Some brief commiserations on other people’s unfinished work, released in the Bring Out Your Dead jam.
The Flashpaper War (Andrew Plotkin). Zarf is a skilled writer, and it is pleasant to see what his prose does outside the tight parameters of parser-IF (and, in particular, the kind of parser-IF that Zarf is interested in writing). The premise is one that justifies Zarf talking about narrative design around genre, which I am very happy to read about.
There’s this problem with dimensional-wanderer fiction, which is that if your heroes could go literally anywhere then the plot is in danger of becoming ungrounded – it’s hard to anticipate the stakes involved.
More broadly, the characters discuss narrative strategies at a very high level, but the player‘s text-transforming actions are, thus far, very small-scale, oriented around local physical challenges. And maybe the idea was to build up, to introduce broader choices that tamper more and more with the high-level questions of plot – this is a much more difficult thing to do, but it would have been lovely to see it done.
Peace (Cat Manning). There is very direct influence here from Invisible Cities, and perhaps a little of 80 Days. This is pure Calvino, for instance:
I walked the perimeter seven times and then seven again before departing in Tumulosum—but perhaps that was another traveler, one whom I have heard of in my journeys.
There is a scent of procgen, and the game delivers small variations on each playthrough. The images are evoked well, but without the real-world grounding of 80 Days, the brief glimpses of cities tend to blur into one another, and the briefness makes it hard for the mood to develop its own personality. The difficulty of doing Calvino is that Calvino is so good that it’s hard to know where to go from there.
Datura (Emily Short). I’ve played a number of Emily Short prototypes over the last thirteen years, and you can never be sure what you’re going to get. It might centre on some audaciously brilliant mechanic, or it might just be something straightforward and dear to her heart, like lesbian pirate witches. Datura relies on the hoariest of parser tropes – the objects imbued with flashbacks of Significant Memories. It’s an instance of the most consistently recurring Short trope, the magical woman imprisoned. It has the feel of a backstory on the threshold, a thing too beloved to let go, too developed to fit into a tidy narrative, never quite cohering. I know that feel.
C A U L S (Caleb Wilson). I first played this without the commentary Twine and didn’t get all that far; the commentary was a solid idea. It has a strong scent of Metamorphoses about it. Delicious setting writing is one of the reasons I have liked Caleb’s work so much ever since Hey, Jingo, and this didn’t always feel as though he was in his own wheelhouse, exactly. This is definitely the half-formed ghost of a cool mechanic; but, as the accompanying text suggests, it’s an odd, disorienting choice to have a memory-palace that’s stripped of memory.
Caleb is good at plants and words. To utterly typecast, if I am going to play a Caleb game my first question is ‘does it have plants in it.’ I like the transformations between the two worlds, and I like best the carnations being turned into this outlandishly-described orchid.
Form & Void (Lea Albaugh). I was involved in the death of this, so I feel I should say a few words. This prompted me to dig up the alpha-testing email conversation in a fit of paranoia about whether I had done anything unforgiveable, but mostly I was reminded about how Lea is one of those authors with whom it’s a pleasure to work. Which was nice.
I love the idea of a creation-myth game, with the player developing powers as the world grows. (I’ve tried similar-but-very-different things myself, catastrophically-erring on the side of abundance rather than sparseness, which would have gone in BOYD if the source code wasn’t locked up on a dead laptop somewhere.) The central arc of the game – create a something, then fail to manage it adequately – is solid, and it has a cool ‘aha!’ moment in it of the kind which you only really get in parser.
Things That Happen Behind Closed Airlocks (Kitty Mirror). The passing of loved projects is always painful, but the loss of a pornographic satire is especially difficult. We’ll remember Airlocks for its wry-weary shrug at the fourth wall, its jaded eye cast over painfully undistinguished fuckboys, the gentle understatement of its murderfucks. (And let us not forget, also, the silent siblings it lies amongst, welcoming it to its rest.) But most of all, we’ll remember its diligent compilation of quotations from atrociously ill-wrought smut.