I have to call this a success.

Sometime last year I had this idea of a competition to see how many different games on the same walkthrough one could develop. In the original conception the walkthrough was a bit more orthodox, but when I got to writing it, I ran with something fairly surreal. Original announcement.

In judging the results, I looked for three factors. How entertaining was it? How well did it manage to present some kind of game continuity? And finally, did it do anything entertaining with the walkthrough (unorthodox or unexpected uses of terminology, etc.) Bonus points for providing an entertaining backstory. The results are, of course, incredibly subjective.

That's the official grading, but as you'll see as you read through these, I have a lot else to say. I was impressed-- extremely-- by the amount of work and invention that went into some of these; even the transcripts tend to represent More Effort Than You Might Expect. Also, I received three submissions accompanied by original artwork. Tonalities range from the thoughtful and introspective through the abstractly intellectual to frenetically humorous. There is even a transcript that is a puzzle, probably impossible to solve completely, but I found it entertaining to try.

Surgeon general's warning: the more surreal of these are very surreal indeed, and reading/playing them all at a stretch has been quite an odd experience. Download the whole package. (NB: Games used to be available from this site, but I have moved them off; you'll need to download them together as zipped.)


Winner: Constraints, by Stephen Granade.
Dreams Run Solid, by Caleb Wilson.
Jigsaw 2, by Adam Cadre.
Fit for a Queen, by Margia McPolti.
Twilight in the Garden of Exile, by Alan Stanley Long [Alexander Spiridonov].
A Walk Through Forever, by Duncan Cross.


Winner: Time Bastard, by Matt Francisfordcapollasdracula [Matt Fendahleen].
Honorable Mention: Persistance de la Vision, by J. Robinson Wheeler. (I was debating which would win up until the very very last moment.)
Special Award for Causing Me the Most Grief: Lighan ses Lion, by Andrew Plotkin.
A Venture, by Hyeronimus Quain [Denis Hirschfeldt].
Deus Ex Machina, by Gunther Schmidl.
Bollywood Hijinx, by Jamie Murray.
A Very Strange Day in the Life of a Maid, by Mel Brittingham.
BOWL DROP TOY SLEEP PLAY, by Sean Barrett. [Submitted May 25, not an official entry]
XYYZY MEANS NEVER HAVING TO SAY SORRY, by Randall M! Gee. [Submitted June 4, not an official entry]

Jigsaw 2
Adam Cadre

Now I see why I was given the walkthrough first: there's no point in trying to play this game without it. And at the same time, the walkthrough is about as unspoilery as it could be.

No, this game isn't really about the walkthrough. It's about the restless spirit of our age, and the quality of senselessness that pervades our lives, and the poetry inherent in nonsense. It's about bucking the system and being yourself and turning from the path and not doing what you're told. It puts us in the shoes we always knew we really belonged in. It sings. And, thank god, it does so briefly.

Entertainment factor: GOOD.
Continuity: EXCELLENT in its way; or maybe NONEXISTENT, depending on how you look at it.
Funky Text Abuses: NONE.
Backstory: NONE.

Dreams Run Solid
Caleb Wilson

This is, I think, is the IF that Tim Burton would write, if he gave up movies and did ten or fifteen years' hard time on an ant farm and then took a couple of classes in cross-cultural mythology and was assigned to write IF as therapy and...

Let me start over.

This is some really weird stuff. It's really weird the way that children's literature is often weird; it strings together imagery like beads on a tenuous plot. It comes, suitably enough, with a picture, which is creepy and only somewhat comprehensible. But it certainly isn't anything I would read to a six-year-old unless I wanted to be responsible for severe trauma: it's all insects and blades, implements of sacrifice and spoiled flesh, where hideous bends around and comes nose to nose with being beautiful again.

One technical note: this game crashed MaxZip -- and my whole machine with it -- on the >PRESENT BOWL command. Nitfol dealt with it fine (though it coughed up an error message about memory), so I was, in fact, able to go on and see the ending, but I recommend some care in interpreter choice here. This bugginess perforce cost the game something, alas.

One other note: There is a plot; it's just a strange plot, one that doesn't wholly make sense in our universe. If you follow the walkthrough and don't look right or left, you will miss explanatory material that does exist; I recommend looking around thoroughly before following the walkthrough instructions.

I really liked the Dream Paint for some reason.

Entertainment factor: GOOD.
Continuity: GOOD.
Funky Text Abuses: NONE.
Backstory: NONE.

Twilight in the Garden of Exile
Alexander Spiridonov
I have the sense that deep meaning is intended here: deep, subtle, modern meaning, intertwisted with Europeanness and Foreignness and... And I even think I have some idea what that meaning might be, though honestly I'm more comfortable saying I understand Lighan ses Lion than this.

I ran into a number of aesthetic bugs (having to do, mostly, with the innovative use of the status bar) that made it hard to see all the text.

Entertainment factor: FAIR.
Continuity: GOOD.
Funky Text Abuses: NONE.
Backstory: NONE.

Fit for a Queen
Margia McPolti
Well-implemented, bug-free (as far as I can tell), and with a timely inclusion of Douglas Adams jokes. Extremely self-aware; at one point it refers to the need to use TXD to 'see the good bits' (I haven't tried this, so I can't say whether there are any 'bits' to see).

Entertainment factor: GOOD.
Continuity: FAIR.
Funky Text Abuses: LION PRAY, for one...
Backstory: HEH. (Accompanying email.)

A Walk Through Forever
Duncan Cross

You're giving a reading of your game -- a rather feeble game you once programmed as an exercise -- and it doesn't go that well, on the whole. Several sections of this are rather clearly invented sheerly for the sake of the walkthrough, one near the end being most obvious; there isn't much of a sustaining story, one has to say. Still, some amusing moments, and I like the implementation of the audience.

Entertainment factor: FAIR.
Continuity: FAIR.
Funky Text Abuses: The length of the EGG STAND... command
Backstory: NONE.

Stephen Granade

I think, of the games, this is the most successfully game-like. It also has some striking moments. I liked the Dreaming. I really liked the drawing-in-the-air. Some gorgeously surreal moments, a feature which this game shares with Dreams Run Solid, appropriately enough. This one is, I think, a trifle more cohesive, although (or perhaps because) it has fewer moments that stand on the knife-edge between beautiful and repellent.

Folded in with this is a story of reading and losing oneself in stories that (for its structure) recalled Italo Calvino's If On a Winter's Night a Traveler (of which, as it happens, I just won my own copy in Mark Silcox's LOTECH Comp, so I have been rereading it).

In the end, not quite seamless, but I think the whole was fairly solid and pleasing.

Entertainment factor: EXCELLENT.
Continuity: GOOD.
Funky Text Abuses: TURN SMOOTH DUCK DOWN. I was really, really hoping someone would do that one.
Backstory: NONE.

Lighan ses Lion
Andrew Plotkin

My current working theory is that Zarf, like Borges, has access to the realm of Tlon, or perhaps to the IF Archive of Babel: an archive in which all possible walkthroughs are sometime or other generated by the ineffable workings of randomness and infinity. And Zarf brought us back the first one to hand that followed the walkthrough given, despite the fact that the rest is in a tongue not of this Earth.

From the evidence, this is a game written in Inform; standard Inform behaviors are adhered to and an up-to-date library used. The serial number argues a date some 53 years in the future [540109], but internal references to (I assume-- may I be so hubristic?) an analogue of my humble self (for the ABOUT text thanks an Emily) point to its being constructed recently; which adds to my suspicion that it has merely been brought into our plane from another which follows a slightly different dating system.

The language follows a remarkably English-like word order, though with the inversion of adjectives and nouns typical in romance languages. The sounds of the language, if I guess the pronunciation aright, are often reminiscent of Old English or German ("ycle" seems a direct reference to "yclept," e.g.), but there are moments of near-Portuguese ("calminjo") and para-Hungarian ("askiosy"), juxtaposed with possible nods to Meso-American ("xolne") and Asian ("Zao") language groups. Finally, certain individual words ("glulk, blong") are recognizably pure Zarf-speak; and it seems not impossible that in this text we behold in fact the native true language of His Obscure Highness.

Inflections are more numerous than, but on the whole similar to, English inflections. The -y word ending would appear to mark plurals, and there is a prefix of gu- on verbs signifying a question and ve- on infinitives -- suggesting a language that, like English, has degenerated from a fuller inflectional system. There is often no distinction between imperative and indicative forms. Tense markings appear to be inflectional as well ("zao wevaxen" for "you have won", e.g.). Negation is indicated by a postfix to the verb, a trick that may owe something to French's "ne... pas".

Unfortunately, though I was able to discern the syntaxes of many the sentences -- and to identify the locations as having some relation to Old School adventures of the maze-bearing sort -- the transcript is riddled with hapax legomena whose significance cannot be deciphered without further evidence. Many nouns and adjectives are tantalizingly indecipherable. So it was with mingled fascination and wistfulness that I followed the adventures of our humble protagonist, who progresses from the lowly rank of Ligani Uctoe, survives threats to his gorny, and takes (no doubt wisely) the ilshtarnh exit from the Boryl (do they, I wonder, hate mapping boryly as much as we do?).

Translation Efforts
Matt Fendahleen's (also features a review.)
David Welbourn's

Entertainment factor: EXCELLENT... to me. I spent hours untangling it. If you don't feel like doing the same, it may entertain you not at all.
Continuity: EXCELLENT.
Funky Text Abuses: UM...
Backstory: NONE. (But that's the enigma, n'est-ce pas?)

Deus Ex Machina
Gunther Schmidl

This smacks a bit of Delusions and a bit of the author having been on crack.

Let me try to say a bit more than that, though. Did I enjoy it? Yes. Why? I don't know. Would I like to play an implementation of this? I can think of little more frustrating. Plotwise it is about as satisfying as the name would seem to suggest.

Anything more would be excess. My final word is: yuk about the head, yay about the fish.

Entertainment factor: GOOD.
Continuity: UM.
Funky Text Abuses: NONE.
Backstory: NONE.

Persistance de la Vision
J. Robinson Wheeler
Transcript [was hosted off-site; no longer available]

What would happen if you tried to take a novel -- a thick 19th-century French novel with dozens of characters, for that matter -- and make it into IF? It would look, I think, something like this.

There are moments of comedic effect; the response to TAKE ALL is one such, taking the pidgin terminology of the IF player and giving it over to a parser alert to metaphor and idiom. But for the most part this isn't particularly funny. It possesses a certain weight, made all the more powerful, I find, by the single illustration; and though dissatisfaction, spoiled love, and starving artists are hardly a new subject, I was left curious at the end, wondering about the very fabric of reality which has shifted and scarred itself so repeatedly.

Entertainment factor: EXCELLENT.
Continuity: EXCELLENT.
Funky Text Abuses: TAKE ALL, etc.
Backstory: NONE.

A Venture
Hyeronimus Quain

This entry provides perhaps the most persuasive explanation for how the telegram came to be in my possession -- an intriguing story of defunct technology and aging academics. I was impressed by the submitter's generous work in annotating his contribution; without his notes I imagine that many of us would find it puzzling in the least.

As for the transcript itself, it is surreal and subtly convincing. I rather like it. For such an old game, it has remarkably lengthy room descriptions -- a stylistic touch well ahead of its time. The NPC interactions also appear to be implemented with some degree of complexity, though it is hard to know for certain without an interactive form of the same.

I also see -- I think -- hints of things that may have influenced Brian Uri! in Augmented Fourth; the duck seems suggestive.

Entertainment factor: EXCELLENT.
Continuity: GOOD.
Funky Text Abuses: FENCE TAKE et al.
Backstory: YAY.

Time Bastard
Matt Fendahleen

Lovecraft meets the Matrix. r*if jokes on speed.

All prose has its own natural reading speed. You can't take Persistance de la Vision too quickly or it refuses to function in your brain. Correspondingly, you can't take this slowly at all, or so I found. Slow down and the blurry illusion of sense is entirely shattered.

This has approximately the same things going for it that marked Matt Fendahleen's submission to my last competition ("August," in the SmoochieComp, for those keeping track at home): namely, a lot of attitude. A different attitude, this time, but still in 50-gallon warehouse drums. It's not G-rated, child appropriate, or politically correct.

Best of all, at the end it did this strange thing where it clicked and all made sense. I'm not sure whether this mystical alchemy will occur for anyone else, but it the last piece made everything click neatly and satisfyingly into place.

Entertainment factor: EXCELLENT... in a certain state of mind. (Drugged?)
Continuity: EXCELLENT... ditto.
Funky Text Abuses: NONE.
Backstory: NONE.

A Very Strange Day in the Life of a Maid
Mel Brittingham

Beleaguered by some spelling errors or typos. The transcript goes with the midgame of something unspecifiedly longer, and both beginning and end are missing. Furthermore, the walkthrough seems to include a number of actions that aren't strictly necessary. It's not entirely clear why you, as a maid, are also allowed to dance at the party. It's not entirely clear why... a lot of things.

Entertainment factor: FAIR. A couple of jokes; mostly weirdness.
Continuity: FAIR.
Funky Text Abuses: NONE.
Backstory: NONE.

Bollywood Hijinx
Jamie Murray

A cheeky parser, an endangered bird, and a square-jawed hero... (in potentia, anyway). Some pleasantly clever moments. I'm not sure I fully understood why the PC's mother was supposed to be being diagnosed with Tourette's, but then maybe I'm unclear on the details of Tourette's anyway.

This did make me wish we had more games set in India. That would be interesting, wouldn't it? Look, a relatively unexplored setting!

Entertainment factor: GOOD.
Continuity: FAIR.
Funky Text Abuses: I EAT IT (you'll see.)
Backstory: NONE.

Sean Barrett

This takes up a challenge that I lamented not being covered: break up the walkthrough into the smallest possible number of the largest possible commands.

The result is, as you would expect, Really Odd; the title is the name of one of the items of the game. It takes considerable effort, I found, to read the transcript and understand what's going on: the game's responses are one thing, but what the player is up to, and why, and how any hypothetical player would know to do those things... well, that's another question entirely.

Still, I found it interesting, and stretching the genre in a new direction, so I include it here for the edification of the multitude.

Entertainment factor: GOOD.
Continuity: GOOD, in its way.
Funky Text Abuses: TOO ABUNDANT TO LIST.
Backstory: NONE.

Randall M! Gee

I don't have terribly much to say about this one, as it came in late and my time for reviewing is limited to nonexistent, but it was an entertaining read despite a few spelling errors. I like the fish dress.

Entertainment factor: GOOD.
Continuity: GOOD.
Funky Text Abuses: NONE.
Backstory: NONE.

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