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Modelling the unconscious in vignettes, September 12, 2010
Fusillade is not exactly a standard interactive fiction work. It is a string of twenty vignettes very loosely tied together by a meta-narrative that only becomes somewhat clear at the very end. In each vignette, you play a completely different person in a different setting at a different time, and sometimes even in a different fictional universe. According to the author, these scene together constitute a "battle in my unconscious".
Which immediately shows us the biggest weakness of the piece: I am certain these scenes mean something to the author, but they mean little to the reader, or at the very least they will mean little to the average reader. While a few of them are taken from fiction written by Mike Duncan himself, and are thus presumably hard to follow and devoid of associations for almost everyone, others are drawn from history and popular culture. If one already knows the relevant episodes or works, one will perhaps get a jolt of recognition, and one's own conscious and unconscious associations will be activated. But if, like me, you have to look almost all of them up to even understand what is going on, this will not happen. If you are well-acquainted with SF television series, persons from American history that are popular within but not exactly well-known without the US (Molly Pitcher, Helen Keller, Francis Scott Key), and the exploits of the great British explorers, you are probably better able than I was to enjoy this piece.
The vignettes are mostly written very well, and with different prose styles corresponding to their different moods and settings. Unfortunately, they are barely interactive -- the player is only along for the ride, really. The idea is probably that one "flows" along with them, in the sense that "flow" has become a popular-psychological term. We're on a ride planned out by the unconscious. This doesn't quite work when one does not immediately connect to the events, as described above.
One aspect of the game that cannot be ignored is the music. Each scene comes with its own piece of MIDI-music: an interpreter which can play these is highly recommended. The music helps to set the atmosphere, and is quite listenable. However, if, as I did, you spend a lot of time looking up all these historical situations, you'll be listening to each (looping) short piece for quite a bit longer than the author intended, and this is not an unmixed pleasure.
In conclusion, then, this game cannot be called a success; but it does try a couple of things that we have not often seen before, and if these attempts are not entirely successful, they are not entirely unsuccessful either. As such, Fusillade is worth studying by authors, more than worth playing by players.