapable feral nature threatens to tear your newly-forged pack apart!

• Play as male, female, or nonbinary; gay, straight, or bisexual.
• Infiltrate a top-secret military prison deep below the Earth, risking it all to save your species!
• Overcome a deadly outbreak of feral madness that pits members of your new pack against each other.
• Either stand in solidarity with a bloodthirsty new packleader, or work to undermine them at every turn.
• Interact with a diverse cast of new characters alongside your old favorites!
• Explore two new potential romances, continue your relationships from Haven Rising, or go it alone in an increasingly chaotic world.

We hope you enjoy playing Werewolves 2: Pack Mentality. 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.

July 22, 2020

The People's Republic of IF

April Meeting Post Mortem

by Angela Chang at July 22, 2020 10:41 PM

ZarfBrendan,  hilborn, nickmkaysavetz  (Eaten By A Grue), kgagmeMark Pilgrimanjchang, dan, and jmac. Warning: What follows is probably not proper English, but just my log of notes from the meeting to jog people’s memories:

APRIL 24-27 • 40+ GAMES, 10+ PANELS, 50 SALES
https://www.ludonarracon.com/

Talked about Narrascope planning, twitch streaming

Ken (kaysavetz) finished Beyond Zork with Carrington for Eaten By A Grue
-recommendation to listen to it by Brendan

Mark Pilgrim says Ken found a bug that only manifests itself in pitch dark in Virtual2 emulator PitchDark, trying to play PlanetFall

Zarf, picked up old interpreter todo items
goal for this weekend autosave functionality
Good to hear about interpreters being updated
Spatterlight is now a supported interpreter again

Brendan’s Library IF Club Expanding the size of the group. might play Deadline

Nick Montfort will be teaching IF course and considering CYOA gamebooks that are worth studying.
Sherlock Holmes Escape Book by Orman Desacker
Lost in Austen
http://aaronareed.net/subcutanean-book/

Tenth anniversary of MeanWhile
CYOA books
if by nicolas bourbaki

Spring thing is going on until the end of the month

Kay – bunch of solutions to adventure games,
Kids maps and solutions by Compute books
Return to Zork adventurers guide
Conquering adventure games by Carl Townsend
Zork Nemesis unauthorized
Keys to the Kingdoms
Book of adventure games Kim Schuette
Book of adventure games Volume 2
Quest for Clues, Book of Orcs
Quest for Clues, manual of
The greatest games, 93 best computer games of all time
Questboxers the Book of Clues

Zarf got another book on solving strategies book

jmac Recommendation of https://bluerenga.blog/ Jason Dyer’s blog rediscovering all these inventive old game mechanics.

nickm Basic 10 liner contest https://vintageisthenewold.com/2020-basic-10-liner-contest-is-live-and-celebrating-the-10th-anniversary/

Petscii Jetski
https://nickm.com/montfort_juul/petscii_jetski/https://www.jesperjuul.net/ludologist/2020/04/03/petscii-jetski-a-c64-game-in-basic/

Kay did a game called cabbage for that competition 2016. Wolf, Goat and Cabbage problems. 2 rooms, 3 items, 1 puzzle for Atari 8 bit.

Jason MacIntosh recommendation for Ryan Veeder’s Authentic Fly Fishing https://rcveeder.net/flyfishing/

Zarf played a text adventure “in other waters” on Steam. graphical game with map, UI of the suit https://store.steampowered.com/app/890720/In_Other_Waters/

Zarf also mentions “Still There” most of it is dialogue with space station. parser based.

Pitch Dark coming out emulator

Taper 4 is out. Submissions for the next issue is due July 31st.

March Meeting Post-Mortem

by Angela Chang at July 22, 2020 08:41 PM

The People’s Republic of Interactive Fiction convened over Zoom. On Wednesday, March 24, 2020 Zarf, Brendan, nickm, kaysavetz and carrington (Eaten By A Grue), kgagme, Mark Pilgrim, hilborn, @48kRAM (Josh Malone), @JoshuaIGrams, and Mark Schmelzenbach were present. Warning: What follows is probably not proper English, but just my log of notes from the meeting to jog people’s memories: Check out the links below.

Spring thing starting apt 2
Virtual Narrascope planning discussion
Xoom, gargoyle, yasmin discussions
kaysavetz and carrington doing Eaten By A Grue podcast
They just played “A Mind Forever Voyaging”
Infocom source code mixed in pdp assembly program for assembling a pdp 1 Code games
Anyone have a pdp assembler at the moment?
Maybe linden games might have one in Seattle Paul Allen

Links:
https://nickm.com/poems/sonnet_corona.html
https://nickm.com/poems/sonnet_corona.html
https://nickm.com/montfort_juul/petscii_jetski/

The Gaming Philosopher

Video: fictional truth and secondary worlds

by Victor Gijsbers ([email protected]) at July 22, 2020 08:17 PM

Posted a new interactive fiction video. Starting (again) from Adam Cadre's 9:05, I discuss issues about fictional truth, secondary worlds and canonicity. Major roles for Tolkien and M. John Harrison. This video should also of interest to traditional fiction folks! Since I wrote out the entire text of this video, I'm planning to post that as an article here sometime in the future.

July 20, 2020

"Adventuron"

Examining SEARCH

by Chris ([email protected]) at July 20, 2020 06:10 PM

I was just discussing this recently so I thought I'd share my very opinionated view on the use of SEARCH and EXAMINE.

I'm going to qualify this with "this is just my personal opinion", and this is not a troll, it is a deeply held conviction.

I'll also qualify this by saying that I'm not a great writer of IF/TA, far from it, I'm an engineer.

I have made a couple of games that are almost completely mechanic driven, and not story driven - but I am a player of IF/TA, and not a very good one either. I often brute force my way to solutions, which is something that is not unique to just myself. I prefer to think and be immersed, but if I become stuck, then I have nothing left but to brute force. Which is to say, I'm more of a mainstream player in that I easily get stuck and I easily get frustrated - bear that in mind.

With that said, here beginneth the diatribe....

Many text adventure / IF games take the approach that examining and object and searching an object are two different actions and therefore should be represented by separate verbs.
The former is the act of looking at something, and the latter is the act of digging through or thoroughly looking at the contents of something.

When the player types EXAMINE an object should be looked at, when the player types SEARCH, the object should be thoroughly examined inside and out.

Whilst EXAMINE (or the common synonym LOOK) is almost unavoidably required for the purposes of revealing new clues or sub-items that would not fit in the location text (examine and look are synonyms in Adventuron by default), SEARCH is something that really essentially means EXAMINE MORE (in the context of the object).

There is a correctness to keeping SEARCH and EXAMINE separate, but just like gameplay physics in 3d action games does not represent reality, perhaps we need less correctness for the purposes of gameplay in IF/TA.

So let’s get started …

The problem with using SEARCH is that, except when clearly signposted, the player has no idea when something should be examined and when something can additionally be searched.

Some games never use SEARCH, and some games use SEARCH for a few or just one object.
This is purely my own opinion, but SEARCH, if in your game, should be a synonym for EXAMINE (or look).

Making the responses to EXAMINE and SEARCH is padding at best (EXAMINE could fulfil the same role), frustrating at least (if the player knows SEARCH is a verb in the game, then when they are stuck they now have to scour the games for new nouns to SEARCH), and game breaking at worst (the player has played games without SEARCH and thinks that EXAMINE is the same as search, and therefore the game is unwinnable for the player).

There may perhaps be benign uses of search such as items that literally beg to be searched, such as piles of leaves or bodies, but I would still say that the problem with implementing SEARCH as a separate action even if just once in your game is that now the player has uncertainty if every noun in the game will yield progress if they try SEARCH on it too.

To make SEARCH and EXAMINE different response handlers is to invite the player to have to SEARCH and EXAMINE every object, once the moment comes in the game where they get stuck.
In the case of the pile of leaves, you could code a joint EXAMINE and SEARCH routine that yields the same result. If there is an object hidden in the leaves, then reveal it with the examine after describing the leaves.

If an object is clearly signposted as being searchable, then the separate SEARCH is redundant, tell the player upon examination that an additional search was performed if a search action is required to move the game forward.

If the SEARCH is difficult to predict that it will yield a different result to an EXAMINE, then all the more reason to not not require an input the player is unlikely to type (except via a grind pass of the nouns).

If you don’t want to code a combined handler for EXAMINE and SEARCH, then code a single routine that will point the player towards examining “Examining objects will also search them if necessary.”.

As long as the player views SEARCH and EXAMINE as the same then they will not think they have to brute force nouns when the going gets tough. The moment they find one different response for SEARCH, then they now know that they have to grind, or even worse, they are not aware to SEARCH.

If parser-based IF/TA ever has a hope of being acceptable again to a winder audience, then in my view, then reducing parser friction is the only priority.

Almost all graphical adventures have an EXAMINE feature, but not one of them (to the best of my knowledge) has a SEARCH features, because it’s redundant. Imagine there was a SEARCH verb in Monkey Island, and one object something hidden inside. Would that add or detract from your enjoyment of the game?

This isn’t saying that a game can’t be complex, but a game should not be designed to integrate TWO grind mechanics. The EXAMINE mechanic is somewhat of a necessary grind evil, given that examining nouns in a room has next to no creative input from the player. Doubling up the grind, however “correct”, has an adverse impact on game flow (imho).

I’m advocating for making SEARCH and EXAMINE interchangeable ESPECIALLY when the game has an object that must logically be searched. It’s a small precision compromise, but I wholeheartedly believe it’s the right thing to do.

LOOKING IN or LOOKING ON something is different to search in my view. Containers are clearly understood by humans and it’s entirely natural to look in a container therefore if a grind instinct was invoked on LOOK IN and LOOK ON, you will be dealing with a very small (and non frustrating subset) of nouns in the game. I see no reason why a LOOK IN or LOOK ON can’t be a separate handler without triggering a grind instinct in the player. LOOK UNDER is something I generally don’t think is a good idea to have a different response (to EXAMINE) for as again it could invoke grinding (player trying to look under everything after they get one positive response). It’s also a rare thing to even think of, except when guided towards.

... so those are my thoughts on 

Choice of Games

Author Interview: Jeffrey Dean, Werewolves 2: Pack Mentality

by Mary Duffy at July 20, 2020 04:42 PM

It’s a war between your werewolf pack and the Human Sovereignty Movement! Lead the pack to victory before extremists turn your packmates against each other. Werewolves 2: Pack Mentality is a 360,000 word interactive novel in Jeffrey Dean’s acclaimed ‘Claw, Shadow, and Sage’ series, and the sequel to Werewolves: Haven Rising. I sat down with Jeffrey to talk about the challenges of writing a series and what players can look forward to in Pack Mentality.

Werewolves 2: Pack Mentality releases this Thursday, July 23rd. You can play the first three chapters today.

Werewolves 2: Pack Mentality, the follow up to Werewolves: Haven Rising is coming out almost two years to the day after the first game released. This one is a bit longer, and definitely more complex. Tell me about the writing process this time around.

In many ways writing the sequel was more collaborative. I’m normally what’s known as a “pantser” when it comes to writing—an author who lets the story come to them as they write rather than planning out every detail. While writing the sequel I had pages and pages of reader feedback, both on the Choice of Games forum and through other mediums. While I wouldn’t say that the feedback changed the way I chose to go with the main plotlines, it did make a difference on sub-plot and side-adventure additions. The most visible of these was the addition of Tiva as a potential romantic partner which was not part of my original plan. Her story is a difficult one to tell, and I think the addition of a closer relationship gave me a better position from which to examine it in greater detail.

One of the reasons Pack Mentality took a while to write is that there’s so much side content available. I wanted to flesh out characters and plotlines which in a more traditional novel would have been left a bit one-dimensional. If a player wants to sit with the elders and learn about werewolf history and world-building for several pages, they can! If they’d rather spar and impress their friends with their fighting prowess, they can do that too. Or maybe they want to check on a particular friend, or interview a prisoner of war, or investigate a bizarre new scientist character, they can do that too. I certainly wouldn’t call Haven Rising linear, but Pack Mentality is a whole lot branchier and that took a lot of work to keep straight.

What was the biggest challenge in writing the sequel?

The biggest challenge by far was bringing all the different endings from book one together in a cohesive and natural way through the prologue with a minimum of railroading and making sure that the player’s choices still mattered. It was immensely important to me that major plot points in book one were reflected in book two. Love interests all carry over, endings carry over, faction relationships, character proclivities (bookish, fighter, killer, peacenik, etc…) all carry over and are acknowledged.

Have you already created plans for a third book in what you’re calling the Claw, Shadow, Sage series?

Absolutely! Book three (working title: ‘Evolution’s End,’) will be the final chapter in the main trilogy with the potential for branching out to additional stories set several years later if sales show enough reader interest to create more volumes.

Much like book two, the third book will continue immediately after the events of the previous one and wrap up the last remaining plot threads in a rather explosive manner. I can’t talk much about the primary antagonist for book 3 as they’re introduced in Pack Mentality, but I think readers will be excited to learn more about them. Things will also come full-circle with a certain father figure as well, who will remain nameless for those who haven’t yet played Haven Rising.

What will people find surprising about this game?

Probably the same things that surprised me when I deviated from my outline because the plot demanded it. ~laughs~ I mean, there are a few things, really. I think the climax will surprise a lot of people, particularly regarding who the player can choose to aid or betray and how that choice alters tens of thousands of words worth of plot points and endings. Also, while the reader still has the option of behaving entirely peacefully with no killing, there are some pretty dark places the player can go which leads down a rather twisted rabbit-hole.

How did you handle creating a satisfying playthrough for people who haven’t played Haven Rising?

It’s difficult, because as a reader I can’t understand why someone would read book two without reading book one first, but I certainly wanted to prepare for all eventualities. I created an interactive recap of book one where a new reader can choose through all major plot points and have their choices reflected in book two. A Cliff’s Notes version, basically. Ideally though, a reader should start with Haven Rising if they want to get full enjoyment out of the series.

And what else are you working on?

I have a few projects on the go, most notably my new gamebook for CoG’s licensed project, Vampire: the Masquerade–Parliament of Knives. It’s a bit of a changeup for me, mostly revolving around vicious interpersonal politics with sporadic bouts of violence depending on which factions you choose to support or defy. It’s really a dream come true to be working on an official Vampire: the Masquerade project, since I’ve been a fan of the IP for more than half my life.

Other than that, I’m outlining Werewolves 3 and designing a possible port of my ‘Road Less Traveled’ gamebook trilogy to Choicescript. I’ve been wanting to dust off my first gamebook, ‘Westward Dystopia,’ for years now and update the text to make the prose more attractive. All in all, it’s an exciting few years ahead of me!

July 18, 2020

what will you do now?

That itch bundle: Golf Peaks, Winterlore

by Verity at July 18, 2020 07:42 PM

Golf Peaks

Afterburn Games. itch.io page. Isometric point and click. Time to completion: incomplete.

Screenshot from game showing a path for a golf ball to take and cards depicting movements

A card-based movement game, and you really don’t need to like or even know golf! It scales up in complexity which I found well-balanced. There is rather more of it than I expected, though it definitely hasn’t overstayed its welcome!


Winterlore

Moroi Springs. Point and click.

Ozana goes on a journey of healing and remembrance after her grandmother’s death – though of course she never physically travels anywhere. The story plays out in a single cottage.

Screenshot from game showing cottage with a woodstove, with a simple pastel illustration style

I wanted to like this game. It has all the elements that I usually enjoy: folklore, creepy old women prophets, point and click puzzles. But there were puzzles that didn’t really need to be puzzles, and some frustrating mechanics. I also may have locked myself out of progressing in the game by doing things in the wrong order?!

I appreciate the efforts to make this game player-friendly, though. The game itself links to the official walkthrough; instructions are explicitly displayed. I just wish that the puzzles had used knowledge of folklore more than simpler pattern-matching. I was reminded of Year Walk, though that game is substantially creepier, and the numerous ‘escape the room’ point and click games on which I grew up.

July 17, 2020

Choice of Games

New Hosted Game! President Disaster by Marc Faletti and Maeve Adams

by Kai DeLeon at July 17, 2020 04:41 PM

Hosted Games has a new game for you to play!

You arrive at the White House for your first day as an intern. President Disaster snaps his fingers and points at you: “Hey! You! I’m appointing you my new Chief of Staff.” Now you have one month to get us to election day and save the world from the worst president ever. Are you up to the task?

It’s 40% off until July 23rd!

President Disaster is an 35,000-word interactive humorous novel by Maeve Adams and Marc Faletti, that puts you in the middle of the messiest drama in American history. You’ll play diplomat, crisis manager, creative accountant, and national babysitter. Experience new scenarios and combinations every time you play. Decide if you’ll resist the dark side…or give into it.

  • Play as any gender and any sexuality as you try to get us to election day alive.
  • Begin your political career as President Disaster’s 34th Chief of Staff.
  • Make the life-or-death decisions that could save the world…or doom it.
  • Wrangle the strangest presidential family in history.
  • Choose fortune and infamy, or ethics and responsibility.
  • Dodge the President’s wrath or you might find yourself short a body part or parent.
  • Strike deals with other world leaders who look to you to save us all.
  • Defend our constitutionally guaranteed freedoms while we still have them.
  • Experience new scenarios and combinations every time through the game!
  • Exercise control or lean into the chaos as America hurtles towards catastrophe.

Marc Faletti and Maeve Adams developed this game using ChoiceScript, a simple programming language for writing multiple-choice interactive novels like these. Writing games with ChoiceScript is easy and fun, even for authors with no programming experience. Write your own game and Hosted Games will publish it for you, giving you a share of the revenue your game produces.

The Digital Antiquarian

Beneath a Steel Sky

by Jimmy Maher at July 17, 2020 03:41 PM

I would rather see a personal vision onscreen than filmed live-action. I have an idea that with CD technology there are going to be a lot of little-known actors photographed and appearing on our screens. I think if you have a graphic artist involved, you get something even better than reality.

— Dave Gibbons

There’s no reason why hundreds of people in California should know the future any better than ten people based in Yorkshire.

— Charles Cecil

Charles Cecil

Charles Cecil was a part of the British adventure-games scene from the beginning. Born in 1962, he began studying engineering at Manchester University in 1980. There he became friends with a fellow student named Richard Turner, who had just co-founded Artic Computing, one of the very first suppliers of software for the Sinclair ZX80, Britain’s very first mass-market personal computer. Although he was not and never would become a programmer, Cecil got pulled into other aspects of the venture, such as drawing what he describes today as “the shittiest logo.”

Chris Thornton, Richard Turner’s partner in Artic, owned an imported Radio Shack TRS-80; this allowed the group of friends to keep tabs on the American microcomputing scene, which had a few years’ head start on the British. Taking note of the success that Scott Adams was having with his text adventures in the United States, Artic developed an engine for similar games on Sinclair machines. In June of 1981, Turner and Thornton’s Adventure A: Planet of Death became the first home-grown adventure game ever to be sold in Britain.

As the name of that first game would imply, Artic intended from the beginning to make a whole line of text adventures, just as Scott Adams had done. “You like telling stories,” Turner said to Cecil. “Why don’t you write one?” Thus Cecil designed Adventure B: Inca Curse, followed by several more text adventures, all primitive enough — or, if you like, minimalist enough — to fit into a computer with just 16 K of memory. A game designer had been born, alongside a cottage industry of similarly ramshackle semi-professional text adventures that would persist for the better part of two decades. (Artic’s games were particularly noted for their atrocious spelling…)

Cecil continued to design games and do various other odd jobs for Artic for several years, but by the middle of the decade the company’s homespun products were finding the going tough in what had now become a crowded and hyper-competitive British software market. In 1985, Cecil jumped from the sinking ship to found his own Paragon Programming, which specialized in porting American games to European platforms. Two years later, he parlayed that into a short-lived gig as development manager for US Gold, then a longer-lived one in the same role for Activision’s European subsidiary.

But a series of unfortunate events and poor management decisions at the American parent company — a trend which began about the time of Cecil’s arrival, with management’s decision to change the company’s name to the hopeless corporatese “Mediagenic” — ultimately spelled disaster for that international software empire. In 1990, the 27-year-old Charles Cecil, who had recently been enjoying such luxuries as a posh company car and a mobile phone, was left high and dry by Mediagenic’s collapse. What to do now?

All his time spent porting and selling American games had given him a familiarity with goings-on across the Atlantic that was unusual among his countrymen. The one area of gaming where the Americans most obviously outdid the Brits, he realized, was the genre he still loved best: the adventure game. British and, indeed, most European developers had little that could compete with the latest graphic adventures from American publishers like Sierra and Lucasfilm Games. There was a reason for this: thanks to their need for large amounts of single-use visual and audio assets, those games were among the most expensive of all to produce; European studios for the most part simply lacked the resources to make them. The one partial exception to this rule came in the form of a few French studios like Delphine, who made games that were beautiful to look at if often atrociously designed. But Britain had absolutely nothing on offer.

So, Cecil decided for the second time in his young life to found his own company, with the intention of changing that — this despite the fact that he had very little money at all to work with even by the modest standards of British game development. He started Revolution Software in March of 1990 on the back of a £10,000 loan from his mother, and took up residence in an unheated cubbyhole above a fruit market in the struggling city of Hull — “We choose Hull because it was cheap,” admits Cecil — with a few of the folks he’d met during his previous travels through the British games industry. The setting verged on the Dickensian; during the winter months, they would huddle against their computers to try to stay warm.

Still, Cecil did soon convince the British publisher Mirrorsoft to provide some minimal funding for Revolution’s first game in return for the publication rights to the eventual finished product. When Mirrorsoft collapsed in the wake of the suspicious death of its kingpin Robert Maxwell and the postmortem revelation of financial improprieties throughout his organizations, they moved on in fairly short order to Virgin Games — a better partner on the whole, as Virgin came complete with a North American branch.

The core team at Revolution in the early days: Tony Warriner, Adam Tween, David Sykes, Stephen Oades, Dave Cummins, and Charles Cecil.

Tacitly admitting that it would be difficult indeed for a shoestring operation like theirs to compete with a company like Sierra in terms of production values, Revolution settled on a concept and engine to power it which they called “Virtual Theatre.” They envisioned it as nothing less than the next great leap in adventure design. Cecil described it thusly at the time:

Within each game, time advances and people walk around with their own routes: the blacksmith will go into his forge and hammer away, then he’ll go into the pub to have a drink and he’ll talk to other people around the village. You could have fifteen people all walking around, all interacting with each other. So instead of being a game where you’re the key and everything reacts to you, we have a game where you’re just another person.

It was a noble vision in its way, one which aimed to push the frontiers of an oft-hidebound genre. And yet, for all that it reads well on paper, it would prove more than problematic in practice. The disadvantage of making a world which runs along of its own accord is that it can run merrily away without the player, leaving her stranded in some plotting cul de sac. And then, far from being a drawback, most players enjoy adventure games precisely because they let them be the star of the show. After all, If one wants a world where one is “just another person,” one generally need only look up from the computer.

When Cecil expanded yet further on his vision, he wound up in a place to which many designers have dreamed of venturing since the heyday of commercial text adventures, but which has yet to yield a single comprehensively satisfying game: “What we’re planning to do in the future is put in artificial intelligence whereby we set the basic parameters and then we let the characters decide what they’re going to do themselves. Fundamentally, anything could happen.”

Unsurprisingly, then, the first Revolution game — the one which most wholeheartedly embraced the Virtual Theatre concept — also proved to be the worst one they would ever make. Lure of the Temptress combined a clichéd fairy-tale setting with an awkward interface, sub-Sierra graphics, and well-nigh infuriating gameplay, which mostly entailed chasing all of those vaunted self-directed characters hither and yon through a plot line littered with potential dead ends. Published internationally by Virgin Games for the Commodore Amiga, Atari ST, and MS-DOS in the spring of 1992, it sold in reasonable quantities, doing best with Amiga owners in Europe. Charles Cecil didn’t hesitate to wave the flag on behalf of the continent. “I believe that European graphic artists are the best,” he said — an assertion which the graphics in Lure of the Temptress utterly failed to prove. Thankfully, better things were still to come from Revolution.

Lure of the Temptress did earn enough money to fund a move to better offices in York, with a corresponding uptick in the budget for their next game. Even so, much of the dramatic improvement evinced by said game was the result of a series of chance events that won Revolution the services of arguably the most respected comic-book illustrator of the era. And yes, he was a European. In fact, he hailed from Britain.

In May of 1989, a popular British gaming magazine known as The One published a feature about Watchmen, a two-year-old book which had done much to inculcate the idea of the graphic novel as a respectable literary form. Amidst much speculation about a potential Watchmen film and game — neither of which would appear until decades later — the article somehow managed to avoid mentioning the name of Dave Gibbons, the man who had drawn writer Alan Moore’s story. Understandably annoyed, Gibbons wrote to the magazine to point out the fact of his existence.

Dave Gibbons

By way of apology, The One sent Gibbons a Commodore Amiga and a copy of Deluxe Paint, then devoted five pages to an interview featuring his impressions of those things and many others. As the fact that he had seen the first Watchmen article in the magazine in the first place would indicate, Gibbons was already following the latest developments in computer gaming fairly closely. (In this respect and in many others, the down-to-earth Gibbons was unlike his sometime partner Alan Moore, an unrepentant eccentric and dyed-in-the wool Luddite.)

It seems that computer games are finding their own level in the same way as comics. I think that a lot of games, like a lot of comics it must be said, are pretty banal, and pretty repetitive — sort of like chewing gum. They won’t do you any harm, but on the other hand they aren’t likely to do much good.

I find puzzle games the most interesting. And the flight simulations… Falcon’s brilliant. You get to the point where you think you are there and you find yourself leaning in the chair. Rocket Ranger is very interesting stuff, that to me is like those role-playing gamebooks. It’s a different game every time you play it.

The magazine’s earlier slight was forgiven; Gibbons went on to draw the cover art for at least one issue of The One. More importantly, he met Charles Cecil through the magazine; Cecil was still with Mediagenic at the time and was also chummy with the staff at The One. The two started tentatively to feel one another out, until finally, after making some suggestions here and there for Lure of the Temptress, Gibbons agreed to become the principal illustrator and art director of Beneath a Steel Sky, Revolution’s second game. Not only did he bring his unique talents to the game itself, but the presence on the team of such a high-profile individual did much to drum up interest in the press. Cecil tells of the many journalists who came to the trade shows to meet Gibbons and see the game, in that order. They “began pulling out copies of the old Watchmen comics and Dave spent a while signing the lot. It was very positive, and they were dying to see what he had created in the game.”

Charles Cecil’s games have never been notable for the originality of their subject matter, and Beneath a Steel Sky is no exception to that rule of derivation. It trades in the King’s Quest-like fantasy of Lure of the Temptress for a dystopic science-fiction setting with strong cyberpunk overtones — a mixture of Blade Runner and Neuromancer, not exactly a rare blending among games of the early 1990s. Union City, where this game takes place, is the familiar authoritarian technocracy, a place where class strata have taken on a literal dimension. One has to take originality in such a setting where one can find it: upending a science-fictional trope stretching back at least to Fritz Lang’s classic silent film Metropolis, in Union City the poor and powerless live out their squabbling lives in tenements that scrape the sky, while the rich and powerful live in luxury near ground level. Union City’s most unusual wrinkle of all is the fact that it exists in the far-flung locale of Australia instead of some faded North American or European hegemony. Yet even this fact is disarmingly easy to miss entirely, especially if you happen to be playing the voice-acted CD-ROM version with its distinctly British and American accents — not an Aussie voice to be found.

You play a young man named Robert Foster, who as the introduction begins lives with one of the nomadic tribes that inhabit a place known as The Gap, the vast wasteland separating the cities of Australia. (Said wasteland is known as the Outback today…) But then a military raid kills everyone in the tribe except Foster himself; he is spared, to be spirited away by helicopter to Union City for reasons unknown. He escapes when the helicopter crashes over the city before it can reach its final destination, whereupon the game proper begins. As Foster, you must elude your pursuers as you explore Union City’s nooks and crannies, must learn the secret that makes you of such special interest to the powers who control the city — and must bring about their downfall.

Undoubtedly the strongest aspect of the game — the one thing you’re guaranteed to still remember even years after playing it — is Dave Gibbons’s art. Despite his earlier well-publicized experiments with Deluxe Paint, he elected to draw all of the approximately 90 background scenes for which he was responsible using the same old analog techniques that he had used to bring Watchmen and countless other comics to light. He provided pencil sketches of each scene to Revolution, where an artist named Les Pace, a veteran of such Hollywood productions as Who Framed Roger Rabbit, proceeded to color them in by hand. Only then were the illustrations scanned in on an Apple Macintosh, that being the most affordable platform at the time with good support for 24-bit color. Finally, these “master plates” could be down-sampled to come within the capabilities of Revolution’s two primary target platforms for the finished game: MS-DOS machines with VGA graphics cards (which allowed a maximum of 256 onscreen colors) and the Commodore Amiga (which allowed just 32).

Even in these degraded forms, the game’s imagery is striking. Inspired to some extent by the collapsing factories of hardscrabble Hull, Revolution Software’s original home, Union City manages to be varied but also of a piece, dingy but also coldly clinical, a warren of boldly vertiginous drops and furtively claustrophobic corners. Unlike many games during this era of exploding technological innovation, when the desire for spectacle could often overwhelm consistency and coherence, there’s a thoroughgoing visual aesthetic to Beneath a Steel Sky that stems from something more than a desire to show off the technology that powers it. Charles Cecil’s comment on the subject stood out in an era obsessed with photo-realism in games: “We’re not trying to create reality. We’re trying to create a style.”

The Process


Dave Gibbons sketched each background on paper, just as he would have a comics illustration…

…to produce something like this.

Still working on paper, Les Pace painted the sketch.

Finally, it was scanned in in 24-bit color. This master copy was then down-sampled to 256 colors (MS-DOS) or 32 colors (Amiga) for inclusion in the game. (The image above is from the Amiga version; those below are from the higher-fidelity MS-DOS version.)

The End Results




The writing in the game is a touch weaker than its visuals; scriptwriter Dave Cummins isn’t incompetent by any means, but nor is he another Alan Moore. As tends to happen constantly in the adventure genre, the overarching “dark, serious” plot gets immediately overrun in the details by a collapse into comedy, a genre which seems far better suited to the outlandish puzzles that are the driving force of most adventure games, this one included.

Still, the blow of this failure of the game to stick to its dramatic guns is eased immensely simply because a lot of the humor is really, truly funny; it never feels forced, something which is by no means the case in all or even most of this game’s competitors. This is wry British humor at its best: it’s sneakily smart, and also a bit more deviously risque than what you might find in a contemporary American game of this ilk. (One running gag, for example, has to do with a skeezy character’s collection of “pussy pictures” — which, yes, turns out just to be pictures of cats.) You begin the game with a sidekick already in your inventory: your childhood friend Joey, a synthetic personality on a circuit board who can be transplanted into various robots as you go along. His sarcastic banter is a great source of fun and oblique hints, such that when he’s not with you in some sort of embodied form you genuinely miss him. In fact, I’d like the game even more if it had more of him in it. He’s prevented from joining the absolute highest ranks of classic adventure-game sidekicks only by the fact that he’s onscreen less than half the time.

If you hate convoluted adventure-game puzzles on principle, the ones here will do nothing to convince you otherwise. If you enjoy them, on the other hand, Beneath a Steel Sky is a solid implementation of their ilk. It’s not a particularly easy game, but nor is it an unusually hard one for its time, and it is consistently logical in its silly adventure-game way. (In this sense as in several others, it stood head and shoulders above its few competitors among homegrown British graphic adventures, whose grasp on the fundamentals of good game design tended to be shaky at best.) It eschews the contemporaneous interactive-movie trend, with its chapter breaks and extended cut scenes, for a more old-school non-linear approach; for the bulk of the game, you have a fairly large area to roam and multiple problems to work on. There’s never a sense that the puzzles were hasty additions inserted just to give the player something to do; they’re part and parcel of a holistic experience.

Vestiges of Revolution’s earlier rhetoric about creating more dynamic worlds do remain here. Characters are still a bit more active than you might find in a Sierra or LucasArts game, and an unusual number of the puzzles rely on analyzing their movements and timing your own actions just right. That said, the most frustrating aspects of Lure of the Temptress have been excised. For the most part, the designers opted to return to the things that were known to work in this genre rather than continuing to blaze problematic new trails — and it must be said that the game is all the better for it for their conservatism. Likewise, its straightforward one-click interface wasn’t hugely innovative in itself even at the time — this doing-away-with the old menu of verbs was becoming the norm in graphic adventures by this point — but it is a well-executed example of such an interface. All in all, if you like traditional graphic adventures, you’ll find this game to be a sturdy, perhaps occasionally inspired example of the genre.

Beneath a Steel Sky was a European game made at a time when the Commodore Amiga, although slowly sliding past its peak, was still the most popular gaming platform across much of that continent, and thus one that could not be safely ignored by any European studio. Make no mistake: the challenges of making a game that could run on an Amiga at the same time that it could stand on a reasonable par with the latest adventure games on American shelves were immense. The Amiga was slower than the latest MS-DOS machines and was lacking graphically by comparison, and most European Amiga owners didn’t even have a hard drive, much less a CD-ROM drive. And yet, remarkably, Revolution largely pulled it off. Beneath a Steel Sky shipped in March of 1994 on no fewer than fifteen Amiga floppy disks. You had to swap them constantly in order to play it on a machine without a hard drive, but it wasn’t quite aggravating enough to completely destroy the fun of the game itself for an Amiga-owning adventure fan.

Charles Cecil, whose nebbishy appearance concealed a surprisingly down-and-dirty sort of marketing savvy, cast the game not only as Britain’s answer to the adventures of Sierra and LucasArts but as the savior of adventure gaming writ large on the Amiga, coming as it did just as the aforementioned companies were abandoning the platform. He wasn’t above the occasional gratuitous slam against the Americans in interviews which he knew would remain safely ensconced on his side of the ocean: “Most American graphic adventures are a little shallow because the American public doesn’t see plot as important. However, European game players seem to want to think a lot more about what they’re doing, and we’ve tried to reflect that.” Some of his statements in this mode were just bizarre: “The engine Sierra [is] using is outdated. They introduced it five years ago and really haven’t developed it.” For the record, it should be noted that the five years in question encompass Sierra’s move from parser-driven games to point-and-click ones, along with the jump from 16-color EGA graphics to 256-color VGA and the addition of voice acting, just to list a few highlights. To further confuse the situation, Cecil was seeking and winning a contract from Sierra to port King’s Quest VI to the Amiga — something the American company otherwise had no plans to do — at the very same time he was making such comments. Naturally, the European magazines ate it up, awarding his game gold stars pretty much across the board.

Just a month later, Commodore declared bankruptcy. Beneath a Steel Sky was one of the last of its breed on the Amiga.

By way of completing the picture of a work at the crossroads between the old order and the new, Revolution released a voice-acted CD-ROM version for MS-DOS computers shortly after the floppy-based releases. The actors went for the most part uncredited, but it appears that Revolution didn’t look far from home for most of them. The eccentric citizens of Union City deliver their lines with gusto in broad Northern English, a nice contrast to the prim London accents of so many games. Their accents make the humor go down even better, and give the game that much more of a distinctive personality. Meanwhile an American refugee named Adam Henderson voices straight man Robert Foster in the neutral Midwestern tones of a prime-time news anchor, while most of the villains speak Brooklynese straight out of an episode of Law & Order. Go figure…

Helped along by positive reviews and the measure of hype which accompanied the involvement of Dave Gibbons, Beneath a Steel Sky rode Amiga loyalists in Europe and MS-DOS-computer-owning adventure fans in North America to solid sales numbers. Thus Revolution got to live on and make still more games, following a template which was the ironic opposite of their name: solidly constructed adventure games cut from a sturdy traditionalist cloth.

(Sources: Amiga Format of March 1993, December 1993, March 1994; AmigaWorld of December 1993 and August 1994; Amiga Computing of Christmas 1993 and June 1994; Computer Gaming World of July 1992; Computer and Video Games of July 1987 and January 1989; CU Amiga of March 1993 and January 1994; Edge of September 1993; Games TM 9; New Computer Express of August 4 1990; PC Review of May 1992; Questbusters 114; Retro Gamer 56 and 63; The One of May 1989, August 1989, March 1990, November 1991, February 1992, March 1993, and November 1993. Online sources include interviews with Charles Cecil on Gamasutra, Dining with Strangers, and MCV/Develop.

Charles Cecil and Revolution have released Lure of the Temptress and Beneath a Steel Sky as free downloads.)

July 16, 2020

The Digital Antiquarian

Ebooks and more as we move into 1994…

by Jimmy Maher at July 16, 2020 10:41 AM

So, folks, we’re finally through with 1993! Thanks as always to the good offices of Richard Lindner, an ebook compiling the last run of articles is now available to commemorate the occasion. If you enjoy it, please consider sending Richard a thank you at the email address found on the ebook’s first page.

I’ve already opened the curtain on 1994 with my most recent article, on the adventure game Under a Killing Moon, and I anticipate future articles on the graphic adventures Beneath a Steel Sky (odd naming concordance there, eh?), Superhero League of Hoboken, and Death Gate. Still, adventures in general were in a bit of a lull this year while everyone retooled to jump onto the CD-ROM, SVGA, and full-motion-video bandwagons. Luckily, several other genres definitely were not. This was arguably the biggest year of the 1990s for strategy games, with the likes of Theme Park, Transport Tycoon, Master of Magic, Panzer General, Colonization, and X-Com, all of which will get articles. Ditto space simulations, with Microsoft Space Simulator, TIE Fighter, and Wing Commander III. Origin Systems, the purveyor of the last mentioned blockbuster, also published the disastrous Ultima VIII and the sublime System Shock. In the realm of the slightly more esoteric, there’s Lode Runner: The Legend Returns from Sierra/Dynamix, which will provide me with a sneaky way to shoehorn in coverage of the original Lode Runner, one of the Apple II’s iconic titles that I sadly neglected back in the day. (For that matter, coverage of Microsoft Space Simulator should give me a chance to do the same for the similarly neglected Flight Simulator.)

In addition to all of this gaming coverage, I do want to start to take the second part of this site’s subtitle — the “digital culture” part — even more seriously than before. It seems only appropriate: between 1973 and 1993, the microchip revolutionized the way much of the business world conducted itself and changed the way some segments of the general population entertained themselves; between 1994 and 2014, the microchip combined with the Internet reshaped the everyday lives of all of us. I’d like for those changes as well to become a part of this site’s focus.

The big, obvious story lurking out there, of how the Internet and the World Wide Web came to be, is one that I think I’m going to reserve for 1995, when the Web really began to take off as a mainstream phenomenon. But I do want to work in two other non-gaming articles or series of them this year. One will be on the Voyager Company, an ambitious and visionary initiative to publish curated multimedia content on CD-ROM, with results that hold up better than you might expect today. (I bought a 1999-vintage iMac in order to explore the Voyager catalog last December, and it’s cost me a shocking number of hours since.) The shape of the other series is a bit more nebulous in my mind at the moment, but it will involve the music world’s response to the microcomputer revolution, perhaps beginning with early-1980s albums like Kraftwerk’s Computerworld and Prince’s 1999 that were suffused with the new technology in terms of both sound and lyrics, and definitely culminating in the interactive CD-ROMs released in the early- to mid-1990s by such artists as Prince, Peter Gabriel, the Residents, Todd Rundgren, Laurie Anderson, David Bowie, and Billy Idol.

Another article or short series of them which I’d like to write kind of sits in the middle of this site’s two briefs: I’d like to examine the controversy over videogame content which flared up around the games Night Trap and Mortal Kombat, and led to the hasty imposition of the first industry-wide content-rating system in 1994. Also somewhere in that mix will be an examination of early “naughty” CD-ROMs, including both the markets for outright pornography and for relatively more respectable fare like Voyeur.

I’m more grateful than ever to those of you who support this work financially, what with these current tough times of ours. If you’re a regular reader who hasn’t yet taken the plunge, please do consider making a Patreon pledge if your finances allow. In return, I promise to keep delivering an interesting, informative, and entertaining article (almost) every other week — every week if you happen to enjoy The Analog Antiquarian as well! — for as long as I possibly can. It does seem that some of us at least may be in and out of lock downs for quite a while to come. It’s good to have things to read there, right?

Thank you for being the best readers in the world! Here’s to many more years and many more ebooks! See you tomorrow with a proper article…

July 15, 2020

Emily Short

Mid-July Link Assortment

by Mort Short at July 15, 2020 08:41 PM

Events

July 27 is the next meeting of the Boston IF Meetup.

Aug 1 is the next scheduled meeting of the SF Bay Area IF Meetup.

New Releases

Although things are decidedly slow when it comes to events right now, there are a number of interesting releases at the moment, both in terms of games and online pieces.

https___cdn.evbuc.com_images_104813350_226156754634_1_original.jpgThe first is the online interactive piece The Evidence Chamber by Fast Familiar, which was the team that put together The Justice Syndicate last year. The Evidence Chamber casts players as members of an online jury, attempting to piece together testimonies and evidence to arrive at a verdict. The project was created in collaboration with forensic scientists at Leverhulme Research Centre for Forensic Science.IgeOXM

Yoon Ha Lee has also just released the new game Entropy Soldiers on itch.io.

Play the roles of interstellar soldiers relying on each other to survive after they’ve escaped from the war. Entropy Soldiers is a GM-less narrative RPG that uses found texts like magazine pages to prompt your creativity. (Some sample texts drawn from public domain books have been provided for your convenience.)

Players can name their own price to download and play Entropy Soldiers, and all proceeds from this game will be donated to the ACLU.

promo408-1.pngChoice of Games has just released 180 Files: The Aegis Project, by Karelia Hall.

“As Agent 180, a star secret agent, you’ve never found a problem you couldn’t solve with guns, gadgets, or a devastating quip. But after a personal tragedy sends your life off course, your next mission will test you to your very limits.” 

Rounding out our list, Cait S. Kirby has written a pair of Twine games about the implications of COVID-19 for higher education in the fall. Each game focuses on a single day on campus, September 7, 2020 and October 1, 2020.

Speaking of Twine…

Tools

Twine has released an updated version 2.3.9, which can be found on this github link.

Contests

Screen Shot 2020-07-14 at 9.19.40 PMNext Adventure Jam voting ends on July 23rd. The 8-bit-centric contest focuses on games created using Adventuron Classroom. Seven unique titles are available for play and all are listed as browser playable.

Talks, Articles, and Podcasts

In this brief video, Victor Gijsbers gives an analysis of 9:05 by Adam Cadre. WARNING: SPOILERS ABOUND. If you haven’t played the game yet and want to experience it sans spoilery explanations, you can do so here.

 

July 14, 2020

Zarf Updates

Myst documentary kickstarter

by Andrew Plotkin ([email protected]) at July 14, 2020 04:13 PM

Today's news: a documentary about Myst has popped up on Kickstarter.
This has been under way for a while. I mentioned last year that Philip Shane, the filmmaker, was wandering around Mysterium, talking to people and filming random "life among the Myst fans" footage. (So it's not impossible that I'll show up in the background of the documentary...)
The project goal is $200k, which will cover further filming at Cyan and other locations. According to the project page, Shane wants to visit the places where the Millers grew up, talk to people involved with the Mac and Hypercard (where Myst was originally built), tour the modern game industry looking for Myst followups and influences, and generally construct a very broad-spectrum view of the game and its context. The documentary is aimed to release at the end of 2022.
For more info on the documentary, and comments from Robyn and Rand Miller, see this VentureBeat article (published yesterday).
This offsets the bad news from earlier in the week: Firmament, Cyan's upcoming game, is delayed until probably 2022. Its original Kickstarter estimate date was mid-2020 -- this month -- but, well, game dev is game dev. Cyan's original notion of a medium-sized game and an 18-month dev cycle has grown into a "bigger story arc". On the up side, the documentary should be able to wrap with a view of the Firmament launch! Hopefully this will all dovetail into a Cyan media moment, as it were.

July 11, 2020

IFTF Blog

In Search Of: A Twine Cookbook Maintainer and Editor

by Chris Klimas at July 11, 2020 08:18 PM

In 2020, work on the Twine Cookbook will turn three years old—although its first published version was in January 2018, work on it began in mid-2017. It was one of the earliest projects that the IFTF Twine committee undertook, and it sought to remedy what had been a long-standing issue in the Twine community: a lack of hands-on documentation describing how to do common tasks with Twine. The Cookbook began with 59 Web pages and has grown to 162 in its 2.0 release this past May.

At least in my estimation, it has been a stellar success, and this is thanks to contributions from both the Twine committee and the larger community. I feel it truly has been a collective accomplishment. But among the many contributors the Cookbook has seen, I think credit above all belongs with Dan Cox, who has served as editor and maintainer for the Cookbook since its inception. I am deeply grateful for the work he’s done for the community.

Circumstances have called for Dan to take a less active role on the Cookbook in the near future, however, and so the Twine committee needs to find a successor for the role of maintainer and editor. As part of our efforts, I’d like to put out a call to the community to see if there is interest. If you would be interested in serving as maintainer, please contact IFTF. Dan and the rest of the committee are committed to a smooth transition process, and are more than willing to work with a new volunteer to help them get up to speed.

July 10, 2020

The Gaming Philosopher

Video: "9:05" by Adam Cadre

by Victor Gijsbers ([email protected]) at July 10, 2020 09:06 PM

I've been playing around with video editing software, in part because I'm probably going to need it for teaching next semester -- at least if I want to do it well. But I decided to first try my hand at an interactive fiction video, and so here I have for you an analysis of Adam Cadre's 9:05. Clearly, I need a better camera. Less clearly for you, but clear for me, is that I need more memory and

July 09, 2020

Choice of Games

180 Files: The Aegis Project–Uncover a web of evil as an elite superspy!

by Mary Duffy at July 09, 2020 11:41 AM

We’re proud to announce that 180 Files: The Aegis Project, 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 40% off until July 16th!

Uncover a web of evil as an elite superspy! You might break a few rules—or a few hearts—but you won’t break cover. As Agent 180, a star secret agent, you’ve never found a problem you couldn’t solve with guns, gadgets, or a devastating quip. But after a personal tragedy sends your life off course, your next mission will test you to your very limits.

180 Files: The Aegis Project is a 184,000 word interactive spy thriller by Karelia Hall, 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.

An ex-informant is dead—and you’re sent to find out why. As you go undercover at the sinister company he worked for, dangerous secrets begin to emerge, along with shadows from your own past. Can you infiltrate the company in time to stop a deadly plot? And with your career in the balance, will you follow orders to the bitter end—or be tempted into a deal with the devil?

• First place winner of the Choice of Games Contest for Interactive Novels
• Play as male, female, or nonbinary; as gay, straight, bisexual, demisexual or asexual.
• What lurks in Agent 180’s past? Choose the background that led you here.
• Use tech knowledge, charm, strategy, brute force, or sheer nerve to achieve your goals.
• Choose from an assortment of gadgets to help you.
• Decide what’s more important to you – the mission, or yourself.
• Participate in a cover-up to please your employers, or expose the truth to get justice.
• Try to build genuine relationships – or manipulate people for your own ends.
• Romance an intrepid reporter, a charming executive, or a brilliant scientist – or pique the interest of a dangerous enemy agent.

We hope you enjoy playing 180 Files: The Aegis Project. 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.

July 08, 2020

The People's Republic of IF

July meetup (online)

by zarf at July 08, 2020 07:41 PM

The Boston IF meetup for July will be Monday, July 27, 6:30 pm Eastern time.

We will post the Zoom link to the mailing list on the day of the meeting. Please try to join the meeting on time.