Category Archives: Games

IFComp 2009: Rover’s Day Out and Grounded in Space

This year I plan to review most of the Interactive Fiction Competition games again. For more on what this is about, see this old post. If you have no interest in IF, no worries—I’ll try to have other things, too.

There’s a lot of variety in fantasy IF, from old-style Zorkian fantasy to modern magic realism. So it’s surprising how much science fictional IF is dated in its influences. Across the Stars, from a couple of competitions back, belonged in a 1950s issue of Astounding Stories. Last year’s A Martian Odyssy was adapted—badly—from a story published in 1934, Piracy 2.0 could have been written anytime in the past sixty years, and Channel Surfing shallowly retreads a style of media satire I associate with the Reagan administration.

This year my randomized game list frontloaded two of these things. Rover’s Day Out and Grounded in Space are full of Robert Heinlein. I am not a fan of Robert Heinlein. This, obviously, would not end well… though I have to admit that Rover’s Day Out came out better than I expected.

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The Bryant Collection

Cover Art

I haven’t reviewed any interactive fiction here in a while, partly because it’s hard to make myself write much of anything, but also because I go through phases where I’m interested in it and phases when I’m not. In recent years the “interested” phases have coincided with the yearly IF competition but recently I played Gregory Weir’s The Bryant Collection.

Gregory Weir released The Bryant Collection on April Fool’s Day, 2009 and regretted it in the morning. A lot of people assumed the game was a joke. (It was a while before I got around to playing it myself. April Fool’s jokes spring from unfunny people concocting a forced semblance of comedy out of a misplaced sense of obligation. I’ve never seen an April Fool’s joke that made me laugh, or feel anything but tired.)

Still, April 1st wasn’t a totally inappropriate release date. The Bryant Collection is the IF equivalent of Stanislaw Lem’s reviews of nonexistent novels or Steve Aylett’s biography of an imaginary SF writer. The conceit is that, at a garage sale, Weir came across the personal effects of Laura Bryant, a distant cousin about whom no one knew much except that she’d spent her career as a middle school English teacher. In her spare time Bryant wrote “story worlds,” pages of notes resembling a role playing game scenario: one person described the situation in the story world, the second described an action, and the first person consulted the notes for a response.

And, hey, darned if the syntax Bryant used for her story worlds wasn’t suspiciously similar to the Inform 7 interactive fiction language! So we have five games in one, supposedly adapted from Bryant’s story worlds: two environments (“Going Home Again” and “The End of the World”), two conversations (“Morning in the Garden” and “Undelivered Love Letter”), and a puzzle (“The Tower of Hanoi,” which is not really a Tower of Hanoi).

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