IF: A Ghost Story and a Magical Family

Courtesy of Rock, Paper, Shotgun’s Free Indie Games column recommendations, come two me-recommended… um, what’s the word… pasttimes.

I can’t in all honesty quite precisely call them games, or interactive fiction, for that matter.

They are, and they aren’t.

They’re not games in the sense of what we commonly understand are games, a self-contained executable with its own rules and boundaries and win states that you can arrive at due to the interactivity of a player’s intervention and control, but then again, they are. With very limited interactivity, that is.

They don’t follow the common convention of interactive fiction, which is typically Inform-based and involves a bunch of rooms to wander around in, picking up objects and trying to cobble them together to solve puzzles until you reach the end of a certain branch in the narrative.

One is mostly hypertext links, and the other is a more fancy version of playing with hypertext. Both follow a mostly linear story, with your small choices altering the flavor of events, and I doubt you’ll have much patience to play them through more than once or twice or so.

But what they are, undeniably, is good evocative writing.

Both showcase a world that is unlike our own. For that, if nothing else, I would recommend that you play them.

Stygia – I get echoes of the Wraith: The Oblivion universe out of this one, as well as Grim Fandango.

A short day in the undead life of a working stiff (pun very much intended) – you do your job (haunting a real living family), you gets your pay, you go home (except you may encounter… something more.)

First Draft of the Revolution – Set in Emily Short’s Lavori D’ Aracne universe, where the noble class has a strange sort of magic, you write… and revise… letters from a variety of different people interacting with each other.

The intrigue about this one is in the moment, how individual characters are made unique by the style in which they compose their correspondence. The player gets more out of what is left unsaid, what is quickly rewritten or erased, rather than what remains on the page for consumption by the other characters.

P.S. The 2012 Interactive Fiction competition is now ongoing. Quite a number of games this year are available for online play, which really makes things convenient. I may talk more of them after the month is out, as I don’t want to alter anyone’s scoring or first impressions.

So far, I’ve tried seven, five of which are pretty much crap, one passable and one with decent potential. About par for the course when sifting through these entries, the real joy comes when you find that one or two diamonds in the rough that make the wading through horseshit worth it.