Spring Thing 2016: The Xylophoniad; Foo Foo

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!)

xylophone_coverThe Xylophoniad is a parser adventure by Robin Johnson, a good-natured spoof of Greek mythology with cameos from Achilles, Sappho, Daedalus, the Minotaur, and assorted other crowd favorites. Unlike the author’s recent Draculaland, it’s not relying on a choice-based representation of the parser options, but in other respects the two games are fairly similar in tone and difficulty level: light-hearted, relatively straightforward puzzles that tend to involve thinking of the right item to use in the right situation; an invisiclues-style hint system complete with misleading fake hints; a sizable world map with relatively few items per room, brief room descriptions, and explicitly listed exits. The characters will answer ASK/TELL conversation gambits on a number of topics, but in a fairly old-school style: these are more like Infocom characters than like new-school NPCs, and they don’t have long memories or detailed dialogue scenes. But that suits the genre this is going for.

I found The Xylophoniad took me roughly an hour to play, and that I only had to look at the hints a couple of times, mostly because there were two specific objects whose size and shape I had envisioned incorrectly. However, a couple of the other puzzles amused me considerably, and a couple have multiple solutions. (I was particularly pleased by trggvat n oyvaqsbyqrq oneore gb tvir Zrqhfn n gevz, and also that gur gharf lbh cynl ner Terrx-gvgyrq irefvbaf bs ahefrel fbatf.)

I just recommended ASCII and the Argonauts apropos of Johnson’s last game, but it’s even more apropos here — if you liked this, you might well like that.


foofooFoo Foo (Buster Hudson of Oppositely Opal et al) was originally a game for The Ryan Veeder Exposition for Good Interactive Fiction, and in fact it won that competition. It’s not hard to see why: it’s a charming, light puzzle game that honors Veeder’s work in both style and specific content. The protagonist is the Good Fairy of the Little Bunny Foo Foo song, and is trying to collect evidence that Little Bunny Foo Foo is not actually responsible for the massacre of field mice in the area. There’s a cameo from the descendant of Captain Verdeterre; there’s a former flame who keeps a dessert shop, reminiscent of the ice cream shop owner in Taco Fiction; there are stuffed dinosaurs as found in The Island of Doctor Wooby; there’s a rock band called “They Might Be Humans,” a nod to Veeder’s contributions to the They Might Be Giants tribute compilation, Dig My Grave and The Statue Got Me High.

From time to time the narrator addresses the player directly about what you should attend to and what you should ignore.

Your detective instincts are telling you to focus on the establishments on the north side of Lumpen Lane. Of course there are businesses across the street, but you aren’t concerned with them, and therefore they won’t be mentioned.

This kind of thing is a classic Veederism, possibly seen most extensively in Nautilisia but present even in his earliest work I know of, You’ve Got a Stew Going!

I also thought this bit was a good nod to Veeder’s style:

He winks at you in precisely the way you hate being winked at.

Overall, I think Foo Foo is probably the most fun for people who know their Veeder canon well, and it’s hard for me to know exactly how you’ll respond to it if you don’t; but it felt to me like it was well enough constructed that even someone without that background might have a good time.

January Link Assortment

Upcoming events:

Thanks to a burst of focused planning, we have a bunch of forthcoming meetings scheduled for the Oxford/London Meetup. They are

London, February 16. We will be playing a variant of San Tilapian Studies, along with other short card and boardgames focused on storymaking with other people. I’m psyched about this – San Tilapian Studies takes a fair amount of prep to put together and I don’t run it frequently, so if you want to play, this is an unusual chance. We’re using a different setting and sticker set than in the original.

Oxford, April 3. Sunday afternoon pub meet-up; you may bring WIPs or other items to share if you like, though we’re not set up for actual projection or anything like that. Consider this one a really late March meeting, because SXSW/GDC/Easter weekend use up all of my actual March.

London, April 19. Exact activity TBD, though I have some interesting prospects I’m looking into.

London, June 14. Exact activity TBD, though I have some interesting prospects I’m looking into.

Thanks to Failbetter Games for their on-going willingness to co-host!


If you are planning to be at GDC, here’s some IF-related content for you:

I will be talking in a short format about visualization and design, with many examples from interactive narrative contexts (as well as some from elsewhere).

inkle studios folks will be talking about their tool ink that is used for 80 Days and the Sorcery! series, and which they will be open-sourcing. (!)

Meg Jayanth is speaking twice, once about writing NPCs with agency and once about diversity.

Continue reading “January Link Assortment”

IF for the Lengthening Nights: Beautiful Dreamer (S. Woodson); Witches and Wardrobes (Anna Anthropy); Winter Storm Draco (Ryan Veeder)

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Late fall hasn’t always been the greatest time for me. Like a lot of people, I’m responsive to the amount of sun in my life; on top of that, when I was a junior academic, that was the point at which real panic set in about finding a job for the next year.

A couple of those years I was living in the midwest, too, as a really unprepared coast-native. My colleagues in Minnesota took pity on me and gave me a down jacket to wear, a hand-me-down from one of their wives, because I had somehow not grasped that it was going to start snowing and keep snowing and not stop with the snow for the next four or five months. The jacket was enormous and teal. I looked like an 80s-themed reskin of the Michelin Man. As the winter went on, I also needed gloves and silk long johns and a ski mask because, with wind chill, it would get to twenty below sometimes on the way to work. I didn’t have a car. Getting groceries was a problem. I wasn’t sure how much I should be running the heater because, having just moved into this apartment, I didn’t know how efficient the system was and I was afraid of getting slapped with a huge bill I wouldn’t be able to pay.

Now this was all hard to navigate, because things that make me sad include: being thousands of miles from my family, friends, and significant other; being uncertain about my job future; getting very little sunlight; being cold a lot; being hungry a lot; falling down on the ice and bruising myself (at least once per trip). Oh, and I had a fun medical emergency at one point, too.

That was the year I started taking a survivalist approach to mental health. One of the stupid things about sadness is that it gets harder to remember how to make yourself less sad. I gathered my anti-sadness devices and I put them in one cabinet in the kitchen: chocolate, favorite books and candles to light and gifts from friends and things that made me happy to look at. I made anti-sadness playlists. I had a perfume, essence of blood orange, that I’d wear for protection when things were particularly bad. (“For protection”: I’m not ascribing magical powers to it, but even just finding the desire to protect yourself can be important, depending on your state of mind.)

On the front of the emergency anti-sadness cabinet, I taped a postcard from a French town where I’d spent a week with my partner. I didn’t quite go so far as to write “Hey, dumbass, if you are sad, >OPEN CABINET” — but that was the meaning of the card, an inescapable in-plain-sight reminder in case I was too sad-stupid to remember on my own.

Anyway, this is a long-winded way of introducing a couple of games that touch on some of those feelings and that (at least for me) are ultimately comforting.

Continue reading “IF for the Lengthening Nights: Beautiful Dreamer (S. Woodson); Witches and Wardrobes (Anna Anthropy); Winter Storm Draco (Ryan Veeder)”