IF Games from The Commonplace Book Project
Much interactive fiction requires a time commitment of an hour or two, and sometimes quite a bit more. Not so with the text adventure entries in the Commonplace Book project, in which each entrant took a line from a notebook by H. P. Lovecraft and spun it out into a game. This was an international competition, drawing entries in English, French, and Spanish, as well as a couple of graphical point-and-click adventures.
The English-language text entries include:
In "Ecdysis", by project organizer Peter Nepstad, the player wakes to find himself suffering from something that feels like a fever. "Ecdysis" toys with the player's perceptions in ways that only a text-based game can: the environment reflects two realities at once, and the challenge for the player is to negotiate both and bring about an ending that suits his increasingly divided persona.
This may sound confusing, but it really isn't: game-play is well-guided, and both possible endings make sense and feel suitably horrific.
"The Cellar", by David Whyld, is a fast-paced, grotesque story about what you find in the basement, drawn from Lovecraft's line, "A man's body dies, but corpse retains life...". There's much more to the story than the tag-line implies, though; Whyld has taken the original concept and turned it into a significantly longer narrative.
"Dead Cities", by Jon Ingold, won best-in-show with the most ambitious piece of the three:
"The letter you received from Arkwright's nephew Carter was clear enough: when the old man dies the inheritance tax will be too great. To raise some capital, the nephew has set up buyers for Arkwright's collection of rare and old books..."
Ingold's work is strange and challenging, evocative and opaque like Lovecraft's own stories. I first played "Dead Cities" weeks ago, but its central imagery has stuck with me. One of my favorite lines: "Thunder rolls around the house as if trying to open up the roof with a boot-knife."
As in "Ecdysis", there are several possible outcomes, though I have yet to find one that I would exactly call happy.
These are great pieces of IF to play during lunch or over a coffee break: they reward replay, but a single playthrough feels satisfying and won't take more than ten or fifteen minutes.
There are no online versions currently available, so you'll need an IF interpreter to play the downloaded game files, but the following programs will run each of these games (and most other IF you may want to try in the future): Gargoyle (Windows), Spatterlight (Mac OS X), Zoom (Unix).