Part of Adam’s discussion of Slouching riffs on what he says was my view at the time, that this was one of the first IF games to seriously address moral choice. He objects to that view because the player is very likely to explore all the possible endings, and therefore it’s unlikely that they’ll feel much weight in their decision, and also because he doesn’t consider the final question morally all that interesting.
It’s possible I did characterize Slouching that way at some point in a newsgroup discussion – I don’t now recall precisely. It’s not really quite what I would say now, though — and actually it’s not exactly what I say in my contemporary review.
I bring this up not to nitpick Adam’s generally excellent podcast, but because thinking about Slouching Towards Bedlam from the perspective of the current IF scene sent me off on something of a tangent of further thoughts.
So with apologies to Adam, here’s what I would say about it now: Slouching is an early, and still relatively rare, example of parser IF that makes diegetic outcomes depend on a complex set of world model machinations on the part of the player. First you have to figure out how the world model affects the story, and then you have to use that information to bring about the ending you want. You’re likely to luck into several endings you don’t want at the same time.
Framed is an interactive comic game in which you move around the panels of the story, reordering events in order to change what happens in the story. It looks really attractive, too.
When I first heard of this game, I was hugely excited about it. There aren’t that many entries in the interactive comic space, and this seemed to offer a slightly different set of mechanics to go alongside Dan Benmergui’s (unfinished but, to judge by the demos, awesome) Storyteller or Troy Chin’s Forgetting or the somewhat over-difficult Strip ‘Em All.
While Framed is based on a clever dynamic, the actual game is repetitive to the point that I am bored… Rather than have the user solve puzzles with different goals and different solutions, the vast majority of the levels I played all had the same goal: avoid the cops. Other than setting things up so the protagonist can either bypass cops or sneak up behind cops and hit them over the head, there’s not much to this game.
I’m maybe a little less harsh than this — I did feel that Framed was worth playing, and I know that some people did enjoy the puzzles — but nonetheless, I was hoping for something that did new work in telling an interactive story, rather than just setting up a bunch of puzzle levels. In that area it fell short. All of the puzzles are about a similar problem — one set of characters escaping another — and the stakes don’t alter much either. This makes for boring story.
The problem occurs at the world model-to-plot interface. That’s a challenging area for parser IF, too — and indeed for any game in which the player cannot influence the plot directly, but has to change the world model in order to move forward. Choice-based games vary in this regard, but probably more of them are of the directly-influence-plot variety than of the indirect-influence variety.
After all the various discussion of whether Apple would or would not allow it: it’s there. Craig Smith has a free-download version of Frotz available, which comes preloaded with a bunch of games (9:05, An Act of Murder, All Roads, Anchorhead, Balances, Being Andrew Plotkin, Bronze, A Change in the Weather, Child’s Play, Christminster, Curses!, Dreamhold, For a Change, Heroes, Jigsaw, Lost Pig, The Meteor, the Stone, and A Long Glass of Sherbet, The Act of Misdirection, Photopia, Slouching Towards Bedlam, Spider and Web, Varicella, Vespers, The Weapon, and Zork (MIT version)).
It also has a button that taps straight into IFDB, and downloading a new game adds it and its cover art to your game collection.
Plays a little slowly with Bronze, but faster than the reports I’ve heard of the game on other PDAs (and Bronze does whacking lots of pathfinding all the time). Older I6 games are faster.
IF cover art looks really nice on the iPhone screen, too.
I’m done playing the games I’m going to play this year (skipping the Windows-only games, Jealousy Duel X which apparently runs on the Macintosh only under Classic, and the Quest game, which Spatterlight refused to cope with), and have submitted my votes.
A list of favorites and thoughts on the competition as a whole follow the cut. There are no specific spoilers for specific games, but people preferring to remain free of influence may want to skip reading until they’re also done playing.
This still isn’t nearly into the shape I would use if I were actually going to write this book — and I don’t have time to do any such thing right now anyway; I have a bunch of things to do for Inform 7, feelies.org, and the long-neglected theory book before I could take up a project of this magnitude. (And I’d like to have a little time to work on a WIP of my own — IF support work has pretty much wiped out my time for that kind of thing lately.) But possibly people will find the brainstorming interesting, even if it isn’t worked up into a complete document.