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Review: Anna Anthropy’s Queers in Love at the End of the World

Review: Anna Anthropy’s Queers in Love at the End of the World

Queers in Love at the End of the World
by Anna Anthropy
Interactive Fiction / Twine Game
2013


Queers in Love at the End of the World is an interactive fiction written using Twine Sugarcane by Anna Anthropy, supposedly for a competition and inspired by a quote from Tumblr: “when we have each other, we have everything”.

The theme of the competition and therefore this IF is ‘ten seconds’. The reader is given ten seconds to go from start to finish by clicking on the links to try and find a path. This means you have little to no time to read anything, even the opening passage. You could, of course, spend time reading each passage and simply following your old path when you move onto the next page but that kind of defeats the purpose.

What little I managed to read in between frantic clicking on links is great writing: emotive wording, characterisation, and multiple paths to take. This IF is best suited to those who like to skim-read and get the gist of what path they’re taking, but someone who enjoys taking their time and reading isn’t going to have the best experience.

The entire point is that you have no time to think, no time to react to the information you’re being given because the world is ending. The inclusion of a timer is an excellent way to replicate the anxiety one would feel when given only ten seconds to experience something.

Because of the tiny time limit, this IF has a high degree of re-playability. In the ten to twenty times a reader would usually spend reading an IF, they can experience many different paths of the game. I don’t know how many endings there are but one of the best parts is probably when you finish frantically clicking links and end up on a page with three seconds left where you actually have enough time to read it.

This IF relies heavily on assumptions: when you click on a link, you have some idea where you’re going to go. Most of the options are actions: “kiss her” etc., or the player-character thinking about something specific, such as “The memory of her smell when she’s far away”.

The title is the only overt reference to this being an LGBT+ piece. Nothing in the text (that I managed to read) was obvious that this should be anything more than the standard heteronormative piece. This piece is a massive hi-five to the LGBT+ community and one that I can definitely get behind. After all, why should writers have to conform to stereotypes in order to display a relationship that is fundamentally the same as those available in other fiction? The fact that the title itself states this is enough of a tip off and is great representation.

Anna Anthropy is an American video game writer and has a great list of other works if you want to follow her other works. I highly recommend it.

Review: Michael Lutz’s the uncle who works for nintendo

Review: Michael Lutz’s the uncle who works for nintendo

screenshot

the uncle who works for nintendo
Michael Lutz
Interactive Fiction / Twine Game
October 2014


the uncle who works for nintendo (TUWWFN and capitalised in some uploads but not in his website) is exactly the kind of IF you’d expect from someone who also authored a game called the bones picked clean and the clean bones gone. The origin of Lutz’s problem with capitalisation is a mystery but he certainly knows how to write in Twine.

This game takes around 15-20 per play through and has five possible endings so if you’re the kind to want to find every possibility, I recommend setting a few hours aside to immerse yourself in this fiction.

In Lutz’s words, his piece “uses a horror framework to think about misogyny and emotional abuse and manipulation”. So even though the title references a company well known for brightly-coloured characters and kid-friendly universes, TUWWFN is a chilling story set in childhood. The misogyny in the piece, admittedly, seems a bit stuck-on for bonus points and is only really present if you go through a specific path but manipulation (of people and of facts) is as clear as day.

If you’re going to read this, I have two pieces of advice. Turn your sound on (hello sound effects), and question everything.

The first thing you do is pick the name of your best friend which is a refreshing change. Normally you’re picking who you are. From there, it matches your general Twine fiction: you’re given a few possible paths to take and you’ll be affecting your ending the whole way. The whole way through, you take the lead and the world around you is affected by your actions.

One interesting innovation used in the piece is Lutz’s use of coding language within the game itself. This gives an extra level of understanding to those who have also used Twine but also has the added benefit of formatting the text differently to the rest of the passage. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, just take a look.

Though Lutz seems to have a few issues with commas, it doesn’t detract too much from the story itself and though the piece does have some interesting innovations, some of the dialogue is reminiscent of everyone’s first two years writing awkward overly-polite conversations between their characters.

That said, the basic scene-setting isn’t too bad. If you’re in the habit of skim-reading IF, you might need to make the effort to read it through. Links to other passages are dotted throughout each passage and can change the reading and the ending you’re in store for. Even if you’re redirected back to the same passage, you’ll find differences in the text if you look closely enough.

Lutz has also cleverly made the game in such a way where you’re not sure if things are broken or if it’s just meant to back you into a corner. Not everything in this game is as it seems at first. Though that sentence could be taken as a motto for this piece.

Though, at the time of writing this review, I haven’t yet gotten all five endings, I would say this game has a high degree of re-playability. The desire to see what choices will lead us where and how you can avoid meeting the same sticky end you already found.

I wouldn’t put this game up there with AAA horror games, but it is a bit spooky and I’d recommend that you read it in a well-lit room with a warm drink if you’re not of a robust disposition.

To see more of Michael Kurtz’s works, visit his website here.

Review: Hana Feels by Gavin Inglis

Review: Hana Feels by Gavin Inglis

Hana Feels by Gavin Inglis
Interactive story / Twine game
2015


I’m always anxious about reading fiction about depression. There’s a tendency towards romanticising mental illness – or at least the ‘pretty’ side of mental illness – that rubs me the wrong way. Fortunately, Hana Feels might be about depression, but it is not romanticised.

Hana Feels is an interactive storygame centred around the eponymous character, Hana, and her struggle with depression. However, we don’t play as Hana, but rather the characters she interacts with, including her best friend, Jen, her boss, Christine, and a helpline volunteer named Will. Their reactions decide what path she will follow, either helping her recovery or making her worse.

There are three possible endings to the game: better, the same, or worse. Obviously, it’s not exactly true to life – recovery from mental illness isn’t linear in any way – but Inglis manages to capture a version of reality with these endings. There isn’t an ending where everything ends up hunky-dory. She’s not going to walk away suddenly cured, which is a relief for those readers who have experience with mental illnesses.

The thing is, Hana Feels has two possible readers: those with experience, and those without. For the former, it’s a familiar story. Although no two people have the same journey, there are elements that most people experience: alienation from family members and friends; feelings of self-doubt and blame; disassociation from everyday experiences and so on. In its way, Hana Feels is a mirror, and it hits home.

But for those readers who have never experienced mental illness, or have only ever watched from afar? For them, Hana Feels becomes something more like a manual. On my first playthrough, I got frustrated with how similar the options were – what does it matter if you ask someone’s name before you ask them how they are? It wasn’t until my second and third playthrough that I understood better: every word mattered when trying to help someone else, and they especially mattered when a single misstep could cause irreparable harm. It was uncomfortable and stressful and exactly what it’s like in real life – and that’s why Hana Feels is a great storygame.

I won’t say it’s perfect. There are moments where the dialogue doesn’t quite mesh perfectly, or where the reactions are too limited for there to be a satisfying option. But that in itself is quite clever: after all, we’re not reacting as we would, but rather exploring how the characters themselves might choose. It’s shorter than I’d like, and once you’ve figured out the right options to pick the game ends a little abruptly, but overall Inglis manages to draw us into the world successfully – uncomfortably, awkwardly, but certainly successfully.

Built in Twine 2.0, Hana Feels is sort of the quintessential storygame: limited interactions allow for different possible conclusions. For those used to interactive fiction, it is somewhat predictable, but that doesn’t detract from its enjoyability – rather, the comfort of the familiarity is a perfect offset to the discomfort of the topic. It’s free to play, only takes about fifteen minutes to get through, and is something I’d definitely recommend giving a go.

Read more about the project on Gavin Ingis’s blog.

Review: Lifeline by 3 Minute Games

Review: Lifeline by 3 Minute Games

Lifeline
by 3 Minute Games
Mobile app / Text adventure
Steam / iTunes / Google Play
2016


There’s a tendency in interactive fiction for authors to use fairly dry, prosaic description to bring players into their worlds. It works, but perhaps it’s fair to say that there is room for experimentation. What’s so special about Lifeline is that it dispenses with that omniscient narrator in a very specific way: through conversation. Lifeline engages the player directly with its main character: an astronaut stranded on a distant planet. What follows from this conceit is a game essentially formed as an extended conversation tree.

Technically, Lifeline is based on the Twine 2 language, but is dressed up in such a way that even those familiar with the format would scarce recognize it. The cold, grey metal textures of the UI echo a more utilitarian Star Trek communicator, but are subtle enough to seem at home on any modern mobile device. The game features limited play options (no restarts, toggles only for the music and sound effects) and after a brief introductory message, the fiction is only broken when the player opens the settings menu. From the get-go, the player is ostensibly, believably using a communication program to chat with and direct the protagonist.

The lost astronaut, Taylor, is very personable and easily empathised with, which makes it very easy for the player to invest in whichever the branching outcomes of the story they encounter. Lifeline avoids identifying its protagonist in terms of more obvious attributes such as race or sex, allowing those details to be filled in by the player. That is not to say Taylor is a blank slate or that s/he lacks personality – indeed, that is one of the strengths of the work. Taylor regularly discusses, protests or endorses the player’s suggestions and it’s consistently fun to engage with the erstwhile traveller.

The tone of the work is set immediately upon opening the application with an echoey, alien soundscape that despite hundreds of loops over the course of the game never seems to grow old. The reason why it stays fresh is presumably because the game is only played in very short bursts (roughly a couple minutes at a time). This is arguably one of the most important features of Lifeline: the fact that it unfolds in real time. The game takes place over the course of several real-world days – with messages from Taylor being relayed to the player through push notifications on their phone. After choosing their response, Taylor will go away for anywhere up to a matter of hours to complete whatever activity or goal the player advises them to engage with. This unique use of mobile device infrastructure makes Lifeline stand out among its peers.

For the most part, Lifeline steers away from trying to convey any sort of moral or political message – it possesses no overbearing themes and instead focuses on telling an engaging, yet ultimately pulpy science fiction story, with appearances from some familiar tropes. This is not to say the story lacks depth, however; there are many small details and deeper nuances to the plot and world that make the game worth replaying.

Where Lifeline fails, perhaps, is where it forces the player to choose from ‘Snarky Response 1’ or ‘Snarky Response 2’ and slightly hamfistedly railroads the plot in a specific direction. But for the most part, Taylor’s banter makes for a convincing enough reason to go with the flow. The endings can be rather abrupt or drawn out as the tension wanes and the player becomes increasingly unsure as to why Taylor is messaging them instead of running for his/her life.

Ultimately, Lifeline is a rare example of interactive fiction which takes advantage of the unique capabilities of the medium. Text messaging is the norm for almost everyone these days and Lifeline taps into that world; it slips very easily into the background of everyday life. It’s certainly not the most revolutionary mode of storytelling, but especially for the modest asking price (<$2) it’s worth a shot.

Review: 80 Days by Inkle

Review: 80 Days by Inkle

"80 Days" by Inkle

80 Days
by Inkle
Digital Fiction – App & Steam Game
​2014


80 Days is loosely based on Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days as it has us take the role of Passepartout escorting his master, Monsieur Phileas Fogg, around a very steampunky 1872. It plays out like an interactive novel come board game and is available on iOS, Android and Steam.

I have never read the original text from what this game is based upon, but that doesn’t take away from the charm of the piece. The game features a very stylised, silhouette graphic style, accompanied by a beautiful score and atmospheric sound effects to indulge you in this fantastical adventure.

The game, much like the premise of the book, is focussed on Fogg’s bet: an eighty-day journey to circle the globe. This bet, then, requires a strict itinerary, budget, managing your master’s health and the ability to manage one’s time. Whilst it is not the most complex of systems to understand, it can be unforgiving. On one occasion, I was forced to beg on the streets in South America due to mismanaging money and resulted in four days wasted which added to the ninety-eight-day journey.

All the style and management mechanics accompany a wide and varied narrative with a quality of writing akin to its visuals and sound design. No one playthrough is wholly the same as the last, for the number of branching paths (visualised as actual roads to different cities) is astounding. In one playthrough I found myself leading a mutiny on a ship and in the next rugby tackling Jesse James to the floor of a train after he stole £3000 from my person.

Meg Jaynath’s writing has you assume the role of Passepartout. He is front and centre of the narrative as the story is told through his memoir-like writings which make for a charming and witty read. During the text aspects of the game, you are often given the choice of two or three musings and Passepartout will then ‘write’ further.

Meg’s writing also allows you to play him how you see fit: a proud Frenchman devoted to the service of his master, a wary traveller who despises the company of Fogg – just to name two avenues of ‘playing’ your Passepartout. In turn, this adds to the replayability of the game by giving you different types of person to assume along with the different routes of travel.

Each trip around the world takes around two hours and not once was I left feeling that it was wasted time as I explored new and varied narrative paths. Trip after trip, the world seems to flesh itself out more. Different interactions with different individuals will add new details, conflicting ideologies or confirmation of what you previously understood about the 80 Days world. The game’s addictive nature for another adventure, and the way that it is written negate the need for extensive exposition dumps which 80 Days could have easily fallen into.

This addictive narrative and gameplay has led me on four journeys thus far, and I have yet to truly ‘complete’ this piece. In these four journeys, the closest I have come to winning the bet was eighty-two days. This frustration, and eagerness to ‘win’, drive me to start the thing all over again, resulting in another fresh experience.

This piece of digital fiction is the age-old idiom of “It’s the journey that matters and not the destination” personified. There is the possibility that you will never win the bet but the journey around the world and the stories that unfurl are the real prize. This is the strength of 80 Days and why I recommend it so highly.

Review: Adam Cadre’s 9:05

Review: Adam Cadre’s 9:05

9:05
by Adam Cadre
Interactive Fiction / Text Adventure
​2000


9:05 is the third interactive fiction published by Adam Cadre. It is, in his words, “a standard intro-to-IF piece” and the public opinion seems to be the same. If you’re looking for a way into interactive fiction, take this path.

9:05 harkens back to days where games like Zork were all the rage, complete with all the fun (read: frustration) of unrecognised verbs and pedantic wording. It may be quite a short game with maybe 10 minutes for your first playthrough (depending how fast you pick up on how to phrase your commands) but the multi-ending nature of it means you can play it over again.

The narrative of 9:05 places you in a bedroom, being awoken by the phone ringing. You are informed you’ve slept in too late, and given a description of the room you’re in. What a typical situation. You’re late for work, which might quell your enthusiasm to continue reading. But trust me on this one and bear with it.

You must answer the phone, and you can look around the room before cleaning yourself up and getting out of the house. Whilst in the house, there’s little you can do to affect the ending but looking around gets more story details and helps you to understand some of the endings.

Once you leave the house, however, you’re given a bit more freedom – you can choose to take certain exits on the freeway, etc. This does mean, though, that you tend to rush through the inside of the house on replays because you already know what you’re doing, and there is certainly room for more branches adding from the very beginning.

Those who tend towards impatience will often find themselves barely skimming the descriptive text and thus missing clues as to the ending they’re heading towards. Even though the sentences are stripped down to the bare bones of description, the game tends to repeat itself or you’re scanning just for the information you need right then (especially when you forget if the bathroom is to the north or south).

Cadre has almost no voice in this piece (only when telling you it’s probably a good idea to go through the tutorial first) but it’s clear he’s used to creating these interactive fictions (IFs) (no mistakes in there still being a Pop-Tart on the counter after you’ve eaten it).

One of the best things about 9:05 is the community that surrounds it. Though you can’t interact or view others’ results, it’s such a popular and well-circulated game that almost anyone you encounter who’s dabbled in IF will know what you’re talking about. Then there’s that shared smugness of knowing about the game’s secrets versus those people who haven’t read it before or gave up because the late for work trope put them off.

For all that 9:05 can put you off initially with the complicated commands and run-of-the-mill storyline, it’s not what you expect it to be. Cadre certainly knows how to put a twist in the tale and divert a reader’s expectations.

In short, if you haven’t already – whether you’re new to interactive fiction or not – try 9:05. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

You can find 9:05 and Adam Cadre’s other works at http://adamcadre.ac/if.html.