My Top 20 Interactive Fiction, 2019 Edition   5 comments

(For the Victor Gijsbers Interactive Fiction Top 50 shindig.)

Wherein I start by hedging the fact that this probably isn’t really my top 20, but I produced a list as fast as I could and some of the games/texts might even arguably have (gasp) objective flaws but they all still mean something to me.

Also, there are people I am enormous fans of that did not make the list, so a lack of presence does not mean a lack of endorsement.

I have included links to play online wherever I can.

In random order:

Creatures Such As We by Lynnea Glasser (2014) (Game)

A choice-based game where the protaganist gives tours on the moon and contemplates stories, and games, and love, and friendship.

The lights dim before turning off (so as not to be frighteningly sudden) and then it’s there. Nothing but the uninterrupted universe. No sun, no lights, no atmosphere, no reflection from Earth. Just the unending, beautiful eternity. There are audible sighs and gasps. You’re certain you hear someone sniffling back a few tears, but you give them the benefit of not checking whose audio trace it was.

Arthur by Bob Bates (1989) (Game, Manual)

King Arthur’s finest showing in game form.

The local chieftan, King Lot, has declared a curfew, and you know that even a boy such as yourself would be thrown in prison should you be caught by his soldiers. Yet you have come anyway, irresistably drawn by this sword of mystery.

Astronomy Without a Telescope by George Jenner (1995) (Game)

…remember that in the course of psychoanalysing Connie you are asking her to tell you the story.

Uncle Buddy’s Phantom Funhouse by John McDaid (1993) (Game)

Rather than crazy Uncle Buddy leaving behind a house full of puzzles, he has left you a set of HyperCard files and a very mysterious tarot deck.

We are instructed to inform you that you have, at some time, known Mr. Newkirk. Probably as a family acquaintance referred to as “Uncle Buddy.” While you may not remember this, we are instructed to inform you that there may be reasons for this involving “lapses of memory” or other “divergences” of an unspecified nature.

Counterfeit Monkey by Emily Short (2012) (Game)

What if manipulating objects via manipulating their words were possible? — what ramifications would this have for culture, and technology, and history? An astonishing tour de force.

Local Call for Death by Robert Lafore (1979) (Game, type RUN “STORY” at the prompt)

Investigate a mystery with a full sentence conversational parser.

It is winter, a few years after the Great War. You are … an American visitor to England and the guest of the famous English detective Sir Colin Drollery. On this particular evening you are dining with him at the exclusive Belladonna Club in London.

Horse Master by Tom McHenry (2013) (Game)

From the author’s website: “Horse Master: The Game of Horse Mastery challenges players to grow, train, and nurture their own horse from birth in the hopes of earning the most coveted tenured position in the world: Horse Master.”

Bad Machine by Dan Shiovitz (1998) (Game)

You are a factory robot who is broken. I’ve never seen anything quite like the writing here, which mixes prose and computer code.

Unit compliance at dangerous level; non-structured actions may result
Internal Dam//mage repair NOT PossIBLE!!!1
Unit shououuuuld report to Fixer immediately for re-training

Un^t Sta&us: B@$ xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxM39_I*~
Re-try: BAk M3_eIN~
Re-try: BAp MAxHIN~
Re-try: BAD MACHINE

Tin Star by Allen Gies (2013) (Game)

An almost ludicrously ambitious Western tale. “Confront outlaws, find romance, challenge Indians, defy the elements and craft an enduring legend as you uncover a conspiracy whose deadly web stretches from San Francisco to New York City.”

T-Zero by Dennis Cunningham (1991) (Game)

What exactly induced this bout of walking? Well, two nights ago, Count Zero handed you your walking papers … However, you were onto something. Exactly what is unclear since the pieces of the puzzle seem to disconnect with sleep. You resolve not to sleep until you’ve recollected and reconnected their jagged edges. You can be just as calculating as the Count. You can even reach beyond the Zero …

Laid Off from the Synesthesia Factory by Katherine Morayati (2015) (Game)

A story about a worker laid off from a factory that generates artificial senses, with some stunning prose.

Beyond Zork by Brian Moriarty (1987) (Game, Manual)

Lovely, solid design from a master.

The horizon is lost in the glare of morning upon the Great Sea. You shield your eyes to sweep the shore below, where a village lies nestled beside a quiet cove. A stunted oak tree shades the inland road.

Photopia by Adam Cadre (1998) (Game)

Still an undisputed classic.

Read you a story? What fun would that be? I’ve got a better idea: let’s tell a story together.

Wonderland by Magnetic Scrolls (1990) (Game)

This is my favorite from Magnetic Scrolls.

You are on the southern bank of a river whose waters flow lazily by with a trickle and a ripple so soothing you could almost go right off to sleep. To the southwest you can just see the beginnings of a winding country lane, whilst eastwards is a pear grove. Emily, your sister, is sitting here reading a book.

Spider and Web by Andrew Plotkin (1998) (Game)

You are a spy being interrogated. You tell the story of how you infiltrated the compound you are in. Things are not what they appear.

“Don’t be absurd,” he says. “You’re no more a sightseer than the Old Tree in Capitol Square; and if you’d had enough sense to walk away from that door, you wouldn’t be here. You don’t and you didn’t and are; we caught you. And you’re going to start by telling me how you got through that door. Do you understand me?”

A Mind Forever Voyaging by Steve Meretzky (1985) (Game, Manual)

You are an AI tasked with deciding via a simulated world if a plan to reform the United States is worth enacting.

Perry Mason: The Case of the Mandarin Murder by Telarium (1985) (Game, Manual)

The People vs. Laura Kapp: did she really kill her husband? Can you convince a jury of her innocence? Can you find the real killer? Includes a full-sentence system designed for making court arguments and objections.

Something about her story interested you. Maybe it was her husband, Victor Kapp, the famous LA restaurateur. Maybe it was the desperate look in her eyes. The handsome cash retainer she handed you couldn’t hurt either.

The Ice-Bound Concordance by Aaron A. Reed and Jacob Garbe (2016) (Game)

“Kristopher Holmquist died an unknown, struggling to write stories in an unheated New York apartment. But years later, his work was discovered, gradually becoming incredibly popular. With millions of fans wondering how his final, unfinished novel would have ended, a clever publisher commissions an artificial intelligence ‘simulacrum’ of Holmquist, called KRIS, to find out.” You interact via webcam by showing pages of a book.

Shades of Grey by Mark Baker, Steve Bauman, Belisana, Mike Laskey, Judith Pintar, Cindy Yans, and Hercules (1992) (Game)

An adventure across a wide variety of environments where, in a roundabout way, you decide the future of Haiti.

Sub Rosa by Joey Jones and Melvin Rangasamy (2015) (Game)

An almost unbelievably original setting involving a world where secrets are currency.

To name a secret is to destroy it and Confessor Destine is a man made of secrets. It has taken seventeen careful years but soon he will be undone.

Posted July 30, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

5 responses to “My Top 20 Interactive Fiction, 2019 Edition

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  1. This is fascinating. Thank you so much for the teasers and links.

  2. Pingback: Lazy Reading for 2019/08/11 – DragonFly BSD Digest

  3. My favorite text adventures:

    Varicella: Nigh impossible due to the numerous unwinnable situation–you pretty much have to do everything exactly right, with a margin error of only a few moves, and the time limit is shorter than it looks–and I do not like the fourth-wall breaking ending, but a complex, fun and exciting game about assassinations and politics.

    Gateway 1 and 2: Great games about exploring a large and interesting interesting universe, with a sense of constant danger and great puzzles.

    Leisure Suit Larry 1 and 3 and Space Quest 1 and 3: Excellent introductions to classic adventure game series, and although the unwinnable situations can very annoying, the games are hilarious and clever. Number 2 is really shitty in both series.

    Spellcasting 101 and 301: Great games with the inimitable humor and style of Steve Meretsky. 201 is a joyless slog, a copy protection tech demo with rare and fleeting moments of humor–like Legend’s version of King’s Quest 3.

    Eric the Unready and Leather Goddesses of Phobos: More Steve Meretsky games with fewer unwinnable situations than most of his games.

    Escape from Saint Mary’s: I would not have expected a browser-based game on a parody website to be much of a game, but this actually has very good puzzles, humor and characters. Suffers from the same kind of ending as Varicella, and the best ending–which I have not gotten–is basically impossible to achieve due to the unpredictable unlocking of new puzzles, but still a great game.

    Mystery Science Theater 3000 presents: Detective and Stiffy Mackane: Great parodies of terrible, disjointed adventure games.

  4. Reblogged this on Project ENGAGE.

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