Reviews by DB
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View this member's reviews by tag: ADRIFT comedy horror interactive creative non-fiction Speed-IF
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ADRIFT author Mel S. is probably best known for zany horror-comedy hijinks (light on the horror), but he didn't always write in this style. Prior to this game, it seems most of his work was of the Deadline murder mystery type. In Mystery's ADRIFT-O-Rama, Mel's course is themed around the murder mystery rather than comedy. It seems that the inception of Speed-IF compilations in the ADRIFT community (and for the purists, this one is a true, one-hour-only Speed-IF) fundamentally changed the major output of this author with their constraints. The author has recently stated that these are his favorite sort of games to write. In fact, it seems that every game he has written since this one has been written as Speed-IF with his now trademark wacky tone.
So how does this one hold up? If off-the-wall, amped-up freak outs over the impossible and the absurd make you laugh, this one definitely will. It merrily defenestrates mimesis. It even shows good characterization for its scope. Unfortunately, probably as a side-effect of being made in an hour, it does suffer from Guess the Verb (one annoying instance, for example, where “take” is accepted, but not “get”) and Guess the Syntax problems, but if they really stymie you, there's no shame in turning to a walkthrough. These problems, however, are few. Little replay value except in booting this crazy, li'l thing back up to show your friends, but hey.
Ultimately: like drinking absinthe and novocaine from a little shot glass with a big, dangerously pointy chip in the glass, it is perhaps best done fast and with a little guidance, but if it's your thing-- oh, you will laugh.
ADRIFT-O-Rama is a special type of game, a sort of community in-joke featuring members of the ADRIFT Forum. It's less an interactive fiction and more an interactive creative non-fiction (even if ICNF is a clunky acronym that sounds too much like “I sniff.”), so that's how I'm judging it. As far as I can tell, the first of this type of community-based creative non-fic in the modern IF Community is Adam Biltcliffe's Are You a Chef? (2000). ADRIFT-O-Rama is not the first of its type in ADRIFT, either, being preceded a couple months by Woodfish's Forum (a comment in ADRIFT-O-Rama seems to suggest that Woodfish might have gotten the idea from Mystery). But where Forum is ultimately a work of fiction that just name-drops a few 'DRIFTers and ties its adventure together with a couple community in-jokes, ADRIFT-O-Rama goes the whole nine yards as creative non-fic, presenting its author's personal view of her contemporaries through the lens of a mock game of miniature golf.
I think the great thing about these sort of time capsule games like ADRIFT-O-Rama is that, as historical documents, they arguably become more valuable with age. It is especially gratifying not just to see ADRIFT authors represented (it's an 18 hole course, 17 for authors and 1 for Guess the Verb), not just to show how their works are perceived (each hole is modeled after a single author's forum persona or oeuvre, with no shortage of commentary), but to have them situated in the specific context of another 'DRIFTer's viewpoint (i.e., Mystery's). It's a really neat glance back into the community and into what being a member of it and author with it is (or was) like, especially from a member of one of the oldest cohorts of 'DRIFTers.
Particular actions in ADRIFT-O-Rama are very juicy: hitting different objects with the club, hitting them with your hands (while holding nothing-- yields different responses than clubbing), hitting the ball, and throwing the ball can produce several different, amusing responses in each room of the game. These actions all have variable responses controlled by randomized numerical values and ADRIFT 4's text replacement system, ALR (Alternate Language Resource). According to the ALR, most of these actions throughout the game can yield anywhere from 5-15 or so possible responses. Consider that that's stretched over 18 holes (19 rooms, counting the ball room), with several implemented scenery objects to act upon in each, and you'll understand what makes this game so deceptively deep. What Noah Wardrip-Fruin calls the Tale-Spin Effect (describing “works that fail to represent their internal system richness on their surfaces”) is at work here, hampering the full experience of this piece while the parser mediates that experience.
On a typical playthrough, one might experience the game as something like a quick short story. It's possible to just go through, hitting the ball in every hole and scoring a hole in one every time, so that one might see none of the >hit %object% responses, none of the throwing responses, and only one response for sinking the ball per course. One trouble with the game is that because the responses are randomized, it's impossible to figure out how many responses one should expect for a given action without looking at the game's code.
On an attempt at a deeper play, however, the amount of effort and soul that went into this game is plainly evident. The replacement text from the ALR file alone is over 17,000 words long; after adding room and object descriptions, the game approaches novel length. It's a shame the process for uncovering these scriptons in the game is randomized, but the game's amusing writing does reward persistence. Perhaps a better strategy for reading ADRIFT-O-Rama is to play through the game once and then read the ALR file itself to catch everything you missed.
The tone of the game is generally zany and a jokingly abusive of the player. The text is very self-aware, and shows an erudition with not only the ADRIFT community, but also the platform itself. For example, the game often spoofs the ADRIFT 4 parser's standard responses(Spoiler - click to show)(“You hit, but nothing happens. Heh- thought you wouldn't get that response, did you?”). In one section (after trying to (Spoiler - click to show)hit things in the Ball Room), the author makes one of many write-in appearances. In this one, she threatens to lecture the player on the importance of beta-testing. Upon continued abuse, she makes good on that promise-- only with a spelling error early on in the response that I can't help but think has to have been typed in with a wink.
Mystery trades in insult humor for much of the game, writing in her own satirical visions of other ADRIFT authors and community members, many of whom are gone now. It's safe to say that these authors were also intended to be her audience at the time, thus much of the abuse taken by the player character can also be construed a sort of imaginary, playful abuse to fellow 'DRIFTers. Especially in the early '00s, this sort of abuse was commonplace on the ADRIFT Forum-- consider the importance of the Forum's most active and longest running thread (2 Aug 2002 - 28 May 2006), the Smacking Thread. Mystery appears in-game to smack the player character around quite often, which I believe other 'DRIFTers would've recognized as a sort of good-natured and wacky playfulness (in fact, smacking was also a primary verb for the player in Forum).
But there are some more brutal portrayals in the game, as well, where Mystery makes no mystery of her opinion on some authors. If Don Rickles had written an ADRIFT game, it would look like ADRIFT-O-Rama. One hole on the course is dedicated to the takedown of David Whyld, comic roast-style(Spoiler - click to show) (“Did I mention he despises Mystery too?” the game informs us). In another instance, DuoDave (i.e., David Good) appears(Spoiler - click to show) to call Mystery an “anal control freak” and scoff at her beta-testing suggestions. Another Forum member is shown as a feckless pothead in a cloud of smoke, while yet another has a course adorned with “Shit-on-a-Stick™.” There's a current of brazen honesty, bitterness, and a disillusionment with elements of the community that runs throughout the game, which seems somewhat common in even current members of ADRIFT's sometimes claustrophobic-seeming community. Had this been made a few years later, I think it's likely it would have included the 'DRIFTing community's most feared and hated phrase, “ADRIFT is dead.”
Of course, Mystery doesn't exclude herself from her own roasting. She has a hole on the course, too, whose primary feature is a maze (referencing her game ADRIFT Maze). Upon trying to hit the ball, Mystery might make another author insert appearance to tell the player, for example, that (Spoiler - click to show)"Selma's Will was a fluke." I say “might” again because of the randomized nature of the game's responses. Read the ALR-- it's in there.
At times-- and perhaps including the previous comment-- the text waxes confessional. Especially at Mystery's hole, the writing of some segments either directly addresses the author's grievances (Spoiler - click to show)("If you'd behave yourself you wouldn't need a [forum] moderator. I wasn't sure if moderating was something I wanted to do. People expect you not to have opinions when you are a moderator...I guess it isn't really funny, just sad." She lowers her head and returns to the darkness whispering, "I was a Drifter first.") or through more generalized expressions that exemplify her frustration, which I won't include here because I can't just spoiler tag everything (Spoiler - click to show)(Yes I can) and you should read this thing for yourself.
This is a game that offers an incredible insider's view of ADRIFT to the rest of the IF Community, and it is one that certainly no 'DRIFTer should go without playing. This is the heyday of ADRIFT 4 with all its personalities caught in Mystery-tinted amber, a bold, inventive piece of writing that will make you laugh, scorn, think, and putt.
After mazes, the next tropes in interactive fiction to wear themselves out entirely were probably the “Escape the Room” [ETR] format and death. Seeing yet another ETR game is enough to make a seasoned IF player roll their eyes. These tend to be basically plotless, decontextualized setups for a puzzle rather than a good story. If you have to stuff something under a door to catch a key, it's probably enough to make a player quit. We've seen that game with that puzzle so many times and in so many incarnations that it was now beneath our notice, like spam. And the last thing we want to do is to die over and have to restart our attempts every time, especially on something so limited.
But Marika the Offering offers a fully contextualized, narratively complete game with an interesting story and a structure that subverts our basic aversion to death by turning the ETR format on its head. No longer is your goal to escape from a locked room. Your goal is to lock the room and keep a vampire from coming in.
Obvious means of entry and ways to bar them start the player out proactively, which is good because they're about to lose. When the player feels they have finally blocked off all they can they go to sleep (or else they'll run out of turns and fall asleep anyway). The player then get to watch how the villain enters the room to kill our heroine. In this way, each death is a clue in solving the overall puzzle of the game. Rather than an annoyance, the author has made death into a service to the player. Aside from presenting a challenge, the continued inventiveness of the (rather traditional) shapeshifting vampire at gaining entry into the tower room becomes a running gag that's amusing to read. Especially if you're a completionist, the flow of the game becomes more about blocking one entrance at a time and then dying, then blocking the next, rinse lather, repeat.
There are a couple of tricky commands to execute in this game where players might run into Guess the Verb troubles. It's also worth noting that the game is inventoryless, preferring to let players use things from where they lie rather than making them pick all of them up explicitly. This lets players focus on examining their surroundings and blocking exits rather than acquiring objects.
Overall, this is a rewarding, not overlong game with difficulty neatly balanced on a knife point, worthy of as many plays through as it has deaths. Highly recommended.
This is the first of what would become a series of Speed-IF horror from Seciden Mencarde, and it is the only one which ever received a revision. It is also, in my opinion, the best of the series, not just the best because of its revision, but because of the author's restraint and management of atmosphere lacking in further episodes.
The Forest House doesn't drop the reader right into horror-atmosphere-tryout land knee-deep in gloom and corpses. It's more about restraining the player from getting what they want right away-- you want to go west? Well, the door is closed. Okay, open it, now go west. It is as though the parser is a big brother warning the player, “Are you sure? I don't think you're gonna like it...” but the obvious action is right there, and everything is so close, so the player keeps going until they finally arrive on the scene of the horror.
More than just holding the player back, The Forest House beckons them in with a sense of childish wonder, hinting at dread. True, some of the writing is a little stiff (“A basic four-legged table with a chair. The only thing that makes it a desk is your use of it in that manner.”), but this is generally a result of implementing scenery the author seemed to think negligible to the overall tale. In that moment and elsewhere, some of the game's (un)implementation choices are questionable-- likely a result of the original Speed-IF constraint, it would've been nice to see them fixed in the revision, as well.
The more important elements of the game's writing, however, tap into a dark pool through the lens of what could be a child's heroic imaginings and trepidation. The house only you can see, that can only be seen at night. There might be monsters in the closet. Little touches like these reinforce the horror while luring the player through a scene of stealthy preparation with adventurous expectancy rather than slapping them in the face with horror tropes and abject darkness right away. This allows for a more subversive, but still gradual-feeling switch from a world of the expected and the rational (even including mundane flashlight battery replacement) into the unexpected and the irrational.
The sort of setup this game presents is Doing It Right. In The Art of Fiction, John Gardner describes how authors draw a reader into the “fictional dream” of a work using sensory clues and elements of from life to make the reader feel the story is real, or at least plausible. This is part of buying our suspension of disbelief and, to some extent, our investment in the actors and events of a tale. In this way, the aforementioned battery replacement-- a speed bump on our way to adventure and the unknown-- exemplifies the game's use the parser, restraint, and granularity of action to mirror the reality of a child sneaking out at night. It's an effective build-up and, because of touches like this, we can see how The Forest House operates more effectively as an IF than it might as static fiction.
Once one enters the titular forest house, the imagery changes to decay-- but even with a little bit of humor mixed in as the player character copes in the face of the grotesque and the unreal. This sort of horror, built on suspense and atmosphere, takes hold better than gore, gross-outs, or threats of physical violence alone might, especially when setup correctly. I admit after several playthroughs, I still haven't been able to get the last lousy point of the game, but I'm beginning to wonder if the inability to do so-- offering us a vain and frustrating search in its place should we try-- might not be part of the game's message. As we can never fully reach back into the wondrous, nightmarish expectancies of childhood except vicariously or in senility, as those imaginings may never reach their threatened realization, so, too, might The Forest House deny us these things and be all the more creepy for it.
(Though, seriously, if you have spoilers for the last lousy point, please comment below.)
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