Last weekend there was a mini Ludum Dare — an online game jam — focusing on conversational games and encouraging people to try Inform, Undum, Ren’Py, and other text-heavy engines. There were thirty entries and I haven’t tried all of them, but some thoughts on the ones I sampled:
Leaks is an Undum piece that presents the backstory to a poem. Technically it’s doing something rather cool: new stanzas of the poem appear in the sidebar as the reader makes progress through the story. The story itself could use quite a bit of polish, as there are a bunch of non-native English errors, and it is initially somewhat confusing what is going on and how the different passages of text relate to one another. It’s also extremely linear. All the same, it’s an interesting example of what Undum can do with juxtaposing and reordering text. (See also The Matter of the Monster.)
Text of Duty is an Inform version of a first-person shooter. There’s not a great deal of conversation to be had here, other than in the sense that your sergeant barks orders at you in response to your actions, but that corresponds pretty well to FPS training levels. The ending also puzzled me because, as far as I can see, there’s no way to complete training other than by shooting your commanding officer; amusing in a subversive way, but surprising given that the rest of the piece plays things more or less straight. What I did find interesting about this piece from a theoretical perspective was the way it tried to represent physical positions (standing, crouching, crawling) and spatial extent more like an FPS. There’s not enough here to constitute an actual puzzle — it’s really more just teaching you the commands you might theoretically need to use in later areas of the game — but I could imagine an IF combat puzzle game where crouching/crawling/etc were primary verbs.
Last Tuesday is a moody visual novel in which the world has gone silent and everyone but yourself is missing. It never really resolves the central mystery; it’s more a mood piece than an adventure or SF story, and though it’s possible to affect the ending, I didn’t really understand what the metrics were looking for about my behavior until I read the source code. Despite all that, I found it interesting enough to be worth a replay. There are several evocative passages in the text.
The Prisoner is a CYOA set in a dystopic future in which the Atheist Empire has taken over Europe and North America, and only a brave band of rebels has managed to preserve various religions, especially Islam. At a couple of points the protagonist stops to explain why his actions are motivated by Muslim values. I’m rarely satisfied by fiction that simultaneously tries to be a propaganda piece, and this one did not really work for me either. It’s also rather overwritten. Formally, though, there is some interest in the idea of a CYOA where you can choose actions but the protagonist (unprompted by you) supplies the motivation for those actions. It is an inversion of any idea that the protagonist is a player avatar, and instead it makes the story about exploring the value system of a particular character.