Adam's reviews (6/6): the F list

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Adam Cadre

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Nov 15, 1999, 3:00:00 AM11/15/99
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LIFE ON BEAL STREET

Like EXHIBITION -- and here I thought I'd spotted a trend, till I
discovered they were by the same person -- here's a game with virtually
nothing in the way of interactivity or plot. Instead, all we get is
prose, thick wodges of it, prose that screams, "Look at me! Touch me!
Love me!"

Well, I looked at it and touched it but didn't love it. Or like it.
Actually, the more I looked at it, the less tolerable it became, each
phrase one more metal shaving lodged in my fingertip. Here are some
moments chosen more or less at random:

* "a single beam of fading sunlight or the calibrated timing of a
child's laugh" No matter how many adjectives you add, sunbeams and
laughs from the kiddies are cliches. They may get your heart all
toasty when you see or hear them in real life -- that's how they
became cliches in the first place, after all -- but they're still
cliches.

* "It is therefore completely plausible, you tell yourself repeatedly,
that this is just another evening jaunt, that there's no special
reason why you turned down this tiny lane rather than the next one."
Many a time have I heard someone in a movie or read someone in a
comic book cry "Get out of my head!" to someone overdoing it with the
telepathy; playing this game was probably the first time I've heard
someone plead, "Let me out of your head!", and that person was me.
Language is like music in that somehow, for reasons beyond conscious
thought and beyond articulation, a certain rhythm can get you grinning
so hard you sprain your face (CHICKS DIG JERKS) and another rhythm
will get you reaching for a tire iron to beat yourself unconscious
(LIFE ON BEAL STREET). This, and the interminable comma-clogged
sentence about academic pleasure, reminded me more than anything else
of the stories NEW YEAR'S EVE and HELIOPOLIS, which I MSTed a long
while back -- not because they were bad in any kind of obvious way,
but because their cumulative effect was to make me wish I'd never
learned to read.

* "the last beams of the golden sun and first glow of the silvery moon
transform the dowdy bush into something royal" This is the sort of
thing that sends high school English teachers' hearts aflutter, and
sure, BEAL STREET does have some nice moments -- "dowdy" is a
wonderfully evocative word, for instance -- but it exhibits some
troubling tendencies. Primary among these would be an overdose of
unnecessary adjectives: are there a non-golden sun and a non-silvery
moon necessitating the disambiguation? It's not that adjectives are
bad; it's the way they're neatly bundled up in styrofoam packets,
like "garish neon" and "legendary Narcissus" and "wooden wood". I'm
tempted to point the author to CHICKS DIG JERKS for pointers on how
to break out of this rut with wild flights of fancy, using the smell
of honey not as an occasion to reach for the thesaurus but rather to
blast off on a tangent involving honeycomb bathtubs, naughty plastic
bears and swarms of yellowjackets, but that exact style might well
not suit this material; still, this author seems to have opted for a
brand of would-be lyricism guaranteed often to annoy and never to
excite.

* "Just as you shared Shawn's beauty and wit, perhaps too, you realize
sadly, you also shared that cold, aloof diffidence that made your
then-lover always appear to be a painting or a sculpture rather than
a living human being." Sorry to keep inflicting these sentences on
you, but I have a different point to make about this one in addition
to its irritating rhythm and lifeless imagery. To wit: it's a
summary. It's an interpretation of behavior we haven't had the
opportunity to observe. This isn't life on Beal Street -- it's the
Cliffs Notes to life on Beal Street. I want this relationship *shown*
to me, not told. And then I'll come up with my own damn metaphors.

I see I've brought up one of the NPCs' names, so it's time for another
rant: why are the genders left ambiguous when nothing else is? Is it
to foster a sense of identification -- to keep from alienating me as a
player by not saddling my character with a sex or a sexual orientation
not my own? If so, how do you expect to go ahead and saddle me with a
*life* not my own? This is not my street, these are not my thoughts,
this is not my beautiful house, and this is most certainly not my
beautiful wife. Is there some point about the arbitrariness of signs
or some such grad school fodder being made by the oh-so-precious way
the program dances around pronouns? Urgh.

At one point I considered giving this game a three or even a four,
based purely on the fact that it's literate and bereft of annoying
puzzles. But the primary criterion I'm using is how fun the game was
to play, and it says something when the game offers 'NO' as one of its
three commands and I find myself responding to the prompt with "NO NO
NO NO NO NO NO NO NO" in the vain hope the screen will go blank.

Score: a high ONE.

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A MOMENT OF HOPE

Here's Mike D'Angelo on the film AMERICAN MOVIE: "There's but one
element missing from AMERICAN MOVIE [...]: the closing credits, sadly,
do not include a cast list. [...] the film is so consistently hilarious,
so beautifully structured, that it could easily be mistaken for the
latest knowing mock-doc [...]; as it happens, everything we see is real,
a fact that both heightens the comedy and -- for me, at least --
produces a feeling of mild nausea."

I had expected that many people would find playing Primo Varicella to
be a rather distasteful task. But Primo pales on that count compared
to the PC in this game, a character who seems to have stepped out of a
Todd Solondz film; the writing is really quite powerful in its ability
to make the player cry, "Oh, thank god I'm not *this* guy!" Playing
this game made me feel so very, very unclean. So do I give it low
marks for representing a most unpleasant hour of my life? Or high
marks for, like CATTUS ATROX, having succeeded in producing a visceral
experience?

Cleanth Brooks would kill me, but, like Mike D'Angelo, I find myself
toppling headlong into the intentional fallacy on this one: I'm going
outside the text for my decision, which in some circles would be a
serious no-no. But I can't help it. If this were fiction, I'd
probably assume it to be a pitch-black satire and put it in my top five,
but knowing that it's an autobiography, I just feel soiled. There is a
certain alchemical quality to the process of transmuting experience
into art -- a JD Salinger or a Sylvia Plath can somehow spin angst into
gold. But this game left me feeling like I'd contracted a nasty case
of lead poisoning.

Score: a high ONE.

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PASS THE BANANA

This is a decoy game, right? What a waste of time.

There was a brief thread on rec.arts.int-fiction a while back about
in-jokes in IF. My contribution to the thread was to suggest that
three different phenomena were being lumped together under the heading
of "in-joke": one was nothing more than the signature postmodern move
of acknowledging that a text is a text (reminding the player that she's
playing a game); another was slipping in references that are funny if
you get them, and invisible if you don't (like naming the villain after
your algebra teacher or something.) The third I described thusly:
"strings of words that are funny if you recognize the reference, and
essentially meaningless if you don't [...] At worst, this sort of thing
can devolve into the sort of thing one finds in the year-end senior
magazine: 'To A.G., H.F., K.B. and T.W.: hugz! And never forget:
HEADBANDS!!! Ha ha ha'. Most people, I suspect, put this sort of thing
down before too long, frustrated at its utter lack of value to anyone
not in the clique [...]"

I actually *am* in the clique -- at least, I recognized the references
-- and I was nevertheless frustrated by this game's utter lack of value
to anyone who (a) is unfamiliar with ifMUD in-jokes or (b) is tired of
ifMUD in-jokes -- and who does that leave? I wish the in-joke thread
had occurred a couple months later so I could have been more succinct
and said, "At worst, this sort of thing can devolve into games like
PASS THE BANANA."

Score: ONE.

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L.U.D.I.T.E.

As Lisa Simpson said as she looked at the marquee for a Yahoo Serious
Festival: "I know all these words, but this makes no sense!" C'mon,
Rybread, you're not even trying anymore. You're just stringing random
words together. If you want a jar of Ass Kickin' Peanuts that badly,
go out and buy one.

Score: ONE.

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REMEMBRANCE

There are two lessons here.

(1) Do not use Javascript for IF.
(2) Do not use Javascript for anything.

I use Netscape 3.01. This game claims that it will run under Netscape
3.01. It doesn't. If it hadn't made that claim, I might have elected
to just not rate it at all. But instead I suffered through an hour of
plowing through Javascript bugs. So the score must suffer in turn.

Score: a low ONE.

-----
Adam Cadre, Sammamish, WA
http://adamcadre.ac

Mike Snyder

unread,
Nov 16, 1999, 3:00:00 AM11/16/99
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>L.U.D.I.T.E.
>
>As Lisa Simpson said as she looked at the marquee for a Yahoo Serious
>Festival: "I know all these words, but this makes no sense!" C'mon,
>Rybread, you're not even trying anymore. You're just stringing random
>words together. If you want a jar of Ass Kickin' Peanuts that badly,
>go out and buy one.

I felt like it was churned through a thesaurus without really understanding
in what context the words are *supposed* to be used. That's all I have to
say on it. :)

Mike.

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