Posted by: Ben | November 15, 2008

if: Violet

(videogame. Z-code. Freese. Interactive Fiction Competition 2008)

Slouching in like it’s early October, a belated review of the darling of the 2008 competition. What time do you call this?

Reading around the reviews, a lot of people seem to like this game a lot. It could even be described as the favourite to win. So in the context of so many positive reviews I’m sure I’ll be forgiven for eschewing my usual attitude of grateful generosity – “Oh, you wrote a game! Just for little ol’ me!” – and get straight to giving it a well-deserved kicking, or at least blowing it a half-hearted raspberry.

Here’s the dramatic tension at the heart of Violet: The player character desperately needs to write his dissertation, or at least one thousand words of the third chapter. If he fails to do so, his girlfriend will not only leave him, but actually get on a plane and fly to Australia to get away from him. She seems rather impulsive, you might be thinking.

By the way, you can change your gender at any time during play, should you choose to do so, although this merely shows up how limited the back story really is, relying solely on player identification and not at all on world building. And as to how that’s working out, no, the rocky relationship between a manic pixie dream girl who makes objets d’art and doesn’t care if she’s a lesbian or not, and a person so wet that they couldn’t write if they were the player character in an IF game and the player was typing WRITE over and over again, fails to engage my sympathy, or even my basic curiosity.

On the plus side, the implementation is nice and solid, with lots of custom responses and the background goings on provided good local colour. I can honestly say I had more fun typing “z” over and over again to find out what Julia and the zombies were up to than I did trying to beat the game.

And what is it with these characters in “slice of life” games this year? Real human beings, when confronted with a piece of work that has to be finished for a deadline, do not start dismantling their ornaments and urinating in wastebaskets any more than they steal wine in order to get served in cafes. [EDIT – it seems I have underestimated real human beings. See comments.]



  1. I’m the author of Violet. I really appreciate your review, and all the work you did reviewing games for the competition.

    Sure, large swaths of what is going on in Violet are intended as fanciful/extreme. As background, though, all but the last step of the Internet puzzle is based on a true story of what one graduate student I know with task-completion problems does. And, indeed, I know of a student who tried tying his ankle to his office chair and having a container to urinate into, so he would stop habitually wandering around while he was trying to write. Graduate school can be a cruel place.

    I’ll resist commenting on whether it is plausible to have a female graduate student in the arts with vacillating ideas about her sexual orientation 😉

  2. Hi Jeremy

    Sincere congratulations on winning the Comp.

    Thanks for your comments. I hereby withdraw any rash statements about what real human beings do or do not do.

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