Reviews by Felix Larsson
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This piece is an almost purely literary IF short story, to be read mainly for the mood it evokes.
It’s set in a wintry czarist Russia, in the kind of aristocratic milieu you find in Tolstoy’s novels.
The PC is a gentle soul—one of those nice guys that really weren’t made for duels at dawn, at all—who has lost everything that made his life worth living. The main NPC is his much more cheerful good friend, both of them fairly convincingly portrayed, short as the work is.
There are no actual puzzles in the work, though it can end happy or unhappy. However, the unhappy ending is certainly the most satisfying one (artistically speaking),giving the whole work a suitable and very nice closure, while the happy ending leaves things pretty much hanging in the air.
Nevertheless, the piece is worth some replay (or re-reading), even if you’re not hunting for the happy end. After you finish the game, the author suggests some amusing things to try on replay. Actually, though, replay offers more than just a little extra amusement, since the small IF world of this work proved richer than at least I first thought. Also, poking around a little in it can reveal aspects of the plot that may not have been obvious on the first reading.
Since I called the work “literary”, it may be as well to stress that it achieves its artistic effects by means specific to interactive fiction: a transcript of a play-through of the work would not have the same literary qualities as the work has in (inter)action.)
The author tries to tell a very definite story without puzzles, but with full interactivity preserved—even in the flashback scene! Since there are no puzzles to lead you on through the plot, you can, if you wish, obstruct and prevent the story from proceeding for as long as you wish.
In this particular piece I didn’t find this possibility a problem. Why should the player/reader of a (good) work of IF want to be deliberately un-cooperative? Perhaps an IF-author has a right to assume som edegree of “willing suspension of disobligingness” on the part of players, just as an author of non-interactive fiction can assume suspension of disbelief on the part of readers?
Technically this is a hypertext hack of the Z-machine rather than interactive fiction in a strict sense. The work simulates a database—“The Endling Archive”—that you (in the role of fictional reader) work your way through. However, such a description does no justice to the poetical nature (and value) of this short work.
The contents of the Archive is a melancholy reminder of things lost to neglect, to natural disasters, to violence and to hunger for profit. What we lost may not have been Paradise, yet it might have been worth preserving and may still be worth remembering.
(Spoiler - click to show)According to Norse mythology, Líf and Lífţrasir will be the only survivors of the Ragnarök catastrophe at the End of the World. Their names mean ‘Life’ and ‘Life Champion’.
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.
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.)
It’s pinball. You’re the ball. The first time you fly off, the experience will likely be as disorienting to you as it must be to the poor ball, and the game is soon over; by the third time, however, you will probably have got the knack of it. The game is replayable, in a sense—the sense in which any game of pinball is replayable: you can always try to score higher than before.
(Wuerz’s writing, a times, hints at pinball as an allegory of life, again with you as the ball. Come to hink of it, there’s obviously a deep buddhist meaning to Tilt!: (Spoiler - click to show)there you are, a ball, trying to make sense of a world you’re thrown out into without a say in the matter and telling yourself you have some control, though in truth you’re at the utter mercy of outside forces—those outside forces, on closer inspection, being you(!), the player, who you actually are (the ball and its world being empty—mere virtual objects devoid of any real existence) and who, moreover, is no real party to the virtual pinball world, except for playing this very game of Tilt! over and over again in the pursuit of ever increasing high-scores in your (i.e. the virtual ball’s) next (virtual) life—until, at last, you suddenly realize the futility of it all, stop clinging to an illusory pinball world and are awakened to the truths of its emptiness and your own power and purity.)
This is a hypertext collection of poems demonstrating the basic functionality of the author’s Interactive Poetry Extension to Inform 7. The poems are all single stanza quatrains. The first line of all the poems reads “Arid and pale”. The reader chooses one of the words of this line and the poem is incremented by one line according to that choice.
As a collection of poetry I didn’t find the work very convincing (though it might well be more to somebody else’s taste); anyway, the collection was probably intended more as a demonstration of the extension than as an attempt to achieve literary immortality.
The work tries a curiously traditional IF take on poetry (rather than e.g. a hypertext one like Arid and Pale): There is a PC, who moves around in a two-room world, there are three objects and an NPC, and the basic standard commands are implemented (X, GET, ASK ABOUT, PUT IN). The poem is written from a 1st person perspective, though.
In spite of that mostly traditional IF setting, there is nearly no interactivity: You (i.e. the ”I” of the poem) can examine the few things in the world, but apart from that there is only a single course of action open at any point in the poem. Twice the PC asks himself a yes or no question, but even then the choice doesn’t change the course of events or the point of the poem.
Interactive Fiction can certainly be very poetic. Indeed, Mishima himself has written such works. But I don’t think this particular poem presents an experience or an idea, a truth or a mood, a pun or whim, an image or an approach to language &c. &c. in any poetically compelling way.
Short and creepy ”literary” horror. You are a young female artist waiting for the break-through and recently moved into your boyfriend’s small, shabby apartment—just big enough that you can’t see all of it from any one place. It’s a dark and stormy night; a serial killer stalks the streets; you’re all alone. The phone rings.
Certainly worth reading … and re-reading! once or twice. The details of the story and even the length of the piece varies a bit depending on what you decide to do (there may be more to do than you think) and in what order. Writing is good, and, playing this all alone on a dark and stormy night, you’d better hope your phone doesn’t ring.
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