domingo, 25 de Maio de 2014

"Pandora directive?" Pandora indeed!

This is a box that I need to stop opening. It always does the same thing to me, I always find the same things in this box: frustration, disgust, sheer disbelief at the cruelty.

"Pandora Directive" is hands down way better than its predecessor, and the opening is not only strong, it's well directed, well paced, and sets the mood. Many have praised it, I have no need to add to the list.

But for crying out loud, if you're going to shout to the rooftops that you have multiple endings, and that they depend on your actions, then you should bloody well actually make your actions RELEVANT! As opposed to what the game does, which is lure you along and then whisk the carpet from under your feet so fast that, if you're still standing, you're mighty disoriented.

First time I played, I realised I had to play with the hints handy, or be in danger of missing out the much coveted Mission Street ending (which is necessary, because it ties in with Overseer. It's therefore the official correct ending). I go through a few game-days, establishing a strong relationship with the female love interest (it should be said that, if you don't know, the best ending is mostly about ending in a relationship with this character. It would signify all sorts of symbolic things for Tex, not least of which, he'd get the girl).

Then I bend over backwards to get the girl to come with be to a night show, which happens to feature someone I wish to interrogate. This would also have served as an apology for previous non-controllable events that had made her, Chelsee, angry.

What do I find? I find that the way to finish the game and get the girl is NOT to take her to the show; rather, it is to select what appear to be, to anyone with any social skills at all, utterly the WRONG choices for a budding relationship. 'Cause if she goes, she'll get terminally jealous because Tex will not keep his eyes off another woman.

I refused to being penalised by something this random and unfair when I first played Pandora, and ragequit. That was years ago.

Now, spurred by the release of Tesla Effect, I replayed Under a Killing Moon and gave Pandora another shot. Still in day one, treading carefully, I just found out (by reading walkthroughs and all sort of spoiler centres) that I've already flunked the best ending. I won't get her at the end, no matter how marvellous a human being I play Tex.

Why?

Because the first conversation with her has to be EXACT. NO ROOM for deviation. It HAS to be options SO, SO and SO.

The frustrating thing is, there are OTHER combinations that seem to work very well. Other combinations that are sensitive. But no, you have to select exactly the one the designers chose, and if you don't, you're locked out of the best ending - within the first five minutes of the game! That's regardless of the fact that Chelsee's reaction of the "correct" options is just as cold sometimes, or even colder, than some of the OTHER options. Good grief, there is ZERO indication that the sequence the authors intended is supposed to be better than any other.

Ragequit again. I cannot believe the stupidity of some designers.

On top of everything, you never know what Tex is going to say; your options are represented by quips that are sort of representative of what you want to say - and often you get a nasty shock as you realise Tex is saying something totally OPPOSITE of what you were selecting. This in a game where your supposed moral compass dictates the ending, hmm?

My only regret is having spent what I did on this game, years ago. At least it was on the bargain bin. I don't remember how much I paid, I only remember it was simultaneously laughably low... and, given my overall enjoyment of it, far too much.

PS - Note to self: if you ever play this one again, keep a walkthrough in hand. Don't actually play it, don't even try to, because it's shoddily designed as a gaming experience and is more rewarding to someone who doesn't invest time or energy and just follows the walkthrough as a checklist.

PPS - Amazingly, as I think back, the only Tex Murphy game I every really enjoyed from beginning to end with little reservations was Mean Streets. I say "little reservations", because it's not that there weren't any - the ambitious-but-useless-and-dull flight sim, the combat sequences, I could have done without those. But it was a great investigative mystery, and probably the one that I find to be best- and most-fairly-designed. Ironic. And sad.

PPPS - I know full well that I'm being profoundly negative on the game because of the rotten experience it's just given me. Tough. I have the same policy on my reviews: if a game makes me feel rotten enough, then that should be reflected in what I have to say about the game, because it was the strongest impression the game made on me.

segunda-feira, 21 de Abril de 2014

Just want to say...

(not related to IF in any way shape or form, unless you somehow create a sort of connection with the recent musical richness of ShuffleComp and the emotional impact of Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, a recently revived thread. But if you do make that connection, you've got a mind more peculiar than mine)

I knew the song "Puff, The Magic Dragon" existed, and I heard it spoofed on ISIHAC, though never heard the actual song. I started listening to The Irish Rovers, found out they had a cover of Puff, and I though, well, let's see what it sounds like.

I didn't cry, but I was in a sort of misty emotional haze. Crazy, huh? Simplest of melodies, repeats all the time, lyrics are nothing to write home about, and it blew me away in that quiet, quiet way that the simplest things in life tend to.

domingo, 13 de Abril de 2014

Puzzle solutions that the authors didn't intend

I'm currently on a MythBusters spree. I'm quite enjoying it, it's fun, entertaining, educational, and fun.

The 100th episode, the MacGyver special, ends with a cool stunt. The Build Team give Jamie and Adam four tasks that they have to pass in true MacGyver style. Simple-ish tasks, like developing a film with "chemicals" of the sort usually found in households or picking a lock with a lightbulb filament.

What struck me, and what gave me the urge to come here and verbalise what's got me really excited, is the gap between what the Build Team intended them to do... and what they actually did.

Test number one: escape a locked room. They were supposed to use a lightbulb filament to pick a lock. What the Build Team didn't expect is that the lightbulb they supplied the "heroes" with had a rather thick filament that wouldn't fit.

So consider the Build Team as the author, and you could imagine that maybe the author had intended the player used something else to pick that lock, something that would actually fit. But what Adam did was, he used his steel-toe capped shoes to hammer and anvil the filament into something flatter that would fit the lockpick.

Tests number two and three were so mundane in terms of the guys' performance being completely expected by the "villains" that I won't go into it. The author laid out puzzles; the player resolved them. End of story.

Test number four is what's really got me going. They were supposed to improvise a signalling device they could use to draw the attention of a flying aircraft, using only components they found in a makeshift "villain's camp" (MythBusters are entertainingly theatrical). The Build Team - the author - devised a crafty puzzle where they had all the means to construct a potato cannon - they had the PVC tubing, ignition, fuel, potatoes.

The player - Adam and Jamie - went on another tangent altogether. They only went and built a kite.

This has me severely excited the same way that a transcript for Infocom's "Sherlock" has me excited. You might, or might not, know that in that transcript there's a fictious scenario where the PC misses the train... but not to worry, taking a hansom cab and a few shortcuts they can take the train at the NEXT stop, and board it from there. But this never happens in the game, AFAIK, and happens in almost no IF that I know of: if the PM missed the train and there won't be another train along, they're stranded, the game ends or the PC is a walking dead.

The latter example is about the freedom of IF, and making it possible for some puzzles to be failed without the harsh penalty of losing the game. Off the top of my head I can only remember Christminster actually doing this in a few scenes. I'm not talking about choosing to do or not do something and then deal with the consequences, like Anchorhead does with the library card - I'm talking about transparently the player FAILING to solve a puzzle, or to turn up in time for a timed event... and having a second shot at repairing it later.

It was when I realised that this would never happen that I started collecting saved games. Old school games take too much glee in punishing the player. New school games hold the player's hand so much that the player wouldn't fail, not without ample warning and leeway. I'm sure everyone prefers the middleground (old school stereotype = too much frustration, and new school stereotype = no challenge at all), and this middleground would benefit tremendously from this sort of design. In Sherlock, it would have emerged (emergent gameplay, anyone? I guess maybe that's the point of this post...) from a time/transportation system that made it possible for you to catch up, maybe, to a train that's just left the station you haven't arrived to yet; in Christminster, it simply happened because the author made sure the player had that second chance.

Going back to the MythBusters, though, this would of course be the Holy Grail of simulation-based IF - an IF world where physics are so emulated (or simply where the author underwent such massive beta-testing that he kept adding alternative solutions... which is another good thing!) that, Last Express style, situations can occur that the author didn't predict, and a puzzle can be solved in a very different way to what the author expected.

I understand the upcoming Hadean Lands is crazy with physics and/or chemistry, and I have an inkling that Metamorphoses might come close to it too (I haven't played it yet; but I have played Fractured Metamorphoses). Considering that Counterfeit Monkey does more or less the same thing, except that it uses word manipulation instead of heavily simulated physics... the result is a comparable piece with multiple solutions, an incredible amount of possibilities, and the perfect playground for a Wordsmith MacGyver. As opposed to, say, Nord and Bert, or Ad Verbum, or Earl Grey, where the same manipulation exists as a gimmick or central mechanism and is limited to being the correct tool for the job at hand.

It's not quite like the infamous spells, either. In all the Enchanter trilogy, most spells had very specific use. There was an effect if you used them on something they weren't supposed to be used on, and in Sorcerer that was the source of a few easter eggs or amusing situations, but it was just icing - the puzzle would be solved exactly as the authors predicted, and that's that. Similarly, the wishes in Wishbringer are, if you'll notice, carefully constructed to be useful in only a few key very specific situations.

Chris Crawford's emphasis on emergent storytelling always seemed hollow to me, because I always felt that if you remove the auhor and the authorial process from the equation, you lose the appeal; you might as well give the player a word processor and go "Write your own story". I'm frequently confronted by clear examples of me being possibly wrong in this assessment, and the most immediate example I can think of right now is Kerkerkruip, where clear, definite storylines and strategies arise where none is intended (after all, what you have is a specific set of enemies, objects and rooms. But they come together during gameplay to create a definite narrative). Possibly Crawford dares to go the limit - his Storytron certainly failed to provoke any reaction in me precisely because there wasn't an author, there wasn't a narrative, and I felt I might as well just go off and write my own game.

(A parenthesis here would be necessary for 18 Cadence. It's not my cup of tea at all, but from what I understand, it's sort of an environment with a few pre-fabricated rooms and characters where you can create any sort of narrative you fancy. It is, in fact, a word processor with an amazing lot of inspirational material that, by itself, already tells a story of a sort, so you are by turns creating and subverting. I would not classify this as emergent gameplay, mostly because I find it hard to call it gameplay at all, but it's certainly in the neighbourhood)

My point with this Crawford/Emergent branch of the discussion: it doesn't have to be taken to extremes, or we risk losing something special. But in the correct circumstances, in the right game, this could be brilliant. The ability to use objects in way they weren't intended and that, because of their simulated physics, works perfectly.

Now, this is all not very practical stuff. In practical terms, a game will be designed to direct the players towards the items they'll need to solve the puzzle. Often, an author will be approached by a player who'll say "Hey, why can't I do this instead? It should work". And the author will hopefully incorporate that. But always within tight authorial limit. This is what happens.

But I can't help but feeling that there's something fundamentally precious in this freedom (Christminster is one of the best games of its time I've played. I seriously loved the heck out of it). A), the freedom to screw up a tight-limit puzzle and then being given the chance to make amends. B), the ability to look at the tools in hand, and start constructing a puzzle solution that may or may not be what the author intended - but that works!

Payoff would be limited. It's like alternate solutions - how does a player know there are alternate paths/solutions? He normally won't, unless they are spelled out, because every player has their own mental processes and they tend towards doing things a certain way, and once it works THAT way, a player is unlikely to come back and try another way. So as in many, many "alternate paths/solutions" games, the player would be unaware of the complexity of the situation.

But on the flip side, the player would definitely be satisfied, because his mental process came up with a working solution (even if trial and error is necessary, and even if the original solution wasn't all that good after all and needed tweaking or re-thinking). And you would have MORE of your players feeling this way, not just the ones that happen to think the same way that you, the author, think.

Ok, I'm mentally tired after writing all this down, I seriosly did NOT mean for this to grow this big. :P

domingo, 20 de Outubro de 2013

Dream Pieces review

As with Coloratura, this review is going into IFDB after the comp.

******

"Already done? I was having so much fun!"

Some games, like the Alan game "The Chasing", have an indefinable quality that makes them a pleasure to play. It's a certain simplicity, a certain cuteness, a certain lack of pretension. They are what they are, the tropes and tricks they use are so transparent they would be groan-worthy if they weren't so darn cute, and sincere.

I was very glad to realise that Dream Pieces was one of these, and of all the Quest Games I've played it's certainly one of the best - and taking the polish into consideration, probably *the* best, period. Quest has been needing a good game to really take off and showcase its abilities... well, "Dream Pieces" might be it.

It's a simple "escape the room" game, where all the prose rhymes (some rhymes are really groan-worthy, but it's all somehow within a certain limit that keeps the whole thing enjoyable) and the aim is to break stuff, and construct a way out from the wreckage. Wordplay-style. Within the basic framework of Quest, though, so it's always a "use X with Y" situation. It works surprisingly well, even if some situations were clearly not expected by the author<spoiler> (you can't combine "d" and "e" together, even though it might seem as though you should be able to. This is because there's actually a different way of getting the object "de", without combining the former two)</spoiler>.

This is like an escape-the-room hybrid of Counterfeit Monkey (for basic mechanics) and The Chasing (for tone). It won't blow anyone's mind, but it's entertaining, rather sweet, impressively coded for  a Quest game with all sorts of little touches, and my only real complaint is that it's way too short. This is a game I'd love to play for quite a while longer.

sábado, 19 de Outubro de 2013

Coloratura review

I have no idea how IFComp reviews are processed before the voting's done, but it appears to be the accepted norm that reviews in IFDB are discouraged. So I'll be copy/pasting this into IFDB whenever the winner is chosen. I expect Coloratura to rank very highly.

********
"Through the eyes of the monster"

Before I beign, fair warning that this review spoils the game to a certain degree. Not much, because all that I refer to is so fundamental to the game that it's very easy to understand from the very beginning - the nature of the PC, the predicament the PC is in, the nature of the PC's surroundings, and the ways in which the PC perceives and can alter the world. Still, if possible, it's best to experience this for yourself before you read further.

Done so? Good.

I suppose we should start with the title. "Coloratura" is a moment in the music where a series of close intervals, or a pattern of close intervals, are played/sung very quickly, demonstrating virtuosity, technique, and general awesomeness. It's an effect, an adornament, an embellishment. I'll admit that by this definition I am unsure of why exactly this is the title of the game - but it puts us immediately in a musical frame of mind, and maybe that's all that's necessary (EDIT - A quick look at Wikipedia actually tells me the word derives from the latin "colorare", "to colour". As you'll see below, this makes a lot more sense, and the ambiguity of this title is a perfect match: this game is all about wildly different realities coexisting).

This game is very musical and very visual. In fact, it translates the PC's non-human nature by focusing on these two aspects - the physical world is very much unimportant... and, due to some very good writing, a strange yet mundane place to be. Of course we, the player, know exactly where we are, and what these devices are surrounding us. The PC does not, and it's not easy to describe a world through the eyes of a character completely out of their element while at the same time making it easy for the player to recognise and navigate without problems.

One major advantage this gives the author, of course, is regarding implementation - only the most important parts of the room need be described and implemented, and everything else is background noise. Besides being great design it's also part of the general atmosphere. The PC does not care in the least for unimportant objects, does not know what they are, and does not care, because all around the PC is a world of colours and music (though surely not in the sense that we know music) that is a lot more vibrant than anything else.

Although you control this character physically, as in pretty much any other IF, it becomes obvious very soon that the physicality is very limited and very, very uninteresting. There is a curious sense of wonder, an essential vitality and goodness in the PC, that drive this entire piece, and it transcends the physical plane in a way that veritably shines through. It makes this game a slightly surreal, off-beat experience that you cannot put down.

Of course, all this positivity in the PC is part of the central gimmick: we very soon realise that this is the "Research ship discovers horrible monster in the depths of the sea". In fact, this is "Frankenstein: Through the Eyes of the Monster", or "Zork: A Troll's Eye View", with a different setting. And the point of view of the PC is... well, let's just say you never thought that the monster's PoV could be so appealing.

It does put you in mind, of course, of how subjective reality is, and how people can mean the best and still commit the worst atrocities. The inability to see the world from the other person's point of view (and the extent to which it is unavoidable, because we are after all a complex organism that is nevertheless centered in itself and a product of its own history, so that "walking a mile in someone else's shoes", while good sound advice that can be followed to some extent, remains in the end an impossibility) is a central theme in this game, never more so than in the Epilogue and in the meat scene - a scene that I did not understand until later, when I fully realised what it was exactly I'd done. It was a very curious sensation. I finally felt the horror of the situation as the crew might have, but it was rather detached, because of the enduring positivity and well-meaning that prompted me to take that action.

The musical aspect of this game is all-encompassing (and when I say all-encompassing, let me just point out that in very few games I can meaningfully "examine universe". Nuff said), though not with any actual practical value rather than setting your goal. Still, it permeates the PC's (narrator's) speech often, enhancing the slightly surreal, definitely non-physical nature of the creature you are playing.

There are some physical aspects of the character, of course, but they are very alien to us and they allow for a couple of very interesting puzzles.

I have to take a quick break here to say I absolutely loved this game. Moving on.

 I have talked about "colours" as well. The PC can perceive and actually alter characters' auras. It's a simple nudge - trying to colour someone's aura is like making them feel confident/curious/stubburn, from the outside in. It won't drastically affect their actions, most of the time, but it *will* have an effect on how these actions are taken. And it's a central puzzle in the game. It reminded me a lot of "Delightful Wallpaper" (a love/hate sort of game which I loved and recommend, though it won't be for everyone. Oh no.), where in the second half revolved around placing "intentions" on characters, a brilliantly abstract and powerful concept. In this one you can colour their auras with abstract concepts.

So we're navigting a colourful musical world, where the physical reality of the ship is actually jarring with the ethereal universe the PC inhabits. Just to sum up.

Implementation is very solid, and there were two instances where I was surprised to find that the game accepted my commands. In one of them I knew exactly what I wantd done, but was having trouble finding a way to express it, even before I started typing. Eventually I typed what felt most natural: <spoiler> > LET ME GO </spoiler>. I was delighted to find that it worked. Top-notch. Also, you can choose between nautical/cardinal directions. This author has done her homework, with splendid results.

This game is relatively short, but very very sweet. I had a hard time writing this review because I wanted to make sure I said everything that I had to say, and there were so many things to mention. It's a very rich experience that makes a great use of the medium, and well, 10/10 basically. It's excellent. The author's previous efforts were good, but this one is her masterpiece. So far. I'm looking forward for the next masterpiece. ;)

quarta-feira, 9 de Outubro de 2013

The importance of voice acting

I often feel that the voice acting in an adventure game is overlooked.

Actually, I often feel that a lot of things get overlooked in an adventure game. Climatic scenes that would greatly benefit from changes in angle or a cutscene format get relegated to a conversation scene using the game's regular conversation engine. Models that use the same base animation for different situations in ways it makes it painfully clear there's an animated skeleton under there, slapped over a different character with little to no cusotmisation. And of course, the tendency to stop a climatic sequence with a pedestrian or gratuitous puzzle.

But anyway. I'm ranting about the voice acting this time.

Sometimes it feels like adventure games, especially indie adventure games, don't really care about voice acting. It's like the age-old argument with graphics, which I saw a LOT in the AGS forums: the graphics don't matter, as long as the game is good and the story is good.

Well, voice acting is more optional than graphics, and it has a lot more impact. I *have* greatly enjoyed games with MSPaint graphics (stick figures, sometimes), because I can look past it. What I can't look past is a bad voice actor that I have to hear constantly. It's like bad music. It's even worse in this case, though, because they are voicing a character, and if the character starts sounding really bad, then it will affect my perception of the character, for the worse.

Let me give some forinstances. "A New Beginning" and "The Lost Crown" are examples of atrocious voice acting in places. I don't mean fake strange accents, some games have those and it can be grating but they are endurable. I mean strange ways of saying the lines, sometimes totally disconnected from what's going on. "Lost Crown" in particular is bad all over, the dialogues sound like a drama class with first-years.

What started this rant was actually the game "Cognition", where all the voice actors are passable-to-good, with strong and weak moments, with the exception of the lead, Raleigh Holmes. Holmes' performance is outstanding. The first episode starts in media-res, in a very climatic which we haven't enough information to give a damn about. That's a challenge and a half, that is. These scenes usually work because the player knows what's at stake and knows the characters. Starting from one means it's got to be awesome or it won't work at all.

The graphics and presentation and music are top notch, but the driving force of that beginning, and indeed the whole game, is Holmes' performance. The strength in her voice drives the whole game from beginning to end, but it's more than that. The lines are delivered somewhere halfway between "the way normal people speak" and the "trained way voice actors talk, getting the most out of every line, making it rich and vibrant". Most voice actors in "Cognition" fall in the second category, which is fine, as far as it goes, but get them in a dialogue with Holmes and they start sounding really fake. Many scenes in "Cognition" have a great impact solely because of Holmes' narration.

Don't ask me what she's doing 'cause I don't know. I think she has little voice acting credits to her name, I know she's a singer and not an actor. It's not a case of talent winning over technique, because she's not devoid of technique. She doesn't seem to be sacrificing the technique to get the desired result either. What's she's doing, simply, is briging a huge wallop of sincerity that makes her the star in the game.

You know, back in the olden days, when Sierra and Lucasarts ruled the adventure game world (broadly speaking), voice acting was decent-to-great, whatever happened to that? We still have good work, like the solid work from Wadjet Eye Games, but it's like the best voice acting happens in non-adventure games. Is it because adventure games are a bit more static, and therefore harder to act out? More dialogue, perhaps? Maybe it's just that we can't afford the great actors anymore, I mean Gabriel Knight was packed with TV/cinema stars, but these actors aren't out there doing the non-adventure games either. Maybe it's simpler to be a Shodan or a GladOS than an adventure game character, because the former only has to provide constant narration, a steady narrative, where an adventure game can jump all over the place.

Enough rant. My point is that I despair of bad voice acting, especially when the rest of the game is of good quality. Some developers seem to think it's not all that it important. It is. It can ruin great scenes ("A New Beginning" had the whole ending sequence pretty much ruined because the PC kept coming out with the weirdest line deliveries) or games (I can't play "The Lost Crown". That awful voice acting which I can't turn off seriously prevents me). Holmes' performance in "Cognition" is a welcome tour-de-force, where I'm finally listening to a character from beginning to end, and not a voice actor that recorded the lines separately and thought that *this* particular word would be a good place to change intention and therefore change the tone of voice and inflection. I mean, that's technique, that's good to have, but technique is supposed to help you, not hinder you. It can't be transparent. If the audience spots your technique, you're through. Technique is the all-important basis for any artistic endeavour - but it's a tool, not a goal in itself.

I don't know whether Raleigh Holmes plans to do any more voice acting, but I surely hope so. We need people like her. It's been a long, long time (ever?) since I was so completely hooked to a game hanging exclusively on a character's voice.

EDIT - Quick and dirty basic research indicates Holmes does have a lot of acting experience. My bad for suggesting otherwise. My admiration for her continually grows and I hope to hear her in other games soon.

sábado, 13 de Abril de 2013

Andy Phillips: the need for dense, compact, gargantuan ZCode games

Because I'm playing the games alphabetically (it's the best way to make sure I don't skip over a gem or two) I happened to play two Andy Phillips games almost ina  row: "Heist" and "Heroine's Mantle".

Before either of these, of course, I'd tried "Enemies". My experience with it seems to be the experience most IFers who were around had when playing "Time: All Things Come To An End" (a game I will play, in time, but I antecipate not to enjoy much - from what I understand of Mr. Phillips and how the quality of his work progressed, I fully antecipate his first game will be the least enjoyable of the lot): the puzzles weren't just hard, they required a certain minutiae - sometimes in syntax, leading to guess-the-verb - that I was completely unprepared for.

Also, Mr. Phillips has some quirks of his own. Purple-flavoured prose (meaning it's not purple, but it feels as though it should be. Maybe "pulp" would be a good description? But without some of the negative connotations it has), insufficient information in disambiguation situations, inconsistently implemented multi-part objects... I went over these in my "Heist" review, and others have done the same in theirs. "Heroine's Mantle" suffers much less ftom these, so I imagine Mr. Phillips takes the criticisms seriously and strives to improve, without compromising his style.

Now, when you play a Phillips game, there is much room to hate, to curse, to swear. Especially because of the things Phillips doesn't seem to compromise in is in rewarding a player, after a hard puzzle, with another puzzle, instantly. There is no room to breathe, and that gets very tiresome. That alone would make some players think many times before playing a game of his with the intent to see it through. The knowledge that the game's puzzles are 99% logical and 99% guess-the-verb free, but that the 1% DOES exist and if you're stumped you're never quite sure whether it's a 99% situation or whether you DO need to hit the walkthrough...

But, and here is the point of this blog, we will always need an Andy Phillips. I'm very glad we have him. I have never seen a post of his in IntFiction, and I came to RAIF too late to recognise him if he was there at all, but I fervently hope he's still here. Still writing his mammoth games.

An Andy Phillips game is, first and foremost, dense. He insists on using ZMachine, and does it so well I sincerely hope he never turns to Glulx (he shouldn't need to, his games are big enough already!). The constraints imposed by his chosen platform and his own megalomania create, by necessity, a game where everything is packed *tight*. The sheer size of his stories is amazing enough. That he manages to cram in the puzzles he does is more amazing still - creative puzzles, of the sort that often make you feel good about solving them (A-HA!). In his later games, at least, he goes to the trouble of making sure almost everything you see in the room is interactable with - but if it's not *necessary*, you simply get the standard "That item isn't necessary for winning the game". It doesn't detract from the world he's built, and at the same time steers us away from red herrings, so we can concentrate on the IMPORTANT stuff. Without this, the games would be too frustrating to play.

We need these games. Not on a daily basis. Not even, possibly, on a yearly basis. They are too much, and to really savour them (those of us, that is, who can savour such games - a lot of the IF community nowadays, or at least a very vocal part, shies away from them, claiming not to be good at puzzles*) we need time, and we need effort, and we need a damn big break between each game. But when we do have them, it's a real treat. Atmospheric games, which at their best instill trust in the player. The player *trusts* the game to the extent that the player will experiment in order to achieve success. Andy Phillips still believes the fun in IF is experimenting, discovering what happens in specific circumstances, and then deciding for ourselves how we can turn that to our advantage. There is a certain movement away from this, but we can't really live without it. Call it the gaming aspect of IF, call it "the I in IF", call it the sheer pleasure of using brainpower, it's a fundamental of the genre that, as much as we try to disguise or shy away from, we still need, in some form or another.

So Andy, if you're reading this... what are you doing, wasting time reading what I'm writing instead of programming your next game?!



*Well, I used to think I was pretty sucky at them myself. And then I started playing these games. And I got stuck, and I kept on, and I checked the hints, and I played another game, and well, I'm not so sucky anymore. Is it, I wonder, that we simply don't have the time or inclination to create/solve puzzleboxes? "A Flustered Duck" seems to be crafted in such a way that at some point the player will HAVE to look at the puzzles; discussion about it in IntFiction led me to believe that's a trend, "If the puzzle stops the game, the player need only check the hints to proceed". I appreciate the narrative and pacing value of this, but I would be very worried if this were to be a dominating trend. We've seen that there IS room for IF within the "casual gaming" niche, but reducing IF to that, or to static fiction that wants you to see the story so badly it actually does away with the puzzles or gives them little thought on the basis of "The player has hints they can check", seems to be nothing short of criminal.