Antique Panzitoum is a work of interactive fiction that needs to be understood within a certain context. It was an entrant, and second place winner, of the first event of the Second Quadrennial Ryan Veeder Exposition for Good Interactive Fiction. This contest was judged on the beauty of the game's source code, and not, necessarily, the playable experience.
Not that the game isn't playable. It is. But the player character is not going to get very far, cut off from almost the entire story. That's why I am writing this review without a rating. It seemed to be the only natural way for me to present it.
The author, Caleb Wilson, excels at creating alien worlds that are challenging to understand, explore, and navigate via tradition IF methods. Granted, most interesting stories are about discovering common human truths within unfamiliar, foreign, or even alien, environments and cultures, but Wilson tends to push more on these ideas, creating much of his dramatic tension through an almost xenophobic uneasiness; a sense that, even after we finish the story, we still might not fully understand everything that happened to us during the journey.
Often in his stories, it not characters that push against the player's goal, but objects and environment. This is frequently encountered in IF, a medium where NPC interactions are difficult to implement, but Antique Panzitoum is an extreme example of this idea. Here we find the environment as an infallible antagonist, an endless desert containing a single courtyard, stone wall, and locked door. To discover the full story, the player must become a different type of explorer.
Here is the second conflict. It is a conflict between the player experience and author experience, the dynamic game versus the static source code, the innards flayed and pinned like an alien autopsy, within which one can explore the whole story. This is still an interactive experience but in a completely different way. Yes, Inform 7 is, in theory, a readable computer language, but the reality is, without some baseline authoring experience and knowledge, some of the story may still not be fully understood.
I am reminded of the game The Beginner's Guide, where the antagonist of the story is a brilliant and emotionally isolated game programmer, a friend of the game author. He creates elaborate works of art that are to be viewed by no one but himself. One level consists of an immense and intricate world completely inaccessible to the player. This world can only be experienced after applying a few authoring hacking tricks to the system. But is this the way the story was intended to be viewed? Should the audience encroach upon aspects of the artist that are not immediately visible? Is art without an audience really art? I don't know if there are answers to these complex questions, but a work like Antique Panzitoum is a good place to start the discussion.
Okay, I made up the portmanteau "gameunculus" for the title, but it gets results in a Google search so it must be real.
You've Got a Stew Going! is Ryan Veeder's first published game. It is a simpler, smaller adventure that contains the essential ingredients recognizable in all of his IF works: good storycraft and characters, clever writing, a good sense of humor, a detailed implementation, and a focus on a positive and fun player experience. I had a great time playing it and I look forward to trying out more of Ryan's games.
If anyone is interested in an augmented experience while playing this game, Ryan made a PodCast called Clash of the Type-ins where he narrates games and gives insights on the authoring process for his games. You've Got a Stew Going! is featured in Episode One. If you want to avoid spoilers, you probably will want to play the game prior to listening to the episode.
This is a fairly short and simple IF work that I originally thought was a built in Texture because of the game mechanics. The fact that it is a Twine game with an innovative UI and dialogue system is what makes it stand out from the crowd. The ideas presented in 10pm should be explored further. There is some real potential here for innovation in narration, dialogue, and character relationships.
(do not) forget is a strange and beautiful Twine game, an amalgamation of genres, some sort of psychedelic, philosophical, retro, childlike fever dream. It's well-written and funny and has unusual characters and plot twists, with just the right amount of puzzling fun to keep the play interesting. This definitely goes on my list of must-play Twine games. Thanks for the experience!
Mindful is a very short game that is difficult to review without creating spoilers for the story.
I played it without any context other than knowing that the author who wrote it also wrote one of my favorite 2018 games Animalia. Suffice to say I was ill-prepared and I'm very glad I was because I feel like I had the emotional experience the author intended for the piece.
So, don't read too much about Mindful before you begin. Just experience it as it is and enjoy the ride.
Adventuron is a relatively new online IF authoring tool, created by Chris Ainsley, designed to develop old-school 8-bit parser games.
Ben Jones (aka Polyducks) is a talented programmer, writer, and digital artist who works primarily in the restricted mediums of textmode and pixelart.
Put them together and you get Mushroom Hunt, a gorgeous retro-romp that was cranked out in less than a month for the 2019 Adventuron CaveJam.
This game clearly demonstrates that constraints on an artform cultivate creativity. Although the scope of the game is limited, all of the elements are well-crafted, and provide a sense of warmth and childlike wonder. The story is simple, yet has a satisfying emotional depth that is gradually revealed as the player explores the world. The graphics, which are all textmode -- making this game, technically, a pure text-based work -- look like they were digitized from a Victorian Fairy Tale. Even in the face of failure, the hint system at the end of the playthrough provides gentle parental nudges in the right direction. I haven't experienced a narrative this nurturing since I played my last Ryan Veeder game.
My only regret is, being a jam game, Mushroom Hunt ended much too quickly for me. Specifically, (Spoiler - click to show)the inability to explore the village beyond the metal gate was a disappointment. Regardless, I imagine we will be seeing more great work from this author and artist soon enough, and I look forward to whatever comes next.