Introcomp: Lair of the Gorgonath, Voltage Cafe

IntroComp is a long-running interactive fiction mini-competition with a straightforward premise: create the opening of an IF game, and then people vote based on how much they want to see the game finished. (Full disclosure: I’m married to the IntroComp organiser.)

Lair of the Gorgonanth, Part 1:
“Bring Me the Beard of Nimrod Supertramp” 
(Andrew Watt): Part of the Zombie Wizard of the Apocalypse series, which (for reasons previously stated) I haven’t looked at before. There’s abundant reference to what are probably characters and events from other games in the series, but because most of the piece is expostulation, this doesn’t seem to matter too much.

It’s kind of Zelaznyish fantasy as delivered by Robert Rankin: which is to say, it’s zany SF/F comedy. While this isn’t bad for what it is, zany comedy leaves me cold unless it’s really brilliant stuff, and this falls a way short. If you’re in the market for something light, silly and brief, it may fit the bill.

The PC is a bounty hunter, convened with a bunch of other bounty hunters to discuss the pursuit of the titular zombie wizard, Nimrod Supertramp; in between expostulation, you daydream about the lavish home you’ll buy with the bounty money. At the end, you’re double-crossed and get your arse kicked. The game wears its lack of significant agency on its sleeve: most of your choices are about moving things along in an ongoing conversation, or picking details of your daydreams. I am not dogmatically opposed to low-agency games, but if that’s how you’re going to play it, your writing had better kill.

As an intro, it does a pretty good job of laying out what kind of thing to expect in future; I’m not sure where the plot is going, but I don’t really know that this matters all that much aside from the knowledge that it will be goofy. I got the vague impression that this was not so much an intro as an installment in an ongoing series, but no matter.

Voltage Cafe (anjchang): The player character is a postgrad who has gone to a cafe to work on their thesis.

Some context: in its infancy parser IF was largely a diversion of grad students, and games about the frustrations of academic life – of widely varying quality – have formed a regular part of the medium ever since. So, while there’s always room for new things to be said in well-trodden spaces, a game built around the premise of “grad students sure find it tough to focus on their dissertation, right?” has to do something pretty special to be interesting.

This is not so much an intro as an early beta version, or perhaps a coding exercise. There are lots of small errors in presentation, from missing punctuation to stilted-feeling delivery (“On the menu are toast, churro, donut, coffee, tea and juice”). Many of the core verbs give no output when they’re used under the wrong circumstances, and sometimes they’re interpreted as unintuitive actions.

Still, that’s all stuff that could readily be addressed with beta-testing. More concerning is that I don’t really have a good idea of where this is going, either as a game or a story. There’s not a whole lot of challenge or variation to play – you just buy food and drink when the game signals that you need them, and work otherwise. After a while your progress seems to stall – not reaching an ending, just hitting an infinite loop of eating and drinking and ‘your writing is going great.’ Perhaps if I stick with it long enough the cafe will close down and Maru (who is, alas, not the famous Japanese cat) will kick me out. But it didn’t feel like it.

And there isn’t much sign of what form narrative development might take: a story that’s ‘X plans to do Y. No significant obstacles arise and Y is accomplished’ is not much of a story. The player character, and the content of their thesis, are largely undefined (though at one point they mention Oulipo so I assume that they probably aren’t, e.g., an embryologist).

So this feels more like the groundwork for a piece of IF, a foundation upon which to make story and mechanical elaborations. That’s a reasonable thing to make, but it doesn’t really work as an intro.

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3 Responses to Introcomp: Lair of the Gorgonath, Voltage Cafe

  1. Oh, huh, I hadn’t realized that IntroComp Jacqueline was the same person as Disappointedly-Necrodancing-Without-Sam Jacqueline.

    So the question is, are people more jaded about graduate-thesis simulator IF or apartment simulator IF — and now I am thinking of impish ideas for “graduate-thesis simulator IF”, possibly involving fieldwork. With great truth is it said that coming up with ideas is a useless solo.

    • Apartments, probably, but they both fall into a similar category. And it’s always possible to transcend – see Violet.

      If you want to hit all the buttons, though, you should make sure to include a quest for coffee in a depressing office, and a wandering-NPC cat.

      • Victor Gijsbers says:

        And please make sure that the game says: “You really need some coffee…” every single turn.

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