Reviews by Felix Larsson
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To those of us who aren't fluent enough in French, German, Italian, or even Spanish to tackle a piece of IF in those languages (every other command turns into a guess-the-verb-issue, unless you know a language well enough)—to us the French, German, Italian, Spanish, etc. IF communities are in effect parallel universes.
There may be all kinds of interesting things going on there that we know nothing about, and only all too seldom do portals open up into those other worlds, as with Montfort’s translation of Peláez’s Olvido Mortal or, now, JB's first (I think) game adressed to an English speaking audience: Works of Fiction.
JB is, judging from the information that does trickle between worlds, one of the fixed stars of the French IF universe (he seems to be best known, perhaps, for Filaments and Ekphrasis). Also, it seems that he has a soft spot for Glulx effects—at least Ekphrasis is said to make extensive (and essential) use of images and sounds.
Works of Fiction certainly relies heavily on Glulx: there is a slideshow, there is music, and there are split windows. Actually, the game is a full scale implementation of the idea found in Zarf’s Glulx-demo Two Columns. The story unfolds largely in several parallel worlds at once, with the game’s window split up to show all the worlds separately and simultaneously.
You play Gerard Lescroc, literary agent of an author about to receive the Philip K. Dick Memorial Prize at an SF-convention (you've bribed the jury to make sure of that). However, due to an overdose of extra strong black French coffe, laced with absinth (or whatever—apparently the recipe is a professional secret known only to the guild of SF-writers), you fancy yourself Paul Atreides, Messiah of the Fremen of Dune, Luke Skywalker, the Last Jedi, and Kevin Flynn of Tron fame, all at the same time.
The player, then, has to guide Lescroc around in his native world, to achieve the goals of some one of his alter egos in their parallel worlds. This includes entering several commands telling Lescroc to do things in and to his world that he himself is prevented from doing and that can only be carried out in his world via corresponding actions of his famous alter egos in theirs. (The previous sentence may actually make sense, once you’ve tried the game.)
Unsurprisingly, this gets Lescroc into trouble. Apparently, there are limits to how weird you may behave even at an SF-convention (though the security guard at the convention really goes to some extremes to constrain poor Lescroc in the ordinary, ‘mundane’ world).
Before his troubles are anything but over, Lescroc make a bad joke about David Lynch, whereupon Orson Welles makes a cameo appearance, and after that things get really strange and messy, with Lescroc jumping back and forth between worlds in a way not unlike the protagonist of Dual Transform and with another dozen or so of pop culture references thrown in for good measure.
In the latter part of the game, the player may well feel quite at a loss as to what he’s supposed to do (as does Lescroc, to be sure). Actually, the first part, too, is somewhat underclued and underimplemented. Navigation between rooms often uses IN and OUT instead of compass directions (which frustrated me a bit before I found that out). And, yes, you can see plainly at times that English isn’t JB’s native tongue.
And then there’s the problem with making the story file work with the interpreter you run on your operating system. The author says, at the game’s web page, that Linux and Mac users may meet with varying success. Well, on the Mac the game wouldn’t even open with Zoom under OS X.4. Unexpectedly, the best result (though not perfectly successful) was to be had with Spatterlight under OS X.3.9! I haven’t tried the Windows version, but it seems that it is the preferred one.
Yet, in spite of these nuisances, I’d still say the game is most definitely worth a play.
A truly delightful little game!
You are a dog and you’re hungry. It’s not dinner time in many hours, so you need a snack. Unfortunately, you’re not very good at making sandwiches, so you must get your human pet to make one for you.
The puzzles are quite easy, but it’s not the challenges that make this game but the consistent dog’s eye view of and on everything. Dog is the measure of all things in this game: canine interests permeates every single description of the game world. What makes the game so charming is the way Choba (the author) exploits the fact that Hardy (the dog-PC) has a set of concepts that doesn’t quite match the human player’s. For that purpose, a dozen words are worth a thousand perfect 3D-renderings.
(By the way, the same thing was done—to the same charming effect—by Admiral Jota in Lost Pig … and to a totally different but equally great effect in Shiovitz’s Bad Machine and even in Granade’s IF version of Pong!)
More actions are implemented. I missed most of them first time playing the game. So, if you manage your snack too quickly, chances are that you can have some replay value for dessert.
It all starts with the PC sitting on a tour tram through Everglades National Park, Florida. Except for a few obscure references in the introduction to the game and a mysterious item in your inventory, you have no clue at all to what you‘re supposed to do in the game, and until the first puzzle is solved, the PC’s motivations and identity, too, will remain perfectly concealed to the player (though, presumably, well known to the PC).
The first part of the game is all one puzzle. It’s quite possible to put the game in an unwinnable state here: to work the puzzle you need to know a few things about the game world and you also must take precautions against certain (predictable) future complications. The puzzle is not too bad, if you feel for a bit of old schoolish puzzle-working, but it does involve a lot of extremely tedious wandering about in the (labyrinthine) wetlands of the Park.
Then, all of a sudden, the game changes character totally and in almost all relevant respects. It is revealed that the PC is … well, since the author obvisouly thinks the player should not be aware of it, I guess this calls for a (Spoiler - click to show). It seems that you’re really a pilot in a giant robotic alligator fleet called Gator-On dedicated to environmental protection cheap animated cartoon super-hero style. Specifically, the evil Pyth-Nor Real Estate Development Consortium has constructed a giant robotic python, which you and the rest of Gator-On have to engage in combat...
From there on the game is just as weird as that. This concluding part of the game depends heavily on non-standard commands. However, the text of the story generally (though perhaps not invariably) gives you sufficient clues to them.
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.
This SF piece is definitely worth reading and playing. The PC is a young boy sent on a mining mission on a spaceship under “punishment regime” by his father to make a man of him. (Settlers are much the same, it would seem, whether in 24th century Space or in 19th century Old West.)
Apparently, Wigdahl is a professional programmer and a veteran Infocom beta-tester, though this is his first work as IF-author. And it’s a very well-told and well-coded story, indeed; actually, the telling and coding is rather better than the story itself—which makes the reading/playing experience a curious mixture of satisfaction and (relative) disappointment.
In particular, I found the central puzzle somewhat disappointing, partly because it sins again the degree of realism already established in the narrative—it’s simply unbelievable that the engine of 24th century spaceships would employ a mechanism anything like this—, partly because (Spoiler - click to show)the puzzle is a quite hard and quite old one that many players will have learned from logic and lateral thinking puzzle books already as kids, probably making it virtually insoluble to some and really trivial to others.
At his web site, Wigdahl states that the whole piece was conceived and realized in three months (in time for the IF Competition), so there simply can’t have been very much time left for story and puzzle design. I do hope he got hooked on writing IF, for I would love a long series of works of his with puzzles and stories to match the execution.
By the way, Grounded in Space also has an interesting formal structure: its level of interactivity increases as the story progresses. The transition between these levels never feel contrived or unmotivated; on the contrary, they correspond well to what might reasonably be required from the PC at different stages of the story (so much so that I suspect this formal structure was not intended by the author but dictated by his material).
The story thus begins in ‘linear’ mode: it will unfold very much the same whatever you do. This linear opening serves as an introduction to the rest of the story, just as the first chapter of a book or the opening scenes of a play or a film normally does. In the case at hand, it introduces the player to the personality of the PC and explains what an inexperienced kid like him is doing all alone aboard a spaceship a long way from home.
The linear section is followed by one in ‘hypertext’ mode: i.e. you choose freely what to read and in what order. This hypertext section allows you (and the PC) to become familiar with the environment (the spaceship Marryat) and with your supposed task aboard.
To my mind, these first sequences very successfully sets the mood and premises of the work. (Perhaps, to a die-hard IF gamer as opposed to a willing IF reader, the may seem too long or irreleant or boring or whatever. I really wouldn’t know, since I am the willing reader. and I enjoyed these sections.)
Then finally you enter the properly ‘interactive’ mode in a section that leads up to the peripety of the story and the central puzzle. And after that there are several ways to bring the story to several distinct, more or less happy conclusions
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