October Link Assortment

Upcoming meetings and events:

Wordplay in Toronto is November 7. There will be talks about text-based games, there will be demos of other games, there will be assorted IF folks. I am speaking. Perhaps I will see you there.

Also November 7, London: ProcJam launches with a series of free talks about procedurally generating things. I obviously cannot be there because I will be in Toronto instead, but I know a number of Oxford/London IF Meetup folks are planning to attend.

November 11 is the regularly scheduled Boston IF meetup. I will be there also.

November 29, Oxford: WIP Sharing meetup. If you have a piece for which you’d like feedback, this is a great place to show up and share what you have.

December 12-13, London: AdventureX is a free two-day conference about adventure games, focusing primarily but not exclusively on graphical adventures. Again, there will be some text game people there (probably including me).


What to play for Halloween?

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Matthew Ritter’s graveyard-exploration piece Boon Hill is coming to Steam today, so if you’d like to celebrate Halloween by wandering around looking at some epitaphs, here’s your opportunity.

If bureaucracy and money issues spook you more than graves, you may enjoy Harry Giles’ ritual for grant-seekers, a liturgy about the process of applying for art support grants. If this sounds incomprehensible: it’s really not. Like a lot of Harry’s game poetry, it encapsulates its critiques of a system into rules and actions.

Or perhaps you’ll like Aevee Bee and Mia Schwartz’s visual novel We Know the Devil. It’s about three teenagers who struggle to be their best selves, and not to leave one another behind, at a camp where possession is a standard occurrence. Also, something of a reflection on community in its more destructive aspects. (Here’s Isz Janeway’s review.)

More in the mood to make legal contracts with demons? Max Gladstone has a new Choice of Games game out in his Deathless series, called Deathless: The City’s Thirst. He talks about it — and the challenges of writing a second work in this format — over here.

The Ritual (Edward Turner) is a comedy Lovecraftian piece where you need to replay to see all the endings. It’s rather sweet, assuming you’re not too bothered by exploding your acolytes and raining shattered flesh over the land. A quick and entertaining play.

I can also recommend any of the Comp games I’ve reviewed in the last week or so, especially Brain Guzzlers from Beyond! if you want goofy 1950s aliens, Arcane Intern (Unpaid) if you want a little witchcraft, Darkiss for an old-school vampire.

Or, again, you might like Tailypo by Chandler Groover, published this month on Sub-Q: it’s a short horror piece. No branching, but a good example of what dynamic fiction can do. (I have a horrible sneaking feeling that I’m actually starting to quite like horror genre IF, even if I’m not really a fan of it in books or movies. And as long as there aren’t any zombies in sight.)

And there’s Anna Anthropy’s Witches and Wardrobes, run earlier in the month: I’m planning to write about this one a little more later. It’s more personal and less suspenseful than Tailypo but unsurprisingly also excellent.


IF Comp is still running! If you want to get in on the action and vote on some games, you have a couple more weeks to do so. In addition to all the reviews here and at ifwiki, you might enjoy The Short Game’s podcast coverage of the competition.


Continue reading “October Link Assortment”

Choice of the Deathless (Choice of Games)

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Choice of the Deathless is the latest piece from Choice of Games. Written by Max Gladstone, it’s billed on the Apple app store as “a necromantic legal thriller,” and it moves well away from the Choice of [Generic Trope] format of some of CoG’s earlier releases. Gladstone is writing within the same universe that he used for his two novels, Three Parts Dead and Two Serpents Rise: a world where high-powered law firms are engaged in the partially legal, partially magical exercise of managing the contracts that bind gods and demons. The Craft is a technical and brutal magic, done with blood and shards and entrails and a great deal of legalese.

The result is the most solidly written Choice of Games piece I’ve yet played. Gladstone’s descriptions sometimes run a bit wild for my taste: strange settings are extremely strange; painful experiences are bloodily painful. As a reader I find it hard to invest in a story that is kicked up to eleven that way on every single page. Nonetheless, his prose is confident, and he spends enough time with the various characters to develop them in detail.

Choices are often about the internal politics of the firm: whom to trust, whom to betray, whom to ask for a favor. The plot is fairly linear, in the sense that the major cases you encounter will tend to be the same over again on multiple playings — but the motivations you choose for yourself, and the relationships you have with other characters, do change substantially. One character was a minor enemy in one of my playthroughs, only to become my lover in the next. It’s a less branchy structure than some of CoG’s past stories, and I’m not sure I’d replay it as many times, but I enjoyed and cared about the individual playthroughs more. And those midgame choices about motive and affiliation do pay off in the endgame, when your range of options is very clearly tied to what you’ve done up to that point.

Indeed, in general I felt as though Choice of the Deathless was making less use of stats than the average CoG game, and more use of important narrative decisions that are remembered later. It’s the difference between having story gated on whether you’ve selected at least 5 “bold” actions so far, and story gated on whether you once did a single, memorable brave thing. Choice of the Deathless is tracking a range of stats for you, which you can go and look at, but the big outcomes seemed to involve callbacks to specific moments.

There were a few flaws.

Just occasionally I was offered a choice that seemed reasonable to me as the reader, but turned out to have been a mistake for some unanticipated reason — for instance, revealing my character’s ignorance about something she should have known. That was a bit frustrating, and I would have preferred the choices to be rephrased to reflect what my character knew about those options.

There is also a thread of decisions tracking how you’re spending money during the course of play, and you’re repeatedly invited to adjust where you live and how much you’re saving to pay down student loans. This is the case whether you come from a poor family or a wealthy one. The emphasis on this aspect made me think it must be an important part of the gameplay, but in fact it remained fairly peripheral to the actual story. I felt the piece would probably have done better just to jettison this; it felt to me like something introduced because the author thought this sort of stat challenge was necessary, but then underdeveloped. At no point in the body of the story did I notice my economy-management choices having a significant effect on outcomes. In all of my playthroughs I managed to pay down part but not all of my debt, but what exactly the numbers came to didn’t seem to matter.

Those quibbles aside, Choice of the Deathless is a pretty sizable piece, set in a detailed universe and confidently written.

(Disclosure: I received a review copy of this game.)