imaginary games from imaginary universe: public release   7 comments

jam

You will receive a randomized list of five imaginary games created by other participants in the jam. You are to pick one (or more) and make
a sequel
a prequel
a fan fiction
a critical response game
a sidequel
a remake
a demake
a parody
an artifact of some genre category never before seen by humans
or if you are feeling bold and it is even practical, duplicate the game as described.

Reviews that inspired particular games are given next to their download links.

Some authors are still working on responses, so I’m going to give time before I start putting up those and discussing the forthcoming book. (Further details at the original gamejam post.) In the meantime, enjoy!

ShadowCast
by GuoBruce
Poster 1
Poster 2
Download

Shadowcast

Plasma light has aided storytelling for millenia but Shadowcast seeks to reverse that relationship.

Seachange
by Alex Butterfield
Download

FIRE NEXT TIME (Seachange). The weird thing about it is that it’s a game about dragon-riding where you don’t get a dragon until about a third of the way in, and don’t get to ride it until the final scenes. The protagonist, a fourteen-year-old kid from somewhere in the Appalachians, finds herself in possession of a dragon egg stolen from the Confederates: a well-managed dragon is about as powerful as an ironclad warship, so everybody wants their hands on it, and most of the game is about eluding capture and making it to Union lines in a region of very dappled loyalties.

The dragon battles are appropriately chaotic adrenaline fun once you get to them, the richly detailed setting provides plenty of interest for the otherwise mediocre run-and-sneak sections, and the soundtrack is the best of the year (even if much of it is about a century too modern). But the best part of is – well, it’s been thoroughly spoiled by this point, so there’s no harm in spoiling it again: you start out by crafting your character, picking out clothes and hairstyles and jawlines, doing the usual thing of crafting someone awesome. And then the game breaks the bargain and applies that appearance to your best friend, Callie/Cal from the next farm over. You’re Midge, whether you like it or not. Midge is gangly, slouches a little, has unmanageable hair, and is not doing a great job of passing off the black part of her ancestry as Cherokee. Your first feeling about her is a reflex shit, this isn’t what I asked for, which is pretty much what Midge feels about herself. Whenever Cal shows up in the story again, it prompts this involuntary twinge of… something, I don’t know if envy is the right word. I found this element a lot more convincing than the girl-and-her-pony relationship with Smoke, which totally soft-pedals everything else we know about dragons in this world.

A Game Played by Galaxies
by James Wood
Download

A GAME PLAYED BY GALAXIES
There is no way to describe the vast and complex feelings of two galaxies as they fall into one another, each ripping the other apart and being ripped apart by the other. To us it may seem like an act of violence or sex; from the perspective of the galaxies, however, it is more accurately described as a game–a game played over millennia, the ultimate end of which is one’s destruction and recreation as a new being entirely. The rules of this game, defined as they are by vast timescales, immense forces, and impossible distances, are beyond our understanding, but in images of these colliding galaxies we can perhaps game some sense of the joy and virtuosity, even humor, with which galaxies play these games–reaching towards one another, siphoning off in spirals, peeling off long cotton-like threads of one another’s arms; old stars collapsing, new stars flaming into existence, two black holes–hungry mouths–straining towards one another in the dark, orbits set into motion and disrupted, continual flux, continual play, a game with billions of pieces and two impossible ancient players, who know that playing this game will be the last thing they ever do.

The Interrogation
by Sharang Biswas (with Soundscape by Rebecca Drapkin)
Download
Soundscape to go with the game

The Prosecution

Based on the name alone, I was kind of hoping for a game where you play an ace prosecutor — why do defense attorneys always get the cool stories? — but in this case you’re the one being prosecuted. The police haul you in for questioning about a robbery, there’s a text entry prompt, and well, go for it!

This is one of the best attempts I’ve seen at handling really free-form textual input. The trick, of course, is that it’s carefully constrained — if you get too far off topic the interrogator will pull you back on course, and for the most part you’re just answering their questions. But it accepts a lot more than just “yes” and “no” answers; experimentation is definitely rewarded!

The courtroom format (assuming the case gets to court) makes for an interesting twist on the notion of choice. The main outcome is whether you’re convicted or not; but do you “win” by escaping conviction? Or by figuring out what actually happened? Or by casting the blame on someone else — or by *protecting* someone else?

The actual story is pretty good too. There’s a *lot* of stuff going on, and it’ll take you a while to unpick it all, but nothing stretched the limits of my credibility too far (except for possibly the arrangement with the puppies — you’ll know it if you find it). One thing I especially like is that all the characters have a well-written inner life, and they’re all working away to forward their own agenda, both during the robbery and even during the trial itself.

Despite the complexity, the difficulty curve isn’t too great. Some secrets are very hard to uncover, but most of the obvious endings can be achieved without too much trouble. I only hit one ending that seems to require knowledge from multiple playthroughs (I can’t figure out how Oscar can determine where both Sarah *and* Raul were at the crucial moment… but I could be missing something.)

If I have one complaint, it’s that the PC might just be a little *too* three-dimensional! It’s nice to have a PC who’s not a cardboard cutout, but you only need one or two quirks to make an interesting character; Oscar has enough quirks to, I don’t know, keep an entire army of psychiatrists in work. The case would work just fine if he were dialed back a bit.

Dreamland Revised
by EpicNightmare
Download
Cover art

Dreamland (Wonderland’s Alice)
This is some new VR/AR thing I looked at last month. The gimmick is it’s a game that you play in your dreams. I found the concept intriguing, so I hooked up the ol’ REM Enhancer and downloaded the game’s app to it. At first, I couldn’t tell if the game was working (REME and other dreamtechs can be pretty buggy), but a few days in, I started having the trippiest dreams. A woman, dressed all in white with no eyes, asks me if I have visited the “Quartzian Palace”. Far off in the distance, I see a castle that glows in many colors, but the way there always seems to be blocked by a chasm. Over many nights I struggled to find a way there, sometimes through bizarre dangers, often through places of great and strange beauty, until one night, I finally managed to find a way into the palace…
Aaaand it turns out the ending is some serious “Don’t forget to drink your Ovaltine!” bullshit. Like, seriously. Watch it on Youtube if you don’t believe me. It’s such a shame, because the game was so cool up to that, but I honestly cannot recommend this game in good conscience thanks to that ending.
I deleted the app off my REME the next day. I’m still getting ads in my sleep. Goddammit.

Darkest Words: Soldado
by Doug Egan
Download

Darkest Words
You may remember last year’s FireSheet which was essentially just an actual spreadsheet program, but obtuse and cryptic enough that using it even for the simplest purpose required massive amounts of decoding (and most likely heavy reference to the wiki).
Darkest Words takes the “normal application, but obfuscated in a way that allows gamelike interaction” idea and turns into a language training game. However, the language in question is unreal, bizarre, and at times has been noted to change based on if it was night or day. A crowd of obsessives have at least detangled the basic grammar, but a great many mysteries remain, even in the interface itself.

Our Bleak-Ass Writing Competition at the Ragged Verge of Spacetime
by Laura Michet
Download

Spelunking the Soul

Perhaps it’s conceited to review the fruits of one’s own efforts, but given the other 3 humans still in existence are the authors, I am the only one left who can review it. My name is Bernardo Contrarius, and full disclosure I commissioned the writing of this interactive fiction.

It was all made possible by the creation of the first functioning time machine in 2066. In my youthful enthusiasm, I used the device to fulfil a lifelong dream. I plucked Jules Verne, Lewis Carroll and Edgar Allen Poe from the heights of their respective careers and brought them together to collaborate on a single, definitive work of interactive fiction.

Unfortunately, in the process, I irreversibly destroyed the timeline leading to our now being trapped in the void, living in a milesquare field of gradually fraying reality.

But it was all worth it.

The result was Spelunking the Soul, the greatest work of interactive fiction ever written. Carroll’s unbridled whimsy and Verne’s scientific inquiry are tied together by Poe’s wonderfully macabre insights. The result is an epic work that spans the breadth of imagination and the depth of the human condition. The final choice is a moral and existential catch22 that leaves me torn to this day and will doubtless continue to gnaw at me until our little patch of universe collapses into nothing.

I give it 10/10. It’s sublime I just wish there were more people around to appreciate it!

Violets
by Jessica Hammer
Download

Darling, Yes (Bromeliad)
A neural novel featuring achingly beautiful people having heartfelt conversations about synaesthesia and sharing long-lashed glances – so far, so Bromeliad. What raises Darling, Yes head and shoulders over its predecessors … well, suffice to say that a revelation about the way the protagonist’s mind works changes everything. It throws all your previous interactions into disarray and makes you wonder and doubt the entirety of Bromeliad’s back catalogue. We found ourselves dwelling on it for days afterwards.
We’re not going to spoil it with more details so to sum up: look, just play it, all right? The only hint we’ll give you is: try accepting Rodrigo’s offer of violets after the second afternoon tea. What ensues is heartwrenching and amazing and gorgeous and there are so many moments like this at every turn. Seriously, what are you doing reading this? Play it already.

Garbage Collection
by Matt Weiner
Download

Garbage Explorer

It sounds like a joke. In fact, it started out as one — specifically, as an image macro on various game dev boards, expressing disdain for the popular “explorer” genre by showing where it would wind up as people run out of new things to make explorers about. There’s also an implicit element of critique of explorer fans there, effectively saying “You didn’t really care about steam engines when you bought Steam Engine Explorer, did you? You just wanted another explorer game. So it doesn’t matter what the subject matter is. And that means you’d even play an explorer of a mouldering garbage heap.”

But the thing is, the anonymous author of Garbage Explorer decided to take the idea seriously, and the result is possibly the purest expression of the explorer genre there is. Like all genres, it’s loosely defined, but if there’s one thing that separates explorers from mere sims is the degree of implementation of unnecessary detail. An airplane sim will give you the experience of flying an airplane, but an airplane explorer will let you take it apart. A sim will simulate damage states to individual subsystems to the extent that they affect how the thing functions; an explorer will implement individual stripped screws for no other reason than that this is what the fans want. Well, with a garbage heap, there’s no functionality to get in the way of the explorer experience. There’s nothing but hundreds of individual pieces of garbage and insanely detailed damage states. Everything has individual smells and stains, which can be altered via contact with other pieces of garbage. Everything squishes convincingly under pressure, both alone and in piles. It’s a quite impressive feat of engineering for a solo work.

It’s also quite gross. Mostly it takes a childish, great-green-gobs-of-greasy-grimy-gopher-guts delight in its grossness, but every once in a while I got a description that made me regret the action that provoked it. In a perverse way, this adds to its fascination. When trying something new and unlikely, I don’t just think “I wonder whether this is implemented?”, but also “I wonder how far it will go this time?”

Gaia’s Web
by Nigel Jayne
Download

S.hip of Theseus

I was so pleased to see VM Straka’s Ship of Theseus adapted as a game; he’s a criminally underrated writer. S.hip of Theseus is one of the most interesting experiments I’ve seen since the House of Leaves ARG disaster, so naturally I was excited to see what the developers did. The manner of adaptation feels like an homage to its source material: the game blends traditional IF tools with new technology as you piece together the multinational conspiracy at its heart. Most notably, the game tracks your progress via drone surveillance, which is used to trigger later levels and make information assimilation more difficult. (Flooding my department was a nice touch of verisimilitude for which I applaud the anonymous designer.)

Where S.hip of Theseus shines is the incorporation of multiplayer format; in Act 2 you’re paired with another player, and so the narrative shifts. Clues are possible to destroy, depending on how careful a reader you are – or your partner is. (There’s been a lot of complaining about the procedurally-generated pairing lists, but the developers quite rightly pointed out that it’s possible to rig a simple last-in-first-out stack to ensure two friends or lovers are paired together. Though I can’t imagine why you’d want to – being responsible for a loved one’s implication in a major government conspiracy? If you get the [REDACTED] ending, you won’t even find out for a good 5-7 years if they can forgive you.)

Unreal City

by Joey Jones
Download

“Unreal City”

As you wander the streets, every bar you walk into has a different procedurally generated social ecosystem, and in any given one you can level up from shunned stranger to grudgingly accepted regular to… well, it depends on what there is to do there. The vibe is Fallen London meets No Man’s Sky, but where Fallen London lets you live a flaneur’s power fantasy, here you’re going to be trying to carve out a niche or two for yourself somewhere. Some reviewers have complained that it promises a vast social universe, but establishing credibility in a new place is so tedious that they wind up frequenting the same place. But isn’t that how we live our lives?

Oh, and it’s an afterlife sim where your decisions mold your character in a way that eventually manifests itself on your physical body–think Alasdair Gray’s Lanark. The “spying for the heavenly authorities” plot took long enough to get off the ground that I never bothered.

Mayfly
by Christopher Brent
Download

“Mayfly”
You have one day to explore a giant randomized text overworld with NPCs and treasure dungeons, which goes far beyond what you can reach in a day. The NPCs aren’t the point; they have the depth of the background figures in Knytt Underground that wander around and stare at the sky sometimes. The randomized treasure dungeons aren’t the point either; after the third time I used a key in a lock to lower the water level in a canal, I could reverse engineer the version of ConceptNet the author-s were using to generate them. The point is to use your single day to explore what interests you, whether that means getting as high as you can for the best view, examining one bit of landscape as much as you can, or even staring at the sky with the NPCs. I found it strangely moving when the Tutorial Fairy returns at the end to ask what you liked best about your day, though I knew my answer would make no difference. (UPDATE: Apparently your answers get recycled into NPC dialogue for other players. I like that less.)

The Final Labyrinth of King Minos
by Ariadno
Download

The Last Rites of Doctor Wu
by MaximumOD
Download

IronBlooded
While this isn’t the first fan game I’ve been fortunate enough to receive over the years, I must say this little text game from princexmum was deviously designed to hit all my buttons. (princexmum, if you’re actually a secret telepath, thanks for using your powers for good and also please stop reading my mind now :P)
So you remember the sarcastic Kejia doctor in BLAMELESS STEEL who repairs Garrison’s chassis at the end of Chapter 6? The one who literally never shows up again? She was another unfortunate victim of “make it up as I go along”-itis, along with aetherite (oh, yeah, that…) and the Jade Society (so secret that they forgot their own existence!). But never fear — princexmum is here to rescue us with IRONBLOODED, a hilarious, action-packed short game that shines a light on some of the good doctor’s own adventures. The writing is *fantastic*, full of sardonic wit and surprising turns of phrase, and the puzzles — though actually quite complicated on a mechanical level, with lots of fiddly moving parts that could have been very frustrating — are so well clued that I never really got stuck.
A note: When I excitedly linked IRONBLOODED to Rue (who joined me wayyyy after Chapter 6 and is not to be held responsible for my youthful writerly indiscretions), they asked me whether the plot was similar to anything I’d originally had in mind for Dr. Ka. Honestly? I hadn’t much of *anything* specific in mind for Dr. Ka at the time — and I would certainly be pleased if IRONBLOODED became solid fanon.

Sub Way
by B. Pearlstein
Download

Sub Way (Sam Guss)

Heads up: this is not an entry-level augury. Guss has provided the setting details and code necessary to get the game started, but you’ll need to provide your own sheep and duck. All told, the start-up costs for this title ran me over $400, in addition to the game itself. Of course, Sub Way also requires a certain familiarity with standard oracular procedure– die-casting, leaf-reading, livers, cards, and dream-interpretation all make an appearance. Anyone with at least a high-school-level of forecasting skill should be able to get to the end of the game.

Because, let’s be honest: Sub Way isn’t doing anything exciting with the form. The actual augury gameplay is pretty routine, and if you’re looking for some really tricky and thrilling predictions to execute, you’ll be disappointed. As a mood piece, though, this is sublime. Guss eschews a “realistic” fictional future in favor of a highly-stylized one where everything seems to exist barely outside the realm of the possible– a really weird feeling to have in a genuine augury. Everything’s a little too dark, a little too apocalyptic. Prussia doesn’t exist. People use buttonless cellphones. New York has below-ground tramlines. Divining such a profoundly false future feels really, really odd. I’d love to know more about how Guss pulled it off.

If you’re looking for a chance to play, Guss will be releasing a patch that updates the game for next month’s lunar calendar. Though the forecasts are a little boring, the story is great, and anyone with the luxury of eight free nights in March (and some extra budget for livestock) should give it a shot.

Synchronicity
by Cat Manning
Download

The Manhattan Alternative (1996)

“Defusing World War III” has been a strong core gaming genre since 1982’s grim time-travel thriller “Skyshine”, but The Manhattan Alternative was the first to introduce first-person full-motion video to the well-worn formula. You play Captain Mark Rogers of the US Time Marines, tasked to save humanity by (of course) stopping 1945’s Trinity experiment. But the formula shifts once you get to the Gadget: a freak thunderstorm catches you in the detonation, and you are flung into the Quantum Shell: an infinity of parallel universes, in each of which a different disaster threatens Earth. (By ‘infinity’ we actually only counted five, but, well, there’s plenty of room for sequels.)

The ensuing mystery will have you pursued by rogue Time Marines, a beautiful Russian agent, and an inexplicably radioactive roadrunner bird, each with several hours of recorded dialogue (the roadrunner is entirely subtitled); but the heart of the game is assembling map fragments to the next energy slot in the Quantum Shell and solving that world’s disaster.

We were particularly amused by the ‘hellhole capitalism’ world where pills for exotic diseases cost $1000 a dose, as given the winds of utopian socialism that swept Cortezia in the 1980s, it’s such an ancient, outlandish scenario. But I suppose even unlikely ways for the world to die are still worth protecting against.

Two stars, unfortunately: the video is endearing, but doesn’t actually play very well on today’s hardware, and the core gameplay won’t engage you much. But the sequels (Manhattan Transverse and Manhattan Synchronicity) are the ones on which this series’ reputation truly rests.

 

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Posted February 23, 2016 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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