Slammed! (Paolo Chikiamco / Choice of Games)

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Paolo Chikiamco’s Choice of Games game Slammed! has been around for a while now, and has enjoyed a reputation as one of CoG’s better works. It just became available on Steam, and I took that occasion as an opportunity to check it out.

The premise is that you’re an aspiring wrestler who gets a chance to break into the pro circuit, developing your skills and playing out a bunch of matches in the ring. On the face of it, this doesn’t sound like my kind of thing — the only two wrestlers I can name are Hulk Hogan and Jesse Ventura, and I just had to double check on wikipedia to make sure I was remembering them right — which may be why I put off playing Slammed! despite the good reviews.

Chikiamco, on the other hand, clearly does know and care a lot about wrestling, and he writes about it in a way that feels both compelling and reasonably accessible to the non-fan, constructing a detailed world full of strong personalities. What’s more, the themes that come out of the premise are things that interest me: career vs personal loyalty, the cultivation of professional persona, the development of both skills and relationships, the fine line between being a team player and letting yourself be taken advantage of.

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Sunless Sea leaves early access

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Sunless Sea is out of early access today!

If somehow you have not heard of this game: it is a grand, creepy exploration game from the cool people at Failbetter, set in the Fallen London universe. Sail a cavernous underground sea, fight off giant crabs, try to keep yourself and your crew sane, and encounter islands full of strange tales. It has more eye candy than Fallen London, and no action-metering or grind. On the other hand, it keeps the creepy setting and the tight, memorable prose. You can play it in a ferocious rogue-like mode with permadeath, or you can be wimpier and keep save files. (I keep save files. I admit it.)

It’s not just me with my fondness for Fallen London here, either. Eurogamer gives Sunless Sea a 10/10, and so does Starburst Magazine.

I’m hoping for a big launch day for Sunless Sea for a couple of reasons.

One, I guest-wrote three of the islands, and I’ve written a little about that experience here (general comments about writing for the Fallen London universe as part of a retrospective of my 2014 efforts) and here (spoilery design post about the island of Nuncio). I had a lot of fun with these, I’m happy about how they came out, and I’m hoping other people will like them too.

Two: Failbetter is doing some really intriguing commercial IF, and the success of Sunless Sea will have a direct impact on how much more they can do along the same lines. I am hoping that they’ll turn out to be able to do lots and LOTS more.

So! Buy a copy! Tell your friends! Leave a Steam review! Try not to commit any acts of cannibalism! (Harder than you might think.)

What Lies Beneath The Clock Tower (Margaret Killjoy)

What Lies Beneath The Clock TowerWhat Lies Beneath The Clock Tower: Being An Adventure Of Your Own Choosing is a choice-based steampunk story. “As a novel, this isn’t a novel,” writes Jim Eaton, its reviewer at fantasybookreview; and while I tend not to bother arguing labels like “novel” and “game”, I think it’s fair to say that it doesn’t present a number of features that I might ordinarily expect from a genre fantasy novel. The plot(s) are deeply odd, the protagonist hard to know and hard to relate to, the emotional scope a bit dry, the setting too whimsical ever to develop fully. During perhaps my first hour with the book, I would also have said it was not particularly successful as CYOA, full of false starts and arbitrary endings. But I’ve backed off that view a bit: I came to like it better by the time I was done mapping the story, and had had a chance to work out that it’s activist satire with a comedy steampunk gloss.

It begins with a passage about your character that would be verbose but not otherwise out of place in response to an >INVENTORY command:

At the beginning of this tale you are wearing a fashionable, if cheap, suit—complete with black wool overcoat and starched-felt bowler. You have a pocket watch on a chain. But this is no ordinary pocket watch; this pocket watch has been over-wound and is in need of repair. Your wallet is empty of money; they seem to have taken it all at the bar. In one hand you bear a simple, bronze-headed cane of stained wood, born as an affectation. In your trousers pocket you have a silver ring that you won in a game of chance, a ring you were hoping to give your lover. And, of course, you would not leave your room without an ample supply of intoxicants, which may be found in various flasks and bottles upon your person.

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January Link Assortment

Sam Kabo Ashwell has some wonderful posts on the experience of This War of Mine (1, 2) and The Long Dark: the atmosphere, the emergent narrative, the experience evoked by their systems. This bit from his review of The Long Dark particularly struck me:

Having been lost in the Northwoods before, I can say with all confidence: the biggest, scariest threat you face is that you will walk for days and days and never, ever see a single trace of human influence. Never encounter anything shaped by humanity into something that facilitates transport, shelter or food. As moderns, we are hugely, continuously dependent upon the work of other hands. That fear, the fear of a totally non-anthropic environment, is something that is almost impossible to make interesting in the purely human-made context of a game.

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David Welbourn is one of the quiet heroes of the IF community: for years he’s been helping to maintain ifwiki, assembling the eligibility lists for the XYZZY awards, and creating loads of high quality walkthroughs and maps. He has an enormous amount of patience and an encyclopedic knowledge about many corners of IF history. If you have any regular contact with the IF community, you’ve almost certainly made use of some of his work, even if you’re not aware of it. I’m delighted that he now has a Patreon, which will help him with scanning and internet costs and make it easier for him to continue.

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Rowan Kaiser, Austin Walker, and Alex at While !Finished wrote a series of articles on choices in Dragon Age: Inquisition, and in particular about which of those choices are emotionally resonant:

Alex writes:

One of the most difficult choices in the game, for me, happened in the Solas romance storyline, which is only available to female elf Inquisitors and therefore a minority of players. Near the end, Solas reveals the true meaning behind the Dalish elf’s face tattoos: they were originally slave markings, from when elves enslaved other elves. The Inquisitor can let Solas remove hers, or she can keep them. Does the knowledge of their origin taint them? Or are they a part of her and important to her, no matter what their original meaning? What does she believe?

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The discussion of IF fanfiction brought up that there actually is some on archiveofourown: I found an alternate ending for Galatea and a prequel to Alabaster (which digs even deeper into some of the mythology around Eden and Adam’s wives before Eve). There’s also a wonderful story set in the 80 Days universe that explores some of the background of automata with souls, and the lion-like automaton of Burma, one of my favorite figures in the game. And here is an Inform game about a Fallen London character.

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Spoken IF: Codename Cygnus, Multi Path Audio, Mayday: Deep Space

cygnusCodename Cygnus is interactive radio drama: there are voice-acted scenes with music and sound effects. The premise is that you’re a secret agent, and you can download several missions; each mission is itself divided into smallish episodes, so when you start something, you’re not committed to a long session. It’s highly genre-determined, trope-y stuff, where you’re meeting bad guys with foreign accents across a gaming table, or slipping truth serum into someone’s drink.

Periodically the narrator asks you which of two options you’d like to pursue in order to continue your mission, with specific keywords for you to speak (“Athletic? Or Clever?”). You can either speak the next word or tap the option on-screen, but the system is designed so that you can play entirely hands-free, without holding or looking at your device. As with Choice of Games titles, your actions may determine character stats rather than causing immediate narrative branching; and in fact in Codename Cygnus a lot of your choices (“Athletic / Clever?” “Hostile / Charismatic?”) are explicitly asking which of your stats you want to use and enhance. Because you’re not viewing the text, the screen consists purely of a stats readout, plus controls to scrub or replay audio sections you’re currently listening to. It’s simple but attractive.

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The Feasts of Tre-mang (Eli Brown)

Screen Shot 2014-12-30 at 3.58.41 PMThe Feasts of Tre-mang is a fictional cookbook. That is, it contains recipes that you can actually cook, but they claim to be a variety of holiday dishes from an obscure Atlantic island called Tre-mang that was destroyed by volcanic eruption in 1914.

As you might expect in a cookbook, there are lists of ingredients, methods, and measurements; there are pictures of finished dishes, and editorial notes about safe substitutions. There are also explanatory articles about Tre-mang history and culture, the contexts in which these foods would be presented, and the life of Theodora Peterson, an anthropologist’s daughter whose diaries are the chief source of surviving information about Tremanner cuisine. Brown intersperses these with “old” photographs, maps, portraits, the Tre-mang flag and currency, and even Tre-mang-style erotic postcards. (It seems that Tremanners were very much aroused by ears.) It is narrative-of-objects stuff, though supported by lots of straight written text as well as well.

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