[CompMM] Adam's A-list

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Adam Cadre

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Nov 15, 2000, 3:00:00 AM11/15/00
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-----
MY ANGEL
One drawback of the lush prose style employed in this game is that
sometimes it took me a while to grasp what on the most basic level was
going on. I had a couple of false starts in which I didn't understand
what manner of creature Angela was, what her relationship to the
narrator was, nor what the "we converse but we don't speak" bit meant.
Only on my third attempt did I finally sort it all out: Angela was
flesh and blood; she and the narrator were lovers; and the reason they
could converse without speaking is that they were *telepaths*. I fell
in love with the game about a fifth of a second after that.
Telepathy just does it for me, I guess. A WIND IN THE DOOR was my
favorite book for quite a while when I was a kid, and all because of
the kything. To kythe, to be one with someone to such an extent that
your thoughts are their thoughts, their feelings are your feelings,
with distance not a factor, with language not an intermediary -- it
struck me as the most romantic, and intimate, and *erotic* idea
imaginable. Of course, it has to be done right. Telepathy of the sort
where characters are just speaking words into each others' heads doesn't
really interest me. I don't want the kind of telepathy that's hardly
an improvement over a decent set of walkie-talkies. I want the kind
of telepathy that is LOVE.
That's what I got. Bing. Ten.
The telepathy is, as it should be, the soul of the game, much as
cookie dough is the soul of cookie dough ice cream. The plot -- the
running, the flashbacks -- is like the ice cream: it provides a medium
for the tasty chunks, assures that they're parceled out at reasonable
intervals, is even fairly flavorful in its own right. But the whole
point of the exercise is the cookie dough chunks, or in this case, the
images Angela sends the protagonist's way. It's not even that the
images are so gorgeously described, though the descriptions are fine...
I just became utterly enthralled by the way Angela rendered things.
The game had me thoroughly hooked. What's going to happen next and
how's Angela going to render it? What's going to happen next and how's
Angela going to render it? What's going to happen next and how... well,
you get the idea.
I loved Angela. I loved her as a player admiring a great NPC -- I
imagine it must have been as fun to come up with her telepathic
renderings as it was for me to write up Princess Charlotte's reactions
to stuff -- but I also loved her through the player-character. How
could I not? She was my/his counterpart, our *soulmate* -- sharing a
superpower is a pretty convincing bond (as I have recently been
reminded, he said cryptically.) And then there was the intimacy of
our hearts and minds being open books to one another: it's one thing to
have that described, or used as a metaphor, but the literal experience
of it is pretty darn powerful. If anything, this aspect of the game
was too successful: when I got to the city and Angela didn't want to go
inside, I tried everything I could to get the PC to do as she wanted
and head into the valley. Why would I go into the city if Angela didn't
want to go? Curiosity? You're saying mere curiosity is going to get
me to leave my LOVE behind? Are you MAD?
This brings up a point that I at least find fairly interesting: this
is, I think, the first game where I've preferred one of the early-death
endings to the so-called optimum one. The "real" ending was pretty
good, but I didn't entirely care for it -- for one thing, it revealed
that I'd been right the first time, when I'd mistakenly (or so I
thought) assumed from the title that Angela was some sort of ethereal
presence that only the narrator was aware of and whom he might have
been inventing. But the narrator's death in the river, where the last
thing he hears is Angela screaming, "her throat quavering at first from
underuse" -- that is a *perfect* ending. The lovers' silence is both
the whole premise of the game and also a sort of revolver hung over the
mantle; the end of the silence makes, I think, for a more appropriate
ending than the revelation of the real reason for it.
Let's see, what else... ah, yes. Hooray for a game which provides
notes and deals with configuration issues *before* thrusting you into
the narrative -- I may be in the minority on this one, but I really
dislike it when games start with several paragraphs of story and then
just when your brain has settled nicely into the world of the game,
yank you out and say, "Oh, by the way, you need to type ABOUT and read
a bunch of notes if you expect to get anywhere." Would you put the
foreword to a book between chapters 1 and 2? If you want me to read
docs, put them in a separate file so that I can read them before loading
up the game, or add them as an item in a pre-game menu, as has been done
here. That way when I select "Start Game" I can play it with no
annoying interruptions.
Finally, we have Novel Mode. Brilliant innovation. Not appropriate
for most games, since most IF is written in a call-and-response form
rather than simply generating the text of a story, but for those that
do the latter, this innovation is more than just a gimmick. I was
especially pleased with the way it made a clear distinction between
parsing problems and gameplay concerns (which can also be accomplished
by bracketing the former, for those who prefer traditional prompt
placement.) The only thing I'd change is that I'd put the input window
at the bottom. Can't be done? It can in Glulx... and it occurs to me
that, as of this writing, Glulx lacks a so-called "killer app" (though
SEPPO'S DINER is pretty close. Yes, this is a joke.) You could hardly
ask for a more killer app than MY ANGEL.

Score: TEN. Not a perfect game, but I loved it.

-----
THE DJINNI CHRONICLES
I keep wanting to call this a small game. It's certainly one of
the smaller games in the comp byte-wise, makes use of maps that are
wonderfully free from sprawl, is written in a pleasingly spare style...
you might say that the game has undercurrents of smallness. But one
aspect of the game is far from small: there is a *ton* of imagination
crammed into this thing. It's a gem.
I dig games with their own physics, or metaphysics, so long as I
know what the ground rules are; THE DJINNI CHRONICLES sets forth a
metaphysics that has a heck of a lot to it -- the three types of
Servants, Purpose and the laws governing its expenditure and
containment, the manipulation of undercurrents, San and Ebo and Aje,
the list goes on -- but yet it was presented in such a way that it
flowed effortlessly into my store of knowledge, never confusing, never
awkward or forced, and always fascinating.
The story is terrific, and I loved going about my djinnistical
duties... combine what is for me a really appealing premise with
first-rate execution and you've got yourself a great game. It's not
quite a ten -- the verse in the last section was something less than
poetry, and the ending fell a bit flat -- but all in all, I had a blast.

Score: NINE.

-----
RAMESES
Want some Catcher in the Rye? Course ya do.
So, here we have a short story with some minimal amount of
interactivity. As a story, it's a huge success. The plot is just
perfect, with its neat little bookends, and the characterization is
top-notch -- though of course it's easier to do top-notch
characterization when the author controls every action the character
in question takes. RAMESES is also a triumph of voice, with narration
that rarely rings even the slightest bit false; I'm not the sort of
person to forget that I'm reading a book or playing a computer game,
but I did manage to keep forgetting that the protagonist of the game
I was playing was a construction of an author who might well be very
different, and not a real person writing an Inform game as a cri de
coeur. (Hmm... I wonder how much of a role the Irish phrasings played
in selling the voice for me. Would the same story cast in the vocal
mannerisms of a kid from LA have been as successful, or would it have
struck me as banal?) The story also succeeds in evoking real emotion:
when Wayne started destroying Paddy's portfolio, I was ready to hop on
a plane to Dublin, track him down and punch his teeth in. As fiction
goes, RAMESES is first-rate.
Whether it's first-rate as *interactive* fiction is a different
story. When you can finish a game and get most of the experience by
typing >Z repeatedly, you have to wonder whether the author really
picked the right medium. However, in the final analysis I think the
interactivity is sufficient to qualify RAMESES as genuine IF. Here's
why:
* If this had been static fiction, the author would have had to
choose where the info-dumps about the various characters should go.
In IF, players can choose for themselves what they'd like some extra
information about, and when. This is a more important consideration
than one might think. Think about it in terms of film. Films are
considered, at least under the auteur theory, to be the works of not
the screenwriters, but the directors. And the director decides not
what is going on in the story -- that's the screenwriter's job -- but
how the audience is to *look* at the story, what the camera is to point
at from moment to moment. In this sense, while the *writer* of RAMESES
may be an author who's confined the story to a very tight set of rails,
the *director* is the player. And from this perspective, I'd say the
power balance in the collaboration between author and player is not as
one-sided as it may at first seem.
* Another way of looking at the role of the player is this. I've
had people I know with social anxiety (ie, shyness) tell me that
oftentimes it feels as if their true selves are saying, "Hey, go talk
to that person over there!" or "Here's a funny response to what that
guy just said -- c'mon, say it!" but that some foreign agent vetoes
the idea. In this sense, one might say that the player, who suggests
dialogue to say or actions to take, and Alex, who rejects all these
suggestions, together comprise a single character with this disorder.
This is an interesting enough gambit that I'm willing to put up with
it, at least this time out. I don't know whether I'd be quite so
tolerant of such unresponsive player-characters in the future, though.
One final note: some have drawn a parallel between this game and
last year's A MOMENT OF HOPE, which I pretty much despised. I can
see how one might make the comparison: both stories are on rails and
involve fairly pathetic, emotionally stunted characters. The difference
is that RAMESES is a masterful dissection of such a character,
highlighting the feebleness of his rationales for his inaction; A MOMENT
OF HOPE, on the other hand, was a creepy play for sympathy.
Plus, RAMESES contains no renaissance flutes. It's win-win.

Score: EIGHT. I didn't love it the way I loved MY ANGEL, and I didn't
enjoy it the way I enjoyed THE DJINNI CHRONICLES, so I couldn't bring
myself to give it a 9 or 10. But 3rd out of 53 ain't bad.

-----
SHADE
I'm tempted to try to place this game in the context of the author's
other work, but since these reviews may arrive before the revelation of
the author's identity, I'll shelve those remarks. (But c'mon, isn't it
obvious? The radio algorithm alone... well, there'll be time enough for
that later.)
So, anyway -- a fun story, with images that stuck with me long after
my frustration with touchy event triggers had faded.

Score: a high SEVEN.

-----
DINNER WITH ANDRE
Sort of the mirror image of SHADE -- whereas SHADE struck me as a
trifle while I was playing it but stuck with me long thereafter, DINNER
WITH ANDRE was sort of like a fluffy pastry: marvelous while I was
actually playing it, but evanescent. This isn't meant as a put-down --
I *like* fluffy pastry. The game was funny, with snarky responses to
just about everything, and while the waiter puzzles were a bit overly
fussy about the timing, I didn't really mind it too much.
I also have a note here saying "toilet disambiguation problems."
While referring to a small bug I found in the game, I believe this is
also the politically correct term for "not potty-trained."

Score: SEVEN.

-----
KAGED
Hey, check it out -- I finally found an Ian Finley game I like.
Though there are still slips here and there into the sort of devices
that make 9th-grade English teachers swoon -- "silent as a seagull"? --
they were infrequent enough that I didn't mind them, and for the most
part the writing is fine. And the setting is great -- maybe a bit
derivative of 1984 and the like, but hey, I like 1984, and the little
details like the pedestrians' dust masks sold it. (The Governmental
Enthusiasm Test, on the other hand... I mean, I had to *take* a
corporate enthusiasm test when I applied for a summer job in '96 (and
flunked it.) One of the nice things about the public sector is that
for government wages, they don't expect you to be happy.)
Other stuff: didn't care for the "you're on Candid Camera"-type
ending, but the puzzles were mostly fine. And I didn't really get a
whole lot out of the multimedia stuff, but it didn't detract. Overall,
a solid game. Kongrats. Now all we need is to get Buckner & Garcia
back together to record "Ackmaan Fever"...

Score: SEVEN.

-----
AD VERBUM
I actually did this a couple times. "Constrained passageway"-style
alliteration exercises, I mean. I wrote a letter to Marvel Age Magazine
in which every word started with the letter M... it got printed in issue
#77, if I recall correctly. Then the editor-in-chief of my school paper
bet me lunch that I couldn't pull off a 48-line feature in which every
word started with M; "Miscellany: My Miserable Memoirs" appeared in the
April 1989 issue, but I never did receive that lunch.
This game doesn't seem to be much more than a puzzle box, but since
the puzzles were to my taste, that didn't bother me. In fact, I sort
of liked the fact that I could boot up the game, play through a couple
of rooms, and turn it off again at my leisure without having to worry
about "finding my place" or anything like that. Fun stuff.

Score: solid submission, so slightly sub-SEVEN.

-----
BEING ANDREW PLOTKIN
Derivative? Yes -- it doesn't just borrow the premise of BEING JOHN
MALKOVICH, but many of the peripheral elements as well. On rails? You
bet, at least until the climax. But it's pretty amusing, and while
"pretty amusing" isn't quite enough to make it to the A list, this one
exchange was:

| You say, "Details not important. I have a mission to destroy evil
| scum."
| inky says, "probably some sort of foaming cleanser is in order"

I laughed loudly enough to frighten people in Canada.
Also, this is yet another game (SHADE being the first) that tries to
sucker people into thinking it was written by me. Which is cool,
because it means that if I ever do enter the comp again, I can make my
identity clear as day and no one will believe it.

Score: a low SEVEN.

-----
Adam Cadre, Sammamish, WA
web site: http://adamcadre.ac
novel: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0060195584/adamcadreac

Adam Cadre

unread,
Nov 15, 2000, 3:00:00 AM11/15/00
to
I wrote:
> SHADE
> I'm tempted to try to place this game in the context of the
> author's other work, but since these reviews may arrive before the
> revelation of the author's identity, I'll shelve those remarks.

And a couple minutes after I posted this, Zarf revealed himself. So,
a little bit of elaboration...

> (But c'mon, isn't it obvious? The radio algorithm alone... well,
> there'll be time enough for that later.)

The connection I was making here was between the radio algorithm in
SHADE and the curse-generator in the opening scene of SO FAR. Maybe
it's a fairly common trick, but that was the association I made.

> So, anyway -- a fun story, with images that stuck with me long after
> my frustration with touchy event triggers had faded.

To elaborate just a bit: the bulk of the game, inside the apartment,
I found interesting but not really enthralling. However, the (hmm, I'll
try to avoid spoilers here) other place I found myself visualizing in
vivid detail, which I usually don't do. And the final line of dialogue
was... what's the word? Chilling? Not exactly. Powerful? Closer, but
still not quite it. Wait, I've got it: "perfect."

Andrew Plotkin

unread,
Nov 16, 2000, 12:34:11 AM11/16/00
to
Adam Cadre <a...@adamcadre.ac> wrote:

> RAMESES
> Want some Catcher in the Rye? Course ya do.

<thwack>

> * If this had been static fiction, the author would have had to
> choose where the info-dumps about the various characters should go.
> In IF, players can choose for themselves what they'd like some extra
> information about, and when. This is a more important consideration
> than one might think. Think about it in terms of film. Films are
> considered, at least under the auteur theory, to be the works of not
> the screenwriters, but the directors. And the director decides not
> what is going on in the story -- that's the screenwriter's job -- but
> how the audience is to *look* at the story, what the camera is to point
> at from moment to moment. In this sense, while the *writer* of RAMESES
> may be an author who's confined the story to a very tight set of rails,
> the *director* is the player. And from this perspective, I'd say the
> power balance in the collaboration between author and player is not as
> one-sided as it may at first seem.

I like this analysis a lot. It puts into words what I was fuzzily
trying to think about.

> * Another way of looking at the role of the player is this. I've
> had people I know with social anxiety (ie, shyness) tell me that
> oftentimes it feels as if their true selves are saying, "Hey, go talk
> to that person over there!" or "Here's a funny response to what that
> guy just said -- c'mon, say it!" but that some foreign agent vetoes
> the idea. In this sense, one might say that the player, who suggests
> dialogue to say or actions to take, and Alex, who rejects all these
> suggestions, together comprise a single character with this
> disorder.

This puts into words what I put into words, and then deleted from my
review because I didn't want to get that far into spoilerdom. :-)

> This is an interesting enough gambit that I'm willing to put up with
> it, at least this time out. I don't know whether I'd be quite so
> tolerant of such unresponsive player-characters in the future, though.

Yeah. I'm glad that it was done right the first time.

--Z

"And Aholibamah bare Jeush, and Jaalam, and Korah: these were the
borogoves..."

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