Balefires Burning is a Twine story about a girl nearing the age of initiation in a village that practices witchcraft. She is in love with a young man who, though not a blood relative, is off-limits for other reasons of clan tradition. The text (as shown) is formatted like poetry, which initially felt a bit self-important, especially when I encountered dialogue arranged that way. This put me off the first time I tried the piece.
On a second try, I got used to the format as I read, and came to see it as representing the narrator’s ritual-inflected perspective on the world, where everything that happens is keyed into traditional practices and calendars. Meanwhile, the writing also accomplishes quite a bit else with its space — communicating the protagonist’s problem, introducing half a dozen or so additional characters, getting us familiar with the setting, suggesting the natural beauty of this world.
The piece feels very influenced by young adult genre fiction (and I notice the game is tagged as “teen fiction”). I found myself wishing for just a bit more edge to the fantasy in a couple of respects.
Not Quite a Sunset describes itself as a hypertext opera, a research project into allowing the player to influence how the music changes and evolves, together with the plot of a story. I had a weird time with it, and I’ll describe what that experience was, but I’m not sure the results deserve to be called an actual review.
I am not an expert in music, and post-Wagner opera I would identify as particularly a weak point of mine: I’ve seen Akhnaten in person, heard a little other Glass here and there, and that’s about it. I don’t feel equipped to comment on the form of the opera, nor about how interactivity might affect that form.
What I can say, in my musically uninformed way, is that the music in this game had a primacy that soundtracks usually do not. Individual instruments stand out. There is an articulate quality to the tune. The game’s blurb describes it as “a story with a soundtrack,” but what I experienced from it was very much not that; soundtracks fade to the back, supporting. What I experienced was a musical piece sufficiently interesting that I had a hard time concentrating simultaneously on the longish blocks of science fiction that accompany the opening.
Looking at a couple more Spring Thing games: this time, it’s Ted Strikes Back and Enlightened Master.
Ted Strikes Back is a sequel to Anssi Räisänen’s Ted Paladin and the Case of the Abandoned House, which I reviewed when it was in the 2011 IF Comp. The conceit is that the protagonist is aware of being the hero of a text adventure, and must struggle with the resulting constraints. In Ted Strikes Back, some of Ted’s verbs have been stolen from him, which leads to exchanges like so:
> open wardrobe
The verb ‘open’ is not in your vocabulary.
Flabbergasted, you stare at the error message above. You certainly do know the verb ‘open’. What has
The puzzles, in other words, are about how to deal with situations that could only arise in the context of a text adventure.
This is definitely a piece aimed at parser IF fans who’ve been around since the rec.arts.int-fiction days. It responds to XYZZY; it features an old-fashioned maze with a trick solution; it jokes about parser game surrealism in a way that’s likely to make the most sense if you played For a Change (Dan Schmidt, 1999), So Far (Andrew Plotkin, 1996), or some of the other lesser-known works that borrowed the same ideas. I also ran into easter egg references to Christminster (Gareth Rees, 1995) and The Meteor, The Stone, and A Long Glass of Sherbet (Graham Nelson, 1996), and I suspect there’s probably more of that kind of reference to be found.
Spring Thing 2017 is now launched, with fifteen Main Festival entries and seven Back Garden items, including Twine, ink, Inform, Quest, Texture, ALAN, and Squiffy works. I haven’t been through nearly all of them yet, of course, but here are thoughts on two: Bobby and Bonnie and Niney.
Bobby and Bonnie is a parser IF game with a couple of rabbit protagonists, illustrated with map and compass to help you follow along:
Ectocomp is a yearly competition for Halloween-themed IF. There are two subsections, one for games that were written in three hours or less, and one for authors who wanted to take longer. That three hour rule gives a sense of the casualness level of this competition: it’s kind of a mental break from the much heavier-duty, on-going IF Comp. Still, there’s quite a lot in this year’s competition — 16 entries in the speed-IF category, and 5 in the unlimited-time category.
A couple of highlights from the things I’ve had time to try so far:
On a dare, you are forced to spend some time alone in a dark room with mirrors. Which should not be inherently horrible, right? Besides, you have matches, and a safeword. But I’ll say this: I wound up having the protagonist use the safeword the first time through, because I was pretty sure they were too freaked out to stay and see how much worse things were going to get. Then I went back and played it to the other ending. An unnerving experiential game. It’s not exactly puzzle-y, but the parser aspect of it works really well, because there were several points where I wasn’t sure whether to WAIT or try to take an action, and that ambiguity is spot-on for the content. If you can, play with the sound on: the soundtrack also helps a lot.
I’ve been playing more of the games from this year’s Spring Thing. (You too can play! And vote! And review, if you wish!)
Ms. Lojka is a horror Twine about a beastly supernatural killer in New York City, with some references to Babel and Rasputin, backed by some (I thought) rather effective illustrations, as well as whispery sound effects and music. Meanwhile, the text appears on the screen as though typed. I typically find that effect annoying and slow, and Ms. Lojka was not quite an exception, but it does use the interesting conceit that the narrator’s typing becomes more error-prone as the story goes on and they become less stable. At the end, it wound up in a loop of repeating text that I couldn’t seem to stop, which was narratively appropriate, so I assume that is the intended ending; but it’s just possible there’s an alternative outcome.
I didn’t respond as much to the content as to the presentational effort. Ms. Lojka mingles hints of mental illness and supernatural or mystical powers, and it finds some creepy images to express those ideas, but ultimately felt like a combination of fairly standard tropes to me.