Saturday, April 21, 2018

Spring Thing 2018 - ULTRAMARINE: A Seapunk Adventure

ULTRAMARINE: A SEAPUNK ADVENTURE (Seven Submarines) - This appears to be the only full-on Ren'Py Visual Novel in Spring Thing. Seven individuals (submarines?) are credited and a lot of obvious work went into this presentation. The art skews more toward superhero comic than anime, and I got a very He-Man/She-Ra after school cartoon vibe from this. Sexy Mer-People! Look at the hair! I like the visual design a lot but had to turn the music way down  - not because it was bad, but because the music is performed with very synthetic instrument patches that I (personally) couldn't take much of. That could be easily fixed in software by remixing the tracks.
The mer-hunks are described as "giants"...but nothing seems specifically out of proportion beyond a comic book or professional wrestling scale here...

I'm a newcomer to VN, so I'm interested in how the presentation varies from text parser and choice IF. One thing about VN is that there's a lot of text.

The Prince's cape is faultlessly starched...or...well, this is underwater so fair enough.

A lot of text. I guess I shouldn't be as surprised coming from a complete text medium as I do, but VNs require you to either click forward a lot, set the auto-advance to a comfortable level to go handsfree, or skip text - most every VN engine has this built into the controls so maybe this isn't out of the ordinary.

I'd been reading VN where "you" (the PC) aren't onscreen and it took me a few minutes to figure out that I was "playing" Gabrielle Freedman (or at least making choices for her) despite the writing being 3rd person. (CORRECTION - the writing is in fact in 1st person; based on my limited experience of VNs and seeing the PC onscreen for the first part of the game while making notes I thought the PC was a different off-screen fourth character and remembered it as 3rd person. My bad!)  She and the other two main characters (Prince Nautica and his trusty guard-bro Zeppelin) shuffle around while facing front a good deal before the director settles down and they land in some default positions to rest. They look great. And then they've got a whole lot of exposition for us - a good deal of worldbuilding was done here about undersea magikal-with-a-K denizens and everyone has superpowers, but there's a lot of "as we all know" chatter like a daily soap opera where they can't always show you a car crash or brain surgery but they'll talk about it for a week till the viewer almost feels like they were there.

I may be unfair in this criticism since I don't know the threshold of novel-to-visual that's generally accepted. For my personal taste, I think VN works best when the PC can have personal "in the now" conversations with one or more characters as opposed to being told about epic battles they weren't around f-


Nobody expects a battle sequence! Well...all right! I'm happy I made it there. It's nothing extraordinary gameplay-wise but I finally got to participate in the action! Or at least manage some numbers for a while. Again...maybe I'm expecting too much from a visual novel - but novel means the writing should still fall under the jurisdiction of "show don't tell" - even moreso since they've got all this luscious art to use.

I appreciated ULTRAMARINE, and though I think I made only two or three actual choices, I got a numbered unsatisfactory ending, so it appears I could go through again and try for another ending using the SKIP function (I didn't bother to save) but I think I can infer the other branches of plot I didn't discover. Though this is listed as a "full length" game - mostly due to the expository water-treading - I felt like I was being somehow hastily brought up to speed on a much more expansive story in a bigger world than shown here. I'd love to see at least some of this happen over some still art or kinetic concept drawings to break up the characters just do-si-do-ing their positions while facing the audience and describing the off-stage action.


Thursday, April 19, 2018

Spring Thing 2018 - REALLY, IF / REALLY, ALWAYS

 Really, If / Really Always, Dawn Sueoka (The Orange Juice Public Library- A conversation with a simple AI based on Eliza, one of the earliest chatbots who could hold somewhat natural-seeming conversations by reframing the querent's input as another question in almost psychotherapy fashion. Since this is Twine, the player chooses from a list of responses which sometimes feel random. It seems procedurally generated, but there are only so many ways I can answer...I'm navigating a syntactical maze - am I interviewing it or...

Am I still playing this?

It's not long. It doesn't force itself on you, so don't be put off by the warnings if horror is not your thing - it's not exactly - but Really, If / Really, Always got into my head in a way that most games don't. I know its still back there. It's trying to be quiet, but I can feel it.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Spring Thing 2017 - A somewhat chilly first dip into the games.

Spring is here! Warm sun! Flowering trees! Green grass and--I just went out to move my car and there are snow flurries. I know other regions are getting actual piling snow still, so while it might not feel like a Spring Thing, a new crop of games is here! I often get wrapped up creating my own IF bidness and don't play new releases as much as I should, but since we can't really mow and plant yet, let's take shelter in the gazebo where a bumper crop of 20 entries are festivalling. I don't guarantee I will be able to chip the frost off of all of these hopeful, budding shrubs, but here's a first foray into what will hopefully soon yield thriving IF greenery:

Best Gopher Ever, Arthur DiBianca (Parser Inform/Z) - I had to resist adding an exclamation point at the end of this title. "Help the unfortunate residents of Fairview! (Who are all animals, by the way.)" This is billed as a light puzzle game for all ages and delivers on that. DiBianca has a knack for pruning the command set of parser games down to a necessary few, but I found despite this I kept reflexively trying to EXAMINE everything. This is a game of intertwined fetch-quests, and you, the title "go-fer" ostensibly, run errands for an impressive list of three-letter named animals. After I rolled my eyes, I enjoyed the busy-work, almost IF Sudoku vibe of this. The STATUS command is helpful as a quest-log, and was it not for an extremely helpful graphical MAP, I might not have seen this through to the end. The downside to this is after getting into the groove and navigating 80wpm through the map, I stopped paying attention to idle messages and got stuck on the last minor puzzle. I also secretly hoped there might be a hidden meta-game, but didn't run across one in my play.

A Bunch of Keys, Mike Gerwat (with coding by Al Golden) (Parser Inform-Glulx) - This sounds like it should be my jam: "A time travel story of a real-life piano tuner and repairman who just happens to be blind." This piece is semi auto-biographical - the protagonist shares the author's last name, and I only say "semi" due to the time-travel element unless there's something I'm unaware of. There's a read-me-first text file which gets a bit over-explanatory...the protagonist is blind and partially deaf with cochlear implants - fair enough. Great setup for an IF. Time travel, limited-specialized interaction...I'm all in. Teach me stuff about how you experience the world. Genesis (the band) is name-dropped in the when-play-begins... Good good...the banner pre-warns me I need to read the help menu and the walkthroughs and "not complain" if I can't finish the game otherwise...uh-

EXAMINING a thing is actually touching it, but EXAMINING a person is actually examining since this isn't one of those games... I can make the mental translation that the descriptions are based on touch and other senses besides sight. The description of the shirt the player is wearing is surprisingly visual, but I suppose the PC knows he's wearing his Stones concert tee and has memorized a verbal description of the logo...fair enough. Wow. The text help menu is extensive. I imagine I'll want to read all the background info and resources about visual and hearing impairment afterward as kind of a "DVD extras" for the game...
4. For the snowflakes out there. There is a bit of grow-up material in this game and fifty years ago we didn't have any political correctness...
Okay, sure? There's a lot of this pre-defensive disclamatory talk. The game is created hard on purpose and I'm supposed to learn that. I get it, people are rude and I'm certain this author is heading off people 'splaining his own disability to him. I don't expect to feel "welcomed" in a game which purports to let me experience perception and persona different than I'm used to and I want to play, but...enough of this. I'm probably dipping into the help material way too early.
....There's a diploma in a perspex frame on the wall here. It's hanging on a hook and can be removed easily from the wall. A coffee table and a very old comfortable couch are here as well. The Kitchen is to the west and the Bathroom is to the east. The Bedroom is north of here.

: x frame
Your Piano Tuning/Repair Diploma from 1968 is in the frame.

: take frame
For some reason you can't remove the frame from the wall.

: take diploma
For some reason you can't remove it from the wall.
Huh? Okay, it's hard like this. Not hard, but basically unfair. It's one thing to simulate challenges of experience with the parser, it's another for the game to just lie about the environment. I try going west but the game stops me when my hand encounters a key and an envelope which contains an invitation.
: x envelope
This an envelope that from the college you went to has sent you. You were told by your care person Maz that you would be getting one.

: w
You decide to read the contents of the envelope first.

: read envelope
You can't read the envelope.

: read invitation
The invitation is typewritten and you'll have to call your care person Maz to come and read it to you. You replace it in the envelope.
: w
You decide to read the contents of the envelope first.

: read key
Since you're blind, that's not possible, but you scan it and hear what's on the fob.

: w
You decide to read the contents of the envelope first.

: scan key
Unitl you find your scanner, that's not happening.
And ragequit. When I replayed the game just now to capture the text for this, I went west immediately, and here's what happened:
: w
As you head to your kitchen you hear the frame fall from the wall. You pick it up and and place it on the coffee table for the time being.

: x frame
Your Piano Tuning/Repair Diploma from 1968 is in the frame.

: feel frame
Your Piano Tuning/Repair Diploma from 1968 is in the frame.
Where's the key? Where's the envelope? The diploma was waiting to fall if I didn't examine it? I mean, maybe this might be part of the upcoming time-travel hijinks to be experienced later in the game, but I guess the takeaway is that I wouldn't last five seconds in the author's shoes. I think I finally figured out I'm supposed to use FEEL [OBJECT] as a more reliable EXAMINE. That said, forcing the player to do things in a specific order "You decide to read the contents first." "You can't read that, you're blind..." with this much confusion (at least right at the beginning after being somewhat grouchily advised to RTFM and the extensive supplementary material) is less-than-stellar game design, and I'm gonna need to return to this again later to see if I can make more headway.

Confessions of an NPC, Charles Hans Huang (Twine) - Again, this should be my jam - a meta-exploration of the heretofore unrealized motivations and emotions of usually-peripheral trope characters in an adventure game. Sounds fun! Turns out, Confessions is heady and thought-provoking, and I suppose I shouldn't expect escapist fun from all my games. I kind of feel like a tourist in NYC looking to take in a Broadway show but since that flashy musical everyone's talking about is sold out, I instead end up in a critically-praised but very serious Pinter play which is a cycle of five monologues by characters in a medieval fantasy world (Holograms! That's fun!) but who are actually modern people in these costumes monologuing about very up-to-the-minute problems of modern society. It's good, and very topical, but not at all what I was expecting.

I have mixed feelings. This is a message piece masquerading as satire - which is nothing more than a quick coat of glittery fantasy-trope paint that really doesn't lend any deeper irony to what's going on except that this audience probably has played games. I suppose it's a spoonful of sugar for the "medicine" to come? I appreciate what this is doing. It's an exploration of hot topics - Mother is exploring the psychology of guilt being a relative of a school shooter; Princess is a prisoner who doesn't want to shrug off the yoke of her pampered existence because she's safe with the evil she knows and ends up doing bad things in hopes to make a similarly bad situation less bad for others. Moneymaker is in the business of basically pimping out the Princess to make the game fun for oblivious Heroes in kind of a Westworld situation...

These stories are the kinds of revelations that are usually justified in turning us on our head after sucking the player into a "fun" fantasy world a-la Doki Doki Literature Club or Undertale where we already have formed a worldview and have a basis of uninformed choices to build upon - but here it feels we've skipped the revelatory turn business: (No! This fantasy world is ACTUALLY our own!!!...!) Confessions expects us to know that part already and the game just handwaves it. To continue the nerdish Broadway metaphor: This is like arriving at Into the Woods at intermission and going "Why is everyone singing slow ballads about loss? Where's the fantasy fairy tale fun I came for? Did I miss something? What's all this deconstruction? (Don't you hate theatergoers who skip Act One and then ask a bunch of questions?)

The player is frequently pressed to answer whether they'd make the same choice as the character. The answers don't really matter, but then at the end of each encounter, you're called to make a choice and compelled to type the justification for it into a text entry field in your own words. (Nrrrgh...essay questions...) The game does a good job of disclaiming your answers aren't being saved and reviewed by a shadowy government bureau, and all the sensitive scenes are politely preceded by potential trigger warnings (however, you can't reach the self-discovery essay finale scene unless you complete them all.)

I understand the need for this and this is a great use of interactive fiction. Perhaps this is such a RIGHT NOW piece deconstructing RIGHT NOW social politics RIGHT NOW while we're all neck-deep in social change it comes off more heavy-handed and "preaching to the choir" than it would at another time. I feel the people who would benefit most from this experience aren't people who would normally play IF. Maybe this will become a classic in the future that answers the question "What did 2018 feel like?" I was still holding out hope the entire time that at some point the witch would burst out and get hoisted on a broom while singing loud high notes.
BONUS - Recursion, Adrian Belmes - Not part of Spring Thing, but I got a random Twitter notification and played this. Perhaps I'm in a fragile state having attended a funeral this weekend and was in the right frame of mind for sad piano music and maudlin Twinery, but this is done with such care and restraint and evoked such shockingly warm feelings of bittersweetness (over and over) I had to shout it out.
(No, that's not me you hear warbling "Defying Gravity" in the corner. Seriously.)

Friday, January 26, 2018

Doki Doki Literature Club! (and best playthroughs)

Not like this game needs more praise piled on it, but I wrote up a short ramble worshipping Team Salvato and linking to my favorite playthroughs. I'm not syndicating this on Planet IF due to spoilers, but you can read it on my blog.

Doki Doki Literature Club!

"Who could look at this title screen and not be like 'I'm
having a good time already!'?" -- GG Danny
It's not like the Literature Club needs more members, but I have been obsessed with this game despite the fact I never played it outright. I didn't initially think I was a VN/dating sim fan. It's not my thing, and I never would have made it through the three-hour slow build intrinsic to the plot. But I've watched dozens of playthroughs and partial playthroughs. As a huge fan of meta-horror and games that aren't what they seem on the surface this is my jam. Plus it's amazing to watch Let's Play-ers - especially grown men jaded by every other horror game - have the absolute wonkers scared out of them during the uncanny-valley terror the game dishes out, and linger on edge when the game is cheekily playing "normal" and ramping up the paranoia of familiarity that was the whole gimmick of P.T. I almost believe DDLC might have a greater fear effect on men whose latent harem fantasies end up twisted around a delicate finger.

You should certainly give it a play (it's free!) if you are up for it and okay with the disturbing content - self-harm, suicide, mental illness, death and some minor gore), but otherwise, here are a few of my favorite playthroughs. Spoilers after the break.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

LewdJam 2017

I write adult erotic IF on occasion, and I know not everyone is into that. That's why I'm not tagging this to syndicate to Planet IF. But if you have any interest, I have a preview version of a new game, Breeding Princesses of the Planet Lesbonicon available on submitted to the second of two LewdJam2017 jams that recently completed.

I had started this a couple years ago for the hilariously named "Space F****** Jam" but wasn't able to complete it with resources at hand.

The game is an adult pulpy space sex comedy circa 1982, very tongue in cheek, very very weird, and very very lewd. Check it out if you're interested in erotica, are of legal age, and are not on a corporate work computer. The text is explicit, but there are no pornographic images or sound - although some of the ambient music is funky or smooth-jazz suggestive of what you might hear in a porn movie. There is also a link to a spoilery-y list of potential content and trigger warnings at the beginning, though not everything listed is in this incomplete version of the game.

I hope to complete the story in the upcoming few months, barring fire, flood, or other intrusions.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Ectocomp is coming for you...

...fifteen hours...

...before EctoComp comes for you...

As if there aren't enough new games with the overladen buffet of IFComp testing the table legs, the submissions for EctoComp 2017 are due in less than half a day. 

You can play the games that are already submitted on, and voting will open after the deadline.

Ectocomp is a festival of seasonal Halloween and horror entries that are out to scare you (or at least inspire some chills) including speed-IF entries created in three hours or less, as well as longer works. 

There is usually a good range each year of both well-crafted brick and mortar haunted mansions oozing subtle gothic dread as well as tunnels of black plastic and 2x4s quick-slapped together with fake chainsaws and rubber masks; both can be a great time depending on your taste and mood for the holiday.

La petite Mort (English)
Le Grand Guignol (English)
La Petite Mort (Español)
Le Grand Guignol (Español)