Archive for May 2014

Shufflecomp reviews (Monkey and Bear, A Summer’s Rose, Invisible Parties, HOLY ROBOT EMPIRE)   1 comment

Monkey and Bear, by the opposite of sublimation

A pale sky drifts above the dusty wheel-ruts. Hour after hour, the road comes from the southwest and goes to the northwest. Hour after hour, you walk past stubbled fields and scraggled forest, turning the road ahead into the road behind.

The monkey is here, your best companion. He watches you hopefully.

You are a bear. You must escape captivity with your best friend, the monkey. There’s a time-loop element similar to Look Around the Corner where the underlying story is better written but more obfuscated.

A Summer’s Rose, by Jed Brockett

“Tamlane,” she told your father, “I should have ripped out your eyes and replaced them with two eyes of wood. I should have ripped out your heart and replaced it with a heart of cold stone. You were mine, and now you have been stolen from me.”

Prose: strong. Interaction: not as much. There were many one-choice clicks and in the few instances there are choices as far as I can tell they do not matter (for example, if you choose “wrong” in the first instance you are immediately chided and put back on the proper story; if you apologize or stand firm when you first meet Tamlane there is only a slight textual variation; if you choose a wrong color of horse you again are immediately transferred to the “correct” choice).

Invisible Parties, by Psychopup

As for your resources… well, physical things don’t always translate reliably world-to-world, and walkers tend to be wary of them. Most learned skills rely too heavily on specific circumstances that rarely obtain in other worlds. The range and life expectancy of a wayfarer are circumscribed by gifts, talents in the bone, uncannily irrespective of culture, climate or metaphysics. Gifts are inborn, or hard-bargained from subdivine powers.

You’re an — alien? god? metaphor? — at a very metaphysical party. There are ‘gifts’ you can use but I did not understand them and just started applying them randomly until something happened. My level of confusion was very high and I suspect the story is resonating at some frequency my brain does not respond to properly (either that, or I was running into bugs).


The eye of Saint 43. It provides light, like a tiny, incorruptible star.

It’s a quest to kiss the ring of the Robopope. This has the most solidity of all the puzzle entries to Shufflecomp, or least the one I felt most comfortable noodling about in as if I was in some forgotten Infocom experimental title.

Posted May 31, 2014 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Shufflecomp reviews (Cryptophasia, Flotsam and Driftwood, Look Around the Corner, Bound)   2 comments

Cryptophasia, by L. Starr Voronoi

But still, it is soothing. Like every good Practictioner, she has a calming demeanor, but also a clinical, almost bureaucratic patience in her videos, as if she knows you have all the time in the world. You don’t, but it can feel that way in hyperspace, alone, on a baker-ship.

Your head tingles.

Baked goods, space travel, and ASMR videos. I have no idea why it works, but it does. Unlike Mirrorwife I don’t want to see more of the world (there are horrible, horrible things hinted at) but for a brief time I felt the tangible mystery of another universe.

Flotsam and Driftwood, by Conrad Elton

Another is telling you “That’s not the way, lad. You’re supposed to give up your habits. Even eating. You don’t have to eat, here.”

The puzzles are a bit finicky but solvable. There’s some intriguing aspects to the plot (see quote above) but the writing could use more depth; I needed a better sense of the characters to get invested so the conclusion didn’t have as much payoff as it could have.

Look Around the Corner, by Robert Whitlock

The light is emanating from a giant eye, the eye of Enki, from Ki-En-Gir, the land of the lords of brightness. The eye is a disc of smaller eyes, and each smaller eye is itself a disc of smaller eyes, and so on, until you can make out the smallest quantic layer of eyes. They look back at you, unblinking.

This is a small time-loop story. Remember to pay attention.

Bound, by Starfinger X

At that point you see the ring still on your littlest finger for safekeeping.

Better not forget about this, you think.

You’ve got 160 minutes to get a stuck ring off your finger. This is essentially an optimization puzzle where you have to replay once you find out where the useful objects are located.

There’s a nice map and inventory but I feel this is a case where the hypertext interface is holding things back. I went through a variant of the “lawnmower conversation syndrome” where I clicked through everything just because I could.

Posted May 28, 2014 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Shufflecomp reviews (Fallout Shelter [by Gloam], Nova Heart, Little Bird, The darkness of mere being)   3 comments

Fallout Shelter, by Histroy Gloam

You stand at the east side of the unidentified object, bathed in the thing’s jaundiced glow. You see no features on this thing whatsoever, yet it glows with a shifting pattern of psychedelic light.

This is an odd little sci-fi story which seems to have suffered from a lack of beta-testers. I was only able to get 2 out of 3 crystals at the end; did anyone finish this?

Nova Heart: Don’t Be Around While The Earth Dies Screaming, by Zenith J Clangor

The beast gorges on your screaming audience. You have been driven to the edge of your godly skill. You have no choice. You must rock out harder than you have ever rocked out in your immortal life.

Individual sentences ooze cool. I also didn’t mind the bizarre spastic switching between story sequences; it’s as if someone wrote a short-short story collection then tossed it in a blender. Unfortunately, the parser is essentially faked (only reacting on very particular prompted phrases) with the occasional bit of extra action required.

Little Bird, by Dick Dawson

It beats louder, too loud to hear her response. Your eye locks onto the painting above her. It’s a depiction of President Bastard. The panic increases tenfold. what on Earth have you done? You’ll be lucky if all they do is kill you.

There’s a “cussin’ is rad/horrible” toggle option. This has no relevance to the review, just thought I’d point that out.

Nothing makes sense at the start but as you trudge through the options there are glimpses here and there that some kind of sense exists. It’s like a mystery story where your job is reconstruct just what the plot is about, and not to worry too much about the volcano in the White House.

The darkness of mere being, by a lost kitten

Slowly you traverse the rubble, ash billowing up in knee-high clouds. Some of them are made of people.

An alarmingly normal introduction quickly devolves into something apocalyptic. The prose is generally fine, but I felt like the choice points lacked import. (This even includes one which determines if a character lives or dies, because there is little emotional impact either way.) The epilogue is interesting but I’m uncertain how it connects with the story.

Posted May 28, 2014 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Shufflecomp reviews (1982, The Legend of Wooley Swamp, Lobster Bucket, White Houses)   Leave a comment

1982, by Iblis Snowsdottir

When the Government first publicly unveiled their secret optical abomination, the Eyes merely patrolled the border of East and West Germany. After it became obvious they were too unwieldy for espionage, the Eyes were brought stateside. Now they stalk the country side, searching, always searching, for those who dare to violate the Motor Laws.

You want to take your uncle’s Barchetta on a Sunday drive. In most world universes this would not be a problem, but in 1982 the Government frowns upon joyrides and Walking Eyes stalk everywhere looking for illegal activity. This makes for an oddly quiet vignette given the setting (one potential bad ending is simply “*** Your car insurance premium has gone up! ***”) and is nicely unique.

The Legend of Wooley Swamp, by Elizabeth Jones

I first heard about the Gator Man from my Grandma’s friend. She was pretty paranoid and not quite right in the head, but she made the best ladyfinger sandwiches, so I visited her house a lot. She said he was the ghost of an old warlock or something, and he got the power to change into a gator and back from a deal with the devil.

This is a mock-web page from the late 90s, sadly lacking in animated GIFs or “Under Construction” signs. There’s not much to it either in the writing or structure and I poked in circles several times assuming I had missed something (I hadn’t).

The theoretical issues are interesting, though: is every web page interactive fiction or nonfiction? Is some manner of intention required? What distinguishes a Twine story with only a “click to advance” mechanic and reading an ebook where you press an arrow to advance a page? Does taking a print article and spreading it over several pages in order to garner ad revenue a form of converting traditional nonfiction to interactive nonfiction?

Lobster Bucket, by Lady Tallhat

You have always had the knack for finding things in dungeons. Maybe that’s why the aquabats have asked you to retrieve their most treasured possession from the Evil Overlord and his mooks. Don’t get caught.

There’s some randomization here so this is sort of like a mini-roguelike. Unfortunately, this leads to some games which I believe might be literally impossible (in one case I was trapped on the east end of a long corridor as my starting room). The implementation is sparse to such an extreme I had trouble finding an excerpt (I settled on using the introduction text). It’s a little bit like Wumpus, really, but once finding the cloak the game is reduced to triviality. This could have possibly worked if strategies were varied and tight; as is the game is pretty much a choice between either a dumb luck loss or a dumb luck win.

White Houses, by Mr. Stamp

Living Room
This is the living room. There is a door to the east leading to the kitchen. To the west, there is a wooden door with odd gothic graffiti.

There are hooks above the glass case attached to the wall.

In the center of the room is a large oriental rug.

You can also see a trophy case (closed and empty) here.

Jenny arrives from the east.

This is a remix of the geography of Zork I where the protagonist and a character named Jenny decide the white house is a “good hideout” (although it is unclear who or what they are hiding from) and start exploring.

The concept of the “level remix” (which has a long tradition going back to at least Doom and probably farther) is a good one, but the implementation here is very shaky and the plot is too incomplete to get much out of it.

Posted May 26, 2014 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Shufflecomp reviews (Dead Man’s Party, Eight Miles High, Sequitur, Nothing but Flowers)   Leave a comment

Dead Man’s Party, by Morrissey


Groove Billygoat had puzzles but was so crazygonuts I never felt relaxed. Sparkle, Truth, and Light My Way Home were too abstract for me to catch the puzzly vibe. This is the first entry I’d call “soothing old school”, although the responsiveness is a little sparse so it was hard to get fully immersed (in one case, doing a correct action but having one thing wrong gets a generic response; other experimental commands result in too many default responses).

Eight Miles High, by Lambert Lambert

The letters move around a lot. You can do this, or do that, who knows. Everyone is so faceless, nobody cares.

Here’s an entry I expected to see more of: experiential wandering based on song lyrics. Genuine question: is typing supposed to be disabled? It wasn’t working in my interpreter. I ended up clicking a few links and going in circles. If so I got through all the content in 30 seconds or so.

Sequitur, by Tin Foil Jenny

“Maybe this was a mistake, Salt.” A woman’s voice, the camera operator. “Argo?”

The camera finds Argo pointing his flashlight over boxes in a corner.

The video goes black and when the footage starts again, Argo is starting up some stairs with Salt behind him. A tall figure emerges from behind them. Its eyes are large and bulging. It throws a cloud of glittering powder into their faces. Both men collapse gasping and coughing onto the floor. The camera dips as its operator begins to sway. She hacks and sputters.

I question if a parser is really the best medium here. Your goal is to put a sequence of events in story order, but with a text interface and very long story segments it gets very clunky. Perhaps some sort of interface where you could zoom-in-and-out on descriptive cards and arrange them in order with mouse clicks would be more playable; as is I got too uncomfortable trying to work things out and quit before I finished.

Nothing but Flowers, by Crabby O’Crankypants

And then, normal life begins again. Inexorably. Slowly, in hints and starts. Isn’t that always how it is, the everyday takes over? But, then again, isn’t it always the case too that hints of something wondrous come peeking out again from behind fatigue, boredom, or dulled senses, like an animal peeking out from under the covers?

another existential rambling
like Eight Miles High
no branches, just

one place
where you can
modify some lines

Posted May 23, 2014 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Shufflecomp reviews (An Earth Turning Slowly, Light My Way Home, Out the Window, The Peccary Myth)   Leave a comment

An Earth Turning Slowly, by Mæja Stefánsson

She ran through her list of findings. “We’ve never had one quite like her. The diversity of simultaneous wounds, I mean, in a surviving specimen. There’s this long-standing hand-wave in paleopathology: we assume that multi-wound healing in dinosaurs was mediated the same way it is in birds, never mind the millions of years of intervening evolution. Now we can start to fill that gap in.”

This is a short story told in five parts about (essentially) a dinosaur. It uses an innovative system which mashes together parser commands and choice commands, and is (despite the author’s protests of being written in a rush) one of the most polished and professional entries I’ve come across in any competition.

There’s enough material for an essay, really, but I want to stick with one piece — the work gave me a feeling of true interaction with book-style dialogue. What I mean by that is IF dialogue tends to be either short bursts (with a system that amounts to either ASK ABOUT THE SANDWICH or 1: “Do you like your sandwich?” 2: “Would you like fries with that?”), or giant wodges of text (see The Legend Lives! which has multi-page conversations interspersed with the action). I don’t know if it’s the continuous scroll of text or the parser/choice hybrid that did it for me, but with An Earth Turning Slowly I felt like I was participating in a genuine dialogue that resembled a normal book without having control yanked away from me.

Light My Way Home, by Venus Hart

A huddled figure, crouched against the inside wall of the container, looks up with surprise as the shutter opens. The shutter squeals as it retracts fully, a loud buzz coming from the device.

The person unfolds themself from their crouched position and stands slowly. You watch them, entranced. They are the most beautiful person you have ever seen.

This story has a “protaganist as unusual/alien thing” going on with the main character which I’ve liked in other games that never fully clicked with me on this one. I think the implementation might be responsible? The ABOUT text explains the only verbs needed are out of a very limited set, but distance of the interaction combined with the sparseness of the prose left me without much to grip onto.

Out the Window, by Bramble Bobonong

Your bed is lying next to it, and opposite your bed is your desk, ‌which is empty of goods, and thus of meaning‌.

Did you hear that rock stars don’t trash their hotel rooms like they used to anymore? Come relive the 70s and 80s by throwing stuff out the window. It’s funny and short and does what it sets out to do.

The Peccary Myth, by Pergola Cavendish

A whole team of Punksmen are lying asleep, “knocked out,” inside a circle of vans and autos. They have been engaged in ***CENSORED*** and ***CENSORED*** recently. It does not require a detective to tell this lol. A stack of radios play some unnecessary sound nearby.

So in the future (or maybe, like, now) casual games are a form of mind control, so riots and panic occur when a rogue programmer adds a “time spent” feature to their clickfest. (Maybe this is the feature Nguyễn Hà Đông plans to add to Flappy Bird to make it “less addictive”.)

I was enjoying myself the most when I let the hip/surreal prose flow by. If I tried to think to hard about what my interaction meant, I got very confused. Fortunately there’s only one puzzle that requires any close attention (unfortunately I got very stuck and had to use the walkthrough to solve it).

Posted May 22, 2014 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Shufflecomp reviews (50 Shades of Jilting, Mirrorwife, Groove Billygoat, Sparkle)   2 comments

50 Shades of Jilting, by Lankly Lockers

Surreptitiously, you somehow concretize the abstract (its appearance in your inventory was admittedly a great first step) and physically transfer your run-down relationship into the pocket of Sam’s coat under a smoke screen of small talk about the weather.

You have one move to break up with your lover, at which point the story rewinds and you can try it a different way. This is an excellent concept, and the writing goes down terrific when in small doses (as above) but there are some giant clumps which go on and on and on:

“Sam, I’m going to see if we can get these drinks to go. It’s a beautiful day and I just can’t bear to be inside.” “No problem,” says Sam, “I’ll put on my shades.” Five minutes later, you’re strolling down a pedestrian mall with paper cups in your hands. “Do you mind,” you ask, “if we head over that bridge? I’ve got a bee in my bonnet to get out of downtown.” “I’ll have to walk back here when we’re done,” starts Sam, “but I can do that.” Half an hour later later, you make a suggestion: “How would you feel about hitting up that big park at the edge of town? Something just rubs me wrong about being among all this asphalt and cement on a day like today.” “I can appreciate that,” replies Sam, “though I might need to have a rest break or two on the way there. It’s nice out, but I’m getting a little winded.”

Maybe I wasn’t in the right mood, but I admit to skimming some of the text. I also did not come close to finding all the endings. Does someone have a spoiler list?

Mirrorwife, by Virgil Caine

You touch one palm to the a wall. The stone is damp and rough and makes you think of salt. During your time underwater, you often wondered if it would have been worse to be surrounded by rock and left in darkness. If the queen was ever here, however, you find no trace, and you would know. Of all people, you would know.

From lengthy to succinct, and the effect is lovely. I played through multiple times, even though the interaction is minimal and as far as I can tell the structure is “linear with side descriptions and a final choice.” I want to see more of this world. I want to see what happens after.

Groove Billygoat, by Efrain Finnell

True confession: I picked the song here. The King of Pop is source for a truly odd music video, as well as suggestive lyrics (“So They Came Into The Outway / It Was Sunday-What A Black Day / Mouth To Mouth Resus-Citation / Sounding Heartbeats-Intimidations”). There were all sorts of threads I thought a potential int-fic could go on, but I was surprised to find Groove Billygoat took every thread imaginable and went crazy with it.

“It’s him!” shouts Rufus, pointing down the block, where an unearthly light as if from a hundred garbage truck headlights grows around the corner, casting the shadow of a thin man against the wall. He emerges around the corner, his white suit blinding in the golden light, surrounded by clouds of mist from a curb grate.

The sidewalk slab lights up as the man steps, and then the next one as he steps onto it, only fading after it his shoes have left the surface. This can’t be… you think, trying to blink the mirage from your eyes.

It’s like it invents a new genre: dance noir. It is wild and swerving. The lyrics in Smooth Criminal, are (to be polite) difficult to understand; this game turns that fact into a puzzle. There is a random easter egg reference to Thriller. MOONWALK is a verb. Go play it (although cling, somewhat gently, to the hints).

Sparkle, by Karly Di Caprio

“What do you seek?”

“I seek the truth, shifu.”

She hit me on the fingers with the head of her cane, like many times before.

“You say you seek the truth, but only lies come out your own mouth. What do you seek?”

You can turn a dog into a flute with the power of your mind.

Posted May 20, 2014 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Shufflecomp reviews (Truth, Tea and Toast, Fallout Shelter [by Voss], Illuminate)   Leave a comment

So there’s this event called ShuffleComp where people sent in playlists of songs and received random sets of 8. The same people then wrote works of interactive fiction based on those songs; 33 came back with an entry. Voting for works that get a Commendation goes to the end of May.

However, there’s this extra rule where each review counts as an extra yes vote. It’s an experiment that I believe is intended to tilt feedback to more-positive-vibes-than-negative but it makes me anxious, because even on interactive fiction I enjoy haven’t been able to tell if it’s “worth” the bonus boost of a review. Also, in some cases I’d like to talk about interactive fiction I’d consider a “no” vote but still have interesting discussion points.

The only way out of this is to write a review for everything. So I’m going to do that, with the caveat that reviews near the deadline might be choppy sentences without grammar control. Mea culpa in advance.

(I entered my own work under a psuedonym, and since I don’t plan to review myself the reviews have a side effect of potentially giving away my secret identity early. There’s a rule of no-speculating-on-pseudonyms but that’s for public discussion and you’re welcome to play the home game. I also realize I reduce my own chances at Commendation by one vote by implicitly voting for everyone else, but c’est la vie.)

Truth, by John Earthling

The intrepid player here must stalk about a minimalist town in a mission to root out untruth:

The man leans close and, glancing about conspiratorially, whispers “Snakes are the only animals with opposable thumbs.” Then he slinks away into the shadows.

OK, that clearly wasn’t the truth.
[You have debunked an untruth!]

The game feels loose and uncomfortable to me; I don’t really have much to latch onto. Either than prose needs to be deeper or the interaction stronger or the comedy just funnier. I’m keen on the scoring system, though: [You have come across a fib!] or [You have exposed a prevarication!] or etc. occur every time another fib has been found.

Tea and Toast, by Maria del Pangolin

Does a story need conflict? I don’t think so, and neither does Tea and Toast:

It was at the bus stop you first saw her. The first week, you stole glances as you walked past. The second week, you tried to figure out if she was stealing glances back. The third week, you decided to start taking the bus to work… even though it’d be a bit of a walk back.

It’s simple: you prepare tea and toast and memories flow in. Except, hm, I must be bad at preparing tea, because I keep messing things up by turning on the teapot (which is a thing you can’t do?) or trying to put leaves in without a strainer (which I guess is bad?) or doing a list of other things that are apparently wrong.

Still, it’s the sort of thing you play to be happy, and it works.

Fallout Shelter, by Amadeo Voss

Dreadful scratching sounds, the kind that remind you of when you were a little girl, hiding under the covers so the monsters wouldn’t get you.

I think (other than a weird burst of autobiographical material in a notebook) that perhaps the shelter is a little too sparse, because I couldn’t visualize anything; this was just words. There’s a choice about staying or leaving that doesn’t make me feel like any kind of story progression happened at all. The ending I had to work hardest at was getting eaten by the monsters, so I’ll call that my VICTORY END and move on from there.

Illuminate, by Summer del Mono

The surface of the table seems to bubble even as the clear ball approaches, magnifies it many times over, cracks spreading across its surface, until it shatters with a brief burst of red flame, leaving no trace of the table.

You find you have the crystal orb and the blood orb once more.

What remains: An orange wall. A fruit tray lies on the floor. Deep scratches and pits mark the plain table.

This reminds me of entries from the IF Art Show (wow, the last one was 2007? we should revive that sometime) where the goal is to fiddle with things (in this case, four paintings with matching orbs) and see what they do. This would be more engrossing if the prose had more style; as is it’s a bit dry. Still, I was intrigued enough to play about for a while and I do wonder if there’s any secrets I have yet to unearth.

Posted May 20, 2014 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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