It’s much more ancient than IFDB2, and I am in a much more conflicted state about whether to publish it, because it is such egregious garbage in such a wide variety of ways that I have long been intensely grateful for the hard-drive crash that scrambled my source code and saved me the retrospective embarrassment of inflicting it on the world. I was a not-very-mature seventeen when I started writing it, and effectively abandoned it at some point early in my first year of university, after a merciful hard-drive crash wiped the most recent version of my source. (What there was of it had already been through a few rounds of testing. I still feel kind of guilty about wasting their time.)
So, OK, it’s juvenilia, which means that it’s excusable but I am nonetheless pretty embarrassed by it. Let’s briefly survey its sins.
It’s angsty; I was sliding into a prolonged stage of major depression as I wrote it. It’s pretentious; I was desperately in need of a creative community, and I really really wanted the IF world to see me as a Serious Writer. And it aims at a sort of gritty muscular swagger which, y’know, kiiind of suggests that maybe I wasn’t feeling as though I was taken seriously As A Man.
The general tone can be summarised as an attempt to conjoin the moods and aesthetics of The Matrix with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, only as a vampire epic spanning centuries. So, y’know, ideal material for a text adventure. (I planned it to be my second release, and considered myself awfully mature and pragmatic for not going straight to the Epic Piece.) I don’t think I had seen Blade yet when I started, but when I did I was very annoyed that they had pre-emptively plagiarised my vampire-with-a-black-leather-trenchcoat-and-katana thing.
The prose is crap. That I can deal with; vanishingly few people can write worth shit at seventeen. The utterly crap dialogue is a little harder for me to stand. The fractured structure isn’t great design, but it’s largely down to being excessively influenced by Worlds Apart and Photopia, and to the naive idea that obscurantism looks profound. The atrocious puzzle design is understandable – at the time I wasn’t very good at puzzles and assumed that everyone in IF was way better at puzzles than me, so I figured that it was fine if stuff was difficult – but it does kind of stop me from getting very far my own game even when I look at the source code. I’m not sure if the stoned dream-sequence has a killer bug, or what. There are probably some testing verbs which would get you past it. (Technically the game should be largely complete well into Act 3.)
It uses some fucking awful tropes. I distinctly remember looking at my story, thinking ‘none of the people I care about die, but this is meant to be a world of brutality and death. Who can I kill off? Oh, wow, I could have the girlfriend get murdered. Whoa. That’s uncompromising.*‘ The protagonist vampire is a white dude who somehow rises to become the most important and powerful figure in a predominantly Sino-Japanese vampire-nobility underground, but he is also a brooding loner, but he also is surrounded by cool, diverse, highly competent allies with whom he is super buds. Many of them are from non-Anglo cultures, and, uh, my level of understanding of those can be signified by my habit of basically just making up names that I thought sounded about right. Go on, GUESS THE NATIONAL ORIGINS:
- Filivek Angharis
- Ayesha Chiariesku
- Danio Lapacha
- Tyan Skaschii
- Aluka Kiitake
Obviously as a seventeen-year-old you do shit that you’re terrible at and write about stuff you don’t understand. I mean, writers always write about stuff that they don’t fully understand, but at seventeen you’re enthusiastically interested in a ton of stuff, understand almost none of it, and are very very bad at not exposing the fact. The second scene of the game is set in an edgy underground nightclub, which, having grown up in a sleepy rural English town, I mostly pieced together from movie depictions of edgy underground nightclubs. Then there’s a scene which is sort of about crime scene investigation, which I didn’t know anything about either; thus also for the I Ching. There are bits in there that I (and probably nobody else) can recognise as halting early attempts to render female characters in a non-sexist way, but it ends up being super male-gazey and awful.
I wasn’t really familiar with most of the the genre touchstones I was aiming for, either; I had read basically no vampire fiction, barely any cyberpunk (Shadowrun and Cryptonomicon were basically it), precisely three wuxia movies. Even the fucking title is clueless: I came up with the title first because it seemed badass as hell, while not really knowing what an adagio was.(I retroactively stuck in something to justify the title after I looked it up.) A lot of what I got came from tabletop RPGs. Von Richten’s Guide to Vampires was a pretty big influence. Also, I’m pretty sure that I originally invented Aluka as a way of getting around the limits of Shadowrun‘s magical martial-arts – like, the number of powers was limited by your Essence, but vampires were one of the very few beings that could have higher than normal Essence, so I made this martial-arts vampire NPC and got sliiightly overinvested in him.
OK. I haven’t fully tapped into the vast reservoirs of things that are shit about this. There are shit things that I’m not going to talk about because they are too cringe-inducing. There are shit things about this that I don’t even remember are in there. There are shit things you will, if you are very lucky, discover for yourselves.
And yet. Since then I’ve found myself doing a ton of things with the, uh, extended universe of Adagio. Technically Invisible Parties is out somewhere in the penumbra of that world. I still kind of want to do a game about Akiel Stone, Pythian freelancer, and one about what happens when the wainscot-society-elite genuinely can’t sustain its secrets, and so on. Point is: green things can grow from shit.
* I think that ‘I want all my favourite characters to be safe and happy and virtuous all the time!’ is almost as bad as ‘I want to torment my favourite characters just to show how raw and edgy I am!’ Still.