IFComp Review: In the Mind of the Master

Another IFComp review. Only a couple more to go at this point. Spoilers past the link.

In the Mind of the Master features a guy named “The Master” who’s very good with disguises and lives in an apartment that seems bigger on the inside. And likes saying “I am the Master.” He sounds kind of familiar. But this guy’s biggest worry isn’t a time travelling do-gooder, but a pair of thugs. One of whom is named “Pauldro.” You know that cartoon where Bugs Bunny meets Hansel and Gretel, and totally can’t believe the name “Hansel?” Now I know how he feels.

This game’s Master can disguise himself from the outside all the way in. He takes on the personality and world view of the kind of person he’s disguised himself as. It’s an interesting idea, but poorly implemented.

As you play, you’ll notice a difference between the text of In the Mind of the Master and the typical IF game. For one thing, it’s not well written at all–the author has basic grammar and punctuation down, but his style is so awkward you have to force yourself to read his prose. But bad writing is nothing unusual, and not the focus here. Look at the shape of the prose. It comes in long chunky paragraphs. A typical IF game has some cut scenes, but usually those text chunks are shorter, with less space between the player’s commands. It’s not that players have short attention spans. Interactive fiction is a collaboration. Think of the opening text of Adam Cadre’s Photopia: “Read you a story? What fun would that be? I’ve got a better idea: let’s tell a story together.”

Story, in interactive fiction, arises from the interaction between author and player. The author gives up some control, gives the player’s commands some weight. In In the Mind of the Master the important things happen in the author’s paragraphs; the player is largely along for the ride. It’s a branching hypertext story you have to type commands to read.

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