Reviews by Jim Kaplan

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Party Arty, Man of La Munchies, by Jonathan Blask

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A Pop-Tart of a game, July 5, 2013
by Jim Kaplan (Jim Kaplan has a room called the location. The location of Jim Kaplan is variable.)

Play it if: you have five minutes to waste on some light humor.

Don't play it if: words like "light", "humor", and "waste" are not what you're looking for in IF at the moment.

The entries for the 2012 Hugo Comp come across as relatively polished Speed IF (though, frankly, most IF comes across as polished Speed IF). Not a whole lot of consequence, but enough fleshing-out to create a beginning, middle, and end, which is more than can be said for a lot of other games of this length and depth.

The game itself is almost to small to really bother talking about. Suffice it to say that the main form of humor is an exploitation of the mild-mannered protagonist's alcohol-induced bravado. This livens up what would otherwise be a fairly dull setting - which, not coincidentally, emulates how a lot of people actually experience alcohol...

Party Arty has little ambition and doesn't make any pretense of being a serious work, and is all the more fun as a light distraction for it.

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Zork: A Troll's-Eye View, by Dylan O'Donnell

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A cute, underdeveloped idea, July 5, 2013
by Jim Kaplan (Jim Kaplan has a room called the location. The location of Jim Kaplan is variable.)
Related reviews: one-room, zork, short, parody, fantasy, dylan o'donnell, puzzleless, fanfiction

Play it if: a five-minute joke game playing off Zork cliches sounds like your cup of tea.

Don't play it if: you're hoping for a full-blooded critique of NPCs and minions in old-school IF.

This is a short game, short enough that it would probably take longer to read a review of it than to play it. A one-room, puzzle-less game, A Troll's-Eye View's basic function is to turn a little part of Zork on its head by showing it from the perspective of the embattled guardian troll encountered early in the game.

This is an excellent idea for a game in my opinion. Unfortunately, the execution is undercut by a rather limited implementation of the idea. The writing plays with the timeless Zorkian language, but not in a very complete way: a fair amount of the responses are stock Nelson-era statements which feel anachronistic.

It's one thing to pose a question about identity and agency in games. But you don't really need to make a game to accomplish that, and deciding to make use of IF as a medium for the critique of IF sort of demands more than this game has to offer. Only the barest mention is made of the troll's reasons for being there - not, in fact, much more than the game A Troll's-Eye View parodies. So while it does mirror Zork in certain respects, they aren't really the right ones to produce a critique that is particularly new or memorable.

A more complete attempt would have taken the perspective of a character with more agency, such as the main antagonists, as the gulf between their potential relationships with the protagonist and their actual non-existent relationships are much wider - and therefore a more fruitful source of study.

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The Moonlit Tower, by Yoon Ha Lee

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
A touch of moonlit magic, July 4, 2013
by Jim Kaplan (Jim Kaplan has a room called the location. The location of Jim Kaplan is variable.)
Related reviews: yoon ha lee, fantasy, atmospheric, mid-length

Play it if: you want a game rich in atmosphere and abstraction.

Don't play it if: you prefer something more like a literal story or intellectual challenge.

This is a very striking first publication. I think most of us would give an arm and a leg to put out something this good on the first try, and Yoon Ha Lee is to be commended on the thought and imagination she's put into this work.

In the basic technical respects, it's not all that remarkable. A short-to-mid-length game which isn't very puzzle-dense. Not much is going on here that's particularly revolutionary to the medium.

What makes it special is the setting and atmosphere. Here, the work comes alive in the imagination, and not just in the vivid, spellbinding language of description.

The Moonlit Tower reminds me the most of Emily Short's Metamorphoses; although the latter is a more puzzle-heavy exercise, the general feel of the two works is rather similar. Yes, there's a distinctive Eastern aesthetic influence (Korean and Mongolian, apparently), but the more overt impression to me is a pervading sense of toying with abstractions.

In Metamorphoses, it's the essence of things: their shapes, their sizes, their substances. In The Moonlit Tower, it's more about symbols: masks, lanterns, seasons. A sense of symmetry pervades the piece, with asymmetry being a puzzle to solve. A porcelain half-mask. A feast of bones just barely out of place. A compass dividing the four seasons. A symphony with a missing player. These otherwise disparate elements congregate to give an inescapable feeling of some greater whole.

The "story" itself is limited mainly to flashback and suggestion. In a way, it's almost a nudge - a small device intended to clarify one or two things, to quietly lay the framework for the final sequence. It's a testament to this story's belief in letting the player's imagination blossom that you can experience a profound sense of completion upon finishing The Moonlit Tower, even if you feel you never really knew the protagonist.

It's difficult to really say much more about this work. It's a bona fide tone poem - almost a more intimate, intricate IF successor to Strauss's Also Sprach Zarathustra - and as such is something more to be experienced and reveled in than dissected. I strongly recommend it.

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Make It Good, by Jon Ingold

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful:
Challenging, ambitious game, July 4, 2013
by Jim Kaplan (Jim Kaplan has a room called the location. The location of Jim Kaplan is variable.)
Related reviews: jon ingold

Play it if: you want a difficult, voice-heavy playing experience in the tradition of Varicella.

Don't play it if: you'd prefer something more in the vein of Anchorhead, which sacrifices some challenge for ensuring greater flow in the player's experience.

It's a small shame that the most interesting aspects of Make it Good are not ones it can advertise openly. As such, the blurb suffers a little from being a bit too parodied: a very conventional preview to a rather unconventional game.

Make it Good is an impressive piece of detective fiction, not just in the sense of trying to figure out who the killer is, (Spoiler - click to show)but of course in trying to figure out what you evidence you need to destroy and plant to shift the blame from yourself. The moment you understand the big picture of what's going on is a shiver-inducing moment like something out of Spider and Web(Spoiler - click to show) - though in gameplay terms I do think this is a more complete, if not as unconventional, exploration of the narrative twist. It is written with the economy characteristic of any good mystery: no object, character, or detail is truly superfluous. It pulls off a rather neat trick, as well: details which I thought were minor bugs actually turned out not to be!

In structural terms, this feels much better than All Roads, which in my opinion was a more disorganized experiment in this sort of basic story idea which ended up being more of a noble failure.

Smoothing out the gameplay experience is a generally good sense for synonyms (the game doesn't call for too many exotic actions in any case), a TOPICS command to make dialogue as painless as possible, and a GO TO command to assist with navigation, which is welcome if not strictly necessary for a map of this size.

There are flaws, though. The first is the voice. I got the strong impression that this was a story set in the US, yet for a pulp noir protagonist, our hero uses a hell of a lot of Britishisms. Was this a calculated effect? Did I misinterpret the setting? We may never know. But it did feel jarring, and this is coming from me, a multi-national English speaker with little intuitive sense of dialect. It's a stylistic complaint, but there you go.

Second is the mid-game. Rarely have I felt more at a loss for what to do. Chalk it up to my non-puzzle-expert mind, but while I had a fairly straightforward idea of the goal I needed to accomplish, I had absolutely no idea of how to go about it. One of the problems with something like detective fiction this detailed is that you find yourself over-thinking the effects even mundane actions will have, only to miss a fairly obvious opportunity. The cruelty of the game demands a number of re-plays to compound this difficulty. It simultaneously feels fair - because of the detail-oriented nature of this sort of plot - and unfair, because we don't necessarily know as much as we have a right to. I still haven't made up my mind about this sort of gameplay being requested of players. Time will tell.

Even with these frustrations, though, it's a fantastically engaging game. It really does succeed in delivering the sort of excitement and challenge you'd get from investigating a mystery in the tradition of Agatha Christie or Columbo. Just don't expect it to feel particularly fair.

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Common Ground, by Stephen Granade

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A static story undercuts the unconventional narrative , June 21, 2013
by Jim Kaplan (Jim Kaplan has a room called the location. The location of Jim Kaplan is variable.)
Related reviews: stephen granade

Play it if: a character-centric, puzzle-less story told in an interesting way sounds like your cup of tea.

Don't play it if: you're hoping for a genuinely engaging character drama, because this is more of a snapshot than a full-blooded story.

In Common Ground we have an interesting fusion of structure and content. The story is told as a re-tread of the same brief time period from the viewpoints of different players. With the game collecting information about your chosen actions in successive iterations, the perspectives never contradict one another in the broad outline of what goes on - though their subjective filters of what is happening will flavor how characters deliver dialogue, or if they even say certain things at all. The unreliable, non-linear narration is strongly reminiscent in places of the previous year's Spider's Web, though the focus here is on character and there is no explicit requirement that the player remain consistent with the details of the pre-determined narrative.

If there's a flaw in how it's employed here, it would have to be in the fact that the story very much emphasizes the thoughts and intent of one character above the others. The scene is divided between two characters other than the protagonist, and as such they are less well served in the story than they might have been if the plot had only switched between Jeanie and one of her parents.

This is a device which has been seen before and since in other media, but not particularly often, and it is a device which I find suitable to IF. Bearing in mind that the "fuzzy memory" nature of the plot allows for an imperfect recollection of game events, it's still technically notable.

The story itself is perhaps less interesting than the way in which it was presented. In the initial stages, at least, I found it reminiscent of Flannery O'Connor's "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" Like O'Connor, Granade is effective at revealing his female protagonist's character through her reactions to her environment. Jeanie entertains impossible dreams, like appearing in a Bon Jovi music video, and as a result is reluctant to praise much of anything in her actual environment, including her parents. She consistently refers to her mother's husband as "Frank", which is interesting for two reasons: a) she's known him since at least six, and b) the game accepts "dad" as a valid synonym for "Frank" without comment. This implies that Jeanie's attitude isn't related to the circumstances of Frank's marriage, but to some special dislike for him. The game allows her to believe that Frank is drunk even when we can later have Frank get a Coke. Her relationship with her mother seems to be better, but still distant; Jeanie gives the distinct impression of being uncomfortable spending time with her in the same room.

Jeanie is an interesting character, and her development through these indirect means is quite well done, but she doesn't manage to compel much beyond her status as a teenage-girl archetype. The danger with stories which withhold information about characters until late into play is that you risk underdeveloping them, or worse, telegraphing them by forcing too much development into a short time. Jeanie has a goal or two beyond simply going out, but what her motivations are for this are never explained to my satisfaction.

Teenagers are difficult characters to write well. Children, adults and the elderly are generally conscious of the roles society is asking them to play in a way teens are not. Transitioning from childhood to adulthood is a hellish process of comprehending things about yourself you may have never wanted to know; it's an experimental time of making light of things you should value, or taking too seriously things that will later prove embarrassing. Most of us carry some form of embarrassment or baggage from our teenage years, and the natural instinct is to translate this into unlikable, one-dimensional literary characters. The protagonist of "Where Are You Going", Connie, is a fascinating character because O'Connor reveals to us not only her basic character, but the tension between Connie as she presents herself and Connie as she "really" thinks herself to be - a social actor who revels in acting and disdains others who do the same. Jeanie doesn't get much of a chance to be likable, and nor is she given this kind of secondary dimension.

Frank and Deb, Jeanie's parents, are of a similar persuasion: while they are presented well in their basic forms - the harried housewife and the under-appreciated husband - they aren't much developed beyond these things. Frank thinks in passing about how he loves Jeanie but sometimes feels like spanking her for being a brat; but the game never asks him or the audience to think further about this. Deb's personality is conveyed more through very light puzzles - I'd call them "frustrations" - but again, we're not shown how she generally addresses her frustrations with Frank and Jeanie.

The thing is that there's nothing obviously wrong with the writing; and while the characters don't exist much outside of their archetypes, you can still use archetypal characters to write a good story. I had to think for a bit about what really bugged me about them before I realized it.

I'm fond of saying that narrative is about setup and payoff. In this instance, the better term would be "conflict and resolution".

"Where Are You Going" isn't just a portrait of Connie, it's a shattering of Connie's world. Her interactions with Arnold Friend, the antagonist, are at least as fascinating as Connie herself; Friend is a creature from the edge of Connie's comfortable reality, a man who cannot be manipulated by adolescent "performances" the way the other drooling boys can. Connie's encounter with Friend slowly strips away her sense of security in her presented character. In other words, O'Connor is doing more than telling us who Connie is: she's throwing obstacles in the path of Connie's existence and telling us something about how Connie navigates (or fails to navigate) them.

Jeanie, by comparison, never really encounters obstacles. There are a couple of very minor inconveniences that slow her down, sure, but at no point is she really in danger of failing in her goals. We see who she is, she does what she does, and that's it. There's no conflict. Common Ground lacks it, and as result it lacks drive, it lacks thrust. It is content to present its characters without really challenging them.

As a result, while hardly an incompetent work, Common Ground never attains the edge it might otherwise have had as an IF short story.

(P.S. The comparison to "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" isn't because I particularly think the author was influenced by O'Connor; it's more that I found O'Connor's story instructive in examining the flaws of Common Ground.)

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Things, by Jacqueline A. Lott and Sam Kabo Ashwell

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
Good short IF, June 21, 2013
by Jim Kaplan (Jim Kaplan has a room called the location. The location of Jim Kaplan is variable.)
Related reviews: jacqueline a. lott, sam kabo ashwell, speed IF

Play it if: you don't bear a grudge against Speed IF entries, because while this is extremely limited in scope it does have a fun quirk to make it a decent waste of three minutes.

Don't play it if: you bear a grudge against Speed IF entries, because while this does have a fun quirk to make it a decent waste of three minutes, it is extremely limited in scope.

Speed IF reminds me a lot of improv comedy: it's quick and scrappy, and easier to enjoy when you're in a certain frame of mind. It's a less concentrated experience than what you get with longer, planned stuff, but occasionally it's spontaneous enough to give you a few powerful moments of experience.

Things won't change your mind, but its central notable feature is a gratifyingly subversive take on "opaque narration" games like The Gostak and For A Change. I feel fairly certain that it would have gotten tiresome in a longer game, but as Speed IF it's a quick enough experience to preserve the novelty - making Things an appropriate use of the genre's creative limitations.

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Corvidia, by Anya Johanna DeNiro

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful:
Modernist poetry with a bit of cinematography, June 20, 2013
by Jim Kaplan (Jim Kaplan has a room called the location. The location of Jim Kaplan is variable.)
Related reviews: alan deniro

Play it if: you're interested in seeing some of Twine's fancier tricks, or indulging in mutable free verse for a few minutes.

Don't play it if: you hate it when you get the feeling that what you're reading would work better if it wasn't "interactive fiction".

Corvidia is a short work, less interesting for its actual content than for what it suggests about IF in general.

What is it? Well, in essence, it's a narrative existing somewhere between poetry and dramatic monologue. You click certain allowed keywords, and this determines the next lines to be spoken.

Does it work as poetry? Not...entirely, I would say. It doesn't strike me as doing anything terribly original or striking with the English language. Simple present tense has been kind of beaten to death in English poetry for me anyway. The imagery is too opaque for my taste as well. William Carlos Williams, it ain't.

Does it work as an interactive construct? Well, no. Sure, you can pick words out of the poetry, but there's no reason to pick any particular word except on a whim. You know how you can tell a poorly-written CYOA book when you can win by just letting your eyes glaze over and picking what seem like the least-stupid options? Less "guess-the-verb" and more of a "winging-it syndrome". It seems to be a problem with a lot of Twine works, and it's in full force here. The problem with this kind of writing is that it corrodes the player's attention, their willingness to engage with the material, their desire to savor the text. There's no inter in the activity. There's no give to balance the take.

The visual presentation is - well, it's like 3-D technology in film. Sure, it adds novelty and a touch of pizzazz to what you're seeing, but - do you really need it? I don't need funky glasses to tell me a scene is occurring in three dimensions: my brain already tells me that whenever I watch 2-D images of 3-D environments. (The magic of imagination.) In a similar vein, it's all very well that the words are glowing and fading in and out, but I did come here to read, after all. The words could be in bubblegum-pink Comic Sans and they'd have as much meaning to me. It's the same response I have to people who refuse to use e-readers because they "love holding paper books" or something similar: isn't the point that great writing leaps off the page?

It's a decent showcase of Twine's flashier visual capabilities, but other than that - I'm sorry, it's not my thing.

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The Edifice, by Lucian P. Smith

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful:
Good, but has more potential to fulfill, June 20, 2013
by Jim Kaplan (Jim Kaplan has a room called the location. The location of Jim Kaplan is variable.)
Related reviews: lucian p. smith

Play it if: you'd like a collection of realistic puzzles presented in an engaging and quite atmospheric way, because as far as the central premise of the puzzles goes it's a good one.

Don't play it if: you want an overarching story, because this game never really amounts to what you think it will.

Not long ago, I gave five stars to a game which was in most respects average because the outstanding elements more than made up for them. Now I'm giving The Edifice three stars, because while it's in many respects a very well-designed and well-conceived game, it has a rather large deficiency that left me a little disappointed with it.

I like prehistory. I don't think there's enough of it in our storytelling. The last "serious" film to take place before the dawn of writing was 10,000 B.C., for God's sake. But there's a sense of mystery to that era. In many ways, it is a time we will never understand fully, because it is so alien to us: we are left to decipher figurative artifacts like cave paintings and tombs rather than dead languages. And yet it carries objects of profound curiosity - our first experiments with the technologies that made us, fire, language, husbandry. Who developed these things? What inspired them? I always wished the Civilization games would start a little earlier in time, before these concepts entered the psyche of our species - and now we have a game which takes place almost entirely in that black box of history.

The game's most prominent artistic influence should be obvious. The titular Edifice, an enigmatic construct which steers the protagonist's "evolution", draws from the Monolith of Clarke's 2001: A Space Odyssey (and of course the first chapter involves tool development under...somewhat similar circumstances to that film's famous opening scene). There's even an underplayed "reincarnation" aspect to the plot which is metaphorically reminiscent of the Star Child.

A more distant possible influence, and one I freely admit is probably just my own imagination, is EVO: The Search for Eden, a Super NES game released for American audiences in 1993. It features a protagonist (initially a fish) who "evolves" through various stages of complexity in a process not unlike reincarnation, passing through eras of geological history and approaching a sort of evolutionary singularity. It also has a driving plot device which remains mysterious in many respects. Players of the game will immediately understand the comparison, though I don't know whether the author has any experience with it. I recommend it, though.

The point is, this game hits a lot of my buttons in terms of genre interest. Smith wisely keeps the "sci-fi" elements of the story low-key; the Edifice is basically a plot device that allows him to string his puzzles together, and unlike the situation with certain games, in this case the puzzles justify it. They've got variety, verisimilitude and a good level of complexity. Individually they've probably been done before (level two comes to mind, obviously(Spoiler - click to show), with The Gostak employing it in a more complete sense a few years later), but they're done well. The worst thing to be said about them is that they're very unlike one another - yes, the game's basic thematic premise is helpful in understanding what it is you're supposed to try and achieve, but in any other sense solving one puzzle won't help you solve another. This is understandable when the puzzles require you to sort of reinvent the wheel (almost literally), but it can be a source of frustration at times.

That's not what I'm talking about with the whole "three stars" thing, though.

I hesitate to criticize a story for feeling like it hasn't sufficiently explored...well, itself - that is, its setting or its main theme - because the scope of a game is the author's business. Asimov's "Reason" might have been worthy of a novel, but it's hardly his fault he decided to publish it as a short story. Nevertheless, The Edifice doesn't feel like it ends; it feels like it stops. This was the same problem I had with Kim Stanley Robinson's The Years of Rice and Salt, which shared the themes of reincarnation and humanity's evolution but failed (in my opinion) to do much of interest with them.

Three levels feels insufficient for a game with this much promise, but it's more than that. It's that the protagonist unthinkingly accepts the circumstances of his or her situation regardless of its surreal nature, which in some cases is an acceptable artistic touch but here feels incomplete - a dangling thread in what could have been a tapestry. Hemingway once said that omission was acceptable as long as you knew what it was you were omitting. The Edifice feels less like a case of deliberate omission and more like a case of Smith simply not knowing how to continue the idea much further. Which is understandable, and I'm not going to criticize the guy for laziness or anything, but it did mean I left The Edifice feeling disappointed.

How would I have addressed this gap? It's admittedly a tough question. If I were to plot out a "full" game, it would involve the protagonist understanding something more of the Edifice itself. (Spoiler - click to show)I'd have probably had him end up building it, I'm a sucker for those sorts of circular narratives. But even giving the protagonist the option to work against the Edifice, or act upon his knowledge of its existence and function in the "real" world, would have been interesting.

But even if I hadn't expanded or added to the settings, I'd have done what 2001: A Space Odyssey did: close the game with a vision of what was to come from our perspective. Not necessarily transforming the protagonist into a space fetus, but something awe-inspiring and transcendental - after all, isn't the Edifice godlike in its powers and implicit motives?

Perhaps 2001 is the key comparison here. As a work of art, 2001 is about the promise of transcendence - in a spiritual as well as technological sense. The Edifice has the technological development down pat, but it can only feebly suggest the spiritual, and so to me it will always feel like it could have amounted to something much greater.

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Treasures of a Slaver's Kingdom, by S. John Ross

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful:
By Huron's all-conquering bowels, a tale fit for a manly-thewed BARBARIAN!, June 19, 2013
by Jim Kaplan (Jim Kaplan has a room called the location. The location of Jim Kaplan is variable.)
Related reviews: s. john ross

Play it if: you enjoy any or all of the following: a) loving pastiches of the science fiction and fantasy of the 1970s, b) games with a strong and thoroughly-implemented narrative voice, and c) a fun, roller-coaster romp that gleefully abandons the emotional jugular in favor of charming the pants off you - because this is perhaps the pinnacle of "fun-over-meaning" in IF.

Don't play it if: you think parody's passe, you want an intellectual challenge or a complex emotional commitment, or you have absolutely no connection with the loved fantasy and sci-fi institutions of yesteryear (though that shouldn't necessarily get in the way of you playing the game.)

Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Internet hides a short, unregarded 1970 publication known to the initiated as The Eye of Argon, authored by Jim Theis.

If you have not read this sacred text, I encourage you to seek it out. It may have been unintentional and to his undying shame, but Jim bequeathed something unique and priceless to the world when he published Argon: a work of fantasy literature so poorly-written - in such a hilarious way - that it is a thing of beauty, deserving its place on the shelf of history alongside such works as English As She Is Spoke and Troll 2.

And most importantly, we now stand in the shadow of its spiritual successor in IF form - Treasures of a Slaver's Kingdom.

The main difference, of course, is that ToaSK is a technically-accomplished work designed as a loving homage to the crappier yet more charming corners of our obsession with fantasy and sci-fi. Whereas Argon abuses the English language with a form of incompetence bordering on subconscious genius, ToaSK does so knowingly and with an eye for provoking the longest laughs out of the player.

It may seem odd that I'm giving five stars to a game which is average in numerous respects - competently executed, yes, but average. The player is limited to a spare handful of commands, which streamlines the "guess-the-verb" problem out of existence but doesn't leave much room for complex gameplay. There's almost no plot outside the puzzle-solving - a lot of the game consists of level-grinding, though through puzzles rather than combat (usually). The game is quite thoroughly implemented but also very under-described in certain ways. It's a throwback - intentionally, yes, but under normal circumstances I'd think of this as a pretty decent beginner effort, worth maybe three stars (in the alternate universe where star ratings actually have meaningful worth as a system of evaluation).

So why the five-star rating? Why the soon-to-follow high praise?

One word: voice.

ToaSK cultivates a narrative voice that proves utterly charming and engaging, one which actually complements the half-baked feel of the rest of the game and makes you totally lose sight of any importance you might place on complex puzzles or narrative ambitions. Basically: it's so funny that you don't care.

Humor is a difficult thing to review as it often simply comes down to a question of individual taste. A couple of reviewers have already expressed a dislike for the story on that basis. But it can be comfortably established that the author is applying his chosen comic devices in a consistent fashion. There's method to the madness, and if it's to your liking, then welcome to the house of fun: find the first five points' worth of ToaSK funny and you'll almost certainly have a ball earning the next 495.

The sheer effort put into structuring the game in the service of the comedy is staggering. Extensive lists of responses to various ludicrous or impossible player actions; deliberate homages to the trends and fads of the late seventies; a fantastic range of feelies that includes an entire fictional RPG format; and a couple of behind-the-scenes tricks that'd make your eyes water.

The game's central success lies in the protagonist and our relationship with him. Lost Pig features a dim-witted hero whose lack of intelligence colors the narration, and much of the fun comes from the player using their own intelligence to help him succeed - a process which inadvertently reveals some hidden depths to his character. There's something similar going on here, though with more of a comedic bent. The nameless barbarian who constitutes our PC is exceedingly dull and more or less progresses through life by killing and screwing everything and everyone in his way, and not giving much thought to anything outside that process. He draws influence from a number of sources. There's the sorts of nameless, wordless protagonists who populated fantasy RPGs at the time - Steve Jackson's Fighting Fantasy series, beginning publication only three years after the fictional writing-period for this game, was pretty crammed with those. Robert E. Howard's anti-intellectual (if not perhaps "stupid") Conan is a more obvious influence, living chiefly for the glory of battle and the satisfaction of hedonistic pleasures rather than the dusty accomplishments of book-learning. (Howard also corresponded with the more sci-fi-oriented H.P. Lovecraft and wove strands of a common mythology into his work; ToaSK also flirts with - no, rather messily seduces - certain loved sci-fi tropes.) We are invited to laugh at the nameless hero even as we carry out his quest and experience his victories - and basically, we do:

During many points in your life, the THESKIAN DUFFEL BAG has been your only friend, confidante, and bed-partner. Save your mindless rages for the SLAVER KING, barbarian. Don't hurt the ones you love.

You've tried it before. You never get any of the jokes.

When thy saga is writ and thy story is told and maidens swoon to hear it, the tale-tellers will, in kindness and in mercy, skip the part where the SKY hath distracted thee so.

It's easy to imagine this sort of thing overwhelming the game and getting terribly stale...but oddly enough, it never does. Ross's effort to devise entire lists of randomized responses to the same basic sorts of errors (over twenty different responses to an unrecognized verb) goes a long way to keeping the game's language diverse. It's almost like the game itself is a fleshed-out character, never answering the same question the same way twice. A given joke's format may remain the same, but the joke itself never will - and so the game remains fresh till the end.

I think what ultimately makes the game work is that it's just utterly charming. How could it be otherwise? It's so clearly a labor of love: hours of effort to tune the humor in the narration, to compose the feelies, to write a draft source code document for would-be sequeleers, to construct all the little details and mechanics from the ranking system to the final battle. How can I not love a story which is so clearly an exercise in fun - from an author who had fun writing it so that we could have fun playing it?

For me, at least, Treasures of a Slaver's Kingdom is the perfect antidote to the wider Hollywood climate that would have us watch Snow White and the Seven Dwarves reinterpreted as a grim, militaristic low fantasy epic. The absolute peak of fun over substance, the ultimate triumph - and I mean "triumph" in the genuine, positive sense - of good-natured ribbing and entertainment over the cynical and the dour.

Though barkest up the right tree, barbarian. Though barkest up the right tree.

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Cheeseshop, by David Welbourn

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Slice-of-Python, June 16, 2013
by Jim Kaplan (Jim Kaplan has a room called the location. The location of Jim Kaplan is variable.)
Related reviews: david welbourn

Play it if: like me, you have a passionate appreciation for the work of Monty Python and would enjoy seeing an effective adaptation of one of their better-known sketches.

Don't play it if: you're one of those people who never really understood the appeal of Monty Python, or are feeling a bit short on patience - because you may spend a couple of minutes sharing Mr. Mousebender's psychosis-inducing frustration.

Cheeseshop is an IF rendition of the Monty Python sketch of the same name. As a result, it's fun and not too ambitious: puzzleless, at most five minutes in length, and chock-full of reliable Pythonic humor.

Something about the scenario - a man wanting to buy cheese from a shop which appears not to stock any - works bizarrely well for IF. In the original sketch, Mousebender's failure to acquire the cheese he wants is a source of humor for the audience; here, the player is additionally asked to share in his frustration. It's a nice, subtle twist. Maybe it works a little too well - the process of mechanistically typing cheese varieties can wear on you a little, though the game's responses to your attempts do add a sense of progression - but it's effective.

There's not much to say about a game of this length, but it succeeds in terms of what it's trying to be: a well-executed interactive adaptation of a Python sketch.

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