Hey, so I’m going to try to review works of interactive fiction for the 20th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition. I don’t plan to be thorough or comprehensive, or even do things in randomized order. I’m going to look at games that either (a) seem intriguing right off the bat, even if flawed or (b) by authors who I have a certain level of narrative trust with. (I might play and judge other games though too–this is just a time constraint based on my life right now based on writing.) There might be mild spoilers too, though if anything major needs to be said, I’ll try to signal it.
Oh, you can judge too! And write reviews!
Inward Narrow Crooked Lanes
by B Minus Seven
I enjoy idiosyncratic games, and this definitely fits the bill. From a technical “Twiney” standpoint, this game is probably the most interesting use of the Jonah format that I’ve ever seen.* Backing up a bit: Twine uses what it calls a story format in order to create the base-level output that the reader will interact with. The vast majority of Twine games I’ve seen have been in a format called Sugarcane (or a modification of it), which allows a user to only see one passage of text at a time. However, Jonah scrolls, and allows rewinding. It is all there to see, and INCL has a clever bit of CSS in which it “dims the lights” on all passages except the current one.
(*I realize upon writing this that this might be a customized version of Sugarcane too! So if that’s the case my apologies–but the important thing here is the linear, non-fading-out of the text. It just has a very different vibe than standard Sugarcane. Anyway, carry on)
So, Jonah vs. Sugarcane give very different reading experiences, and the use of Jonah here helps give the (fractured) narrative a sense of being propelled forward, into the midst of chaos. But a kind of linear chaos.
You start out the game by filling out a form, which immediately puts a broken syntax into play. Like this:
It’s also not entirely clear how your answers affect the rooms you move through later. But it definitely happens “behind the curtain”. The interviewer (i.e., the narrator speaking to you) at one point calls you on one of your answers, in a kind of sinister nitpick.
In the rooms themselves, there are clear choices, including to keep bulldozing through the rooms and not interacting with the surreal objectry in front of you. From those choices, however, everything is unexpected. You might find language itself has fallen into a kind of glossolalia. Or you might find yourself on a train. You’re propelled into a world that you don’t understand and aren’t really expected to understand by the powers that be (there is definitely a Them in this game). In this it also has a bit of a feel of Rat Chaos and its intense dead ends (which also appear here)–though, again, the difference between building in Sugarcane vs. Jonah is striking.
I would really like to see this polished and QA’ed a bit more (especially in the second room, which appears to have some broken code), and for the world building to expand just a little bit more, to give a couple more handholds for the player, while still keeping all of the weirdness intact.
Most of all, I hope the author keeps writing more games.
Addendum: It was only after posting that I discovered that the title of the piece comes from a John Donne poem, “The Triple Fool.” It’s hard to say how much the poem concretely informs the game, but what’s fascinating about reading the poem through the lens of the game is how Donne deals with avatars and personas. The three fools mentioned in the title are from Donne’s almost Borgesian mirroring of language: the author itself, the author as inscribed in the poem, and the author as inscribed in the poem when someone else reads it out loud. This metaphysical constriction and fracturing is definitely present in the game.
At any rate, it’s worthwhile as a reader and player to have the elusive transformed into the allusive.