Wednesday, October 9, 2019

An Opportunity to Get Super Judgmental

Each year, the Annual Interactive Fiction Competition hashtagpublishes new, text-driven digital games and stories from independent creators. It relies on volunteer judges — have you got what it takes to be one?  

You totally do. Honestly, you just have to play and rate at least five games before November 15, 2019.

The competition also needs more people willing to share their thoughts in public. Right now, these sites are discussing IFcomp games: 

And I'm sure there are others that I missed.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Interactive Fiction Bestiary

(Language Warning: I’m not using the word “Bestiary” correctly, but this is a post about the best interactive fiction. The best interactive fiction, right? Come at me, bro.) 

If you are interested in dynamic and engaging stories, then you should be paying attention to Interactive Fiction. If you are paying attention to Interactive Fiction, then you should be following the Interactive Fiction Community Forum.

Over on the forum, Victor Gijsbers has asked for a list of the best Interactive Fiction games. I've shared my list over there, but I'm also putting it here for people who don't know about either the forum or this specific discussion.
  • Trinity, by Brian Moriarty, has the #1 spot on my list. The Lost Treasures of Infocom games were a big part of the computer games I played in high school, but I'm naming Trinity as first among them. 
For the rest of my list, here are the parser games listed in alphabetical order:
  • Baker of Shireton, by Hanon Ondricek, is both straightforward and absurd. What if a single-player text adventure tried to simulate an MMORPG? It’s much more entertaining than the .hack Playstation games.  
  • Child's Play, by Stephen Granade, is all about emotional manipulation and cunning schemes. Because sometimes, justice demands it.  
  • Curse of the Garden Isle, by Ryan Veeder, is a peaceful, low-stakes exploration game. Well, the stakes are low for you, but not so much for the island’s former visitors. 
  • Diddlebucker!, by J. Michael, is a solid mashup of 80’s scavenger-hunt movies and Infocom text adventure classics. It’s very well done.  
  • Future Threads, by Xavid, is not quite about time travel, but it is about predicting the future. It includes an in-game map and direct feedback about how your actions will influence the game’s outcome.  
  • Holy Robot Empire, by Caleb Wilson, needs no explanation. It took me a bit to figure out that I was still supposed to be a human character, but I was determined to find the Robopope and then kiss its papal ring.  
  • Hunger Daemon, by Sean M. Shore, is a Lovecraft tribute with multiple endings. More importantly, it’s a self-aware Lovecraft tribute, which saves it from overwrought, needlessly elaborate prose that can infest other iterations.  
  • Kerkerkruip, by Victor Gijsbers, has the best combat system I have ever seen in a parser game. The setting manages to be familiar without existing as a stereotyped cliché.  
  • Oppositely Opal, Buster Hudson, is a game about spellcraft. And about friendship. And about making your rivals pay.   
  • Origin of Madame Time, by Brian Rushton, builds a detailed world full of super-heroes and super-villains. It’s fun, the puzzles are fair, and it gives you a choice of taking the easy way out or becoming a true hero.  
Here are the Twine games in alphabetical order:
  • Animalia, by Ian Michael Waddell, leans hard into combinatorial explosion and ends up better for it.
  • Beware the Faerie Food You Eat, by Astrid Dalmady, nails the atmosphere of a trip to the faerie realm.
  • Cannery Vale, by Hanon Ondricek, is a game of stories within stories.
  • and Seedship, John Ayliff is a game where you find a new home for the human race. Good luck! 
All these games are listed in the Interactive Fiction Database, which is another useful resource for finding dynamic and engaging stories.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Not Evil, but Spectacular

We should have a (spoiler-free) discussion about the song "Not Evil," from Lego Movie 2, because it is a triumph:


This song is an amazing success precisely because it's a ridiculous failure. Queen Watevra Wa'Nabi’s message is hopelessly broken.

  1. If the queen is good, skeptics will never take her word for it — she keeps talking about evil, imprisonment, and execution. 
  2. If the queen is evil, skeptics will never fall for her lies — she can't stop herself from talking about evil, imprisonment, and execution. 

In either case, her obsession with evil makes her more relatable. She's just like us!

Crafty rogues have entertained people for centuries, because being good is boring. The Book of Swindles was written during the Ming Dynasty in China. Reviewer Rob Moore wrote that “the success of the collection upon its publication in 1617 demonstrates that the author knew too well that the only thing better than alerting the reader to nefarious criminals is to let them in on the crime.”

Consider how many games let you be bad, knowing that your actions are wrong but letting you do them anyway. It can be as explicit as Grand Theft Auto, or as low key as a game like Donut County. The opening sequence of Donut County establishes that it is especially self-aware, as game designer Andrew Plotkin explained:

"it establishes right off that dropping people into holes is (a) wrong and (b) what you’re going to do all game long and (c) way fun. This is kind of brilliant." 

Back to Lego Movie 2. During the song, the queen engages in a bunch of questionable behavior that makes it impossible to tell whether she’s welcoming her guests or menacing them. (You can find similar behavior online: someone who is using the word “ally” to describe themselves hasn't made their creepy behavior any less creepy.)

Saying “This is X” is different from saying "This is not Y." What does “not evil” mean, anyway? In the classic D&D table of alignments, you’ve only ruled out three alignments, or less than half of the available options.
But it takes more than clever writing for the Lego sequence to work.

The conflicting messages would be a waste of time if they were delivered with less energy; it would fail if the “good” parts weren’t trying hard to be believable, or the “evil” parts weren’t appropriately suspect. Tiffany Haddish absolutely nails it at both extremes of the spectrum.

Listen to the (believably!) self-righteous way she announces “I never lie!” This is in the same song where she gives away an entire planet. Compare that tone to the way she lists off adjectives that people use to describe her. Ask yourself if someone completely innocent would have nearly as much fun reciting those words.

The whole thing is amazing.