Interactive Fiction and the Great Machine

And here’s a Spanish-language review of The Great Machine. As you may or may not know, I cannot speak Spanish. Speaking Greek and German and English (and some French), however, I can kind of decypher some. I did end up having to use Babelfish a lot, with hilarious results, but I kind of got the gist of it. And considering the kind of reactions the game usually gets, it’s rather positive. (That’s not saying much, I guess. But hey.)

What is partly discussed in the comments – if I understand them correctly, and there’s no guarantee of that; I don’t have the time today to look at them closely until the language makes sense – is this issue of why play interactive fiction, and that a mixture of literature and video game might not be a good thing.

I was going to write a short post about that, and then spent three hours writing an essay on games as art – probably the clearest and best one I’ve written on that subject. I’ve decided to cut it from this post for now, and see if I can find some place where I can publish it where people will actually read it. If you have any suggestions, please let me know.

And now I have to catch up with a mountain of work…

House Gone Up In Flames

This is a fairly good article on the situation in Greece. Most of what I’ve read online is kind of annoying – a lot of it makes Greece sound very primitive, which is absurd, and also quite disturbing, in that it represents the current crisis as the result of “extremism” and “terrorism”. It’s an old story, really – accusations of Greece as some kind of anarchic training ground for terrorists have been spewed out by certain groups for years now. And let me tell you, they are utterly, utterly absurd. I grew up there. Anyone who knows anything about me knows that I’m not a nationalist (not even remotely), so what I’m saying is the simple truth. Greece is not a barbaric backwater, and it’s not full of extremists.

What it is full of is people who have had enough of police brutality, enough of the thuggish right-wingers in the government, and enough of the capitalist system that has harmed them so severely and destroyed so much of what makes Greece beautiful. And now it’s gone too far.

It is likely the government, being as stupid and arrogant as it is, will react with violence. If they do, it will be a massive mistake. A short look at the history of Greece can prove that. I can complain a lot of about the Greeks, and I do – hey, I’m one of them – but I can say one thing for sure: if you hit them, they won’t back down. Every further crime the government commits will be another nail in its coffin.

But violence isn’t the answer (most protesters aren’t violent anyway; the violence usually comes from a mixture of really angry people and probably quite a few provocateurs). The reaction may be justified, but it has to take on a more political form. It has to become a movement – and it can’t become a way of supporting PASOK (basically the Democrats) or KKE (supposedly the communist party), as neither party is capable of changing anything for the better. As for Synaspismos (the “Coalition of the Left of Movements and Ecology” as the Wikipedia translates it, which is awkward but close), I may have my reservations about them, but this is the moment where they need to step up. I really hope that they do.

As for the international community… I worry. It’s been popular for years now to paint Greece as some kind of nationalist/terrorist backwater, mainly because Turkey is geopolitically important to the United States (and various similar issues). I wonder if this will be used as an excuse to do a country whose people have the wrong opinions some harm. Maybe a lot of harm. It’s an unpleasant thought, but not unlikely.

Because in the end, what worries the rich and powerful across the globe the most is the awareness that this is only a sign of things to come.

Walkthrough! Stuff! Words!

I’m a little short on time this week, as there is a lot that has to get done (most of it unpleasant). So I won’t write much right now.

  • Gameboomers user Chief has been kind enough to write a walkthrough for Desert Bridge. Thanks, Chief!
  • Madagascar 2 was actually quite good. I am happy.
  • There are riots in Greece. While I generally do not approve of violence, and think it’s more important for the anger to take a clearer, more political shape, the anger itself is quite justified, and I can’t blame people for being pissed off. The current government is so bad it almost makes the previous one look good. This just goes to show that a left-wing alternative is not just important, it is utterly necessary.

Review! Review! Review!


Perhaps I should sound more dignified. Perhaps I should do the whole “been there, done that” thing. I’ve had reviews before. Hell, I’ve had reviews in printed magazines. Well, once. Maybe twice. But the point is, I’ve been making games for eight years now, Last Rose has been called a “classic of the freeware genre” (whatever that means) and I’m the great wise artist who is above the common –

Oh, screw this. Of course I’m excited when someone writes about my games. Especially when it’s the first review of a new game. And even more so when it’s a positive review in a cool blog.

The humor is actually cute and funny, not “oh, ha ha” trying-to-be-funny like, say, Broken Sword. The art, although simple, is charming and colorful. The characters are well-rendered and lovable. The music, done by previously-unknown-to-me musician and apparent faepirate Helen Trevillion, is cute, and some pieces, such as the subtle choral upstairs variation of the theme, qualify as gorgeous. The ending is delightful. And Bob the Spider.

Awesome, as the mushrooms would say. And Bob the Spider is most grateful for the mention – another step forward in his burgeoning career as arachnid celebrity.

The Peculiar and Anticlimactic Nature of Game Releases

I’m going to try my best not to make this sound whiny. (Imagine this is being said by the gruff, manly voice of a deep-space miner, played by the secret lovechild of James Earl Jones and Tom Waits.)

Releasing a game, especially a freeware game, is enormously frustrating. At least for me, that is. You work on something for months on end, literally hundreds of hours of work; you plan the structure, consider the meaning, think through the implications; you write and write and write and write; you scan in images, adjust them… and so on… and then, finally, it is ready. It’s there. After a year or more, all the hours of thinking or working or both, the game is complete. And you feel happy, because it’s finally come together, it finally feels real.

And then you release it, and… nothing happens. Like every artist, on one level you’re expecting your game to single-handedly change the world, make everyone recognize your genius, and permanently alter the course of history… in the first five minutes of release. On another level – usually the more dominant one – you’re hoping that people will enjoy the game and that it will spread around the internet like the mushrooms in the larder. And that’s not entirely unrealistic – you have, after all, seen other games do it. Sometimes even games you would, quite frankly, consider to be far inferior. Or crappy, as less pretentious people would say.

But nothing happens. A post here, and a post there, people seem to be liking it… but it takes ages for any site to pick up the news, in most forums you seem to be ignored, and in general you probably have to wait for weeks before the hits on your Statistics page start going up.

That does sound whiny, doesn’t it? But I think it’s something a lot of us freeware designers – especially those who don’t have too large a following, or dislike hyping their games years in advance – should be aware of. Because it is frustrating. And it is depressing. And to prevent falling into a pit of despair, we should be mentally prepared. It’s not entirely dissimilar for writers: Stephen Donaldson has talked about the anticlimactic nature of getting your book published, where by the time your book is actually in print you’ve been working on something else for months.

Personally, I’m actually finding it difficult to work on something else. I’m trying to get back into editing my film, but my mind is still with Desert Bridge – it feels like the game hasn’t even really been released yet. The burden of finishing it is off my shoulders – and it is always quite a burden, let me tell you that – but I haven’t been able to let go of the game itself yet. It’s not out there yet. It’s like we’re still in early beta or something. This is also a danger indie game designers should be aware of. Games stick to your soul, and at some point you have to get them off. Like bubblegum, only more meaningful and less disgusting.

I have submitted news of the game’s release to several adventure gaming sites. Some of them have not yet responded, others have promised to try putting up something. Freeware games, it seems, aren’t that highly regarded. Many of the sites I knew are also gone – Quandary, for example, was always nice and supportive, and seems to have gone the way of the Woolly Mammoth. GameHippo is also gone – and good riddance, too, since they would never list my games. Home of the Underdogs has also ignored every single submission, which I could never understand. The point is this: you’d think that in the days of the internet, reaching an audience interested in what you do would be easy. It isn’t. Remember that.

The problem is multiplied, of course, by my personal aversion to the kind of sucking-up/spamming/self-aggrandizing behaviour that might lead to more exposure. I think this is a common – well, it’s not really a common problem, is it? More a common virtue. But virtues won’t get you far these days. This isn’t Ultima IV. But there’s a reason for having principles, and that doesn’t go out the window just because having principles makes success more difficult. So I am assuming you would behave the same way. If you wouldn’t, fuck off, people like you annoy the hell out of me.

So what do you do? The first thing, I guess, is to have patience. Try going through all the places where you feel that submitting news is OK – places that are meant for this sort of thing. Post in relevant forums. There are a few sites that have lists of free software – submit your game to them, even though it’s likely to take a while before they list it. And pray that some people who like your game end up spreading the word, because word of mouth (especially with services like StumbleUpon, Digg, etc.) is going to be important. Maybe. I think. In time, reviews may appear, which will drive more people to your site, somebody will write about you to BoingBoing, you’ll get a call from the Pope, and sooner than you know you’ll be elected High Priest of the Known Universe. From there, the step to godhood is a short one.

OK, so maybe not. But maybe you’ll get lucky, and your game will have enough success that you can finally let go of it, and go create something new. It’s what I’m hoping for (though I won’t complain about a bit of godhood).

(Why do I keep reading dogfood instead of godhood? I don’t want a bit of dogfood. You can always give me catfood, though. That stuff is expensive.)

If you are a freeware developer, read this as useful advice about what might happen, and keep your spirits up. If you’re not a developer, but just stumbled across this site looking for porn, or even one of my games, read this as the whiny thoughts of a game designer with a god complex and an empty stomach.

In other news, Verena has baked cookies and I shall now go eat them.

The Strange and Somewhat Sinister Tale of the House at Desert Bridge

Ladies and Gentlemen,
Boys and Girls,
Vertebrates and Invertebrates,
Sentient beings of all kinds and species,

I am pleased to announce the release of The Strange and Somewhat Sinister Tale of the House at Desert Bridge, a transdimensional portal to the Lands of the Dream an old-school adventure game. It is the result of long and difficult work and extensive testing by a team of dedicated lunatics individuals. It features wonderful music by the uniquely talented Helen Trevillion, fantastic and imaginative hand-drawn graphics by Verena Huber, and adequate-to-terrible programming by pretentious game designer Jonas Kyratzes.

Solve mysteries! Brew potions! Meet fascinating characters! Explore the colourful House at Desert Bridge! And all of that without a single annoying minigame or action sequence!

And it’s all free!

But none of that truly matters. What matters is that Old Man Bill has disappeared, and we need help finding him. Forget about all this “adventure game” nonsense, I just said it to get your attention. It’s a portal, OK? A portal to the Lands of Dream, and more specifically to our house here at Desert Bridge. And we have a real problem: our master has disappeared. He might be locked in his study, or in his bedroom – but we can’t get in. What is going on? What could be wrong? Someone with an outside perspective is needed to make sense of this situation. Could it be you? Download the game portal and find out. Harold the Talking Picture Frame will fill you in.

Hoping for your help,
Bob the Spider

What could *possibly* go wrong?

Desert Bridge now has a proper installer, a manual, and stuff like that. I have fixed quite a few little bugs and inconsistencies that cropped up, and sent out one more version to the testers.

I am very much hoping to release the game tomorrow, but I can’t promise anything. Maybe I screwed something up when I was fixing something else. Maybe I didn’t see something. Maybe the code is made out of jam. Maybe… you get the picture.

Anyway, the game should be out soon. Very soon.

Almost at Desert Bridge

Sorry for not updating – first I had the flu, then a piece of my filling broke off and dug itself into my gums. Thankfully, while the whole thing was unpleasant, the damage to the filling itself was not severe. The dentist removed the sliver from my gums today, and I have another appointment in a couple of weeks. I was rather worried, I have to say – as long-time readers of this blog know, I had some rather extreme problems with my teeth a while back, and I’d rather not repeat the experience.

What is hopefully the final beta for Desert Bridge has been sent to the testers. If nothing major crops up, the game will be out in about a week or so.

I need to write an article on Fallout 3. I’m a huge fan of the first two games, but this one has had me going back and forth between total fun and cursing the designers for being the greatest idiots on the planet. Having now played through all five minutes of the main plot, I feel quite offended by the way it’s just cobbled together from the first two games and ultimately amounts to very little. In the end, it’s a fun game – if way too short – but they shouldn’t have called it Fallout. It only has 30% of what makes Fallout what it is. (More on this soon. I hope.)

The road I must travel / Its end I cannot see

From: Obama administration begins to take shape

Obama’s transition team, which will assist in assembling his cabinet, is headed by John Podesta, former chief of staff to Bill Clinton and one of Washington’s most successful corporate lobbyists. Co-chairing the transition team are Valerie Jarrett, a long-time Obama advisor, Chicago real estate executive and influential figure within the Chicago Democratic Party machine, and Pete Rouse, a Washington insider and Obama’s senate chief of staff.

Obama’s first appointee is Rahm Emanuel, who will serve as his chief of staff. The Illinois Congressman is a leading member of the right-wing Democratic Leadership Council. While running for Congress in 2002, he supported Bush’s bill to authorize military force against Iraq. A former investment banker, he has close ties to financial interests and is one of the biggest recipients of campaign cash from banks and investment firms.

Sources close to Obama have leaked names on the list of candidates for the position of treasury secretary-no doubt as a means of reassuring Wall Street. Included are former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, former Clinton treasury secretary and current Citigroup executive Robert Rubin, another former Clinton treasury secretary, Lawrence Summers, and Timothy Geithner, the New York Federal Reserve Bank president.

All of these individuals played leading roles in the deregulation of the banks and investment houses that facilitated the super-profits and massive CEO compensation packages of the 1990s and first half of the current decade, and contributed to the financial collapse that is now plunging the US and the rest of the world into the deepest recession since the 1930s.

Geithner has played a central role in the government bailout of Wall Street banks and other major firms, such as insurance conglomerate AIG and the mortgage finance giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

As Federal Reserve chief under Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, Volcker was responsible for the high interest rate “shock therapy” which decimated American industry in the early 1980s and led to the impoverishment of entire regions.

There is much speculation that Obama will ask current Defense Secretary Robert Gates to stay on in the same capacity, at least on an interim basis. Gates recently gave a speech expanding the doctrine of “pre-emptive war” to include the use of first-strike nuclear attacks.

Other names broached for the positions of defense secretary and secretary of state include former Bush Secretary of State Colin Powell, outgoing Republican Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, and Anthony Lake, who as Clinton’s national security advisor played a key role in organizing the US-NATO war against Yugoslavia.

Obama’s actions since Election Day have been calculated to signal to the ruling elite his readiness to defend their interests and not be swayed by the will of the electorate. To underscore his intention to seek a consensus with the defeated and discredited Republican minority, he will meet on Monday with Bush. The traditional White House meeting between a president-elect and the outgoing president normally takes place much later in the transition period between administrations.

To demonstrate that his first priority is shoring up the major banks, Obama’s first post-Election Day meeting will be held today with his top economic policy advisers. The meeting will include Volcker, Rubin and Summers, along with billionaire investor Warren Buffett, former Clinton labor and commerce secretaries Robert Reich and William Daley, Clinton economic advisor Laura Tyson, Google Chairman Eric Schmidt, Time Warner Chairman Richard Parsons, XEROX CEO Anne Mulcahy, Residence by Hyatt CEO Penny Pritzker, former Bush administration Securities and Exchange Commissioner William Donaldson, and Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm.

Change, or the same crap all over again?


So yes, Obama won. Not much of a surprise, though I won’t claim that I was entirely sure. And I can’t deny that I’m much happier that he won instead of McCain. And I also can’t deny that this is an important moment in history, and that it will have an effect on the future. But how important is it, really – outside of what the media have been telling us?

Is it important because he’s black? Colin Powell and Condoleeza Rice, to name but two individuals, were also black – I’m not sure that did anyone any good. Granted, though, President is a different position: this time the black guy is the boss. Culturally, maybe this will change a few things. Hell, maybe a lot of things. Given the history of the United States, the election of a black man to the Presidency does mean something. The racists have been shown what America stands for. That’s true.

But does anyone really think that in today’s economic and political system race or gender plays a part? (Many people were overjoyed when a woman was elected Chancellor in Germany, and she’s practically the Antichrist.) Do you think the people with the real power – the various corporations that backed Obama more than they did McCain – care about that? What they want is a representative, and apparently they were quite certain that they were getting just that. Many of the major conservative newspapers backed Obama, saying that his policies would be considerably more conservative than people expected. Bush was their representative, now it’s Obama. Yes, a difference in style, but the same people are pulling the strings.

(According to the polls people mostly voted because not because of race – yay – but because of the economy and because of the wars. But Obama has taken back most of what he said about the wars, and he is in total agreement with McCain on the bailout and wiretapping. Doesn’t this alarm anyone?)

Everyone is happy to be rid of Bush, and not to have to endure McCain/Palin. I understand that – hey, I live on this planet too, and I wouldn’t like Sarah Palin to blow it up in an attempt to kill some Evil Russians. In that regard, the American people have shown that they are far more progressive than the media have been telling us. And yay for that! I don’t want to say that this moment means nothing. That would be grossly unfair: it means that Americans have said a loud and resounding NO to the imperialist policies of George Bush and the system that he represents.

And yes, Obama will be better than Bush.

But a lesser of two evils is still an evil. After eight years of Bush, people think fondly of the Clinton years – but Clinton also waged illegal wars, killing thousands of civilians and causing problems that will continue for decades. Hell, he also bombed Iraq every now and then. The Democrats may be slightly less insane than the Republicans, but they are still a party that works for the capitalist elite – and those guys tend to like wars, because wars make them money. Their problem with Bush is only how badly he fought his wars, not that he fought them at all.

So, let’s talk about change. What is Obama going to change? A year from now, where will we be?

Will Iraq still be occupied?

What about Afghanistan?

Will wiretapping cease?

Will Obama outlaw torture?

Will he close down Guantanamo Bay and all the other concentration camps?

Will he remove all those laws that have turned America into a police state?

Will he do anything to truly improve living conditions for ordinary working people?

I suppose we will see. But I fear that if he does not do any – or very few – of these things, people won’t rise up in protest. Either they’ll make excuses for him, or they will ignore the situation because, after all, it’s not Bush. And some, I suppose, will simply be disappointed and give up. But just because, in Lewis Black’s words, the only difference between the Democrats and the Republicans is that the Democrats suck and the Republicans blow, that does not mean that change is not possible. But profound change cannot come from within a party dedicated to maintaining the (rather unpleasant to the majority of humans) status quo.

Remember how happy everyone was when Nancy Pelosi became Speaker of the House? Where’s the impeachment? Where’s a resolution to stop the Iraq war? Where is the end of torture or wiretapping? The Democrats could have kicked George Bush’s ass. They could have saved thousands of lives on both sides. And what did they do? What did they change? Nothing.

Sometimes you need to break with the old. That’s why people voted for Obama. I don’t think they will get what they wanted – but at least now we know where everyone stands. And that’s good to know.

P.S. I fully realize that people are happy. And they have the right to be happy. This is a victory – against Bush and all that he represents. But the charisma of a leader does not guarantee an economic and military policy that is just or progressive, even if that’s the language he uses. I can understand just how much everyone wants to believe that everything will be all right. It’s easy, terribly easy to fall for that, to join with enthusiasm in proclaiming this a new age. The results of this election are important and meaningful. But the political realities will continue.