Some notes on _Mentula Macanus: Apocolocyntosis_

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Adam Thornton

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May 16, 2011, 10:15:22 PM5/16/11
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Notes on _Mentula Macanus: Apocolocyntosis_

Warning: this will be spoilery.



ADDRESSING THE CRITICS

I'd like to begin by responding to the two fantastic reviews _Mentula
Macanus: Apocolocyntosis_ got, and some of the less fantastic.

First, I want to announce to the world at large that the Grahams in the
Unreal City were in no way intended to be an attack on Graham Nelson.
Yes, the identical bankers (stolen from Martin Rowson's _The Wasteland_)
are indeed all named Graham Nelson. Why? Why, to set up the Nelson's
Column dick joke, of course.

Second: Emily nailed the Gate Of Ivory reference. Am I saying that
Classical IF is a lie? Vergil had Aeneas come out of the Gate of Ivory.
Myths aren't factually true, but that doesn't mean they're not good, nor
that they're not necessary.

Third: Sam Kabo Ashwell got stuck on attempting re-use of the whale.
How? Clearly that's a bug, but it is one that I don't see how to
reproduce. Likewise with getting stuck three-quarters of the way
through. How? Was it insufficient cueing of the moonmilk? Several of
my testers struggled with that, and although I tried to make it more
obvious, I don't know whether I succeeded.

Fourth: Again with the Ashwell: it's not *that* Julia. It's Julia from
the Cranky Roman Family of Hans Orberg's _Lingua Latina_. Take a look
at http://qcreport.blogspot.com/2005/09/latin-lover.html for a gentle
introduction. Also, every other character in the game knows their slave
Syra. Ask about her.

Fifth: I chose the Pompeii mosaic as the cover art before Graham
revamped the Inform icon. My first cover image was, as Emily may have
guessed, an ithyphallic Hermes; I toned it down for public release.

Sixth: to respond to Poster's blog post of May 15, I'd really like to
know where the "homosexual monolith" is. As far as I'm aware, none of
the other Spring Thing entries concern pole-smoking, donut-punching, or
fudge-packing in any way. Did I miss something? Maybe _The Cavity of
Time_ is upsetting him. Anyway, I will console myself with the fantasy
that my $123 is coming directly from Poster's $150.

Seventh: Speaking of, I'm totally thrilled that Sam Ashwell wrote _The
Cavity of Time_. Also thrilled that he created those delightful Stiffy
images. Thank you!

Eighth: I *am* a little peeved that my game got as many 1s as 10s, but I
have no beef with Jimmy Maher's review. To clarify that a little: in my
judging, a "1" is the worst possible game--a buggy, unplayable,
subliterate piece of shit with no redeeming features. _Mentula Macanus:
Apocolocyntosis_ was a solidly implemented, grammatically-written,
correctly-spelled piece of shit with no redeeming features, and as such,
*I* think it deserved at least a 2. If memory serves, I gave "Cattus
Atrox" a 3/10 for basically the reasons Jimmy gave _MMA_ a 3:
competently crafted, but absolutely unappealing to me.

Ninth: I will, however, confess embarassment that, as pointed out on
IFMud, attempting to molest the library slaves gives you a "keep your
mind on the game." That's a bug, all right.

Tenth: I really, really want Victor Gijsbers and Pissy Little Sausages
to review the game. I'd like to know what they thought in some detail.
I would also like Graham to play it, but, well, I already got *one* of
the two people I thought would get most of the jokes but wouldn't play
it to give it a whirl, and she liked it astonishingly well. So I'll try
not to be greedy. But anyone who was thinking of writing a review--good
or bad, short or long--I'd like to know what worked for you and what
didn't, with as much specificity as you can spare.

GAME DESIGN

My primary goal in writing _Mentula Macanus: Apocolocyntosis_, of
course, was self-gratification. In that aim I clearly succeeded. I
did, however, have some other goals in mind.

I tried hard to make the game fair. That is: there is supposed to be no
way to make the game unwinnable that doesn't kill you off in fairly
short order. If I failed at this, I want to know, so that I can fix
it.

I wanted to make it newbie-friendly. At least, that was my initial
goal. That is: there are no diagonal directions required, all
conversation is ASK X ABOUT Y, and if there are any guess-the-verb
puzzles (besides the really, really obviously cued ones), I want to know
about it. The mazes aren't. The darkness puzzles are really not very
difficult. Inventory management is intended to be a non-issue except in
one particular section.

Now, that said, in the time between the game's inception and its
completion, the state of the art advanced a lot. I don't have the
user-friendly features of _Aotearoa_, for instance. I thought about
adding some of these things late in the game's cycle, but I had already
made up my mind to do a consciously old-school game. So: no status-line
directions, no in-game map, no interesting-object syntax highlighting.

I wanted to make it less linear than my other games, and was only
partially successful. The midgame is fairly open, but the intro and
late games are on rails. I also overused the nothing-to-do-but-wait
mechanic: the animal rides could definitely stand to be shortened, as
could the player's capture that ends the midgame. I do kind of like the
rowing mechanic (suggested, I think, by Andrew Plotkin). The endgame
probably drags on too long, but, really, what else could I have done
there?

INFLUENCES

Until I read Emily's review, *I* didn't realize that I had written a
reaction to _Curses_. Of course, I had, but the funny thing is, I
haven't replayed _Curses_ in the last decade or so. The closest I came
was dumping the text for something about Alexandria while I was writing
that section. But...damn, it's undeniable that I was carrying around a
whole lot of _Curses_ in the back of my head.

The things *I* was aware of primarily thinking of were, in
more-or-less-order:

* _The Waste Land_, by T.S. Eliot, and a few of Eliot's other works.
(Eliot is, of course, an enormous influence on _Curses_ as well) And
of course _The Waste Land_ itself is the kind of virtuoso
random-influences mash-up I wanted this to be (albeit, with more dick
jokes).

* _The Waste Land_, by Martin Rowson. If you haven't seen this, it's
brilliant. It's _The Waste Land_ mashed up with _The Big Sleep_, more
or less: Eliot viewed through the lens of noir detective fiction, done
up as a graphic novel.

* _The Satyricon_, Petronius. As Emily points out, the story's
structure is straight-up Roman novel WTFery. I'm fine with it landing
in the genre of Menippean Satire.

* _The Aeneid_. Well, obviously. Also notice that I start the thing
like an epic, _in medias res_, and tell the first half as a
flashback. Not accidental.

* The traditions of classical IF. What do you think the Gate of Ivory
is about? But of course I was dicking, as it were, around with the
genre conventions with the light source and the "mazes" (although the
Ostian sewers *are* kind of a maze, they're a very simple one, and
they actually match up very well with the town overhead).

* _Dungeons and Dragons_, Gygax et al. The thing is rife with D&D
riffs, in both obvious and non-obvious ways, and in part that's tied
back to the classical-IF thing. Text adventures were, after all,
among other things, a way to play something a lot like D&D without
having to assemble a group of people and a big block of time.

I also had very clear visual images for most of the characters. I don't
know *why* Persephone is played by Dolly Parton in a white satin dress,
but she most certainly is. Rachel is absolutely Jennifer Aniston in her
Rachel role. Most of these characters--the ones who are public figures,
anyway--are listed in the credits.

Graham is correct in his surmise on Emily's review: "I dare say much of
Mr Thornton's household and acquaintance can be found in Mentula
Macanus, if we but knew it." Cerberus, to take the most obvious
example, is the three dogs I had throughout most of the game's writing:
Vinnie, Golem, and Ursa. You can see them as Cerberus at:
http://bc.fsf.net/BC-NorthVan-200609/NorthVan-Pages/Image4.html (Ursa is
on the left, Golem in the middle, Vinnie on the right, as you face them)

All this, of course, is circling around the heart of the story:
intertextuality. It's not just Eliot. There's some of Gene Wolfe, and
a little bit of Borges, and some Stealth Nabokov. There are nods and
winks to all sorts of classical and post-classical IF. And sometimes
there's just a Symbolist rendering of whatever random shit came into my
head, like Stetson's Stone Snail "Speedy", or deciding to add the chick
from the cover of _Eldritch Wizardry_ only make her a priestess rather
than the sacrifice (haven't found her yet? You know what XYZZY does?
Have you tried disrobing in the very first scene?).

RELEASE ALONG WITH THE SOURCE CODE

I release the source to all my games. This one's no different. The
code isn't pretty. In most cases that's my own fault, but then there
are some things, like Pythonic indentation, that came along after the
game was very largely developed. There are a lot of objects that should
have inherited from kinds but didn't. It's not pretty, but it gets the
job done.

Also, the map. It was important to me that the map the game produced be
usable without any further editing. It is, although this required some
scrambling quite late in the game when Graham rewrote the mapper in 5Z71
(at least, I think that was the release).

Quixe is just plain cool. Thanks, Zarf.

FAVORITE EASTER EGGS

There are two pieces of implementation I'm especially proud of. One is
the ledger in the Hotel Metropole, and the other is the gaming table.
At the gaming table, have you tried rolling 1d20 until you get a 1, as
Stiffy? And have you tried taking your own figurine? The ledger I
leave to you, gentle reader. Or you could, you know, read the source
and see what I like.

THANKS

Again, thanks to all my testers for bearing with me for so long. And
thanks to Amy for putting up with this thing for so very long.

IN MEMORIAM

Gin Rosenkranz was one of my early testers and a good friend of mine,
who died of cancer while the game was being developed. Vinnie, as
mentioned, appears as the left head of Cerberus. I miss them both.


Adam

dott.Piergiorgio

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May 17, 2011, 4:26:26 AM5/17/11
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Il 17/05/2011 04:15, Adam Thornton ha scritto:

> Fifth: I chose the Pompeii mosaic as the cover art before Graham
> revamped the Inform icon. My first cover image was, as Emily may have
> guessed, an ithyphallic Hermes; I toned it down for public release.

If you ever came here (I'm in Ercolano, that is, the ancient
Hercolaneum...) I will be more than happy to show you the "hidden side
of archaeology"; suffice to say that an entire pair of room of the
Naples Museum of Archeology contains... stiffy things from Pompei and
Ercolano ;)

Best regards from Italy,
dott. Piergiorgio.

Adam Thornton

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May 17, 2011, 9:13:43 AM5/17/11
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In article <SiqAp.23091$GZ3....@tornado.fastwebnet.it>,

The mosaic I chose is one of the tamer of those.

I hope to take you up on your offer. I have never seen either the tame
or the lewd collection from the great Vesuvius eruption with my own
eyes.

Adam

dott.Piergiorgio

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May 17, 2011, 9:56:09 AM5/17/11
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Il 17/05/2011 15:13, Adam Thornton ha scritto:

>> If you ever came here (I'm in Ercolano, that is, the ancient
>> Hercolaneum...) I will be more than happy to show you the "hidden side
>> of archaeology"; suffice to say that an entire pair of room of the
>> Naples Museum of Archeology contains... stiffy things from Pompei and
>> Ercolano ;)
>
> The mosaic I chose is one of the tamer of those.
>
> I hope to take you up on your offer. I have never seen either the tame
> or the lewd collection from the great Vesuvius eruption with my own
> eyes.

well, I guess you already known that there's also an more or less intact
broth**, among other things ? ;)

Go figure, I'm an historian, philosopher and (sort of) theologian, and
only recently I figured why the too easy parallel between these two
cities and the biblical sodoma and gomorrah was ignored in the NT,
patristics and apologetics of the I-IV century AD.... (summing up, It's
a matter of foot in mouth, preach fire and brimstone, fire and brimstone
*actually* comes, Caesar became rather PO'd, and everyone quickly became
more prudent and circumspect in their preaching and writings...)

OK I'll stop this OT....

Steven Odhner

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May 17, 2011, 7:36:40 PM5/17/11
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Related somewhat to your third point, I found that if I went back down
to the mountaintop at the end and then came back up, my sunglasses
vanished and the game didn't seem inclined to give me a new pair.
It's possible I missed something but I don't thik I did. In my case I
was able to UNDO far back enough, but since they vanish silently I
might have goofed around or wandered the world long enough that this
left me completely stuck. Just FYI.

Adam Thornton

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May 17, 2011, 9:30:55 PM5/17/11
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In article <8f3f0996-f128-4305...@f31g2000pri.googlegroups.com>,

Steven Odhner <sod...@gmail.com> wrote:
>Related somewhat to your third point, I found that if I went back down
>to the mountaintop at the end and then came back up, my sunglasses
>vanished and the game didn't seem inclined to give me a new pair.

Oh! Thank you! That probably is indeed a bug--I don't think I ever
tested walking back down to anywhere after leaving Olympus. I wonder
why I thought it was a good idea to disappear them in the first place.
I'll have a look.

>It's possible I missed something but I don't thik I did. In my case I
>was able to UNDO far back enough, but since they vanish silently I
>might have goofed around or wandered the world long enough that this
>left me completely stuck. Just FYI.

Much appreciated.

Adam

Adam Thornton

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May 19, 2011, 9:52:19 PM5/19/11
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In article <_7vAp.23369$GZ3....@tornado.fastwebnet.it>,

dott.Piergiorgio <dott.Pierg...@KAIGUN.fastwebnet.it> wrote:
>Il 17/05/2011 15:13, Adam Thornton ha scritto:
>>> If you ever came here (I'm in Ercolano, that is, the ancient
>>> Hercolaneum...) I will be more than happy to show you the "hidden side
>>> of archaeology"; suffice to say that an entire pair of room of the
>>> Naples Museum of Archeology contains... stiffy things from Pompei and
>>> Ercolano ;)
>> The mosaic I chose is one of the tamer of those.
>> I hope to take you up on your offer. I have never seen either the tame
>> or the lewd collection from the great Vesuvius eruption with my own
>> eyes.

>well, I guess you already known that there's also an more or less intact
>broth**, among other things ? ;)

Yes, indeed I do.

>Go figure, I'm an historian, philosopher and (sort of) theologian, and
>only recently I figured why the too easy parallel between these two
>cities and the biblical sodoma and gomorrah was ignored in the NT,
>patristics and apologetics of the I-IV century AD.... (summing up, It's
>a matter of foot in mouth, preach fire and brimstone, fire and brimstone
>*actually* comes, Caesar became rather PO'd, and everyone quickly became
>more prudent and circumspect in their preaching and writings...)

Interesting. I guess 79AD wasn't the best time in the world to be a
Christian in any event, although at least the emperor was no longer
using them for torches at his garden parties.

Adam

dott.Piergiorgio

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May 20, 2011, 4:29:56 AM5/20/11
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Il 20/05/2011 03:52, Adam Thornton ha scritto:

>> Go figure, I'm an historian, philosopher and (sort of) theologian, and
>> only recently I figured why the too easy parallel between these two
>> cities and the biblical sodoma and gomorrah was ignored in the NT,
>> patristics and apologetics of the I-IV century AD.... (summing up, It's
>> a matter of foot in mouth, preach fire and brimstone, fire and brimstone
>> *actually* comes, Caesar became rather PO'd, and everyone quickly became
>> more prudent and circumspect in their preaching and writings...)
>
> Interesting. I guess 79AD wasn't the best time in the world to be a
> Christian in any event, although at least the emperor was no longer
> using them for torches at his garden parties.

Nero's "persecution" was mainly what an host does with two quarrelsome
guests: eject both from his place; (another interesting point of the NT
is that the Acts seems to have lost the last pages) but remain that the
first really violent persecution was that of Domitian note that the
timeframe seems consistent with the process of sorting out events and
things after a major disaster and the first recorded humanitarian rescue
mission: On this, I must point also to the text known as the
Trajan-Pliny the Younger's corrispondence: knowing the rather large body
of magistrates, officers and officials Trajan has, is interesting that
he discussed the christian issues also with the next of kin of the
fallen Admiral whose led that rescue mission...

Adam Thornton

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May 20, 2011, 10:50:27 AM5/20/11
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In article <8EpBp.24637$GZ3....@tornado.fastwebnet.it>,

dott.Piergiorgio <dott.Pierg...@KAIGUN.fastwebnet.it> wrote:
>Nero's "persecution" was mainly what an host does with two quarrelsome
>guests: eject both from his place; (another interesting point of the NT
>is that the Acts seems to have lost the last pages)

Tacitus has Nero using the Christians as torches, in XV.47, as part of
their scapegoating after the Great Fire.

>but remain that the
>first really violent persecution was that of Domitian

...not denying the violence of it, but me, I'd call it the second.

Adam

dott.Piergiorgio

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May 20, 2011, 11:57:34 AM5/20/11
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Il 20/05/2011 16:50, Adam Thornton ha scritto:
> In article<8EpBp.24637$GZ3....@tornado.fastwebnet.it>,
> dott.Piergiorgio<dott.Pierg...@KAIGUN.fastwebnet.it> wrote:
>> Nero's "persecution" was mainly what an host does with two quarrelsome
>> guests: eject both from his place; (another interesting point of the NT
>> is that the Acts seems to have lost the last pages)
>
> Tacitus has Nero using the Christians as torches, in XV.47, as part of
> their scapegoating after the Great Fire.

Actually Tacitus uses Nero as a general scapegoat for many issues....
and later Nero, removed in 66 AD, became a convenient point in time for
the passage from the Apostolic era to the sub-apostolic era (hence the
traditional death date of Peter and Paul, for example)

my take on what can be actually happened is that the quarrels between
Hebrews and (paoline) christians have reached the "racial riot" level,
and banning out of Rome the two groups of quarrelsome inhabitants was
the remaining sane & best course of action for preserving the public order.

This somewhat prior of the final days of Nero's reign, whose
understanding today is at best murky because of the above-cited general
blaming everything on the deceased Emperor.

and yes, you correctly guess that I have an above-average understanding
of this facets of History, because seems that, as usual since the days
of Tarquin the Second, a complex and convolute process of regime change
is in process, and a regime change involving the City on Seven Hills is
definitively not an ordinary regime change, trust me.

Adam Thornton

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May 21, 2011, 11:18:56 AM5/21/11
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In article <PbwBp.24873$GZ3....@tornado.fastwebnet.it>,

dott.Piergiorgio <dott.Pierg...@KAIGUN.fastwebnet.it> wrote:
>and yes, you correctly guess that I have an above-average understanding
>of this facets of History, because seems that, as usual since the days
>of Tarquin the Second, a complex and convolute process of regime change
>is in process, and a regime change involving the City on Seven Hills is
>definitively not an ordinary regime change, trust me.

You guys seem to have plenty of them in the last 65 years, though.
Admittedly your current Caesar has been somewhat less circumspect about
his depravities than many of the recent milquetoast ones.

Adam

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