A few more corpses from BOYD

Last year, I ran a little itch.io jam called Bring Out Your Dead, for which people could submit unfinished projects and weird concept experiments. And I started doing some write-ups at the time of the pieces that caught my attention, but in some kind of meta keeping with the jam, I didn’t finish and publish that project. So here are a few of the other things I was meaning to cover.

The Doorman, Emily Boegheim: “Proof of concept for an animate door.” The premise here, awesomely, is that there is a door that is also a person, and it will take commands, such as positioning itself in a new wall. From a gameplay perspective, that affords some changes not wildly different from, e.g., putting the player in an elevator that can open on different rooms, or the Carousel Room in Zork II, but there’s something pleasingly surreal about the idea. (The proof of concept does not prevent you from opening and closing the door without its permission, but I did feel I was being rather rude by doing this.)

Screen Shot 2016-06-27 at 6.27.17 PM.pngThings That Happen Behind Closed Airlocks, Kitty Mirror: though slightly buggy and erratic in spots, this is one of the few actually finishable games I ran into in BOYD. It sort of frames itself as interactive erotica, but there’s very little actual sex. The fantasy it really offers is that of being able to ruthlessly mock — and then ruthlessly carve to bits — a thoroughly obnoxious and self-satisfied man named Zeckery. The writing is snappy. I smirked.

Kulhwch, Nate Taylor: a puzzle Twine presented in rhyme, and one that mimics a parser game’s room description and inventory layout — meaning that every room description has to be one or more verses, followed by a maybe-rhyming-or-not description of which objects are present currently. (The puzzle is not too terribly difficult, and the main actions are hinted by the text.) There are a few other executions of a similar idea in IF history: Valentine Kopeltsev’s A Night Guest, XanMag’s Into the Dragon’s Den; at least one other whose name I’m currently forgetting.

I generally find that the author has struggled a bit to get the meter to work, and that’s true here as well. I think this may be one of those constraints that is particularly challenging for IF, because the need to mention only specific nouns, hint at possible actions, and faithfully depict a world space runs at odds with the kind of control required for rhyming verse. Still, I admit there’s something appealing about the idea, even if most of the executions I’ve seen have made me wince here and there. I think it’s partly that it foregrounds the difference between world model layer and discourse layer, and there’s some appeal in the idea that you might influence how the poetry worked by changing the underlying model to which it refers.

See also: Graham Nelson’s difficult to play but interesting The Tempest, the work of B Minus Seven, A. DeNiro’s Doggerland. Nick Montfort’s I Palindrome I meanwhile turns its constraint into the main point of its (very brief) gameplay.

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Form and Void, Lea Albaugh, comes with a really beautiful map, in multiple colors or black and white. The conceit is that you are a creator at the loose on a fresh planet, and you must first gather together various objects that let you access verbs (the Goer, the Taker, etc), then make things out of the mud you find at the shore.

I immediately, instinctively did what I think the game intended, namely to make a man; satisfyingly, the man started wandering around and doing things. But he also got hungry very quickly, so I had to make him a fish, and then another fish, and then another fish, and so on. This was exasperating, and I started to look for a Teacher object so that I could teach the man to fish for himself. When that failed, I tried giving him his own ball of mud so he could make his own fish. He was clueless about what to do with the mud, so I had to give him my Maker object. It went downhill from there.

The author notes for this game suggest that Lea thinks it needs more of a story. I think, actually, that it makes an amusing (if brief) arc more or less as it is: it’s less narrative than many another form of IF, but as a quick little parable about the risks of creating autonomous intelligence, not bad. The only thing I ran into trouble with was that I did some foolish things at the end and consequently reached a game-state I couldn’t get out of, without an actual ending.

I bet it would look cute in Vorple, too.

Riddles and Madlibs UI: Blackbar; Interactive Sexy Story

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Blackbar is an interactive puzzle story, for various mobile platforms, about censorship: you see one side of a correspondence, and must guess the missing words in order to move forward, as the participants try to communicate through the filter of an oppressive regime. It got a reasonable amount of enthusiasm at the time, and appeared on some top-ten lists for 2013.

screenshot-2-3.5-outlinedI have to confess that I went to a walkthrough for some of the later puzzles. One of the issues with riddle-style puzzle design is that it isn’t very explorable: you either have that flash of understanding or you don’t, and if you are thinking along the wrong lines, it can be very hard to get back on track. A few of the puzzles in Blackbar are divided up into components that you can try to solve individually, which moves it more towards crosswords territory — you can figure out some bits, get confirmation, and then use that to work out the parts you don’t understand — but others aren’t as friendly.

I also thought there wasn’t all that much to the story when it was all stitched together. Others described its storyline as Orwellian and said that it critiqued censorship, but that critique mostly boils down to: “Censorship. It’s bad.” Orwell made points about how controlling language ultimately means controlling thought, as sophisticated arguments become impossible to form. Blackbar is more about goofy ways to try to get around the censors, and casts the censors themselves as pretty incompetent. Surely a censor who really wanted to suppress information would black out more at a time, leaving us with puzzles that were harder to solve. Still, it was entertaining and competent and lots of people had fun with it.

I was reminded of Blackbar again recently because, while I was looking for a completely different thing, the iOS app store recommended Interactive Sexy Story, a free to play app with in-app purchases. I downloaded it as a piece of potential kusoge, and I was not wrong.

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Tender Loving Care (Trilobyte)

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I don’t think I truly appreciated John Hurt’s acting ability until I saw him in Tender Loving Care, a late-90s-era game with live action footage, created by the same people who made 7th Guest and subsequently brought to iOS by Trilobyte Games.

This is a truly extraordinary game. It has decent production values for its time, including hours of live video content; offers an assortment of conceptual innovations; deals in the realm of character and emotion rather than physicality; and then manages to be boring, offensive, and misguided in ways I’ve not seen in a game before. It is supposed to be an erotic thriller, but the one time I felt true apprehension was when I restarted the app after some time away and saw that I was offered only a “Begin” button. Had it lost my progress? Was I going to have to go through those three hours again? Answer: No, it hadn’t; it just had a UI bad at communicating state.

The premise is that Dr. Turner, played by John Hurt, is showing you scenes from a case that went terribly wrong. The case involves Allison, a woman who has lost her daughter in a car accident but lives in the delusion that Jody is still alive; Michael, Allison’s frustrated and exhausted husband, who hasn’t processed his own grief or gone back to work, but who has been forced to look after Allison as she’s ceased to be a partner in any meaningful sense; and Kathryn, the live-in psychiatric nurse specializing in trauma whom Michael has hired to sort things out. Kathryn is cartoonishly provocative, wearing insufficient clothes and licking her lips to camera.

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The Secret Language of Desire (Megan Heyward)

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The Secret Language of Desire is an iPad app, enhanced with images and music and sound effects, which tells the story of a woman’s erotic awakening through a series of 27 short vignettes. It is available via iTunes, and will also be shown at the upcoming ELO conference in Bergen.

It’s fully linear: there are no branches in the story, no hypertext links to dig into. Unlike in PRY, there’s very little hidden information to tease out of the interactions, either. In one case, there’s something to uncover that explains the meaning of an intentionally vague and referential bit of text, though I was pretty sure what I was going to find there. This is the exception rather than the rule.

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Choose Your Erotica

Parser-based AIF — “adult interactive fiction” — has been around for a long time, though it has generally had its own forums and meeting places; every once in a while someone would turn up on rec.arts.int-fiction with a coding question about layered clothing, or submit an adult game to a competition, but for the most part AIF didn’t overlap much with the main IF community. I did play a few pieces, but they were usually aimed unambiguously at heterosexual men. A common structure was to have a series of puzzles that would “unlock” sex scenes with assorted partners. (Here’s a review I did back in 2006 of Ron Weasley and the Quest for Hermione, for instance.) Sometimes these were cut-scenes, but sometimes you could use parser commands to do a play-by-play of which parts went where.

As choice-based IF has become more prevalent, so has choice-based, female-POV erotica. Here I take a look at several. I’m not going to be quoting long passages or posting images, but this may still not qualify as SFW depending on where you are.

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