Wade Clarke on Best Supplemental Materials

Wade Clarke is the author of Leadlight (IFComp Golden Banana Winner 2010), Six (2nd in IFComp 2011, XYZZY winner for Best Implementation) and Ghosterington Night (Winner of Ectocomp 2012). He has produced cover art for Fan Interference, Ted Paladin and the Case of the Abandoned House and Threediopolis and music for Andromeda Apocalypse and Kerkerkruip. He has betatested a good number of games and written 100+ reviews on The Interactive Fiction Database. Wade’s homepage is at wadeclarke.com.

The finalists for Best Supplemental Materials were The Sixth Sleep18 Cadence, Coloratura, Depression Quest, Dominique Pamplemousse and Hill of Souls.

So what are supplemental materials in the world of Interactive Fiction?

If you voted in this category, this is a question I hope you asked yourself, and which you had no choice but to try to answer for yourself if you did ask it of yourself, because this category of XYZZY continues to suffer from a lack of explanation of what is allowable in it or what should be allowable. Or more broadly, What’s It About? I say these things not intending to disparage this year’s nominations or their authors in any way. These games are all here because sufficient numbers of folks voted for them in this category and I have praise for all of them. But perusing the range of the nominations, my sense is that the nominators have interpreted the category in some quite different ways to each other.

Following is a brief conversation stimulator about how I personally interpret the category so long as it retains the name ‘Best Supplemental Materials’. If the name changed or rules were added or the category was dropped, I’d change what I think. I expound here in case it can be a launching pad for talk about what people want to do with this category next year, if anything.

The Free Dictionary offers a much better primary definition of ‘supplemental’ than the Oxford American dictionary which came with my Mac, so here it is:

1. Something added to complete a thing, make up for a deficiency, or extend or strengthen the whole.

My core thought on the topic is that if a game would be rendered fundamentally incomplete or non-functional by the removal of particular elements or materials distributed with it, those elements or materials can’t be considered to be supplemental.

Here is how I view this year’s nominees in relation to this idea.

The way IF games continue to handle cover images (their display by interpreters is optional, games tend not to be coded to show them themselves and the images can be hard to view otherwise) means that those images continue to fall into the supplemental bucket. This makes the cover for Hill of Souls supplemental.

The trailer for Depression Quest is a promotional item and not part of the game. It’s clearly supplemental.

The graphic environment for 18 Cadence is indistinguishable from what 18 Cadence is. I don’t think it’s supplemental. That said, 18 Cadence has a bunch of associated promotional materials, like a video trailer and a website which does more than just play the game, and I’d say those are supplemental.

The Labyrinth’s Lament, the comic which goes with The Sixth Sleep, is certainly not part of the game and is therefore supplemental. That said, the way the author has presented the game and the comic, the game could actually be the supplemental material to the comic, though it probably isn’t.

The nomination for Dominique Pamplemousse just says ‘multimedia’. This game is probably a trickier analysis, but not at the elementary level. The audiovisual nature of Dominique Pamplemousse is its core nature; there’s nothing supplemental about it. Can you imagine the game’s raw text trying to do all that claymation singing? It would have sucked! The trickiness grows out of the vague wording of the nomination when we extend our thoughts on the game. For instance, should we consider things like the demo of the game and its website to be supplemental materials? As with 18 Cadence, I say yes.

The final nomination is for Coloratura‘s ship map. Maps are the prototypical supplemental materials: Helpful but non-essential documents generally supplied outside of the game and which also add flavour to it.

As it turns out, I am not the writer of the rules on this category. No-one has written them, so I will be talking about these games in the capacity or capacities in which they were nominated.

Cover art, Hill of Souls (Angela Shah)

Hill of Souls was an entrant in Ectocomp 2013, where it came 22nd out of 24 games. Traditionally that’s not the kind of fact that would make you rush out to try a game. But would you rush out to try a game with a pretty cover when most games have no covers or so-so covers? You might. It’s not that you’re judging the game by its cover. It’s that the cover is getting you to open that game ahead of others in the environment of ceaseless and ferocious competition for attention which defines the contemporary entertainment world.

Hill’s cover image is of a rather fetching woman kneeling before a skull in the great outdoors whilst dangling a heart-shaped charm. She’s doing this during what appears to be some kind of necromantic ceremony and the whole scene is presented in attractive and mysterious silhouette. The effect is initially striking in a transparent-seeming way but also invites the eye in to search for details, some of which have been made clearer by the silhouetting and some of which have been obscured. For instance, the trowel by the woman’s knee, which I didn’t notice right away, and the little light-admitting gaps in the skull which add definition to it. The left-right balance of the composition and the woman’s and skull’s complementary eyelines convey a communion between the two parties. Their relationship is moderated by the charm in the centre, the only dot of any other colour in the image. This could be a seduction or a hypnotism, or both.

The misty sepia treatment suggests the fog of the graveyard, or of magic, but also lends the image an air of two-dimensional theatricality. It looks like it could be a staged promotional image for a gothic play. Or perhaps the staged promotional image for an Interactive Fiction game.

In spite of the image’s effect of making me keen to play Hill of Souls, I found the game to be immediately impenetrable when I did try it. It’s shifting prose looked evocative, but I could only get one or two minor commands to work and the game offered no feedback or instruction. I never moved out of its first room, if it was a room. I achieved nothing and understood nothing. So unfortunately I can see why the game came 22nd out of 24, though I am aware that it has content that others reached and also that it was its author’s first effort. Regarding that content, all I can do is make up exciting fantasies about it based on the game’s cover image, which, like many a horror film poster, is easily fascinating enough to incite the imagination, either in league with or in spite of the work’s content.

While performing originality tests on the cover image using Google image search (it passed — nothing personal Angela, I just consider it my job to check) I came across a site on which the artist’s rectangular version of the image had already won an award, and which also shows various elements that went into its creation. This was quite interesting, and may act as a reminder to onlookers that while hordes of people claim to be able to use Photoshop and its ilk these days, there’s a big difference between knowing how to use the software and having the ability to produce or composite a quality image with it.

Video trailer, Depression Quest (Zoe Quinn, Patrick Lindsey and Isaac Schankler)

Video trailers for text-based Interactive Fiction games have been thin on the ground to date. As with the experience of reading books, the experience of playing IF is just not especially amenable to this kind of treatment. Macro-lensed closeups of fingers loudly tapping keys, and/or of the corresponding letters appearing on some kind of nearby visual display unit, are a hallmark of the genre, and they tend not to make for great evocation of game content. That doesn’t mean that using such shots briefly to kick off your Kickstarter campaign video will prevent strangers from injecting you with cash — nay, far from it! But I think anyone would acknowledge that a genre of trailer cannot be held aloft entirely by one particular shot.

Easily the best sincere IF trailer to date was made by the Cabrera brothers for their game CYPHER (trailer here). The brothers were able to play to the strong visual qualities of their gameworld and the sci-fi genre they were working in, and to quote the aesthetics of visually redoubtable films like Blade Runner. It was an excellent fit. They also did majestic work with ye olde closeups of typing fingers. Unfortunately when the game arrived, it fell short of a lot of players — expectations for reasons which went beyond the high expectations set by the trailer.

Depression Quest‘s trailer takes a different approach to the few IF trailers which have come before it. While it is not insincere, its goal is not to sincerely stir excitement (or at least, the prospect of engagement, given the subject matter of Depression Quest) for the experience of playing the game it promotes. Holding on an unchanging shot of someone lying in bed in a lit room while some low level atmos buzzes on the soundtrack, it specifies after about half a minute of inaction only that Depression Quest is a game about living with the experience of depression, and that it will be released on a particular date. That date turns out to be Valentine’s Day of 2013, a schtick cueing what is possibly the only laugh able to be wrung out of the Depression Quest project. Since the game is not parser-based, we’ll never know whether the trailer’s creators might have resorted to closeups of typing fingers had they been given the chance, though my guess is that they probably wouldn’t have.

So the primary hook of the Depression Quest trailer is curiosity. Whether or not you know much about depression, you’re likely to want to know how lying motionless in bed could be integrated into some kind of quest, or even just into a game per se. Most trailers have a degree of exploitation about them which audiences secretly enjoy, and the exploitative gesture of this trailer is that when you get to the game, you’ll find that there is no more quest involved in it than there is in life; the title is mostly a jokey rope alluding to other ‘quest’ games. However, by the time you notice this, you will have already played through a good chunk or all of Depression Quest, at which point there can be no doubt that the trailer did its job.

For those of you who have not experienced major clinical depression, you might be wondering how accurate the trailer is. Do depressed people really lie in bed in depressing-looking, fully lit white rooms all day? I have some qualifications to speak in this area, as I use a bed for sleeping purposes, I once completed Pokemon Blue and I have dealt with major depression for a couple of decades. The only part of the trailer I don’t relate to is that this person has the lights on. That’s weird! Get up and turn the lights off, you weirdo! But I do recognise the total enervation and the weird buzzing noise.

I wasn’t invited here to discuss the game itself, but I will comment on it quickly. The experience of playing Depression Quest is indeed massively depressing, as things don’t work out for the protagonist during the slice of time the player shares with them and there are no resolutions on offer. The staticky delivery and maudlin music also push the player’s head down. Perhaps it was more triggery (I hate this word and yet here I am typing it for the first time) for me than for someone who hasn’t been chronically depressed. The game’s goal is not to pulverise you emotionally; maybe to tenderise you somewhat. Its goal is to show that the potential for a person to make healthier choices of action may seem to evaporate from that person’s being when they are in the grip of major depression. At doing this and frustrating the player as a result, Depression Quest is very good.

What I missed in terms of it conveying an understanding of the condition were descriptions of the protagonist’s irrational thought processes, the ones which were leading to the choices that he was taking. I view those thoughts as the engine behind the behaviours of the depressed, the behaviours which people around the depressed find so inexplicable. However, Depression Quest obviously isn’t a 450 page novel or something else similarly huge which has time to try everything. It’s a small to mid-sized game which focuses on a particular mechanic to try to show something about depression, and it is smart in what it does.

Graphical environment, 18 Cadence (Aaron Reed)

I admit that before I tried 18 Cadence, the idea of it didn’t interest me. That is, the idea which I’d heard was about piecing together stories out of something akin to a story text database. In theory I’d rather just write my own story. In retrospect, what I became aware of were my connotations for the word “story” within new IF. I usually expect quite specific, vectored writing when I’m expecting a story. What I don’t expect is that a program allowing me to stitch together different pieces of text will meet these expectations.

Then I tried 18 Cadence and I thought, “Ah, I see.” The game isn’t even interested in the things I was speculating on. The term story is being used in a more poetic, filling-in-the-gaps sense. The prose is specific about each point in its fictional history, but not from point-to-point. It is your cutting, dragging, rearranging, clicking and combining of the strips of words which determines where the gaps between points might fall and how they might be interpreted. The kind of story that forms as a result can be specific in a simple way if you cleave to the proffered text, but cleaving isn’t the point of 18 Cadence. It’s more likely that a less specific story will build up around the relationships you arrange between the pieces of text, a story about something broad like laughter, or hobbies, or sex or mortality, and the number of permutations available to you to craft such musings is huge. 18 Cadence is not entirely unlike an adult take on the picture cards you give to kids so that they can make up a story from them.

The delivery vehicle for these word cutups is a click’n’move or touch’n’move interface set atop a boho-looking version of everybody’s favourite computer-based metaphor, the desktop. The desk surface graphic has a look that is part easel and part worn craft table, and arranging materials on it is a fairly intuitive process. The various sources at the top of the screen, ranging from the goings-on in the rooms of the eponymous house across its 100 year calendar to its inhabitants and contents at different times, can all be dragged down and dropped into any free space, and in some cases atop of pre-existing materials to form new ones. The easy sophistication isn’t within the way these objects can be moved around, but in the programming which controls what happens to them when they are placed near each other or on top of each other. Separate sentences about the same subject can join together to form longer sentences, and these can be switched through different wordings by clicking on them. A sentence containing just three elements – a character, a room and an object – can often be clicked through dozens of variations. Doing so may remind you of the wonderful redundancy of English, as many extremely similar permutations of the wording, which youÕd nevertheless choose not to use over certain other ones in normal speech, flip by in turn. Yet for the purposes of making various kinds of minimalist free verse, these alternate wordings often turn out to be just what you were unconsciously looking for.

The graphic rendering of all the text involved opens the door to the inclusion of various other game-like flourishes and visual textures. The colour tone and surface weave of the chopped up bits of paper varies subtly depending on their source, giving easy, unemphatic feedback on the distribution of your chosen pieces of text at a single glance. The way the text fragments look and their spatial relationships to each other on screen can be as important as what they say in the context of 18 Cadence. A neat feature I only noticed quite late in the piece is the craft knife which appears in the top left corner as soon as you’ve glued any texts together. You can click on the knife then drag it around to split hybrid texts back into their component parts. This also explains all the scratches visible on the desktop.

As well as all of this quite effortless-feeling programming and visual design, 18 Cadence sports an anonymous communal story-sharing function. If you like a particular text arrangement you’ve made, you can save it to the pool using the lower right popout menu. There you will also find the button which will randomly retrieve a story that someone else has made. And as much as I enjoyed playing with the 18 Cadence tools, I found I enjoyed looking at what other people had done with them more. They showed me more possibilities for the use of this multimedia text workspace and its simulated tactile qualities than I could have come up with on my own.

The Labyrinth’s Lament, comic accompanying The Sixth Sleep (Sloane Leong)

The Sixth Sleep is a Twine game in which you play an alien on (or more accurately, in) its home turf. Being the alien, you would be unlikely to think of yourself as one within your own psychological reality, but the prose’s emphasis on the visuals of ichorous goop, hive lairs and chitinous this-and-thats make you feel conspicuously like you’re in the body of a creature from an Aliens film, even as the action of the game is believably interpreted from your perspective.

The context of this game feels uncomplicated if you just play the game. Strangely, I felt I understood the whole a little less clearly after I’d spent time reading accompanying comic The Labyrinth’s Lament and researching the game’s provenance. This was only because I now had more material but the same amount of overall understanding as when I’d begun. The average player is less likely to go investigating the game’s provenance, but if they do, I don’t think they are likely to enhance their understanding of this comic and game project as a whole. Which came first, the comic or the game? Is this question irrelevant because the two were always intended to go together? How does the comic relate to the Prophet comic from Image, which the author’s website says her own comic may appear in?

Speaking of Image, an initial reaction I had to The Labyrinth’s Lament was: ‘This reminds me of Image comics.’ This was potentially a bizarre thought for me to be having because I last read an Image comic in the 1990s, which was also when I last consistently read any comic books in general. But I’m aware of Image’s influence on comic style and publishing in general, and apparently the little I know has stuck with me. My thought came in response to the kinetic-looking arrangement of the comic panels in The Labyrinth’s Lament. A good example is the terraced descent of increasingly narrow panels from left to right which starts with the ‘Glurp’ digestion panel.

The subject matter of this comic is the interaction between the alien system and a human who rather hopelessly tries to escape from it. The subject matter of the game is the experience of a hungry alien (hierarchically lower down in the system, I think) and its encounter with a stray human. The alien protagonist of the game is much more elemental in its thoughts than the narrating alien overmind of the comic, but also more lavish and inhuman its prose. The overmind’s narration is that of an assured megalomaniac, readily understandable to us humans.

The comic artwork is strong in detail, as evinced by the plethora of little tendrils and grubs on display, and also in a holistic sense. The colouring is especially good, the grade of colour evolving with the downward movement through the pages, weird pastels and dayglos giving onto a vivid digestive crimson. The pacing and placement of the narration bubbles maintain the reader’s sharing of the omniscient viewpoint of the overmind, and this viewpoint determines how all of the comic’s visual transitions are to be understood. I did find some of the geography hard to interpret at first, a matter complicated by the strangeness of events and environments depicted — especially the business of a lure made from light turning out to be a trap for humans in the form of a hissy-tongued monster. But I didn’t find anything hard to interpret because of the artwork. The comic is finely executed and, depending upon your tolerance for glorp, either fascinating or unpleasant, but compelling either way.

The Labyrinth’s Lament opens onto a lot of weird processes and features of this alien system. Humans from somewhere are captured for some reason. Giant beetle-like aliens deliver them through the system. Sometimes the humans escape and end up running around in the system, but they can be recaptured by weird means and might end up being digested. Is this what was going to happen to them anyway? In spite of the common setting of the system, the issues and questions surrounding the humans’ relationship with the aliens aren’t addressed in either the comic or the game, and because the alien of the game is a pretty raw one compared to the lofty overmind of the comic, it’s hard to sort out the connection between the two creatures. So while both the game and the comic are aesthetically strong, they feel like entry points to a bigger mythology.

It’s to any artist’s credit when they don’t supply five answers before you’ve asked one question, and it’s also very likely that Sloane didn’t expect some XYZZY person to be combing over the relationships between all the bits of her project. That said, I’m here to evaluate how I think the supplemental material works in tandem with the game, and I’d say that the comic could support the game more coherently, and also that it might not have hurt for the author to have described the intended relationship between the materials more specifically on her own website, or at other locations where the game may appear (e.g. IFDB.).

I make these observations in a bubble of envisioned good practice and out of a sense of what might be uncomfortably called ‘traditional PR’. Having looked at the footprints of this project online, I think the reason the game/comic/author haven’t done things along these lines is simply because the author wasn’t thinking about that wider level of transmission. The link to the game has mostly been passed around by modest word-of-mouth and a handful of Twine sites. Yet here we are at Interactive Fiction’s annual award-bestowing shindig, and the comic for this game — or the game for this comic – has managed to get nominated for an award. To anyone out there doing things like this, I say to you not patronisingly, but with warmth and my sense of humour, I hope: It Could Happen To You.

Multimedia, Dominique Pamplemousse (Deirdra Kiai)

In IFdom we still broadly have a mindset that multimedia flourishes are pretty impressive when they appear in, or in relation to, a text-based game. There are obviously good historical reasons for this attitude but it looks a little cute when a fully audiovisual game like Dominique Pamplemousse comes along and XYZZY voters specify its multimedia component for attention.

On paper, Pamplemousse ticks a lot of ostensibly weird boxes. It’s in black-and-white. It’s claymation. The claymation characters talk-sing to a brass’n’polka soundtrack. They do so while variously solving or compounding a mystery. The paradoxical thing about a game either seeming to be weird or actually being weird is that third parties tend to find it easy to write wack-sounding copy about that game. (‘Like The Neverhood? Like Sam & Max? Like charmingly ropey singing? Then you’ll have some sort of feeling about Dominique Pamplemousse.’) And then, paradoxically again, the elements whose combination the copy emphasised as being so wack in order to arouse reader attention actually need to join together to form a coherent aesthetic for the game, if that game is going to be any good. Deirdra Kiai achieved such a thing in spades with Dominique Pamplemousse, blending all those ostensibly-weird-on-paper elements together into one aesthetic. They did so to the extent that players were heard to say things like, “This game is charming and coherent, and not so ostensibly weird after all.”

While considering this aesthetic and the audiovisual elements which make it up, it’s worth thinking about the term ‘multimedia’ in a less quaint fashion than usual. For instance, not just the fact that it’s a game with stuff to see and stuff to hear and stuff to read, but that it’s a game using some quite specific and relatively exotic (for this genre) media, like animation in the medium of plasticine or other clay-like substance, or singing for purposes of plot exposition. These media are used within the familiar context of a point and click adventure game, with all its attendant dialogue trees, discrete locations, NPCs and clickable props.

Pamplemousse is billed as a musical and I admire its audio component the most. It’s not that there are a million variables at work in the soundtrack, but the elements that are in play are novel ones of the kind which have to be got right if everything is to work. Since all the communication is via talking and singing, all that talking and singing has to be clear, well recorded and flatteringly mixed and levelled. One advantage Deirdra would have had, mix-wise, is that they only had to deal with one voice: their own. The music then has to go around the dialogue and singing without obscuring it at any point. House band Squinky and the Squinkettes emit, or ‘squink’, a tonally mellow sound spectrum mostly in the low-mid frequency range. This spectrum is not hugely in conflict with the human voice range to begin with, and the volume of the game’s music drops, or the arrangement of the game’s music changes, when folks are talking or singing.

With the mix set up for clarity, the more novel audio schtick at work in Pamplemousse concerns the timing and looping of the music and songs. Again, this isn’t an issue of outrageous complexity at the level it’s operating at in this game, but it is a practical issue specific to this game and one which its maker had to address. I regard the decision to have music looping more or less continuously throughout the game to be the fundamental one here. The composition and instruments used create a sort of mildly harried but wacky ambience, and the WAH-WAH brass sounds are funny. Listeners also tend to associate a lack of high frequencies in a recording with old recordings or gramophones, a vibe further driven home in Pamplemousse by the constant loop of scratchy record noise on the soundtrack and the game’s black-and-white visuals.

The thing about having looping music is that the characters can’t just start singing when the fancy takes them. They sometimes have to wait for a judicious moment, even if it is usually only a couple of seconds away at most. This requirement influences the nature of compositions in this scheme, and I’m guessing it would have required a bit of programming to keep an eye on the loops. (I need to venture into extra speculation at this point. Maybe I wouldn’t if I had the bandwidth remaining this month to watch Deirdra’s ‘making of’ video, but I don’t, and I won’t again until after I will have signed off on this essay and a fat lady will have sung.) What I found interesting, when I ran some parts of this game back and forth, is that I while I could think of heaps of ways to handle particular transitions I saw and heard, both musically and programmatically, I couldn’t say for sure which methods were used at particular moments. But I do imagine they were modest ones because Deirdra is also on the record as saying they mostly tied the game together with the hi-technological equivalent of pieces of string (see ‘What development tools did you use to build Dominique Pamplemousse?’ here).

Turning to the game’s graphic content, the handmade-looking sets also invite some speculation as to how they were put together. They appear to contain elements of the real, which might have been embellished or composited with photoshopped content, content which itself could be real or photoshopped. The game’s black-and-whiteness complements this aesthetic because it helps to glue all the elements together into a unified-looking reality for the characters. And what I like best about the claymation characters is when they walk. They are entirely still when they are still, but when they get going, their waddling has a CGI hyperreality about it which I find very amusing, a look halfway between that of smooth-sliding sprites and a stop motion flipbook. I highly doubt Deirdra used any technology to help them do the lip syncing of the models’ mouths to their dialogue, thus I expect they did it all manually, a method which I can say gives one a feeling of great chuffedness in equal proportion to its laboriousness. I’m glad I didn’t have to do any of it, only sit back and enjoy it.

Shipboard maps, Coloratura (Lynnea Glasser)

Blobs never really played any important role in modern culture until their appearance in the 1958 film The Blob, in which they attacked teenagers. Then nothing happened for a long time, blob-wise. Alecto described 1989 Nintendo video game David Crane’s a Boy and his Blob: Trouble on Blobolonia as “A heartwarming and powerful tale of interracial friendship, but for most of us the blob-committed murders of 1958 were still too fresh in our minds.

And then in 2013 came Coloratura. Suddenly blobs were back, and they were cool. (I won’t say ‘cool again’ because blobs had never previously been cool.) The new school blob of Coloratura wasn’t just about the murders, though it could go there for purposes of self-preservation. It was into ESP, novel inhuman empathy and the broad frequency music of the universe.

In retrospect of the experience of the game, whose novel metaphysical content and emotional highs and harrows left me sweaty with exertion, it’s kind of amusing to look back and recall that the only object the game handed me in advance was a black-and-white map of a ship. I feel like I should have clapped my hand to my chest and said: ‘You dare to give me this poxy map? I, who shall be communing with the universe post-haste?’

Of, course this is only a testament to the strength of the game. Rewinding a few hours to when I first booted it up and had yet to acquire my blobby mindset, I was grateful and interested to see that I had been given a map. The clean and sparse style of line detail is technically satisfying and works well to show the contents of the ship. Actually it’s so technically satisfying that the average viewer might not even notice that the whole thing has been hand drawn. The thicker outlines of the hull and walls exhibit more obviously human artline-wielding wobbliness, but it’s the effect of the fine lines which dominates the impression conveyed by the whole. The CG fonts also contribute to the tech drawing aesthetic. Summarily, the map comes across as the realistic and non-showy document it’s intended to be.

What I found interesting when I got into the game was that I didn’t end up using this most utilitarian document in the most utilitarian fashion. That is, I didn’t find that what the map was best for was helping me to navigate the ship. The map helps initially by just providing a kind of reassuring bridge between standard player expectations of adventure game navigation (North, South, East, West) and the unconventional prose feedback from the blob. You take a step, the blob says something interesting, you transpose what the blob said onto the map and start to get a handle on how the game’s prose is going to work in relation to the layout of the human world. And you also realise that yes, good old NSEW navigation is going to work, and will probably be traceable on the map.

The second thing the map did for me was something I probably didn’t realise it had done until later, and that was to convey the scope of the game in a reassuring way. A glance at the map shows an environment whose bounds I contend the average adventurer would deem to be traversable in two hours. This kind of information is less important during peacetime when players are acting at their leisure, but during the bloody warfare of IF Comp it never hurts to signal to prospective players: ‘Yes, I at least considered the two hour rule,’ or ‘You have a shot at completing this game.’ One needn’t do this via a map, though this is a nice subtle way to do it, whether Lynnea had this in mind or not. I simply throw this observation in here as free advice for IFComp authors.

Finally to the business of the map acting as a map. I confess I didn’t find the map to be as useful in this respect overall as the others I’ve mentioned. There are probably enough translational gaps between the blob’s feedback and the divisions between the locations to make life just a little confusing, an effect enhanced by the fact that the map does look so reliably grid-like. This affected me most (which is still to say not that much) early in the game. Once I’d started to gad about the ship more often, the map became most useful during those times when I was given a target location and needed to work out a broad vector for getting there from my current location.

I noted during IFComp that Coloratura was coded with almost no extracurricular extension files for Inform 7. (For non-programmers, extensions can add handy features to an Inform game or just make certain tasks easier to program.) The game includes a prose rendition of its map, a good accessibility feature, but curiously it does not include a way to view the map graphic itself from within the game. Summoning a graphic in response to a command is one of the most elementary-to-program multimedia features of the Glulx format. This is probably the only late suggestion for improvement I have in relation to the whole map scheme. Because, why not?

One thought on “Wade Clarke on Best Supplemental Materials

  1. Joey

    I also appreciated the ability to see other people’s creations in 18 Cadence: fridge magnetic poetry is no fun if you live alone and never have guests.

    Reply

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