Jan 202013

Rise of the Videogame Zinesters coverThe first book I read this year was Anna Anthropy’s Rise of Videogame Zinesters.

It’s a short book on a very good topic: democratization of videogame creation.

In the age of expensive, publisher-driven, minimum-risk AAA games, there’s clearly a niche for interesting, topical alternatives written by a minimal team.

And that’s exactly what this book promotes: an era when videogames have been taken back from the few big publishers, when the barrier of entry has been lowered and the barrier of discovery kept really low symmetrically.

However, behind the admirable aims, the execution leaves quite a bit to be desired. Currently the outlook of gaming is far from the bleak present laid out in the initial chapter – the indie games movement has significantly expanded frontiers, and the era of the appstores has eliminated the need to court publishers for an audience. Even the basic premise “games are for white males interested in shooting each other in the face” is increasingly less valid even in the mainstream – apart from the annual Call of Duty-dose (and its colleagues), it’s quite a varied world out there (especially outside the consoles where both development and distribution costs are orders of magnitude lower).

The answer to the dearth of interesting games is for the gamers to create new ones and distribute them.

Certainly a noble target, and the author both describes quite a few tools to get started with as well as laying out her own experiences.

The former is an eclectic selection – it covers the obvious (Scratch and a few commercial toolkits), not-so-obvious (Inform and Twine) and downright awkward (ZZT, which doesn’t even run in modern machines without emulation). The role of programming (and even understanding the basics of the art) is not really described that well (and a golden opportunity for tools like Processing is missed altogether).

As is the latter – the author’s quite keen on highlighting the queer (her word, not mine) agenda of her games thus far. But in quite shallow fashion, she doesn’t describe how she crafted the games, but lays out her biography via them.

The book is short and quickly read.

It provokes the reader in many ways.

And while hardly a real manifesto for changing the industry, it’s definitely a worthy read.

Sep 252012

Cabinet Noir logoCabinet Noir is a text-format game from Failbetter Games, who debuted with Fallen London (née Echo Bazaar) a couple of years back.

The new game is far shorter than its predecessor, and quite a bit less grindy. And as an interactive short story from a single author, absolutely more cohesive.

The subject matter is intriguing: cryptography and secrets in the service of Cardinal Richelieu, in the tumultous 18th century Paris. But sadly the game mechanics are quite intrusive, and the repetition in tasks is unavoidable.

The nature of the game is not interactive fiction in its common sense. This is a “create your own adventure”- game on steroids, not a parser-based conventional piece of IF.

Cabinet Noir is the first product of StoryNexus, a new toolkit for building such games. And while I’m not that fond of this piece of french adventuring, the arrival of a commercial development tool is definitely an interesting prospect for both authors and players.

(Right, I was sure I had blogged about Echo Bazaar, but that seems not to be the case.)

Nov 162011

The results for the competition are available.

Managed to play two games: one of which I liked (The Play, 3rd – implemented with Undum which merits further investigation) and one I didn’t (Andromeda Awakening, 17th – the first game I tried, rubbed me the wrong way from the very beginning).

Sep 292011

A thread in intfiction.org attempts to establish a baseline of the finest pieces of interactive fiction available.

My ten favorites, in probable publishing order:

Zork II: The first Infocom game I ever played (back in 1984), well ahead of the first part of the trilogy. Took a couple of years to finish. Despite its shortcomings (never understood the bank puzzle), this treasure hunt with a persistent enemy is still an entertaining game.

Planetfall: The first Infocom game with a plot. With the bonus of Floyd the droid, the first properly realized interactive NPC (who even responds to meta-commands).

Wishbringer: A beautifully written beginners game that had me stumped for a long while. Platypuses, transformed town, multiple solutions to problems. What’s there not to like.

Guild of Thieves: While The Pawn was more of a technology demo to show Infocom that Magnetic Scrolls were a real competitor, their second game was a much better product. A relentless treasure hunt through a quasi-medieval milieu was perhaps cliched, but an impressively put together collection of puzzles.

Unnkulian Unventure: The first new generation game that I played. A game that proved that there’s still life in the genre even though the commercial publishers are dead. Humorous and complex. A perfect showcase for TADS, the language and virtual machine that allowed development of highly complex games.

Curses: The Inform language and compiler began intimately tied to Curses. A massive game that mixes in puzzles of variable quality and difficulty. Immensely enjoyable, but packs a steep learning curve.

Photopia: Short, pointful and emotional.

Anchorhead: Long, pointful and powerful. Finest horror game I have played. So good that I actually crafted a mostly functional Call of Cthulhu- scenario out of the plot.

Lost Pig: The most recent entry on the list is yet another impeccably written game. The point-of-view of a not so smart protagonist is well realized in an avalanche of appropriate responses to most commands.

And looking at the other respondents’ lists, I see that there’s tons and tons of good interactive fiction to be picked up and enjoyed. Hence #10 remains open.

Sep 122011

My Secret Hideout logoAndrew Plotkin’s My Secret Hideout is a textual software toy for iOS.

It is a procedural text generation device – where the description of the eponynmous hideout is generated from the various symbols placed on screen by the user. The generation is deterministic (so two trees built from same symbols in the same location are alike) and very wide (up to a googol variations).

Despite the author’s long history of interactive fiction – My Secret Hideout is not really interactive, and definitely not a game.

But it is an interesting concept and a nicely languid way of spending time.

The interface is smooth. Which is promising, considering that Hadean Lands is inbound soon, and I have great expectations for the first commercial piece of interactive fiction on the ipad.

Aug 092011

GET LAMP coverJason Scott’s GET LAMP is the definitive document about a subject I’ve considered a hobby for more than two decades: interactive fiction.

It is very interview-heavy, and the subjects’ ease in front of the cameras varies wildly. Some are visibly spooked by the lens while others speak as they would to friends over a pint. The selection of guys is not perfect – a couple of key people (especially Graham Nelson, the creator of inform-language) are sorely missed.

The topics divide into three categories: ancient history of the medium (colossal cave adventure), the rise and fall of Infocom, and finally, the resurrection in the nineties.

For a layman there’s probably nothing but mystifying references to topics not completely explained, but to a hobbyist this movie is a treasure trove of history.