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Mock mini-golf-- emphasis on the mock., September 12, 2012
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I think the great thing about these sort of time capsule games like ADRIFT-O-Rama is that, as historical documents, they arguably become more valuable with age.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.