Cannonfire Concerto (Caleb Wilson/CoG)

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Cannonfire Concerto (Steam, IFDB) is a Choice of Games piece from Caleb Wilson (Lime Ergot, Starry Seeksorrow, Six Gray Rats Crawl Up The Pillow). Caleb is a long-time writer of IF with a distinctive style: strong, personality-rich prose; a good eye for setting detail; a taste for writing about decadent societies now at the verge of ruin; some unusual mechanical and quirky experiments, like Lime Ergot‘s telescopic use of EXAMINE to reveal more and more content. (If you haven’t played Lime Ergot, you really should: it will take you five minutes and it’s become one of the canonical parser-IF pieces of the last few years.) Besides all this, Caleb’s work often has a very definite narrative voice.

I mention all this because those strengths are not the same ones I tend to associate with the Choice of Games brand, where I tend to expect a dynamic protagonist very much defined by the player; stats that work in a very consistent CoG way; lots of replayability; and a tendency in most works towards a brightly-colored, major key kind of storytelling.

So it might seem that these two influences might work strangely together, but in fact they compliment each other extremely well. Cannonfire Concerto is one of the funnier and more deftly written CoG pieces I’ve seen. The protagonist customization still does exist — you can pick your gender and what sorts of characters you’re interested in romancing, give yourself a personal history, etc — but all of the options for your past are within a particular range, and the gentle snark of the narrative voice is part of what enlivens the narration.

Caleb has taken the mandatory CoG opening, consisting of a high stakes medias res choice to hook the player followed by a bunch of character creation choices, and managed it as smoothly as I think I’ve ever seen: you begin in the middle of running away from pursuers, and choose what to do next; each choice, Memento-style, actually shows you a little more of what led up to this point.

Meanwhile, the context of a CoG game gives enough structure and scope for a bigger story than most of Caleb’s earlier IF.

screen-shot-2017-02-11-at-10-19-03-amThen, the premise. Cannonfire Concerto takes place in an alternate Europe (Meropa) threatened by a conquering general called Bonaventure. You are a Genius performer (and genius is or appears to be a form of magic, though this is a matter of debate) who also becomes entangled in politics and spying. As in Hollywood Visionary, you get a fair amount of choice around what kind of a creator you want to be; and because your music is a major way you connect with other people and groups, that affects which audiences you are best able to reach. I went for a rapid-fire, mathematical sort of Genius, which impressed intellectuals but meant I was terrible at playing pagan tunes by the campfire. It’s important to know your limits.

In practice, this means wearing wigs and dressing up in fancy clothes, giving performances and facing off with your musical rivals, and practicing new pieces for your instrument (I chose a zither of unique design): good costume-drama, adventure narrative stuff.

So far I’ve only had a chance to play once, as someone more concerned about my musical career than about trying to change the face of Meropa (though I probably did a bit anyway). Of the two people I romanced in the course of the game, I only managed to stay with one of them permanently, though the game did give me a bittersweet last encounter with the other, late in my life. And it feels like there’s quite a lot of variation in the outcome — I’ll have to give it another try later.

At any rate, I definitely recommend it. Games released right at the end of a year sometimes get missed for XYZZYs, but I think this might be a plausible contender for a Best Writing nomination.

Disclosures: I have a contract for work of my own with Choice of Games, but discovered and played this piece independently. I played a copy of the game that I bought with my own money.

Mid-February Link Assortment

Events:

February 16th, Boston’s People’s Republic of Interactive Fiction group meets up. Which is to say, tomorrow.

March 4th is San Francisco’s IF Meetup.

March 9, Nottingham’s Hello Words group is having a meetup.

Also March 9 is the deadline to register intents if you’re planning to enter the Spring Thing IF competition this year.

I am not doing an Oxford/London Meetup this month because GDC is taking most of my attention and preparation time.

Utopia Jam is currently open through the end of February.

New Releases:

Cannonfire Concerto by Caleb Wilson: Interview and Steam link. I haven’t had a chance to fully play this yet, but I love Caleb’s work, and the premise appears to entail being a genius 18th century musician-spy, which is a pretty good start.

The House Abandon; unfortunately PC-only so I haven’t tried it, but there is interesting coverage of it various places including GameInformer.

Minor Fall, Major Lift is a short story about a romantic connection between two people. The arc of the story itself is relatively simple; the major NPC, affected in a way that I tend to associate with being young and nervous about being wounded. This turns out to be entirely fair enough as a read of their character. Meanwhile, there’s a lot to notice about the worldbuilding. The story takes place in a Slavic-influenced society with newly invented religions and perhaps supernatural genetics, hinting at a deeper universe yet to be unfolded. (The author mentions this is part of a potentially longer work or series.)

Meanwhile, from a narrative structure perspective, the story has a conceit of letting you examine characters multiple times in a row, getting deeper information about them each time. This could be grinding or irritating in some cases, but here I found it worked for me, and made it feel as though each examination of the other person was upping the stakes further… which considering that this is a tale about self-revelation and visibility makes plenty of sense.

Finally, the protagonist in this story has a disability, a point that is introduced unmistakably but without special fanfare about halfway into the story. For all that the characters (both PC and NPC) focus on self-presentation, on how they will look and what they will show and what they will hide, the protagonist’s cane is not one of those points of self-consciousness. It just is, a fact of the protagonist’s identity but one they treat as much less critical and visible than other things.

Links:

Reminder that sub-Q is looking for submissions! Guidelines are on their website.

My Rock Paper Shotgun column IF Only continues, most recently with a look at Plundered HeartsMasqueradeMagical Makeover, Secret Agent Cinder and other games about dressing up and going to parties.

There’s a piece on Gamasutra about Bob Bates’ Thaumistry here. Both Thaumistry and Southern Monsters have made their Kickstarter goals (yay!) but there’s still time to support either, and stretch goals associated with each, of course. If you’re curious for a longer take on these, I’ve written more about them at Rock Paper Shotgun as well, including a preview look at Thaumistry.

Speaking of crowdfunding, Sunless Skies, the Sunless Sea sequel, is currently over £250K against a £100K goal, which is pretty exciting as well.

Textualiza is a new Spanish-language channel for discussing, promoting, and playing interactive fiction; discussion is conducted in Spanish, but isn’t limited to Spanish-language IF. There’s a Facebook page and a Twitter, as well as a chat room on euphoria.io.

A House of Many Doors

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A House of Many Doors is a newly launched Mac and Linux game on Steam that bears a very strong resemblance in many respects to Sunless Sea, and was developed with funding help from Failbetter. (It wasn’t actually part of the same Fundbetter program as Voyageur, as it happens, but rather predated that.) You pilot your kinetopede, a train with too many legs, through a huge dark space. Your stats — remember these? — are Hull, Sanity, Fuel. Your crew members, and locations you visit, all have stories attached. If you’ve played Sunless Sea you already halfway know how to play A House of Many Doors.

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Voyageur: Impressions

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First, a massive disclaimer: Voyageur’s author Bruno Dias is a friend. Also, I often do work for Failbetter, which provided support for Voyageur via Fundbetter. In addition, Voyageur uses procedural text generation features that draw on things I did for Annals of the Parrigues, and I had a number of conversations with Bruno about the game while it was in development. That said, I will try to be as useful as I can, since I’ve been asked for more of an assessment than the simple announcements I’ve been posting.

What is Voyageur? This is a systematic quality-based narrative with procedurally generated textual descriptions, trading, and perma-death — though in the right circumstances you can leave a substantial legacy to a future captain.

To unpack that a bit: you start out on a planet with a little money and a few supplies and something called a Descent Drive. A Descent Drive is alien technology that moves faster than anything made by humans — but only in one direction, towards the center of the galaxy. If you want to take a trip on one, you are never coming home.

So you set out, and each time you do, you have the ability to steer a little. You can typically pick which of 2-5 available planets you want to see next. You know one or two facts about them. Sometimes those facts are enough to tell you which planet is going to be the best place to sell off your current cargo or drop a passenger; sometimes you’re pretty much taking your chances. The descriptions of the planets, as well as the crew you pick up and the trade goods you acquire, are all procedurally generated. Planets have governments, cultures, climates. Trade goods have different levels of quality and other features that make them appealing on different worlds. I particularly enjoyed some of the trade good descriptions that hinted at the surrounding culture: Sea urchin substitute. Generic locust steaks. An artwork consisting of AR decorations overlaid on electronic components.

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Voyageur Launched

The Descent Device: faster-than-light travel at speeds no human should go; an alien mystery. But it only goes one way, falling from star to star towards the centre of the galaxy. Voyageur is a literary RPG where you take the helm of a trader-vagabond vessel, looking for adventure, wealth, and answers in an infinite galaxy full of procedural cultures and civilizations.

I’ve occasionally mentioned here Bruno Dias’ development work on Voyageur, a text exploration and trading game through procedurally generated worlds and spaces. It launches today for iOS and Android! Here’s the launch video:

End of January Link Assortment

Events

February 4th, San Francisco, the SF Bay IF Meetup will get together to play the IGF-nominated Event[0]; several other potential games are also on the agenda.

February 9th, NottinghamHello Words, a new interactive fiction writer’s group, is meeting to talk and play Victor Oujel’s Ariadne in Aeaea.

February 16th, Boston, the People’s Republic of IF gathers for their monthly meeting.

New Releases and Updates

Forgotten is a Twine game made by Sophia Park and Arielle Grimes, with Emilie Sovis providing sound design. It’s a horror piece in which you boot up an old, glitching copy of Forgotten Realms and explore the decaying landscape.

Remanence is a short Twine piece by Stephanie Chan, in which you rob a memory-bank.

20Something is a Twine on Steam, touching on the miseries of dating. (It’s not free, and I haven’t tried it, so I can’t offer much more guidance than that.)

Timecrest, which has been covered before on this blog, has added an accessibility update that provides comprehensive features for users who are blind or vision impaired, and was awarded “Best iOS Game” and “Developer of the Year” by the AppleVis Golden Apple Awards.

February 3, House of Many Doors launches: HOMD is strongly inspired by Sunless Sea, but features procedurally generated poetry and its own particular tone.

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And speaking of procedural generation and large worlds: Voyageur, a procedurally-generated text game by Bruno Dias, is set to release on February 7th. It’s a literary RPG about exploring a galaxy in which the planet descriptions, goods, and choice-based encounters are generated from a custom corpus.

Jams and Competitions

March 9th is the registration deadline for Spring Thing.

Utopia Jam, hosted by Laura Michet and Cat Manning, runs from February 11th to February 27th.

Resources

Jeremiah McCall has put together a basic introduction to links in Harlowe for audiences without a lot of coding experience. Further expansions are yet to come.

John Timmons’ IF Snippets, a collection of short Inform 7 works written as introductory assistance to the form, were broken on the Inform 7 website but have been reposted here.

Carolyn VanEseltine has a useful article about when to decide to build your own IF engine, which addresses a number of “is there any point/market” questions.

Crowdfunding

Several of these this time. Bob Bates’ Thaumistry Kickstarter has already been covered on this blog. There’s also Kevin Snow’s Southern Monsters, an interactive text game about monsters and disability in which you hunt cryptids through the swamps of Arkansas, and which has reached almost 80% of their goal.

And of course, Failbetter launches their Kickstarter for Sunless Skies on February 1st. (Disclosure: I sometimes work for Failbetter and may benefit from a positive outcome of that Kickstarter.)