(Or, How to Get A Life or Lose One)

I'm generally a cranky reviewer, and believe me, there was much ground for crankiness this year. I _am_, however, going to dispute Adam Cadre's "worst comp ever" tag, which I think is pulled out every alternate year just for effect, or whatever. There were plenty of fine games around, even though I only played a few, and even though my personal 1st place winner landed up one notch short of the prized mark.

A few general observations:

* Menu-based conversation is pretty much here to stay, and I think my take on this is an unequivocal thumbs-up. It's much more satisfying than playing guess-the-topic. Imagine BEST OF THREE as an ASK/TELL interface.....

* I'm dividing the games into clusters based on (what I thought were) unifying themes.

* There was actually more than one adult-IF game around, and surprisingly the parody one had a higher maturity level than the 'serious' one.

* Is this guy Chris Mudd for real? I don't mean that to be offensive, I'm sure he's a nice guy personally and all that - but are his _games_ for real......Or is there something more than meets the eye? Check out the CHRIS MUDD CONSPIRACY THEORY - Coming soon!

Also: I'm providing a theme song for each game. These are not for real, but simply evidence of my (peculiar) sense of humour.

Rating scale: I'm providing a numerical and manual rating.

Two thumbs up: excellent (8.5 - 10)
One thumb up: good (6.5 - 8.5)
No hands: average
Middle finger: bad (1 - 4)
Two middle fingers: rotten (<1)

And, before you jump in, my rating table (seriously, that is):

Game Score Comp score

Moments Out Of Time 9.8 10
Best Of Three 9.2 9
No Time To Squeal 8.8 9
All Roads 8.8 9
Vicious Cycles 8.2 8
The Beetmonger's Journal 8.0 8
Fusillade 7.9 8
Earth And Sky 7.7 8
Film, At Eleven 7.4 7
Stiffy: The Undiscovered Country 7.0 7
A Night Guest 6.3 6
Triune 5.7 6
Stick It To The Man 5.2 5
Prized Possession 4.8 5
Crusade 4.5 5
Silicon Castles 3.2 3
Shattered Memory 2.3 2
The Newcomer 2.0 2
Jump 1.5 2
An Apple From Nowhere 0.6 1
Kallisti 0.1 1

Losing Your Grip

As the subtitle suggests, quite a few games this year were either escapist (escape into a fantasy/surreal world) or suicidal. So let me take this opportunity to spew some venom:

First up, there's AN APPLE FROM NOWHERE by Steve Carbone. If this isn't a pseudonym, the author certainly has guts if nothing else. The saddest thing about this game is that it has NOTHING TO SAY. Underline that. A few years ago I wrote an impassioned rant against this sort of game, and coming up against two such games this year was a little too much for my stomach, I'm afraid.

Also: abuse of the puzzleless/linear format. It worked in Photopia, but this is one reason why it shouldn't be used by the wrong kind of author.

Parental advisory: paedophilia - and the author, to my total disgust, uses the classical paedophile's excuse that "the kid wants it".

P.S. After finding out who the author of this game was, it _may_ just be possible that he was kidding (after all, he wrote COMP00TER GAME..) but the jury is still out on that one.

Score: 0.6 out of 10.

Manual: two middle fingers.

Theme song: "Nothing To Say", Soundgarden.

* * *

Next comes KALLISTI. I was pretty intrigued by the title - I still don't know what it's supposed to mean, but since it's written on an apple I assume "To the fairest" is a fair (heh, heh) guess. In this game, written in hideously "literary" prose - the kind of stuff that sweeps Bulwer-Lytton contests - you play a total assjack named Gustav, who's trying to seduce a virgin (!!) named Katie. After you do the job, the world ends. Yes, I'm not kidding. Is this supposed to be some sort of safe-sex announcement?

Heck, it's not that I'm prudish. I love playing assjacks. I enjoyed Robb Sherwin's Chicks Dig Jerks. But this game takes ideas from two very fine works - Robb's game and Emily Short's Galatea - and perverts them so badly that I wish I could grow an extra middle finger just for the purpose of showing it to this game. Also, the author immediately jumps on the defensive, saying 'my game contains strong language, adult situations, etc, etc......' Dude, I hate to tell you this, but you're operating at a lower maturity level than STIFFY MAKANE.

On the other hand, a lot of reviewers have found a lot of heavy philosophy going on under the surface. Is it possible that this game was written based on someone else's idea?

I can't really say anything more. Adam Cadre and Emily Short have taken this to pieces far better than I could, so check out their excellent reviews.

Score: -10 out of 10.

Manual: Two middle fingers and two middle toes.

Theme song: "Can I Touch You......There?", Michael Bolton. (It doesn't fit: I just really dislike Mr. Bolotin.)

* * *

Third comes JUMP. Please remember that this is a Chris Mudd game. Yes, The Honourable C. Mudd, The Author of the Immortal Line:

"Don't you want to ask me about her breasts?"

Well, though he doesn't provide us with a masterpiece of that sort, he bombards us with _so_ many cliches that I was close to being drowned. Bible-thumping parents? Please, Chris, get off that talk-show/Reader's Digest bike. Suicide as a solution? LIFE DOESN'T WORK THAT WAY, BUDDY. A suicide club? Maybe this is your original idea and you're extremely bucked about coming up with it, but the bottom line is that it doesn't suck - it blows.

Still, it's not blatantly offensive. Its philosophy is rotten and the gameplay, NPCs and object implementation are terrible, but it didn't _offend_ me.

Rating: 1.5

Manual: One middle finger.

Theme Song: "Misery", Soul Asylum.

* * *

Last and best (relative) of the escapist games, simply because it had some semblance of reality, was Papillon's TRIUNE. There's a lot to like about this game. One, the author provided some JPG files which sort of add to the game. Two (and I really liked this), multiple solutions for puzzles!! Three - Multiple endings! Four - A female PC! Whee!

So why don't I like it more?

Simple: from start to end, it keeps on mining cliches similar to JUMP. Your mom gave up her "fantasy world" to marry your dad. Your mom left your dad because "the magic had gone". Your dad became a caricature of an alcoholic, abusive parent. And you survive by hiding in the bathroom and escaping into a fantasy world.

It doesn't end there.

The fantasy world features such cliches as a Tree of Knowledge, a handsome Prince (who turns out to be a creep), a unicorn, a snake, a woman named Lillith - at this point, the juvenile feminist symbolism got to me, and I just headed for the walkthrough. Don't get me wrong - I'm not criticizing the philosophy. What I am criticizing is the simplistic manner in which it's put across. Agreed, this _is_ a game. But if you're trying to make something that's "not just a game", I naturally set my standards higher.

Or perhaps the whole game is something even deeper and meta-IF, which satirises the IF player's own escape into fantasy worlds. There just wasn't enough evidence to support that theory, unfortunately.

Typing "quit" as the last move was clever, though.

Also, it's an improvement over DESERT HEAT which was done much better, hundreds of years ago, by whoever wrote the Arabian Nights. But the best game by Papillon out there is still ONE WEEK as of now.

Rating: 5.7

Manual: One rather reluctant thumb up.

Theme Song: "These Dreams", Heart. (Trust me on this one.)

* * *

We Don't Need No Stinking Crosswords!

Puzzleless games - an inevitable trend once the IF world grew weary of "Curses" clones - depend massively on the implementation. Do it well, and you're the next Adam Cadre. Do it rottenly, and people start saying "Don't screw me for saying this - but Photopia's the worst thing to have happened to I-F". This year provided a mixed bag. I'm excluding APPLE from this list since I've considered it earlier, and that leaves us with:

One, BEST OF THREE. Best of the lot. A pure-conversation game by the Grand Master of pure conversation games, Emily Short (FIDE rating 2,900, but no relation to Nigel.) Okay, enough with the stupid chess jokes. This is basically a conversation with an old acquaintance, during the course of which you (the player) learn more about your (the PC's) past and the NPC himself. I can't go into details without spoiling the fun. As one chess writer said, "you can only find a combination like this for the first time ONCE", so go out there and play it. Female PC again, so plus points.

Minor nitpick: the multiple endings. A classical example of PC-player dissociation: if you choose the path of Atropos/Clotho (i.e. make Grant go away) the game clearly considers it a suboptimal ending. Now, this is pretty much in keeping with the PC's character, but not mine......whether this is a weakness or a strength, it's worth discussing. Or should I reward the game for not "manipulating" me with a different presentation (as some folks have slapped Photopia's wrists for doing?)

Also: I'm withholding the 10, not because the PC was too meek, or because the NPC's head was too swollen, but because I happen to be a huge admirer of Jane Austen.

P.S. Hey, an N*Sync joke. Guess I'll add 0.2 for that.

Rating: 9.2

Manual: Two very enthusiastic thumbs up.

Theme song: There's already enough background music in the game, thanks.

* * *

Two, FUSILLADE. Pretty impressive, and reminds me a lot of my own game, so brownie points right away. The moment where I stare at Monika's note and read: "Jimi: you didn't make it. You died back then" was probably the most dramatic. Some scenes that I didn't get the point of (the long cold thing, the rape scene) and the ending lets the cat out of the bag - the author didn't really have anything underpinning it. Still, I enjoyed this game enough on the way, and it was fun spotting the references. Some amount of guess-the-verb, but I think this was more of an attempt to achieve puzzlelessness than to thrust more puzzles on the player. (Am I making sense?)

A Phantom of the Opera ref? Whee! Bonus point there.

Needs some synonyms, as Zarf would say.

Rating: 7.9

Manual: One thumb up, the second is annoyed that it couldn't join.

Theme song: "String Of Pearls", Soul Asylum.

* * *

A NIGHT GUEST is almost too linear: the game is about six moves long, and if you miss the right move, you're just plain stuck. On the other hand, you have to give it to the author for making up the poem and the artwork. It's not the greatest work of art ever, but it's a fun diversion for a few minutes.

Also, I liked the "breathe" bit.

Rating: 6.3

Manual: One horn up.

Theme Song: "Beer, beer, wonderful beer".

* * *

Finally, NEWCOMER. This is the kind of joke-entry that's inevitable when you have a sample space as large as fifty games; alternately (as Eric Mayer surmised) it was a way of completing a sample game or code-learning exercise. All I can say is that the joke was extremely silly. And this is not the way to win friends, Mr. Love. I could even have excused another COMP00TER GAME, but not this.

Also, joke or not, do take the trouble to have rooms with slightly longer
descriptions than "$$$".....

Rating: 2.0

Manual: One middle finger.

Theme song: "The Gentle Art of Making Enemies", Faith No More.

What Was That Again?

Perhaps as a reaction to puzzleless games, we have the new evolution (or rather, old wine in new bottles) of games that are ultra-ultra-linear, with timed deaths and so on, but also include sadistic - or, at least,
challenging - puzzles. The idea is not new: witness the games of Andy Phillips, or even Varicella; and I even parodied the genre in my DinoComp game. This year saw one game that definitely fit that category
and another that sort of fit: I'll discuss them here.

I'll start the proceedings with PRIZED POSSESSION, one of the disappointments of the Comp. Why? Because I had played and loved this author's MASQUERADE last year, and this had neither the charm nor the interactivity of the former. Though MASQUERADE was linear, it wasn't _so_ linear that it killed off player participation, and though there was a choice of endings, it was a choice that the player had to make.

In PRIZED POSSESSION, though, the choice is not yours. Follow the straight and narrow path (i.e. the walkthrough) and you get an "optimal" ending - deviate even for a couple of turns, to actually examine objects or get the feel of things, and you either end up dead, locked in a convent, or bearing the children of an Insignificant Other. I agree this is generic romance-novel fare, but it just gets annoying after some time. The scenery isn't too well implemented, and the conversation system just didn't work for me........I guess this is a good case for simple systems of the sort:


Randolph, Knight of the Pink Garter, looks at you rapaciously, his eyes sweeping over your figure. "Yes, my lady?" he asks.

1) "You look like something my pet dragon dragged in."
2) "Oh, Randolph, hold me in your muscular manly arms!"
3) "I'm carrying a spray can full of Greek fire, so don't try any monkey business with me, okay?"
4) "What sort of an order is a Pink Garter, anyway? A club for pansies?"

Select an option or type 0 to say nothing:

Also, as opposed to MASQUERADE, the game's settings are too generic, and though both games featured stereotyped characters, I could at least relate to Ethan (and feel like slapping Jonathan) in the former: here, I couldn't give a damn. Also, Ranulf gets my finger (to borrow a PUNK POINTS idiom...) He's a much less satisfactory hero than Ethan, and that obscure bit about Malcolm being his father was just the cliche that broke the camel's back.

If you play the game with the walkthrough, and then read the transcript as a story, it works pretty fine. But that, I think, was not the point.

Of course, being male, it is possible that

*** I have missed the point entirely ***.

Rating: 4.8

Manual: Look, Ma, no hands!

Theme song: "Not For You", Pearl Jam. (It certainly wasn't for me.)

* * *

ALL ROADS is not all-fired linear: you are railroaded only in some scenes, while in others you are thrown on your wits like any other conventional, puzzle-IF work. While this is interesting, and the setting and theme are interesting (Heck, all the world loves an assassin), the plot was just a wee bit too convoluted for me to follow. However, the settings were brilliantly described, and it's nice to see railroading being used to fuel the thriller element of the plot instead of being used as a purely emotional device (Guilty, your Honour.) The puzzles are reasonably simple, the NPCs satisfactory, and the pacing excellent. All in all, easily one of the best games this year.

Not my personal #1, but a fine game nonetheless. (Perhaps Jon was disappointed by the response to the fine, experimental "My Angel", but he should've mined that vein a little more.)

Rating: 8.8

Manual: Two crooked thumbs up.

Theme Song: Huh?

* * *

NO TIME TO SQUEAL is an entirely different ball game, pun unintended. It can be considered as a sort of anti-game to PHOTOPIA, with which it shares a lot of similarities - the linearity, the immersion and the presentation of the same scene from more than one point of view. The conclusion is also entirely different from Photopia - the life of the person every scene eventually centres on _is_ saved, and I _really_ liked that.

Temporary digression here: why hasn't anyone pointed this out yet?

On the other hand, that final Alice in Wonderland bit has got to go. A fantasy setting might have worked, yes, but why not an original one? The snake was funny: it seemed to have wandered out of a Disney cartoon with its incessant his-ssss-sing. On second thoughts, was this meant as a parody of sorts?

Fine writing, though.

Rating: 8.8

Manual: Two thumbs up.

Theme Song: Robb, take your pick. I'm stumped. Though for the sheer life-affirming quality of the game, I suggest "Alive".

* * *

STICK IT TO THE MAN sounds like PUNK POINTS with a whole lot of political garbage thrown it. However, the game is redeemed by some sarcastic fun at the expense of OTT protesters and a rather ludicrous "Gaia" demonstrator. Also, there's an incredible profusion of NPCs, most of which have a distinct personality, which earns the game some stuff: was it Emily Short who said that it was important to give your NPCs personality, even if they didn't do much?

Sadly, the game is full of **BUGS**, and even though I managed (after Ctrl-Alt-Del-ing my way to nausea) to reach _one_ ending, I can only assume there were a lot more left.

Damn, turns out this game was _also_ by Austin Thorvald. A bout of swearing, as Zarf once said.

Rating: 5.2

Manual: One middle finger up.

Theme Song: "Grievance", Pearl Jam.

* * *

CRUSADE is a different kind of linearity: it's the kind of game that feels like the author made the walkthrough up first, then wrote a game around it, and allowed all the attendant window-dressing to remain in
consequence (eg. verbs that work only once, as in AGT!). The humour is pretty good, though not such a scream as some found it, but the George Bush joke was funny. Down the Compassionate Conservatists! Stick it to the man! Give Bush the finger, what!

Rating: 4.5

Manual: No hands. You'll need a miracle to get some.

Theme Song: "If God Will Send His Angels", U2.

* * *

Simon Mark's VICIOUS CYCLES is a fascinating variant on the "guess, die, then try again" or "learning from death" motif of several "old-school" games - perhaps not so old-school, as the works of Andy Philips demonstrate. It perhaps suffers from a deplorable sense of timing - a terrorist game after 11.09.2001 is not many people's cup of tea - but I'm inclined to believe that this was a matter of wanting to release a fine game, rather than sick taste.

The writing is good, and the puzzles are fair enough - a little too much get-the-right key stuff, but hardly meriting a 1 on the Annoyotronic scale. The backstory suffers from a bad attack of the Acute Invention-Destroying Syndrome (vide Babel, Four Seconds, etc.) but mercifully doesn't concentrate on that aspect at too great a length.

The writing is generally fine, except for a few grouses about punctuation and sentence construction. The NPCs are one-dimensional, but this isn't really the kind of game where you need four or five Galateas. And the abrupt ending, though it initially jars, is on second thoughts a clever piece of work: you haven't "won" the game, just passed a crisis point.

On the debit side, having played it once, the game loses most of its replay value.....but heck, you can't have everything.

Score: 8.2 out of 10.

Theme Song: Couldn't find a darn thing.

* * *

I think I'm about to enunciate Thompson's Law: every Comp has a game whose amusement quality is directly proportional to the awfulness of its writing. This year's Golden Strawberry - following in the footsteps of "Outsided" and "Comp00ter Game" - is awarded to Akbarr's comic masterpiece, SHATTERED MEMORY.

I know I'm being terribly, terribly unfair. But I can't help myself.

Is it just the conversation system that makes me laugh? Or the ridiculous "waiting line for hell" motif? Or the ludicrous lines used by the NPCs? Or my wife's OTT "Master Of Puppets" behaviour? Or, quite simply, the game telling me about I "hitted" my wife? Or her telling me coldly "You are a stupid?"

Or the oh-so-tragic ending?

I know I'm still being unfair, and if the author is reading this, heck, I'm sorry. It's nothing personal.

On the other hand, don't let me get started on half-implemented verbs, guess-the-verb, conversations that don't work, annoying colour schemes, verbs meant for single use, and getting this incomprehensible parser reply:


What do you want to look?

_Then_ I'll mean it.

Nice try. A few beta-testers and proofreaders, and you might surprise yourself.

Rating: 2.3 out of 10.

Manual: One middle finger.

Theme song: Beats me.

* * *


Despite the occasional rumblings from the "nether-world" of AIF/Xtrek about an AIF-Comp, nothing has materialized; which is what makes the odd "adult" game in the mainstream IF-Comp notable, if not remarkable. The only genuine work of this sort I can see (if we discount KALLISTI as a pretentious piece of garbage) was Robb Sherwin's excellent "Chicks Dig Jerks". This year our man Adam Thornton - yes, he of "In The End 2" and "Sins Against Mimesis" fame - gives us the long-awaited (D'OH!!) sequel to IF's most notorious 'porn' game - Mark Ryan's "The Incredibly Erotic Adventures of Stiffy Makane."

STIFFY MAKANE, THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY, though, is more than just "more Stiffy parody". It's also a parody of the entire X-trek genre (a sub-group of AIF, mostly written in AGT, in which you spend your time screwing Star Trek crew members) with a few IF references thrown in and - well - the first explicit gay sex I've seen in the IF world. (There is are some mild gay references in Neil Brown's games, but nothing of _this_ sort.) What sort of a game is it where a female NPC (minutes after you've had your way) says "Excuse me, I've got to tickle the Elmo"? Where you have a Rohypnol object? Where you get buggered by a Space Moose (yes, a MOOSE) and actually *enjoy* it? Where there is an outrageously tasteless gay sex parody of Star Wars?

Leave your good taste and the door and hop right in. You'll either laugh your head off or spit on this game: I did the former.

Not for children, fundamentalists, maiden aunts or die-hard X-trekkers.

[Musing: There once was an AGT porn game - a monumentally bad one - called Smut City. Apart from the boff-all-you-can-find gameplay, it contains a ludicrously bad ending where, if you fail to solve a locked-door puzzle, you are tortured by "an army of Fagots" (sic). If Adam had played this game, could this be a reaction to the homophobia of this and other works of AIF?]

Rating: 7.0

Manual: One middle finger, which mysteriously metamorphoses into a thumb!

Theme Song: "Be Aggressive", Faith No More. (Also a gay sex parody song, also as hilarious as this game.)

P.S. The author of this essay is not trying to make fun of gays. He's just praising Mr. Thornton and Mr. Roswell Bottum.

* * *

Abuse Me

The game SILICON CASTLES would be fascinating as a programming exercise - i.e. yet another abuse of the Z-Machine, but as I-F it doesn't quite stick it. I am a chess buff (though a pretty weak player) and it was annoying to

1. play every game with 1. e4 c6 (couldn't the opening moves be randomized?)
2. be unable to move my b-pawn
3. be told it was illegal to castle when it wasn't
4. have the game lock up every 2 seconds on all interpreters other than Frotz

Still, it's not entirely rotten. Full points for effort, none for interactive fiction, negatives for implementation.

Score: 3.2

Manual: One centre pawn.

Theme song: "Stuck In A Moment", U2. (If you don't get the joke, play this game on Win-Nitfol.)

* * *
Straight Bat

Of course, every year one _does_ get some games that are pretty much not trying to set the pace - they have a decent story, and decent puzzles, and do their thing well without being spectacular. Bowen Greenwood's FILM, AT ELEVEN is one such game. The puzzles are never really counter- intuitive - though they are a trifle simplistic at times - and the story is amusing enough. Though this game owes a lot to I-0, and has pretty unrealistic NPC actions, there was enough to laugh at and enjoy for me to hand out a high 7 by the time I was through.

Rating: 7.4 out of 10

Manual: One thumb up.

Theme song: "Dirty Laundry", Don Henley. (Or "Private Investigations", Dire Straits)

* * *

EARTH AND SKY is something similar, though it does have some cute conversation options. Essentially a super-hero game, it suffers a bit from what I call Worlds Apart syndrome (you know, you think you've got a whole game, and then the ending says "Wait for Part II!") but, heck, it's a comp game anyway. The writing is nice and tongue-in-cheek, the NPC interaction is at a fair enough level, and the fight scene - though it does get a bit repetitive - was fun enough.

EARTH AND SKY might not be the most profound or significant game to be released in Comp '01, but it's a worthwhile way of spending a half-hour.

Rating: 7.7 out of 10

Manual: One super-powered plasma bolt thumb up.

Theme Song: "Lucky", Radiohead. (Twisted.)

* * *

It might seem unfair to club THE BEETMONGER'S JOURNAL, an excellently-written and original work which features multiple POVs and a story-within-a-story, with the above games, but it is a fairly straight game at heart, with little that seems counter-intuitive. ASK/TELL is used for NPC interaction, and though I'm still pro-menu, it worked well enough. There is a nice variety of NPCs, most with distinct
personalities and roles, and the setting was original and convincing.

So why do I put it here? Simply because the gameplay and puzzles were straight enough compared to any of the other categories I've considered till now. This is just the right length, size and focus
for a Comp game, and kudos to the author for a fine game.

Rating: 8.0 out of 10

Manual: Two red thumbs up.

Theme Song: "Digging The Grave", Faith No More. (Still twisted.)

* * *

The Right Stuff

MOMENTS OUT OF TIME. Wow. With a pedigree that includes A Mind Forever Voyaging (yes, Infocom), The Usual Suspects and Virgin Suicides, you have every right to expect great things of this game.

And you get them. Some reviewer said that this game reminded him of LASH: I tend to agree. It's what LASH tried to be but couldn't. By chopping out the simplistic symbolism, the preaching and the unnecessary twist ending, and making it simply a journey of discovery - with the odd anachronistic touches - this time-travel game is just about everything you'd want. Multiple player choices? Yes, sir. Loads and loads of things to investigate? Of course. Alternate puzzle solutions? You got it, buddy. And a deep, detailed and involving backstory? Don't even ask.

Plus the technical gimmicks. Superb. I enjoyed playing around with each chip. And the fantastic menu? Not to forget one virtue of this game sadly absent in many Comp works: replay value. This game is so darn replayable...........which reminds me, I must get back to it.

Also, I really like the name Joxley Douzen :)

Rating: 9.8

Manual: Two thumbs and two big toes up.

Theme Song: This game is above such gimmicks.

* * *

[NOTE: this isn't yet complete. Our reporters are still working on it :)]


By Our Special Branch

"All you suicide kings
and drama queens,
Forever after happily
Making misery"

So sang Dave Pirner, so sings Chris Mudd. Bursting onto the I-F scene in the year 2000 A.D. with the notorious "1-2-3" - which, inter alia, manages to pack child neglect, rape, mutilation, psychology, crude
menstrual innuendoes and prostitute-killing within the confines of a single small Z-file - besides including the now-infamous line "Don't you want to ask me about her breasts?", Mudd's games are not
for the faint-hearted. With steely determination, he explores the seamy side of human life - child abuse, religious fundamentalism, suicide and psycho killers all included - even further in his current work, "Jump". Mudd's titles are disturbingly innocuous - his first game was named after a WWF wrestler, his second after a cheezy Van Halen song (or is he a Pointer Sisters fan?). His prose is so noir it's hard to take him seriously at times. His PCs invariably lead double or fractured lives. The endings of his games invariably involve either suicide, homicide or both.

Which brings us to the crucial question: But to what purpose?

It's hard to picture Mudd as pursuing a particular agenda. The games of Adam Cadre (to cite the most obvious example) often feature child abuse or neglect - but Adam Cadre has often discussed his games at great length, issued FAQs and "Making Of" essays, explained _why_ he feels this issue is important. By contrast, Mr. Mudd has never made a single appearance on r.g.i-f or r.a.i-f. He never provides even
a blurb for his games. It's almost as if - having written his soul-ripping and earth-shattering opuses - he lets us on to the fact that he was either kidding all along, or - something more sinister.

"WHO is that in there?
Christine? Angel?"

- Vicomte R. de Chagny,
"The Phantom Of The Opera"

Let us now summarise the main evidence:

* There is little concrete proof that an actual dude called Chris Mudd is actually behind the I-F works "1-2-3" and "Jump". Generally, even the authors of games like "CASK" post stuff to r.*.i-f at least once
in a way.

* Let me bring back to your memory an Adam Cadre interview in SPAG (post-Comp '98) where he referred to the number of games centred around profundity and self-expression: as he pointed out, the
examples that year were _good_ games ("Muse", "Little Blue Men"), but he was afraid what would happen if someone wrote a game that he imagined was profound but was actually third-rate - and
then got all in a huff when people ignored him. Mudd is the antithesis of this statement: he writes games that are actually third-rate (but which some people, not knowing "his" devious ways,
think are profound) - and we never hear a peep out of him even if his game is ripped to shreds by a horde of reviewers.

* There is enough evidence, on the other hand, that enough of the apparently bad coding and grotesque writing in the aforementioned games is _deliberate_. This is not unprecedented - witness games such as Brendon Barnwell's "Comp00ter Game" and the Rybread parody game "Asendent" - but the fact that it has been done twice in a row is suspicious. Dan Shiovitz referred to this when he wrote:

"Okay, my new theory is that Mudd is a Rybread Celsius-esque self-parody.."

Mr. Shiovitz was almost - but not completely - right. Mudd _is_ a parody, but not a self-parody: for there is no such person as Chris Mudd to be parodied. Chris Mudd stands for the epitome of _bad_ linear IF centred around juvenile/adolescent and trite attempts at self-expression, which _deserve_ to be ignored.

In other words, it's deliberate.

Now what kind of guy - or guys, for it conceivably could be a group of them - would try a dodge like this?

Our resident authority on conspiracy theories, Dr. I. C. M. Everywhere, Ph. D., has come up with the following views:

* The "Bad Machine" Theory:
Since the 80s - and possibly even before - programmers have tried to put together pieces of software that could write passable stories or compose certain music, given certain ground rules. It is quite possible that "Mr. Mudd" is the figurehead of one such program, which is designed to write profound I-F about child abuse, suicide, etc. The reason it sucks is that artificial intelligence is, sadly, not yet quite a reality.

And the person running this program? He could be a) a person with a twisted sense of humour, which leads us to theory two (see below), b) a programmer who got the code from a third party, and doesn't
know how to improve it, c) a person with a poor grasp of the elements that create good I-F - doubtful, for such a person would read reviews of his games and try to polish them up.

(To be continued......)



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