Seltani is Andrew Plotkin’s Myst-themed multiplayer universe riffing on Twine, in which authors can add their own explorable Ages. It’s been around for a bit over a year now, and includes the Barbetween age, which I’ve written up before. It just recently picked up a couple of new ages: Ryan Veeder’s interactive museum experience Bluedorn, and Andrew Plotkin’s own puzzle age Salvanas. It’s a timely development, given the considerable interest in multiplayer IF that turned up during our recent discussion on new directions in IF.
Salvanas is a (fairly) compact piece of puzzle CYOA that adheres closely to the Myst genre traditions: empty, surreal landscapes populated with grand machinery; a hub world with three subordinate worlds and (I think) a final world to reach when you’ve completed the side structures.
It’s a bit less structurally surprising than Bigger Than You Think. Inventory doesn’t come into it much, so far as I played, though you can manipulate environmental objects in such a way as to transfer them from one location to another. There are seas that go out and moons that set. It’s lovely, in a chilly and slightly alien way; likely to appeal to people who enjoy old-school puzzle parser IF and are willing to encounter similar puzzles in a choice-based interface. (We’ve definitively killed the notion that choice-based games can’t do puzzles, right? Well, if not, here’s yet another example of choice-based games doing puzzles.)
I got massively stuck on the first puzzle because I thought it was doing something much more complicated than it actually is, and so I wrote a Prolog script that ran for a couple of hours to search the possibility space. (“false.”, it eventually reported. So… that was not the answer. The actual answer was something much simpler. Don’t overthink it.)
Salvanas is a personal instance, which as far as I can tell means that you can’t bring others into it. Thanks to the aforementioned first-puzzle stuckness, I haven’t finished the whole thing, but I also didn’t find any obvious places where changes you make might leave traces for other players (in contrast with Barbetween’s whiteboard, say). I may have missed/not found something, though.
Bluedorn. Bluedorn is reminiscent of IF Art Show pieces: there aren’t any puzzles (though there are a few things that look like they might be puzzles); there are, however, a bunch of things to fiddle with and explore. The exhibits are reminiscent of things you might find in a real life science museum, but are explained by Myst-verse realities: there are animals that could never exist, and a meteorology exhibit works by shifting between worlds with different weather.
As a solo experience, Bluedorn feels a bit hollow: there’s no particular goal, and the exhibits are sometimes simply mysterious, so one wanders around and comes away feeling a bit bewildered. Fortunately, I was able to come back at a point when Veeder was offering a “tour”, in which he played (mostly in character) a docent at this museum, and a couple of other players came along as well. That was far more entertaining: Veeder’s explanations of the different exhibits brought the place to life, while the tour format provided a clear pace and endpoint for the experience. This made me feel that Bluedorn was more of a stage for performance than it was the main story in itself — an obviously resource-intense type of interactive experience, but pleasingly unlike most IF I’ve tried. (Though see also Velvet Sundown, an interactive drama space in which all the characters are played by human players and most of the programmed elements are props.)
The presence of other players is also fun. Many of the objects respond to manipulation either by popping up a description panel or by placing some text into the public chat stream: things that go into the description panel are only visible to the person who is doing the action, but anything in the public chat stream is seen by everyone, so you can watch others fiddling uselessly with crystals and peeking behind curtains. I enjoyed this, and would have liked even more of it. Sometimes there were actions that were described in-panel that seemed to me like they logically could have gone into the public stream (for instance, manipulating a large metal machine — surely everyone else in the room would be able to see you do that?). A multiplayer exploratory space seems like it would benefit from allowing people to demonstrate their surprising discoveries to the other players as much as possible.
If you’re interested in catching a tour of Bluedorn yourself, this thread may tell you about future scheduled visits.