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Hypercubic Time-Warp All-go-rhythmic Synchrony

by Ben Kidwell and Maevele Straw


(based on 2 ratings)
3 reviews

About the Story

A project to use infinity to bridge fiction and reality shatters into delusion and trauma. Completion of a 9 year trilogy.

Game Details


Entrant, Main Festival - Spring Thing 2022


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Number of Reviews: 3
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Unsettling, June 13, 2022
by Mike Russo (Los Angeles)
Related reviews: Spring Thing 2022

Ooof. This is a tough one to get to grips with. Partially thatís down to the content of HTWAS: itís a cut-up series of autobiographical vignettes mapped in achronological fashion upon a ďhypercubeĒ, which concern set theory, bipolar mania, creative partnerships, and a math-and-divination based project to facilitate universal love and cross-cultural understanding via ethereal communication with a Chinese pop star, all of which chaos is accessed via a parser interface with a minimal verb set whose only affordances are navigating the hypercube and combining objects that represent abstruse math concepts to form other, yet more abstruse ones (feel free to scatter parenthetical ď?Ēs anywhere the previous sentence seems to be crying out for one).

The bigger barrier for me, though, is the opening text, where one of the co-authors says his relationship with the other co-author (which was also a romantic one, from the gameís context), has fallen apart after confessing to having sexual feelings for her teenaged son, who heíd apparently been a caregiver for over most of the previous decade. This is walked back almost immediately, but in a very vague way that indicates something significantly bad did occur:

"No, actually none of that was happening or going to happen, except the part where I, BenJen, am delusional and say horrible things to a teenager believing it will restructure the proton and give perpetual free energy via large cardinal embeddings, but actually I am just hurting the people I love, failing to manage my mental illness properly, and destroying my life and everything I have tried to do and be in the world."

This is of course something said in-game, and versions of both co-authors do exist in the story (which is similarly from the perspective of Ben), so itís certainly possible that this declaration should be understood within the fiction of the game and doesnít reflect actual events Ė as someone whose previous game was a memoir, Iím acutely aware that even in an explicitly autobiographical work there can be a significant difference between real events and what shows up in the game. But from playing through the game it certainly does not seem to boast much fictionalization; most events are low-key, quotidian ones depicting the co-author riding his bike around San Francisco, talking with his co-author about subjects including writing this game, and digging into his obsessive-seeming theories about what advanced math means about the nature of reality. Much of itís also told in a writing style that I find really reminiscent of similar emails Iíve gotten from a bipolar friend of mine when heís in a manic phase:

"The ball returns to your flippers and you shoot for an appealing target. The ball ricochets off the Communication Carousel and hits the Free Will Fork for a bonus. She continues, ĎWhy is a Measurable cardinal special? If a measurable cardinal exists, it is the critical point of an embedding of the universe of sets to a transitive class, and the full universe of sets is larger and richer than L, the constructible universe. The existence of elementary embeddings depends on the self-reflectivity of the universe of sets, whether or not initial segments of the universe reflect properties of the whole. This is analogous to recursive self-containment of deities and universes and souls within the universes that contain the deity, as well as to the infinite mirroring of two minds communicating and modeling the other mind modeling the other modeling itself."

I donít mean to be dismissive of whatís clearly a significant work, in terms of the effort itís required and its significance to the co-author. And while it is very hard to make sense of much of the game Ė partially because I canít follow the math, which might of course be perfectly comprehensible if you have the right background Ė there are some powerful moments in amongst the muddle. Thereís a fantasy of playing the piano with great facility thatís counterposed with the lived reality of arthritis making such virtuosity out of reach, and conversations where the co-author shares his arguments with his partner but displays appealing self-awareness about the positive things heís able to communicate but also the ways his enthusiasm or mania makes things more challenging for her. Thereís interesting things to discuss about how the narrative Ė and the hypercube mapping Ė are constructed, as well as the binding mechanic and what it means in terms of the themes that emerge from exploration and the eventual option to ďwinĒ the game.

When I think about engaging with those things, though, I feel a coldness in the pit of my stomach, because itís hard to treat HTWAS primarily as an aesthetic object when I canít shake the idea that itís the record of a person in the throes of a mental health crises whoís harmed themselves and others. Itís also unclear to me whether both co-authors agreed to put the game out in its current form, or if Ben has done so unilaterally after their relationship fractured. Iím not completely sure whether this is the right course of action for me, much less others, but Iíve decided to leave these notes on my reaction incomplete rather than doing a full review, and wonít be nominating it for ribbons. And Iíll also hope everyone involved with the gameís creation (especially the other co-authorís son) gets the help and support they need.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
An extension of the extraordinary Harmonic Time-Bind Ritual Symphony, August 6, 2022
by Wade Clarke (Sydney, Australia)
Related reviews: fantasy, spring thing 2022, Inform

(This review first appeared in my blog during Spring Thing 2022.)

Hypercubic Time-Warp All-go-rhythmic Synchrony (HC from here on) is the semi-autobiographical parser sequel to 2016's also semi-autobiographical Harmonic Time-Bind Ritual Symphony by the same authors, Ben Kidwell and Maevele Straw, and which was also introduced via Spring Thing.

I found the first game to be extraordinary. It's a hippiedom-infused, life-living sim seen through the window of manic depression, and transfused with plenty of bike-riding, fictional computer tech, new age alternate realities, loving, drug-taking and blasts of mathematics. In spite of its chaos, it displays an almost perfect marriage of form and function in relation to its subject matter, and is wildly written, and fun as well.

The follow-up, HC, has deep connections to the first, albeit in a fractalised, non-continuous way. Memories and events recur, or are revisited, or are re-analysed, or are fit into a continuing narrative of what has been happening with the authors since the first game. While all of the same subject matter returns in this second episode, the result is superficially less satisfying than the first because this time around, the framework is not conspicuously gamey. The player may still be the PC, now known as Mycroftiv (the narrator Ben from the first game) but they aren't a doer in a game world. They're invited to read what amounts to Mycroftiv's hypercubic journal of their memories and experiences. Each location in the game functions as one of 64 journal entries, and they're divided up in a virtual filing cabinet navigated by a bit-based nav system worthy of an Andrew Schultz game. The player's goal is open-ended: they can read entries as they see fit, and try combining some of the objects they find along the way. Objects like a Boolean Prime Ideal or a Measurable cardinal axiom. Examining these objects gives points, which is a measure of progress, but not a particularly important or logistically useful one in this game.

As I found the first game very moving, I found reading the entries in HC just as moving and stimulating, and somehow enveloping. They deal, through the authors' anecdotes, with family relationships, the nature of friendships, peak experiences via people and nature, and theories of "the mathematics of loving communication". Thus encapsulated, that last one may sound flakey, but the journal entries devoted purely to mathematical theories are not light reading. While two authors of the work are credited, the narrator voice is Ben Kidwell's / BenJen's / Mycroftiv's.

In both games, what I feel as I play them is the accuracy of the reality espoused (or theorised) by their authors, because in its bizarre way, it is perfectly articulated through wonderful writing that is never didactic. The narrator can be frank and proselytic when in their manic phases, but they're also tempered by acknowledgment of their mistakes, by moments of standing outside themselves, and by a lot of extended musing on the nature of empathy. The major declared mistake that forms a cut-off point in their life for the genesis of this game sounds especially disastrous (giving voice to sexual interest in a teenaged ward during a ritual invented during a manic phase) and this declaration is made in the first lines of the game. All the player's reading is declared to be about to happen "backwards in time... before everything shattered." So there is a sad frame placed around the game. However, its core narration is clearly an espousal of optimism. The sum of its multi-dimensional journal of positive memories, breakthroughs, mathematical progresses and wonderful human connections is an Eternal Yes.

Like the first episode, I see HC as demonstrating a perfect melding of form and ideas. The author's favourite idea, articulated in a thousand different ways, is about the interconnectedness of all things. The hypercubic nature of the game's journal connects its 64 locations in a fashion that allows you to get between any of them in fewer moves than it would take on, say, an eight by eight grid. This is a mechanical demonstration of what it may be like to have access to another dimension. In turn, the player's path through these locations may be entirely random (people who don't get binary numbers) or may follow a certain logic (people who know binary and can use the game's binary coordinates to lawnmower the journal). Somewhere on their journey, the player will likely find the journal entry that muses on the nature of free will and randomness:

"... I'd like to propose instead that free will is better understood as what randomness feels like from the inside. The intuitive sense that free will is different from randomness is a dichotomy between the external view of dice rolls as meaningless and arbitrary versus the meaningfulness we feel motivates our own choices. A more careful examination of the definition of 'random' shows that the identification of 'random equals meaningless' is not objective. The real definition of random is simply anything that cannot be externally predicted on the basis of available information..."

For all its wildness, the game has this seer-like, synchronous way about it, and contains journal entries addressing almost any mechanic or idea demonstrated by the performance of the game itself. Some of these entries are indirect, others explicit. One that made me laugh was the authors discussing whether the entries describing mathematics would prove too thick for readers. I'd already found my concentration wavering when trying to follow some of those entries down at my lay level. Another entry stepped out of the game to posit that the player is actually a character in another game played by 17-dimensional chipmunks.

It's with tricks like these that the game seems to be what it proclaims reality is: a demonstration of complete interconnectedness in ways we can't anticipate or understand. That it's also an emotional diary of creative experiences, introspective moments growing out of bike rides, jokes, and mathematical ponderings, demonstrates the authors' great instincts for mapping the personal onto the cosmic and the existential. And that it has no end as such, instead just failing to provide new material at some point Ė petering out, even Ė seems to be saying something about the imperfect movement between different episodes in our lives or creative outputs.

I think the game is also superbly written from word to word. The voice is persuasive, lyrical, able to build ideas clearly when necessary, and also able to explode them with illegal syntaxes when necessary. While HC drops its gaminess relative to its predecessor, its lack of a need for world model implementation has allowed the authors to take even more flight with their prose, at greater length and as often as they like.

I find it hard to imagine how HC will fall on players who never tried the first game. It's bound up with that game's contents like the posited hypercube. A cube placed in the first game, and which then expanded simultaneously in all directions, might produce the vertices of the second game as a diffracted take on the old mixed with the new. Given that the parts of the old that reappear are reconstituted in detail, I suspect they might work and stand alone for new players. And if you like HC, you should certainly return to the first game to experience its more purposive take on an earlier stream of the story. Both games come with optional outside-the-game music, and HC's extras folder contains css files with theory and speculation about Enlightenment Escalators and Harmonic Ultrafilters. Together, the two Harmonic pieces comprise one of the most singular visions in IF.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
An ultra-surreal game about hypercubes, Berkeley, and set theory, April 10, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours

This is the third game by this duo, the other two in the past having been very long, surreal games, one of which reflected a psychotic break and really felt like what such a thing would be to experience.

This game starts with the first author confessing that he/she (both pronouns are used) made sexual advances to their trans step son whom they've lived with for 9 years, and that it has ruined the partnership of the two authors, after most of this game had been written, and that the author is trying to make up for it.

Much of this game isn't real, so it's hard to know if this is, but it certainly seems so, which is sobering and disturbing.

The rest of the game focuses mostly on a few recurring themes:
-The idea of very large cardinal sets and non-principal ultrafilters on them. This is an area of math that is extremely abstract, especially since (as mentioned by the author) most of these things are non-constructible and cannot be proven to exist in any meaningful way under normal mathematical assumptions.
-The author's life at the Lothlorien coop in Berkeley, which still exists and houses people today.
-The idea of using psychic energy to communicate with Hong Kong singer Deng Ziqi telepathically.
-The author's relationship with Staci (who I believe is also Maev?)

The game is laid out on a six-dimensional hypercube, corresponding to 6 binary digits, corresponding to the 6 cardinal directions N,E,S,W,U, and D. Unlike most games and real life, N and S are not opposites and have no relation to each other. Instead, going North cancels itself out, so going N twice will bring you back to where you started.

Not all 64 options are filled; about 20 or so are empty 'unfinished' rooms. One room had its connections backwards (so that going U and D changed the N and S bits), which may or may not be intentional. The room names are based on the binary numbers.

In the rooms are found items, one at a time or zero. There are lots of scenery objects described in the text but none are implemented.

I received around 432 points (I think) out of 530 or so. There is no overarching goal outside of 'binding' some items together in a chain, which just gives more points. One room contains a complete walkthrough for the bindings.

Overall, as a game it continues the glimpse into a surreal world offered by the previous games, but the confession at the beginning overshadows everything else and renders it all heartbreaking.

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This is version 2 of this page, edited by Cerfeuil on 6 March 2023 at 5:38am. - View Update History - Edit This Page - Add a News Item - Delete This Page