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IFComp 2016 – Interactive Fiction Reviews

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The Interactive Fiction Technology Foundation runs a yearly competition for interactive fiction called IFComp. Though it’s been flourishing for many years, I hadn’t heard about it before this year, and too late to be able to plan and execute a worthy submission. Still, nothing’s preventing me from browsing the 50-odd submissions and looking for something to catch my eye. As a novice to IF I’ve only had hands-on experience with a very few platforms for writing or playing it. IFComp, though, exposes a whole array of techniques and manipulations that I wasn’t previously familiar with. Needless to say, this affected my play experience significantly.

Eight characters, a number, and a happy ending – K.G. Orphanides

This was the first entry I played. Eight characters is a parser game, where commands can be entered in the text box or through navigation links. Some of the commands are helpfully explained in the in-universe manuals. Some are fairly intuitive, once you catch the trick of it – another effect of my being a novice player. I fussed for a long time over trying to open a simple chest before I learned to adjust to the game’s expectations.

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Podcast Review: Sawbones

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Sawbones: A Marital Tour of Misguided Medicine

Medical history can be fascinating, depressing and hilarious in more or less equal measure. A few of my smarter teachers have touched on it here and there, and it always helps to contextualize the material. It also puts things in perspective, when you’re learning about historical beliefs that represented the best medical thought of the time, alongside the best modern understanding of certain scientific mysteries. Makes you feel like maybe we know as little about the human brain as our antecedents did about germ theory. Someday, future podcasters will laugh at us.

Laugh, and be horrified. “Sawbones” is essentially a humorous podcast, as the subtitle says, “a marital tour of misguided medicine”. A doctor and a sidekick ask hard-hitting questions about garlic and butts. Given the rich history of the medical profession, they could conceivably keep producing weekly episodes indefinitely. So far their subjects have ranged from sleep disorders to deadly viruses, not to mention a lot of things that are no longer considered ill-health at all (left-handedness) to things that are straight up fiction (hysteria).

I love Sawbones because it keeps my commutes lively, and helpfully has a large back archive so that I’m never stranded without something to giggle about on the bus. I love it even more because almost every episode gives me a new story idea. As they say, fact is usually stranger than fiction. Nothing I could come up with independently is going to beat the 1918 flu pandemic, the discovery of vitamin C, or the history of sleepwalking.

“Sawbones” is a Maximum Fun podcast hosted by Dr. Sydnee McElroy and Justin McElroy.

Crossposted to Dreamwidth.

New Game: Wreath of Roses

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Wreath of Roses is a 16,000 word text game written in the Twine engine and playable through any JavaScript-supporting web browser.

Wreath of Roses is a project from Zinc Alloy Games.

It is the story of Thalia, a princess on her way to an arranged marriage. The story follows Thalia as she arrives at the kingdom meant to be her future home and gets to know her future husband, tracking her responses to her environment, positive and negative. As the wedding nears Thalia can choose to explore the castle and get to know some of its inhabitants, and at the end of the game the player makes a decision based on Thalia’s overall impressions: to go through with the wedding, or cancel it.

This early version of the game is fully playable and features character customization and four different endings.

An excerpt from the game’s opening will be available on my Patreon later this month.

Greatest Hits

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Some of the posts on this blog receive very regular hits, regardless of how old they are. Hits from Google, or from social media of the shareable kind, where someone might decide to revive an old-ish post and give it second wind. It’s easy enough to trace my most popular posts through this method, as well as by the hit-count which WordPress provides. It’s almost as easy to get to the bottom of why these posts in particular receive more attention than others.

Blog hits by month for the past year. See that big bump in January? Guess where that came from.

Some of them are reviews for niche products, obscure enough that my little blog is able to climb up the Google results to a visible place, maybe even on the first page. I’ve also been getting a few Image Google hits since I started including images in most of my posts. By far the most important factor, though, are the creators of the media that I review.

I review both books and games, most of them visual novels or other non-combat games from small-to-tiny indie studios. Game devs like these have to do most of their own promotion work. Authors also find themselves in this position sometimes, if they are self-published or else backed by a small publisher. Maybe the larger media review sites pick up on their creation, maybe they don’t. Either way, they need reviews. They need to get their name and the name of their product out there, to reach the readers or players most likely to pick it up.

Reviewers also need content creators. Most obviously, we need media to consume and review, for entertainment as well as work. But there are many mass media products floating around that I could be spending my time and money on. I could add my voice to the huge internet chorus talking about Star Wars or Supergirl (as I sometimes have). The media outlets that produce those properties, though, will never be aware of me and my work.

Not so for the independent creators. My best-visited review is still the one for Solstice, MoaCube games’ hybrid mystery visual novel. As I pre-purchased the game and played it before the release, my review was published right around the time that it became publicly available. The developer retweeted it shortly after, which led directly to three days of record hits for my blog. It’s still my most popular post by far.

Content creators and reviewers depend on each other. Books need readers, and so do blogs. When someone links to my review, they’re not only promoting their work, but also mine. They are also, to a lesser extent, promoting every other piece of media I’ve reviewed on this blog. Just as I rely on other review blogs, and on creators retweeting each other’s self-promotion, to find the subject of my next post. In fact, that’s how I find most of my favorite games and books, these days, especially through review-intensive sites like Goodreads.

Crossposted to Dreamwidth.

Patreon Update: Backer-only Content

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When I put together my Patreon support tiers, I promised some backer-exclusive content. Since then I’ve been working on putting these things together. There are some updates about my games in progress, and some fresh short fiction. This takes a while because I want to make sure that you’re receiving quality content that’s worth the price of admission.

Over the next couple of months I’ll be posting snippets from a political fantasy text adventure that I’ve been working on. Later in the year I hope to share something from my next Twine project, which will be much more game-like in structure. I also have some new flash fiction that needs to go through the editing wringer before it’s ready for consumption.

Anyway, that’s it. I have some exciting stuff in the works and I hope you’ll be excited about it, too.

Crossposted to Dreamwidth and Patreon.

Stay Crazy by Erica Satifka

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“Look, I know I’m crazy. I know that. You don’t have any reason to believe what I’m about to tell you[.]”


Disclosure: I received an ARC of Stay Crazy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

The most important thing to note about Stay Crazy, of course, is that the protagonist is insane. Well, yes, of course. It says right in the blurb that she was discharged from a mental hospital. And yet, she is also at the center of a vast conspiracy. It would have been so easy to make this the story of someone who only appears to be insane, when they are in fact the only ones who see the truth. Most often when I see spec fic stories involving characters confined in mental wards or the like, the story is one of false imprisonment, and draws a sharp line between the POV character and all those other people, the real crazies.

Em is as real-crazy as they come. Despite her unflattering descriptions of her fellow patients, she explicitly sets herself among them, the other psychotics. The book is written in a very subjective and often claustrophobic first person narration, dragging the reader deep into Em’s periodic bouts of hallucination. It’s difficult to immediately determine, during each episode, whether is is delusional or merely trans-dimensional. The silver insects crawling over her boyfriend’s plate at the restaurant, the swallowing brown smoke at the bowling alley, even the TV psychologist’s hidden messages. Which of these are conspiracy, and which are artifacts of the mind?

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The Joy and Beauty of Accountability

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The software that interprets statistics creates beautiful (though unintentionally hilarious) charts.

It’s been a little over two years since I first signed up for, a site based around the idea of morning writing exercises. One of the classic pieces of advice that professional writers give, is to start every morning by writing three pages, stream-of-consciousness style. This helps unclutter the mind and gets the writing brain into high gear. For people poor at planning it helps set an agenda for the day. For people prone to anxiety or rumination, it sets worries on paper and out of the mind. This exercise has many different uses. One page fits on average 250 words, hence the URL as given.

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