Jenni Polodna on Best Individual NPC 2012

Jenni Polodna writes on Kadro from Andromeda Dreaming, New Rat City from rat chaos, and W.D. from Speculative Fiction.

Kadro from Andromeda Dreaming, by Joey Jones

Parse ye well, venters, this suntrip we be diskin’ on Kadro from Andromeda Dreaming.  Like a chippie from Tea Island, on vake in the Land of Warren Eagles, finds the shape of his talk makes the bleeders piper ’round, so too Kadro’s jargin’ ways make seemin’ flesh-pop of a car’board man.

Sort the whats ‘er what we does parse, she ain’t many.  Our gent is God-hiding Haddock-faced, no quad blades in his rota come percolatin’ time.  Got a hank on for Baxter-brained punch reels.  Precipitatin’ from a loke where the done is to jarg so’s the rimboys don’t remora on.  Ain’t no honeydew speech I’m at the dregs of my diskin’ on Kadro.

(Listen well, people who enjoy interactive fiction, today we are talking about Kadro from Andromeda Dreaming.  Like an English guy on holiday in the US finds that his accent pulls in the ladies, so does Kadro’s slang make him seem like a more appealing character when really he is quite flat.

If we actually list the things we know about him, there are not many.  He has a bushy beard, implying that he does not shave in the morning.  Likes stupid action movies.  Comes from a place where people talk in slang so as not to be understood by outsiders.  It is no lie that I am running out of things to say about Kadro.

He seems nice enough, though.)

New Rat City from rat chaos, by J. Chastain

[The following transmission was found scrawled in chicken grease on a paper napkin inside a shiny silver satellite that crashed hard into the West Indies.  All or none of it may be accurate, but not both.]

New Rat City is a rat.  New Rat City is a city.  New Rat City would like a large pink cube, but you’ll never find out why.

New Rat City is a personal statement.  New Rat City is a tuning fork for all of our weird-kid mitochondria, which, if you squint, might or might not be covered in little rat faces trying to look normal.  This might or might not be how you were able to unleash all that rat chaos.

New Rat City is an only child.  New Rat City has been hiding.  New Rat City got real messed up in the process of traditional male socialization, which I never had to do but I don’t think I’d like.

(Why are we like this, that we line up our children boy-girl-boy-girl and say “You, strong!  You, weak!  You, never smile!  You, smile all the time!” when it is demonstrably not good for anybody?  I still cannot state facts I know as though I know them, without qualifiers, or tell someone straight out that I am trying to get the continental breakfast ready on trays and he needs to put his genitals away and go back to his room and make one or two sweeping life changes, especially never showing anyone his genitals ever again.  Sorry, what were we talking about?)

New Rat City might not actually be a rat, or a city.  New Rat City will keep you from your chicken dinner.  New Rat City will only tell you what’s wrong if you ask it, and you need to ask it, because it needs to tell you, more than you need chicken dinner or it needs a large pink cube.

New Rat City needs a lot of love.  This is not unique to New Rat City.

W.D. from Speculative Fiction, by Diane Christoforo and Thomas Mack

(Note: I am going to use male pronouns to refer to this indefinitely gendered bird.  If anyone wants to fight about it, I’ll be on the Internet.)

If you wanted to, you could have a big old argument about whether or not W.D. constitutes an NPC or the PC, although you’d probably be accused of using too many acronyms.  The game‘s conceit is that you the player control W.D.’s master, a fiscally-scheming crappy wizard, who spends the game bodily unconscious but still using part of his mind to issue orders to his familiar.  Therefore, you control him, he controls W.D., the wizard is the PC and W.D. is an NPC and the narrator, goes the more confusing side of the argument.

Functionally, though, this wizard guy is an unnecessary middleman and you the player are straight-up controlling the bird, who reports back on his own actions just like a PC in a first-person IF game does.  I personally consider W.D. to be the PC of S.F. and I th. we should have the XYZZYs a.o.a., YTST?

Anyway.

W.D. is a good example of comedy as it derives from a clear definition of and rigid adherence to a set of easily understood character traits.  Like, you know how Archie Bunker is a bigot, and Ted Baxter is dumb… do kids these days know this stuff?  Does TV still show reruns? Okay, so, you know how Magikarp is a useless Pokemon who basically only knows Splash, and Lady Gaga is covered in meat or whatever?

Or, I don’t know.  God, I’m old.

But yeah, you see this all the time in sitcoms, stand-up comedy, etc., where the humor derives from a character having a deep-seated personality trait (cheapness, sluttiness, dignity) and clinging to this trait no matter what situation is thrown at them.  It’s especially funny if they find themselves in a situation where the trait becomes really maladaptive, or at odds with other characters’ traits.  (These can be otherwise well-rounded characters; this trope is not synonymous with shallow, lazy characterization.)

W.D. follows the standard Thieving Bird template (likes meat, likes shiny things, thinks the eyeballs are the best part of the human) but also deviates from it — the bird has a deep knowledge of and interest in art history, which juxtaposed with his interest in shiny things, all shiny things, is pretty funny.  I like to imagine him showing off his collection:  “This is a third-century Neofractal triptych; it’s an unusual use of perspective for that period, but the color choices and subject matter are patently post-post-Revivalist.  Oh, but never mind that, I just got a new chewing gum wrapper!  Look at it.  Look at it sparkle.”

W.D.’s attitude towards his boss is another source of comedy: the raven is very loyal to, but does not think much of, the terrible wizard with the terrible ideas.  They are natural partners in crime, though, and we get the sense that the bird enjoys being indispensable, takes pride in being the only thing keeping his master from the chopping block, even if his bird girlfriend doesn’t understand.

This girlfriend… yeah.  W.D. loves her, and it’s very sweet when he talks about settling down with her somewhere near the meat shop, but I have a hard time with inflexible, easily upsettable girlfriend characters.  The game opens with her getting mad and flying off because he broke their dinner plans in order to save his boss from being executed.  Granted, she’s probably had to put up with a lot because of the aforementioned scheming wizard, but still.  Who looks at somebody with tear-filled eyes and says “If you really loved me, you’d let your boss die?”  And who dates that person?  I wouldn’t date that person.  Come to think of it, she’s a bird, though.  So, never mind, maybe.

My ultimate point here, which I am failing miserably to meander towards, is that Speculative Fiction is a funny game, and W.D. is the charismatic star that makes it sparkle like a shiny, shiny object.  He is also a bird, which we know from Portlandia is what makes something good.

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