Listening to Torres and Reading the Bible

Striving to understand the Most Import Thing and to walk in it honestly imprisons the seeker in perpetual disillusionment, likely without the escape of total cynicism. In order to be faithful to the pursuit of truth, you must be willing to believe whatever you have to believe, even if you must accept terrible truths. However, accepting something as the truth necessarily closes the door. Even if you paid a dear price for your truth, even if you had no other choice but to accept the terrible truth without losing your integrity, the act of accepting it as the truth makes it difficult to deal with other things that are outside this sphere of truth. Eventually, the new or external experiences become the new Terrible Thing that you have to choose whether or not to buy into, and the cycle repeats.

“How much truth would you like to buy?”

This question is sung by indie rock artist Mackenzie Scott in her song “The Harshest Light,” penultimate track in her 2015 album Sprinter. Both Torr…

One Reason 'Pixels' is Better Than the Big Movies of 2015

The night before last, my parents and sisters decided to make a pilgrimage to the Red Box machine to do a Family Movie Night, because one of my siblings is leaving town again. The three films up for consideration were Terminator Genisys, Jurassic World, and Pixels -- a comedy film that I had never before heard about. When asked for my vote, I said that I didn't have any particular desire to see either the new Terminator or the new Jurassic Park. When Pixels was described to me as a simple B-list comedy film about the 1980s and videogames and aliens -- starring Adam Sandler -- I admitted that it sounded entertaining.

Discovering that I would rather watch a deliberately cheesy, explicitly nostalgia-driven comedy flick than a thoroughly realized blockbuster speculative-genre film surprised me, somewhat defying my history of being a stone-faced prick. Even as one who has long been onboard with the concept of both storytelling and playing being redemptive methods of participating in t…

Existential Journalism

I was introduced to blogging through a journalism class in community college, where we set up a class blog through Blogger. We posted the opinion articles, as well as a few of the local "hard news" stories that we were assigned. (I posted one article about the college library's door being closed, and the foot traffic re-routed.) This piece about NPR's 2012 update to its ethics handbook is one of my best.

The Truth is Out There, and NPR Wants to Find ItApril 5, 2012

Interactive Fiction Comp 2015: 'Final Exam'

Made with the predecessor of today's Inform development system, everything about Final Exam feels thoroughly conventional while also strongly unified and earnest, somewhat retro without being very specifically nostalgic. The story purports to be some kind of political thriller, set in a future regime controlled by a presumably small number of "Administrators," the ranks of which the player character hopes to join. Although the game doesn't take its high concept very seriously, it achieves a compelling and straightforward execution of the text adventure ideal, complete with a fluidly advancing plot and interesting parser mechanics.
The prose is very dry (and not in a noticeably humorous way), though the narrative voice is self-aware enough to joke about parser IF's conventions of poorly anticipated default responses and of refusing to allow players to engage their kleptomania for practical management reasons by giving shallow narrative-based refusals: That's …

Interactive Fiction Comp 2015: 'The Problems Compound'

Surreal landscapes and dream-like sequences are well established motifs in IF. Whether serious or comedic or horrific, whether sequences within larger contexts or the complete settings of entire adventures, these abstract dreamscapes convey wonder magnified by the interactivity while also teasing a sense of greater meaning. The abstract world of The Problems Compound carries on much of the imagery from its author's previous games Shuffling Around and A Roiling Original (though it's not a sequel), taking a more serious spin on many of the same themes in a puzzle-oriented but accessible adventure.

Despite the abstractions and the use of common high school experiences, the game is less an avatar of universal experiences than one fictional teenager's manifesto. Although the narrative voice of player character Alec Smart is not heavily stylized, we have a strong sense of who Alec is because the whole game is his own abstraction of his world. Part revenge-of-the-nerds story, The…

Interactive Fiction Comp 2015: 'Pit of the Condemned'

At the conceptual level, Pit of the Condemned is a refreshing find. A parser game, it selectively incorporates a variety of tropes from different kinds of old-school adventures, cutting out the irrelevant details from each trope and uniting the gameplay around one strongly implemented mechanic. It clothes the experience with an internal mythology reflected by the setting, allowing it to portray a serious and earnestly sincere fiction side despite being a more mechanically oriented variety of IF. The strength the concept is paired with a well designed map layout, but the novice implementation prevents the game from rising above the level of a generically old school novelty.

The part of the concept that is executed best is the central mechanic of fleeing from a Wumpus-like monster. The resulting dynamic feels somewhat like a board game and also evokes the spatial maneuvering from the original Hunt the Wumpus. Like in the classic, the player must determine the location of the monster fro…

Interactive Fiction Comp 2015: 'Untold Riches'

Untold Riches retells the traditional parser text adventure scenario with enthusiastic homage to the Infocom era. Although games about the legacy of the Infocom era or the larger culture of 1980's computing are far from rare nowadays, the tone of the veneration as well as the specific experiences that are referenced and the ways that nostalgia is evoked can give all these homage pieces individuality. Untold Riches achieves some uniqueness through a twist that radically changes the player's understanding of its nostalgic narrative interludes.

Brief snippets of backstory are frequently inserted into messages produced by taking actions or travelling to new rooms, as well as worked in to object descriptions. These interludes narrate the past antics of one Professor d'Squarius, who never makes a direct appearance as an NPC despite his prominence in the story. From these, the professor is used for comedy as the blustery, lovably incompetent academic who needs to be rescued const…