Reviews by Felix Larsson
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The author of Snack Time! puts herself under Speed IF restrictions (“I’ve got three hours to write a game about … an olympic medalist, a public bath and a skunk), and this is the result. Like most any Speed IF the result is, I suppose, a trifle; but this one is a pleasurable trifle to while away a few minutes.
You play a former olympic medalist, now swimming instructor, who has to get a skunk out of the pool. Removing the skunk is the one puzzle of the game. I guess it will not present many difficulties even to an absolute beginner. But the writing is pleasing, the skunk is cute, there are footnotes to the text (and I love footnotes), and there’s even a certain amount of psychological development on the part of the protagonist who comes to grips with certain aspects of her olympic past.
You’re in for an illegal game of Russian Roulette—you leave a millionaire or you don’t leave at all. The referee and the crowd sees to it that you and your opponent play by the rules.
For obvious reasons, even at its longest this game is very short.
Only, I’m not sure that this really is what you would call a game. It is, however, one of a growing number of IF works where you play a character with goals (or motivations or preferences or values etc.) that you, as player, find objectional and are unwilling to promote even in and for the sake of gameplay, works whose value resides in something other than being fun.
Gijsbers’s The Baron and nespresso’s rendition are, perhaps, the most famous and infamous examples, respectively, of this trend (if it be a trend) of IF.
Not being fun presumably has little to do with the objectional character of what (fictional) actions the player needs to let the PC take: you may, e.g., not feel the least tempted by a life like Niko’s in GTA IV but still enjoy the game; or you may honestly disapprove of Lottie’s schemings (and never actually have gone to quite her lengths yourself to secure your career) and still findBroken Legs great fun: rather, I suppose, it has to do with gameplay.
I.e., the author of this kind of IF has to do the opposite of what is usually done in games. He has to make sure that the player will not be so immersed in the gameplay, i.e. so keen to win the game, that he/she starts having fun (which would make the player insensitive to the moral issues of in-game actions). This does not mean that the reader/player can’t be allowed to be interested in the story as told nor identify or sympathize with the PC.
And, of course, even though such a piece of work mustn't be fun it needs other good-making characteristics to make it worth playing.
So, the player needs to be at once (sufficiently) alienated from gameplay but not from the game itself (or he/she would just quit playing it).
One way to achieve this is to make a rather ordinary game but basing it on actual events that still retains a traumatic impact on people’s minds—indie video games such as Super Columbine Massacre RPG! and Operation: Pedopriest tries this. The trauma serves to alienate you, but ordinary gameplay lures you on (with perhaps some social message or satirical lashes added for good measure). The end effect, I guess, is that the player oscillates in and out of an awareness of the abhorrent character of the PC’s actions.
The Baron works quite differently. The estrangement here comes, I think, from a feeling of disappointment in or betrayal by the PC; whereas what makes you keep playing/reading is partly the story (you want to know how it ends) and partly (perhaps mainly) an interest in the exploration of the complex moral issues raised by the … game(?).
In Six-Chamber Champion, as in rendition, the alienation from gameplay is rather more thorough than in the above examples. Even game mechanics serve to alienate you from it, being mostly repetitive or variations on a very limited theme. The rules of russian roulette just don’t allow a vast range of subtle tactics. (And rendition doesn't give you much choice either.) Also, you are given hardly no background at all to what brought the PC into the situation in either of these works.
So what remains? Why play such a game?
Well, in the case of rendition, there is of course the political message, but having a political message is hardly enough as far as good-making characteristics go. Actually I never could bring myself to play very far into rendition. Perhaps it’s an interesting experiment rather than good IF.
Six-Chamber Champion I found worth playing through, though.
The reactions of the blood-thirsty audience, the anguish of your opponent, and the heavy cool of the referee are all very well characterized (I was not equally convinced by the PC), and most actions you are likely to take is appropriately implemented.
I doubt that I would like to play my way through a whole tournament of russian roulette like this—even if fictive. But this piece is wisely confined to a single round. Small, in this case, is beautiful … or at least a virtue. Despite the limited size of the work it contains a number of possible endings, and I replayed the whole thing a couple of times to find them.
Why! There was another kind of maze to be had after all!
Here you play the role of an art student gone burglar, eyes set on that gem-studded Byzantine chalice in the museum. The main puzzle of this clever little game consists in figuring out how the maze is constructed (and how to familiarize yourself with the things you carry); after that, gameplay is very straightforward and the mission soon completed.
It’s definitely not a game to try unless you are reasonably familiar with IF conventions, though.
(If you want to prolong the fun or just more of a challenge, I suggest you try make do WITHOUT the map feelie provided by the author.)
Like Michael R. Bacon’s Arid and pale, Figueres in My Basement is actually a hypertext collection of lyrical poetry making use of Bacon’s Interactive Poetry Extension for Inform 7.
The reader is presented with the first lines of an as yet unfinished poem, chooses (i.e. types) one of the words from the last line, and the next line of the poem appears—a different next line depending on what word the reader chose to focus on—and so on till the last line.
Mishima’s works have lyrical qualities even in prose, and he has taken care for each of these poems to work as a poem in its own right—which of course is a challenge, given the formal constraint demanding that any two poems in the collection differ only from a given line down.
This is not to say, however, that this is a bunch of grave or overly serious poems—on the contrary, they are fairly playful.
That Figueres works better (for me, at least) than Arid and Pale is, I think, largely due to the fact that there is a discernible connection between the word the reader chooses to focus upon and the line produced as the result of that choice. In Arid and Pale that connection too often felt lacking or just haphazard, whereas in Figueres you feel there is a reason why the poem continues the way it does given that you focus on the words you do.
Something I believe that most any serious future work of this kind of interactive poetry will need is a good reason for the reader to read such a lot of poems that all begin the same. I.e. there should be some meaning to or unity of the collection of poems as a whole over and above the meaning that each particular poem might have and apart from the mere identical lines. (Aisle, e.g., is much the better for the common theme that unites the short stories in that work.)
An “old-school romp” the author calls it—and one that wisely avoids any flaws of its old sources of inspirations. You (or your mind or soul or consciousness or whatever) happens to be trapped inside a small robot, and you must figure out how to reclaim your body.
The puzzles are fairly easy; the game is polite (in the Zarfian sense—you can’t put it in an unwinnable state, and if you die, simply undo your last move) with a few in-game hints and even a non-spoiler map; writing is straightfoward in style and quite decent in quality, and there are no major bugs (one bad typo in the Competition version, though—the player can only refer to a bunch of property tags as “tage” rather than as “tags”); it’s probably finished in no more than two hours.
There were some nice details in it, too: the way you have to accustom yourself to your robotic body e.g., and (for once!) a perfectly acceptable in-game reason for a four items inventory limit.
All in all I’d say it’s presumably a good game for beginners, also—or even especially—for kids.
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