Posted by: Ben | October 2, 2008

if: Riverside

(videogame. Z-code. Crockett, Janmey. Interactive Fiction Competition 2008.)

I guess that when we assess, rate and review interactive fiction, more so than in any other interactive medium, we’re explicitly considering two largely unrelated factors – the competence of implementation of the work and its actual merit as a piece of interactive fiction. This second point would in itself seem to divide neatly down the middle into the work’s qualities as a game and as a story, depending on a) what the writer was aiming for, and b) whether I, the reader/player, with my own prejudices and expectations, tend to get it or not. And truly it would be a dull world if we were all the same.

So, with the entries organised into a random order, just to further muddy the waters of expectation and with no idea whatever of the overall standard of the entries or the themes that are going to prove popular (Space opera? Space pirates who say “Arrr”? Goblinpunk?) let’s take a walk along a Riverside.

[EDIT – Nobody likes a spoiler. So, in order to preseve their modesty, these reviews are still in the shop window, but now they’re wearing transparent nightgowns. The customers find it sexier that way. Why not peer beneath the folds?]

A Riverside that took three people to write, or possibly two. A Riverside whose opening location is misspelled, but even Morrissey was wrong sometimes. I thought of Morrissey a lot in the cemetary, a cemetary of grey skies, unimplemented friends, and their equally unimplemented hats. As a possibly frustrated Emily Short posted after the last IF Comp: Play It Yourself. Anyone for “guess the verb”?

On the plus side, there’s one of the creepiest hellfire preachers I’ve ever seen in an IF game.

Also: homoeroticism.

“This is Jim Stetson”
“Hi Jim. It’s Mike”
“Oh hey Mike. You finally going to take me up on my offer to buy you a cup of coffee?”
“You wish. Have you met my unbelievably hot girlfriend? You big gay policeman, you.”

And clunkiness:

“You buy a one-way ticket for the next train to Riverside, which happens to leave early tomorrow morning, online.” Well, where else would a train leave?

There’s one proper NPC – Amy, the aforementioned girlfriend. She’s introduced to me via Inform’s emergent prose system with the following sentence – “You see a bag and Amy here.” There’s a great short story waiting to be written with that kind of syntax. Amy is “pretty much the coolest girl ever”, “the very image of the perfect modern girlfriend” and a technology journalist. But is she a character? (Clue, and I was going to be nice to every game in this competition no matter how bad they were but for reasons that shall become apparent I shall make an exception for the very first game I review: she exists mainly to look glamorous, make the PC’s lifestyle look glamorous, boss the PC around and get pissed off with him if he shows the first sign of independence. Just like many actual women, although NOT just like my wife, if you’re reading this.) Still she doesn’t half take a long time to microwave burritos. Whatever they are.

And this is the point when I suddenly wonder if despite the objects that are described but not implemented, the ones that are implemented but not described and the ones that are described in one room but implemented in another, whether the game is actually not quite good after all. Not winning-the-2008-IF-comp good, but maybe, just maybe, keeping-the-player-occupied-and-maybe-even-helping-him-to-think-about-how-to-improve-his-own-IF-when-he-goes-and-writes-some-later good.

The problem with IF, is that all the interactive works of fiction that anyone ever seems to talk about, from Zork onwards, are about people going to places, getting objects and using them. Riverside neatly solves the problem by making the collection and use of appropriate objects in the right order inseperable from the subject of the story – get the girlfriend a beer, find the phone. The story moves forward when you find the relevant object and carry out the next relevant action upon it and not before. Also, it understands a sensible command like “eat breakfast”, which is something I think more highbrow IF could learn from.

And then, with what BS Johnson (who as the author of a novel supplied as a series of pamphlets designed to be read in any order would likely have appreciated a bit of interactive fiction) might have described as “an almighty aposiopesis”, culminating in a punchline not as good as 9:05, it was all over.

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Responses

  1. “You wish. Have you met my unbelievably hot girlfriend? You big gay policeman, you.”

    That was great. Thanks. 🙂


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