Vesp: A History of Sapphic Scaphism (Porpentine)

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Vesp: A History of Sapphic Scaphism  is a Porpentine game commissioned for Vice. It tells the story of a person obsessed with wasps, desiring to be a wasp, and inhabiting a world where wasps are pestilentially omnipresent. Leaving our apartment requires exiting through a wasplock, lest they get into our flat. (Edit: I originally misunderstood the titling scheme and thought the title was “Wasp”, but I’ve been corrected – sorry!)

There is a lot I might say about this piece if it were the first Porpentine piece I were writing about, but now it feels redundant to tell you that her worldbuilding is surprising and terrifying; that her words come in small servings per page, and that this is as much as you will be able to take at a time, because they are poetically intense; that she is inventive in how she deploys her links and that she is adding to the rhetorical toolset of hypertext with each new thing she releases; that the story concerns a protagonist at odds with the world around her; that it touches on a trans experience in the world even when it is not explicitly about gender (and it is often about gender). These things are true each time, but the effect does not become boring.

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Stephen Granade on Life on Mars?

cover-finalAs part of the IF Comp review collective project, I asked Stephen Granade — scientist and science educator, author of space escape game Fragile Shells, and former IF Comp organizer — to look at Life on Mars?. He came through in style with a Twine review that demonstrates his feedback interactively.

IF Comp 2015: Arcane Intern (Unpaid) (Astrid Dalmady)

The 21st annual Interactive Fiction Competition is currently on, through mid-November. Voting is open to the general public; the only prerequisite is that you not be an author, not vote on games that you tested, and submit votes on at least five games. (You emphatically do not have to have played them all! In a year with 55 entrants, it is very unlikely that most judges will get through anywhere near all of them.)

Arcane Intern coverArcane Intern (Unpaid) is a Twine piece with three endings, in which the player goes to work at a publishing house that turns out to be tangled up with actual magic; it’s a branch-and-bottleneck structure with an intro, three segments with light puzzles and exploration, and a conclusion. I played to all three endings.

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IF Comp 2015: Taghairm (Chandler Groover)

The 21st annual Interactive Fiction Competition is currently on, through mid-November. Voting is open to the general public; the only prerequisite is that you not be an author, not vote on games that you tested, and submit votes on at least five games.

Taghairm coverThis year I’m reviewing things that I can generally recommend. On this particular post, I want to bracket that a little bit: Taghairm has violence and cruelty content warnings, for good reason. It may not be for everyone. It arguably wasn’t really for me. But I think what it’s doing is interesting and want to talk about it anyhow. This clears the bar for “worthwhile” in my view.

This is a piece that took me a few minutes to play to the ending that I reached. There is another ending that takes longer; I did not get to that ending.

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IF Comp 2015: Duel (piato)

The 21st annual Interactive Fiction Competition is currently on, through mid-November. Voting is open to the general public; the only prerequisite is that you not be an author, not vote on games that you tested, and submit votes on at least five games. (You emphatically do not have to have played them all! In a year with 55 entrants, it is very unlikely that most judges will get through anywhere near all of them.)

If you are looking for other reviews, this ifwiki page contains a list of places currently carrying them.

Cover image for Duel showing a hand with long black nails

Duel is a choice-based puzzle game about a battle between magic-users. You are bound, and can use only your assortment of spells. It takes only a few minutes to play once, but somewhat longer to work out to completion.

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Fabricationist DeWit (Jedediah Berry)

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Fabricationist DeWit is not an IF Comp game, but something I stumbled across this month via Twitter. It is a lovely Twine about a fabricationist that wakes after (it is implied) apocalyptic climate change, and sets about restoring the world. I wasn’t previously familiar with the author, Jedediah Berry, but after playing the game I checked out his website and was not surprised to discover that he is an award-winning author of short stories and at least one novel.

It’s not just the writing that works here, though. Among Twine games that attempt a world model, this one offers an unusually strong sense of NPC presence. There is a character who accompanies or confronts you, challenges you on your actions, and comments on what is going on. The story as a whole is about the movement from loneliness to connection, from ignorance to understanding. The interaction recapitulates this; your environment becomes more populated, your actions stop being purely functional interactions with machines and become dialogue and social gestures.

The effect is enhanced with music and sound effects, and with beautiful backgrounds to each screen, which seem meaningful in ways you can’t put your finger on — until, eventually, you can.