Counterfeit Monkey Release 5

Cover art for Counterfeit Monkey

…is now available. This version extends the game’s vocabulary by over a hundred items, provides better feedback on several puzzles that were causing player difficulty, fixes dozens of bugs and introduces a few additional solutions. It includes Dannii’s Ultra Undo extension, which may extend UNDO functionality to additional interpreters. Some spoilery highlights after the jump.

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Love is Zero (Porpentine, Brenda Neotenomie, Sloane)

Love is Zero screenshot

Love is Zero is a Twine piece about vampire high school girls in a tennis school on the moon. It’s not really a piece with plot, per se: instead it’s a sort of meditation on how identities are formed. You have a series of choices — usually “STUDY”, “PLAY TENNIS”, and “BULLY”, though sometimes specialized other choices as well. Every time you make a decision, something new is added to the long sentence that describes who you are. And despite how it may look, all of those choices are rather harsh ones. Bullying is obviously problematic, but playing tennis is about winning and beating other people down, about getting hit with rackets and hurting and not minding. And studying is about kissing up to teachers and gaining knowledge that sounds frightening and dangerous. So the STUDY / TENNIS / BULLY choice is not a PET PUPPY / KISS PUPPY / KILL PUPPY style of moral choice. They’re all sort of KILL PUPPY options.

Sometimes things happen to you outside of your control and those can affect your description too. You belong to a randomized clique with a randomized uniform. The vampirism and the tennis are signs for something else — for the bloody and out of control violence of teen emotions, for the ubiquity of blood in puberty, for competitiveness. The game touches also sometimes on the relationships girls have with their bodies — there are some randomized events that touch on and talk about eating disorders.

That all sounds pretty heavy, but the game is very stylized and cartoony. It manages to talk about the real emotions that underlie teenage female experiences while at the same time not overwhelming the player with hyperrealism. Porpentine’s gift for capturing significant feelings and experiences in single sentences is once again on display here.

Assorted Links

Boon Hill

Some while back, I posted about a then-being-kickstarted game called Boon Hill, all about exploring a graveyard full of epitaphs. That game is now on Steam Greenlight.

The XYZZY Award finalists are announced and IFDB has a handy list so that you can click through and play whichever ones you’d like to get to before voting closes.

Choice of Games is seeking more authors, especially authors with previous experience writing for interactivity. They pay royalties of 25% or, in some cases, work-for-hire fees amounting to $10K.

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Fungus is a recently-announced free Unity plugin for building interactive fiction. As far as I can tell it’s aiming for something closer to Ren’Py or AGT AGS than text-based IF experiences, but I haven’t had time to actually play with it yet.

SilkWords

My breasts were heaving, literally, like in a novel. (The Night I Wore a Mask, silkwords.com)

SilkWords is a new website for interactive romance and erotica — a commercial one, paying authors $500 and up. Unlike a lot of the other recent experiments in paid interactive fiction, it runs on a subscription model: pay for a month at a time, read as much as you’d like. It’s a model that presumably needs a steady stream of new content to keep readers engaged. There are currently nine stories available, and three more listed as coming soon; they are rated by hotness, from “mild” to “very hot” and “BDSM”.

Structurally, the pieces I tried are really straightforward CYOA: choice points typically give only two options (and occasionally only give one, a Continue choice). There’s no visible world-state tracking. My playthroughs were typically two to four choice points long, with very large amounts of text in between. When I asked about retained variables via twitter, the response was that the engine was capable of more, but that the site is initially focusing on story over gameness. This is of course a perfectly fair response, but I often felt these would have worked better as interactive stories (not, necessarily, games) if they had allowed a few more choice points, more carefully selected.

Some comments on specific stories follow.

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Tools and Characters: March and April meetups

We now have two more meetups scheduled for the Oxford/London IF group:

2:15 PM, March 30, in Oxford: a session on IF tools. Graham Nelson will present his most recent changes to Inform 7, and Eric Eve will introduce his adv3lite library for TADS, and we’ll open to a general discussion of IF tools.

7 PM, April 8, in London: a session on character modeling, led by Nicholas FitzRoy-Dale. We’ll look at what has been done and what current mechanics support, and talk about possibilities for the future.

Twine in the Workplace

Horror: Colin Sandel’s Quit Your Job Simulator 2014 is a horror game about being trapped in your office while you wait for a compilation to work out. Like One Eye Open (of which Sandel was a co-author), it does some effective things with empty space and solitude and smells that aren’t quite right. If there’s a solvable puzzle here, though — anything that would have let me survive the evening, for instance — I totally failed to discover it.

Science Fiction: We Are The Firewall, Alan DeNiro. Firewall concerns a number of different characters, in a cyberpunkish future world dominated by Google-glass-like gadgets and online games that are disastrously hackable, many of whom work for a sinister Company.

Alan DeNiro is one of my favorite Twine authors on the basis of Solarium, which still gives me a shiver of Agh Creepy feeling whenever I think about it. He actually wrote We Are The Firewall first, but I missed hearing of it at the time. It’s challenging, structurally: there are a bunch of different storylines that diverge from the beginning, and the more of them you play, the more filled-in the epilogue text is; so that the game is like a bundle of strings knotted together at each end. As with Solarium, agency over the events of the story is minimal, and choices are mostly about the order in which you will see information. But it also just feels a bit less self-assured than Solarium. There are loads of Twine macros at work, doing a range of dizzying things like changing the text before your eyes or making bits disappear or causing the screen to shake. Sometimes that’s a useful effect, but sometimes a sentence I was reading blinked out before I made it to the end (and I’m a reasonably fast reader). The result is that Firewall kept me a bit anxious all the time, that I might not get it, that I might not be working hard and fast enough to get it, that I might have to replay things if I wasn’t very careful. The sense of frenetic anxiety is maybe appropriate considering that a lot of the story concerns things like human trafficking and drug smuggling and drone bombings. Nothing is stable in the world of the characters, either.

Comedy/Slice of Life: Ham and Egg Lawyer is a considerably more realistic piece: you’re a new lawyer, but not the kind in Suits or in any TV show featuring James Spader. You are missing some key information about how to get started on various cases, and all your would-be clients have no money or have really unsuitable problems (or both). The bulk of the choices are basically personality-quiz style options about whether you want to treat your clients ethically or try to make yourself some money, conceal your ignorance or admit to it, etc. As a game, it’s not entirely satisfying (I’d say) because there aren’t really any significant results to your actions: at the end you get a score representing how much money you earned, how stressed you are, and what’s happened to your reputation, but there’s no difference in the narrated outcomes. As a piece of interactive semi-non-fiction, though, it’s kind of fun. The various situations appear to be based on things that actually happened to the author, and they’re engagingly narrated. So it’s good to read, but it’s worth not going into it expecting a detailed simulation game, because this is not that.