IFComp 2016: The God Device, by Andy Joel

Game number 7! Maybe I can get halfway through if I hustle.

Blurb: What is in the blood-soaked envelope the archaeologist gave Tanya just before she died?

System: Twine (HTML)

I’m troubled by that blurb, particularly by the pronoun with an ambiguous antecedent.

It’s a pretty linear adventure story, with workmanlike prose. There’s very little in the way of actual branching as far as I can tell, and our character is just barely fleshed out. There is an awful lot of lightly-exposited backstory about the world and its lore and suchlike, and I guess the light touch there is appreciated, but, on the other hand, the complete lack of character for the protagonist is somewhat less welcome.

All in all, a kind of middling work from most perspectives. There’s not much ambition in the structure or the prose or the technology. It meets a satisfactory standard of competence but brings very little to the table beyond that.

Rating: 5

Tasting the Conspiracy, item L6: Pepper Steak with Onion

If it’s not clear what this is or why I’m doing it, check out the intro post.

Built up a backlog again! Sometimes it’s nice to get these out in a burst, with a bit of compare-and-contrast.

Pepper Steak with Onion

Larger chunks of stuff in here than you usually see in a stir-fry, mostly onion and green pepper.

What exactly is this dish? Sliced beef with large chunks of pepper and long slices of onion, in a slightly thick but otherwise generic brown sauce (soy sauce, ginger, maybe some garlic).

How authentically Chinese is it? “Meat and veggies in brown sauce” is, as I’ve mentioned before, a pretty straightforward and unimaginative presentation, and something along those lines with every possible combination of meat and veggie seems like it should pop up in Chinese cuisine somewhere. And, indeed, there’s a Fujianese dish which is the clear originator of this one, qing jiao rou si. There are several notable distinctions, though: traditional QJRS is made with pork (although that’s not obligatory; I found a recipe for it using chicken instead), the peppers are sliced thinner, and the sauce is much simpler, consisting of soy sauce with very little else (sometimes rice wine or a very little ginger). There’s no cornstarch, needless to say; the sauces thickened in that inimitably cornstarchy way that are a mainstay of Chinese-American cuisine are apparently much less common in actual Chinese cuisine. This is one of the few cases where the American dish is unambiguously more flavorful than its Chinese forbear: QJRS seems to depend on the green peppers to provide the dominant flavor component, which is why they need to be sliced thin, I think, since big chunks in the American style stirfried quick impart very little pepper flavor to the sauce.

Is it any good? It actually hits a more interesting note in some ways than the typical brown-sauce dish, probably because of all the onions. Wilt that much onion into a sauce, and it’s definitely going to add a sharp-edged note to the flavor. The texture, flavor , and color of the meat in mine made me halfway confinced they’d goofed and used pork instead of beef (which would actually make it more authentic, see above), but it was basically satisfactory.

How does it complement the rice? There’s sort of an oily sauce, lightly thickened by the cornstarch, which I think maybe had more volume than it might due to moisture from the onions. That all soaks into rice pretty well. There wasn’t quite enough of it to season my full half-carton of fried rice but it was at least a tasty sauce.

IFComp 2016: Mirror and Queen, by Chandler Groover

Game number 6! More than 10% of the way through the ‘comp, but I have delayed so long I will definitely not finish.

Blurb: Your mirror never lies.
A puzzleless reflection. Fifteen to forty minutes.

System: Inform 7 (Glulx)

First thought: this is clearly a companion piece to The Queen’s Menagerie, what with having the same author and the repetition of the word “Queen”. Second thought: is this going to be a take on Snow White?

A few questions in: yup, it’s Snow White. The game appears responsive, but I’m wondering how much of that is actually picking up on my keywords versus merely walking through a sequence of responses which more or less follows the set of things I’m likely to ask about. It’s tricky to figure out what’s going on under the hood; I have a feeling it’s much more linear than it looks, although any obvious repetition or nonsense phrases seem to be picked up. But alternating between two words, for instance, advances the story in ways unrelated to the two words. It’s a trick, but a reasobably convincing trick, and definitely there are keywords to which it responds specifically at least once.

The text itself is pretty solid, quite comparable to Groover’s other entry, and the visual layout of the HTML frame around the interpreter is elegant and effective. He clearly has established an effective, interesting style and built an interesting narrative arund it, ith just enough technical chops to make that narrative seem dynamic and organic.

Rating: 7

Wibble Wednesday: With Liberty and Justice for All (Isaiah 2)

Fell out of the swing for a while. Isaiah is a breath of fresh air but it’s kind of hard to come up with much to say about it, chapter-by-chapter, and these are long chapters.

Short snarky summary: There’s a new day a-comin’! All that seemed wrong will be right, and those who deserve to are certain to life a long and happy life.

The last chapter had a pleasing social-justice focus, which is not really what I think of first when I think of Isaiah. Isaiah to me seems to be, first and foremost, a book of messianic eschatology. This chapter definitely trends more into that ream than the last did, which seemed to be focusing specifically on the ills of the present.

The first line of the prophecy, “In the days to come,” already makes it clear this sermon is going to be all about the future. And Isaiah puts forth a joyful if slightly creepily hegemonic vision of the future: the Temple will stand on its Mount, and all the people of the world will admire it and visit it to learn the ways of truth and right. OK, sure, we may have a somewhat socialist vision of the future but it’s also a Judean-nationalist vision of the future, so of course the Temple and the worship of the God of Judea are going to be central features of this prophecy. It’s a bit Deuteronomist with its centralized worship and I’d kind of hoped we’d moved away from their controlling, monolatralist vibe, but I’m not sure that’s an aspect of Judaism that can really be disentangled.

The followup to this prophecy of humanity brainwashed into worshipping at the Temple is a bit nicer though. It’s a famous quote which often gets conflated with other famous Biblical quotes (not from Isaiah) about peace. Thsi one has the bit about beating swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks, but not the equally well known part about sitting under vines and fig trees. I’m unclear on the metallurgical merits of turning weapons into agricultural implements, but it’s a nice sentiment and a deservedly oft-quoted one. It sits a bit poorly that presumably the peoples of the earth are at peace because they’ve been mind-whammied into it (I get creepy vibes of how the truly chilling aspect of society in 1984 is not merely the subjugation but the program to condition people to love their subjugation).

But no good thing can last, and this lovely vision of an idyllic future is cut short rather abruptly to turn to a perennially favorite topic of prophets, which is How Horrible People Are Today. So we jump immediately from the whole “the future is going to be awesome!” bit into an exhortation of the House of jacob to return to their proper ways. What are their proper ways? Well, to the Deuteronomists it was mostly centralized Jehovah-worship and everything else was negotiable. Isaiah takes a more moderated view. I mean, yes, he gets a dig in at idolworship and divination and alien customs, but it quickly moves to an indictment of such unexpected bad behaviors as having a land full of silver, gold, treasures, horses, and chariots. Huh? To most writers, a land of plenty and wealth is a good thing. But here is where Isaiah’s radical, proto-Socialist philosophy kicks in: in the desired eschaton, all will be comfortable, but not because of wealth; on the contrary, wealth and possessions, which cause strife, will vanish outright. This is developed further, because the ones against whom Isaiah promises divine wrath aren’t the foreigners, with their alien ways, or even the Jews who worship their gods. No, the wrath of God is going to descend on the haughty, on “all that is lofty”. There are specific references to the stately cedars of Lebanon and the high hills and suchlike, although I reckon those are metaphors (I’m not sure what to make of the notion that God’s wrath will strike the mountains for having the temerity to be tall). So all that have set themselves up above others are to be brought low, and only God will stand above. That last bit (which is explicitly in the text) is intriguing, since it ties together two threads which had previously not been really well integrated: social justice and monotheism, in that by bringing low all the other objects of adoration, God will simultaneously consolidate his power and serve a cause of human equality.

I get something of a mixed message from this prophecy as a whole, because it’s such a mixed bag of obvious goods (peace and social equality) with some deeply disturbing controlling aspects (primacy of the Temple, idolworshippers throwing their false gods away in terror of the Lord). However, I’m pleasantly surprised by how comfortably these themes sit side by side.

IFComp 2016: Thaxted Havershill And the Golden Wombat, by Andrew Brown

Fifth game! The blurb fills me with trepidation.

Blurb: An attempt to write a humorous TWINE IF game… The walk through is included… (Hmmm… This isn’t a very exciting blurb, is it?)

System: Twine (HTML)

Ah, the venerable Wacky Game with a Wacky Title. And an author who apparently has never met a sentence he doesn’t want to end with an ellipsis. The path to victory is reasonably narrow, and involves a Fighting-Fantasy-style random battle. The textis kind of middling at best, and the ending is ultimately metatextual but not in a way that’s actually very interesting (i.e. more MST3K than Italo Calvino).

There’s not much here that we haven’t seen before. The main saving grace is that hypertext is more navigable than parser-based IF and it’s pretty easy to be certain one has seen all there is to see.

Rating: 3

IFComp 2016: Letters, by Madison Evans

Fourth game. Bit behind schedule; better pick up the pace.

Blurb: A twine game where the reader explores a stack of letters left on their desk from someone they cared about. She has hidden herself inside her words, and all you can do is read between the lines. Can you find her?

System: Twine (HTML)

Not quite sure what to make of this. It feels in some sense like the hypertext of a bygone era, where there’s not a story so much as a bunch of hotlinked text pieces and the specific hotlinks aren’t all that obvious. It was the big hotness a decade or so ago,it seems, but it feels like the modern trend in hypertext fiction is straight narrative.

As for the text itself, it’s an OK epistolary creation: most of the items are dated, and I assume that you could build a cohesive beginning-to-end narrative by putting them in order. The endpoints of runthroughs seem to be at random points, however. Some clickthroughs never reach anything akin to a conclusion. AFAICT they’re all snapshots of the same story, though—it’s not like choosing a different path radically changes the story you uncover, although some branches can fail to divulge the most significant aspect of the story.

If there was meant to be something deeper here than a simple exploration of the extent of a relationship between two people in very different life circumstances, with different values, but with significant shared experiences, I kinda missed it.

Rating: 6

IFComp 2016: Stone Harbor, by Liza Daly

Third game of fifty-something. More or less on track, although I should pick up the pace. Might have to forego this week’s Bibble Wibble at this rate.

Blurb: You’re good at what you do: tell tourists pretty lies about love, money, and life after death. That’s what people want from a boardwalk psychic, and you deliver. It’s not the future you imagined for yourself, though, and sometimes you think you’re waiting for your real life to start. That wait ends today.
The curtain is opening, and it’s got something it needs you to see.

System: Uncredited, possibly homebrew (HTML)

Pretty linear. Ran into one small bug and a handful of typos. All in all there are few ways to influence the story and no substantive ways, which leads one to wonder why this qualifies as IF; yes, there’s a certain amount of agency involved in clicking the links to call up the next block of text, but thats a pretty minimal level of agency.

In every respect except for the structural design, though, this is a good work. It would make a fantastic second-person novella. It’s well-written and exciting. But it’s only very minimally what I think of as IF. Coming up with a good rating for something like this is hard for that reason: it succeeds very well at its apparent purposes but those purposes do not seem to be directed towards the creation of a work I’m comfortable labeling as exemplary IF.

Rating: 7 (I guess?)