Works of Fiction

by FibreTigre

2010

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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful:
Special FX from a Parallel IF Universe, July 3, 2010
by Felix Larsson (Gothenburg, Sweden)
Related reviews: truce, [8]

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.