December 22, 2012

Review: The Tesliss Equation by GoblinBoy

If you came here looking for a walkthrough, it's here.

Plot
In The Tesliss Equation the PC is a student who finds himself enmeshed in a series of weird events (mostly involving beautiful women hurling themselves at him) with no clear idea of what's going on. If that summary sounds a little familiar, it's because it also applies to 2010's Meteor. The two games share a lot of similarities, including specific plot elements, which I'll talk about shortly. However, the major differences lie in the execution of the plot.

One of the criticisms I levelled against Meteor was that its sandbox-ish format coupled with the lack of obvious plot direction, made playing it a somewhat aimless experience. The PC meanders through the four days that the game covers, having sex with women for no obvious reason other than the fact he can. By contrast, Tesliss Equation places the PC in a more closely-controlled and restricted environment. The game takes place over the course of a single day (as far as the player is concerned anyway), and rather than being allowed to wander wherever he likes, the PC's course is rigidly scheduled. Additionally, the PC's behaviour is explained by the fact that several of the NPCs are subtly (and not so subtly) trying to encourage him to have sex. The question then becomes whether or not the PC will succumb to their temptations (something I suggested would have made Meteor more interesting).

The revelation of what's really going on also differs, since it comes about halfway through Tesliss Equation, rather than at the very end. It's also much less of a surprise, partly because Tesliss Equation's central conceit is a more common fictional trope than Meteor's was (it's even been used in AIF a few times, including by GoblinBoy), but mostly because it's more obviously foreshadowed, particularly by the comic books the PC finds everywhere. The placement of the revelation in the middle of the game also has the effect of dividing it into two distinct parts. These two parts are very different in tone and content, and I initially found the jump between them to be quite jarring. However, replaying the game several times has had the effect of smoothing over the transition in my mind.

As I mentioned earlier, Tesliss Equation also reuses a number of specific plot elements from Meteor, which I suspect is deliberate. The main one is the concept of the player as an ingame entity that possesses the PC and controls his actions, which is central to the explanation of both plots. The intention seems to be to build a bridge between the world of Meteor (where it is implied that the school section of Tesliss Equation takes place) and Ereos (via the presence of the goddess Melissandre from Final Sacrifice). I'm not sure what the value of doing this is, other than as a shout-out to GoblinBoy's long-time fans. It's also somewhat confused by the fact that Jenny, who appears as a character in both Meteor and the school section of Tesliss Equation, is then introduced as a different character in the 'real' section of Tesliss Equation (all three use the same character model). The only effect this had for me was to make the scene where Rocket reveals her lesbian experimentation with the 'Jenny' character seem like a copy of the scene in Meteor where Jenny reveals her lesbian experimentation with Ellie, which diminished its impact.

Another parallel between Tesliss Equation and Meteor is that in both games the 'best' ending can be attained by declining most of the sex scenes. The difference is that the 'best' ending in Meteor is somewhat subjective for AIF (the PC and Anna are in love), but in Tesliss Equation it's completely unambiguous, especially for a GoblinBoy game (the PC is in love with not one, but three beautiful women, and they live happily ever after in a ménage a quatre).

It's also interesting to contrast Tesliss Equation with GoblinBoy's previous game, GOP3. In that game, the idea that women exist solely to provide sexual pleasure (usually to men) is made as explicit as it has ever been in AIF. A similar theme runs through Tesliss Equation, with various characters telling the PC that if a woman wears revealing clothing it is because she wants to be looked at by men, and that therefore the man is justified in aggressively pursuing her (a variation on the "she was asking for it" myth). What makes this interesting is that, unlike GOP3 and to a lesser extent some of GoblinBoy's other games, it's not the protagonists espousing this view, but the villains. However, this probably doesn't represent a change in GoblinBoy's depiction of women given that the heroic female lead (Kitty Nova) wears armour that is so skimpy that it has virtually no protective value.

Considered in isolation, the plot of Tesliss Equation is better than the plot of Meteor. It's better executed, more focused, and all of the minor inconsistencies that bugged me about Meteor are explained or removed. Even with the jump between the two halves of Tesliss Equation, the game forms a coherent whole. The problem is that all of the direct and indirect references to Meteor meant that I found it difficult to consider Tesliss Equation in isolation and was constantly comparing it to Meteor instead. I'm not sure what purpose GoblinBoy meant this self-referentiality to serve, but in my case the comparison just emphasised the areas in which Tesliss Equation is inferior to Meteor (most notably in the amount of freedom it allows the player).
7.5/10

Characters
Tesliss Equation features a smaller cast of characters than most of GoblinBoy's full release games and, more importantly, it also offers the PC fewer different situations in which to interact with them. Additionally, none of the characters in the first half of the game are 'real', so by design they can't be very deep characters, or the PC would have no chance to see through the illusion.

Because of this, most of the characterization comes either via cut-scene or the 'think about' action. It's less involving for the player to find out about Emily and Rowena by reading walls of text rather than by interacting with them (although it is more convenient for both player and author). The player then has to repeat that process with Kitty and Rocket in the second half of the game and read similar cut scenes about different characters. This division is possibly why I didn't find either of them to be particularly compelling characters on the same level as, for example, Anna and Kim (despite the parallels).

Oddly, the character that made the most impression on me was Lyra. The main reason being the scene that occurs when the PC sees through her illusion and defeats her as Jessica. It perfectly encapsulates the bittersweet ambivalence that Hiro and Lyra feel for each other. Sadly, it's not referred to in the one interactive scene that the player gets with Lyra, which plays out the same no matter what. The only other NPC who gets a 'big' scene of that nature is Robert/Groldar, who cements his place as an irredeemable villain by leading an attempted gang rape of Rowena in order to get the PC to reveal the formula.

Hiro himself is a more likeable protagonist than is typical of GoblinBoy's full-size games. For instance, unless the player actively pushes him in that direction, he's not obsessed with sex. When Melissandre offers him guilt-free sex that no one will ever know about, his first reaction is to say "I'll know." It's difficult to imagine James from Meteor or SD3's PC being so moral. All of which made it a lot easier for me to empathise with him. However, it's somewhat ironic that Hiro isn't as well implemented as his high school alter ego, meaning that he's the less believable of the two characters.

It's a highly subjective area, but I wasn't a huge fan of the character designs. Emily and Rowena are the best, being attractive in a realistic, girl next door kind of way, although the palette that GoblinBoy used is oddly muted compared to his previous games. However, as Kitty and Rocket I found them to be too cartoon-like. The PC's school persona is a little unbelievable as well, since he looks too old to be at high school and too buff to be the target of bullies. Of course, that could just be because the school is an illusion, but that doesn't explain why Emily and Rowena are more believable as high schoolers.
7/10

Writing
As usual, GoblinBoy's writing is good. The fact that the school is a smaller environment than most of his games means that each room can receive more attention and the result is better implemented descriptions. This helps the world to feel more real, although of course it isn't. GoblinBoy also does a good job of creating a sense of eerie menace. Even if the player doesn't know what's going on, he still gets the sense the Miss Smith, Jessica and company have sinister intentions.

I wasn't quite so impressed with the second half of the game, although that might be because the world is mostly identical tunnels. I also found it hard to get a handle on what the gameworld was about. As depicted in the comic books, it seems like a typical fantasy world, except for the fact that Kitty and Rocket have guns. The PC's memories of Kitty and Rocket in the second half of the game add various other science-fiction elements, such as zero gravity and space stations. Apart from an off-hand reference to a multiverse, this doesn't get any explanation. Indeed, it actually creates an inconsistency if Groldar uses the formula. Why do Hiro, Kitty and Rocket feel the need to repopulate the world single-handed (even to the extent of Hiro having sex with his own daughters) if there are other worlds they could get help from?

As with Hiro, it's ironic that in its own way the 'real' world is almost as unbelievable as the illusion the PC is initially trapped in. I could easily imagine that in the real 'real' world, Emily, Rowena and the PC are hiding out in the woods after having murdered Robert. Another issue is the fact that, like GOP3, the writing in Tesliss Equation is overly reliant on the presence of graphics. If you play the non-graphical version (as I did over the holidays due to the presence of relatives) the writing doesn't seem sufficient to carry the game by itself. To reinforce that dependence, there is also at least one instance where the graphics contain information that the text does not, meaning anyone playing the non-graphical version is at a disadvantage.
6.5/10

Gameplay
Depending on your personal preferences, Tesliss Equation's gameplay could be described as either streamlined or pared down. This continues a trend towards decreased levels of interactivity and player freedom in GoblinBoy's recent games. Given the extreme level of both in SD3 (and the amount of work that must have been required to implement that) it's only natural that he should try to scale things back to more realistic levels. But with GOP3 and now Tesliss Equation, he's starting to go too far in the other direction in my opinion.

In the first half of Tesliss Equation, the player almost never has cause to interact with the gameworld on their own initiative in any meaningful way. Outside of the sex scenes, the player's input is restricted to obeying the game's prompts to perform a particular action or go to a certain location (not that they can go anywhere else), reading the ensuing cut scene and possibly getting to pick from whatever options are provided. One effect of this is that it's easy to overlook the few occasions when the PC can do something else, because the player has been conditioned not to expect such opportunities. The player does get to be more active in the second half of the game, which contains the game's only traditional puzzle, but the combat mechanics get a little repetitive.

Whether such minimalism is a good or a bad thing will depend on the tastes of the individual player. On the plus side, there is never any risk of the player becoming frustrated because they don't know what to do next or the correct word to do it. Additionally, it's much easier to explore all the content than it would be if the game was as open as SD3 or Meteor. On the other hand, to me Tesliss Equation feels more like a visual novel than a text adventure. With one obvious exception, Tesliss Equation doesn't really need a text parser because the options available to the player are made explicit, either via menus or the suggestions of the NPCs and narrator. The actual gameplay takes place at a more 'meta' level as the player tries to work out which choices trigger what content. Although that's interesting and challenging, the fact that the player so rarely has to put themselves in the PC's shoes limits how involved in the game the player feels, and thus hinders immersion in my opinion.

The sex scenes themselves are standard GoblinBoy fare in terms of both their quality (which is good) and subject matter. However, although I found them to be enjoyable, none of them really stick out in my memory. I think that's in part because the major scenes don't receive a great deal of build-up, especially compared to some of GoblinBoy's other games. Emily is presented as the great love of the PC's life, but the player only gets to interact with her in a couple of highly circumscribed scenes. Likewise, Kitty is described as the great love of Hiro's life, but they have basically no onscreen romantic interaction at all. The one scene that I think does get adequate build up (at least if the player chooses the correct options) is Lyra and Hiro. Unfortunately the scene itself is disappointingly bland (probably a function of the fact that with or without the build-up it plays out the same).

Additionally, the atmosphere of dreamlike unreality that pervades the first half of the game adversely affected my suspension of disbelief. It's clear that the scenes aren't really happening, at least in the form that the player is experiencing them, so it's hard to feel too invested in what happens. That effect is amplified by the fact that for the most part, the player doesn't have to do very much to get the scenes, as they're delivered rather that achieved.
7/10

Technical
Rather unusually for a GoblinBoy game, I noticed a significant number of bugs and other errors in Tesliss Equation. Most of these are of a minor character, such as continuity errors, or an exit being omitted from a room description. None of these bugs caused me more than very mild inconvenience, but I was left with the overall impression that Tesliss Equation is the least polished game that GoblinBoy has released for some time, perhaps due to a desire to get it released before Christmas.

GoblinBoy added a few new commands for this game, although some of them ('flirt' and 'compliment') have appeared in previous games under different guises. Disappointingly, flirting or complimenting the female characters seldom has more than cosmetic effects. The only truly new command is 'think about', although even there you could argue that it's very similar to daydreaming in SD3. However, it does serve a more important purpose in this game by providing a source of characterization that Tesliss Equation's narrower focus would otherwise disallow.

On top of that, there are several combat mechanics in use. The boxing match is the most interesting, since it gives the player a range of possible actions to choose from. However, unless you accept Jessica's help there are no clues to suggest which option you should pick, meaning that winning the boxing match honestly is largely a matter of luck (or liberal use of the undo command if you're me). However, given that the PC (or, to be more accurate, the PC's alter ego) is supposedly a nerd with no real fighting skills, you could argue that that realistically reflects his chances.

The combat in the second half of the game is more simplistic, with the player's choices restricted to attacking or running away. That can get repetitive since there are a large number of monsters that the PC needs to defeat, and therefore the player has to repeat the same commands a large number of times. The only tactics I could discover were of the metagame variety.
7.5/10

Final Thoughts
Earlier I menioned some of the similarities between Tesliss Equation and Meteor. The other GoblinBoy game that Tesliss Equation reminds me of is Camping Trip. Both games explicitly direct the PC's course through the plot. The difference is that in Camping Trip that was a result of GoblinBoy's relative lack of experience as an author and a consequent lack of confidence in allowing the player too much freedom. By contrast, in Tesliss Equation that lack of freedom is a conscious design choice made to keep the author's workload to a manageable level (although ironically Tesliss Equation is the largest game GoblinBoy has ever released, thanks to the more one thousand pictures).

How well Tesliss Equation succeeds depends largely on the individual tastes of the player. I've seen various people state that it's the best game GoblinBoy has produced. I can readily believe that some people would feel that way, as the approach that GoblinBoy has chosen has a number of advantages. The player is never left stumbling about, trying to work out what command they are supposed to use to perform a particular action. Consequently, the plot and the sex proceed smoothly, without any frustration for the player. Additionally, Tesliss Equation lacks the nasty, or at least ambivalent, edge of many of GoblinBoy's previous games. Hiro is a genuine hero, rather than a selfish sex-obsessed teenager.

Unfortunately, the side effect of this approach is that it minimises many of the elements that most interest me about interactive fiction, in particular player freedom and immersion. Don't get me wrong, Tesliss Equation is undoubtedly a good game, but for me it's simply not in the same league as Meteor or SD3. The latter felt like inspired works, while Tesliss Equation feels… manufactured for lack of a better term. A result of the author making a calculated decision rather than simply following his imagination. I realise that it's unfair of me to compare Tesliss Equation to Meteor or SD3, since it's clearly not intended to be on the same scale as those two games. However, GoblinBoy invites the comparison by linking Tesliss Equation to Meteor the way that he does.

Overall, the release of Tesliss Equation has left me with a feeling of disappointment. Not at the game itself, which I still found enjoyable despite my criticisms. However, I think Tesliss Equation is proof positive that we're never going to see a game as epic as SD3 again. In the long-term that's probably a good thing, since games of that scale are unachievable by most authors and unsustainable by the others. But the selfish part of me can't help feeling disappointed that the Age of Wonders has passed.
7.5/10

Overall score = 72%

17 comments:

  1. ...I'm just going to come out and say it. This was probably my favorite game out of all of GoblinBoy's stuff.

    I once tried School Dreams 3, in particular because of your review here, and found it was not to my liking. For one, the very first paragraph of the game turned me off something fierce, containing both a bunch of references to a different game I have never played and didn't enjoy when I tried, and a bunch of weird incest subtext.

    It just wasn't for me, is what I mean.

    In terms of Meteor... eh? I dunno, it wasn't awful, I just wish there was less sex and more plot, if that makes sense.

    I liked this game a lot, though. Now, I'll admit it was pretty restrictive in terms of exploration and interaction in the first half, but I felt this allowed it to better focus on the narrative it was building.

    I liked the story too, particularly the mystery and creepy feeling that something, even if I'm not sure what, is just off. Maybe I'm just not as clever as you, I don't know. I was thinking that some sort of weird experiment was afoot, what with all the injections of this and that the nurse kept slipping me.

    One think I enjoyed is the fact that, on my first playthrough, because the oddities in the environment had left me paranoid, I didn't have sex with anyone at all, and I STILL got a pretty good ending I was happy with. How many AIF is THAT true in?

    I found the switch a little less jarring than you seem to. For one, the new setting's little anachronisms and inconsistencies didn't bother me much, in part because I'd just done something Star Wars-related and the blending of fantasy and sci-fi is always something I've rather liked.

    I WILL say the gameplay in the second half is much weaker. Exploration's a pain without a map or map function, beating the game is a chore if you can't figure out what command to use to search a dead body, and the actual fights are boring and repetitive exercises in typing "attack x" over and over until either it's dead or you have to bolt to avoid dying yourself. Then waiting until your health regenerates. I appreciate his desire to streamline the process, but, honestly, that Phallius 0 game I otherwise didn't like much at least had better combat than this.

    Playing through a second time was fun in the school section too, if only because, knowing what was coming, I was able to try to pick out clues.

    I didn't quite figure out what would let me break out of the illusion on my own without the aid of the Internets (how OTHER people figure these things out is beyond me), but I DID notice how the story in the comics changes based on the choices you make, which was a nice touch. Took me a while to realize that Hiro was hallucinating over the course of several days instead of just standing there, trapped in a dream and remembering, or something.

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  2. I agree with you about the problems of characterization in the second half, though I did enjoy their designs because I'm just weird like that. I also agree about Lyra's being the most emotionally-developed character, if only because effort was made to give her depth instead of just making her "mean and sexy girl #2348."

    I think the biggest part of why I liked it was the absence of stuff I didn't like in other games. Unlike, say, Gifts of Phallius 3 or Meteor, every character in the entire game isn't constantly having sex with whatever moves like a randy monkey all the time. It's there, but it's not... always front and center, if that makes sense. The main character has the chance to just turn people down all the time, and honestly seems to have SOME kind of sexual ethics even at his porniest: when Meliswhatever offers him a chance to boff her in outer space and promises "No consequences, no one will ever know," his first response is not "Whoo hoo!" but "That's not true! I'll know!"

    I dunno. I guess I just didn't feel as dirty inhabiting the inside of his head, because he DOES seem a little conflicted about the weird sexual happening around him, as opposed to the complete horndog male characters from, say, the Gift of Phallius games, who can't look at a statue without feeling it up. And, sure, the only other male characters in the game are kinda randy jerks, but... I dunno. I guess it's just that there's no effort made to make them "relatable," unlike, say, Phallius, a character no one I think really liked until he died.

    You're entitled to your opinion, and, to an extent, I see where you're coming from. Perhaps we're just weighting different things about it differently. To my mind, though, the narrative successes outweigh the technical flaws and limited gameplay.

    Sorry about vominting all these WORDSWORDSWORDS all over your nice clean comments page...

    EDIT: Apparently, TWO POST'S worth of WORDSWORDSWORDS... Sweet Christmas, I'm double sorry.

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  3. First off, thanks for commenting. I have no problem with people disagreeing with me, especially when they back up their points as well as you do. I think what it comes down to is that we look for different things in AIF and our tastes have formed differently.

    SD3 is still my favourite of GB's games, although I approached it with the advantage of having played Camping Trip when it originally came out. If the weird incest subtext you mention is the fact that the PC is basically aciting as Mike's proxy with Molly, then I agree (although it was much worse in SD2). However, it doesn't bother me so much because you can choose to avoid it via your decisions. In fact that's one of the main reasons I rate SD3 so highly, the fact that the player's decisions are actually meaningful.

    "I didn't have sex with anyone at all, and I STILL got a pretty good ending I was happy with. How many AIF is THAT true in?"

    It's actually sort of true in Meteor, where there's a special ending you can only get by choosing not to have sex with any of the main characters (although it's undercut by the fact that you can still have sex with the minor characters, including raping the PC's sister).

    "Unlike, say, Gifts of Phallius 3 or Meteor, every character in the entire game isn't constantly having sex with whatever moves like a randy monkey all the time."

    I think that's definitely true of GOP3, but it's not necessarily true of Meteor, where the PC can in fact choose not to have sex. However, the fact that the PC is an obnoxious horndog tends to obscure that. One area where I definitely agree that TE outscores Meteor (and a lot of GB's other games) is in having a likeable PC who's not a self-centred, sex-obsessed dick.

    "I didn't quite figure out what would let me break out of the illusion on my own without the aid of the Internets"

    I managed to work out the eyes on my own, but I don't think I would have picked up on the other stuff without help. As for guessing what was actually going on, it helped that GB puts a major plot twist in nearly every game he makes (and he's played with the PC's perceptions in two other games), so I was on the lookout for something of that sort.

    I've played TE a bit more since I wrote this review (doing research for the walkthrough), and I've become a bit more tolerant of what I initially saw of its shortcomings. I suspect that when I come to revise it, I'll mark it a bit more highly in plot and possibly gameplay and characters.

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  4. Nice review, I think some of the character stuff becomes more apparent with multiple play throughs and seeing more branches.

    My main complaint is the lack of interactivity in the sex scenes. There are definitely still some in there, but there is a major reduction in the body parts and commands that trigger scenes. I really miss the insanity of something like the endings of Meteor. I wish Goblinboy would crowd source some of the sex scenes for his next game like he did with SD3 daydreams. So we can bring back the crazy amount of interactive scenes in previous games. It works for Fenoxo I bet it could work for Goblinboy.

    I thought the references to previous games were pretty cool. It makes me really want a game where we play the entity from Meteor and get to float around manipulating people like we are used to doing on a meta level playing AIF.

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    1. As a point of clarification, GoblinBoy didn't crowd source the daydreams. A.Bomire, who is a respected author in his own right and had been involved in the development of SD3 since the alpha testing stage, wrote some of them. I'd also add that cut scenes (which are what the daydreams basically were) are a lot easier to outsource than sex scenes, as the latter potentially involve a lot of programming to implement.

      I actually thought the level of interactivity in the sex scenes was okay (at least for the ones that were interactive). But I'd agree that none of them had the same wow factor as some of the scenes from GB's other games. The ones I found disappointing were Lyra (as mentioned above) and Miss Smith. Given their significance to the plot, I was hoping for something more than generic fill every hole and we're done.

      Sadly, it looks like GB has come to the conclusion that it's much easier to do epic scenes when they're non-interactive.

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  5. I thought he went all out for the ending of GOP3, Must of been a monster to program - i think the plan was to get this out faster so he toned it down....sadly.

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  6. I think TE is a pretty good entry point into AIF. The puzzles are relatively simple and the plot advances itself for the most part, making it a decent tutorial for more complex games. Newcomers aren't going to get frustrated by a lack of progress, while the story is pretty decent. The parallel advancement of illusion world and comic book was a nice gimmick.

    If you are going to play other GB games, you probably want to play this one first, because while it lacks the depth (except in the art department - a very solid effort there) of his other games, it does contain all of the elements that make them as good as they are. With bonus non-jackass main character.

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    1. I'm a little wary of recommending GB's games as a starting point for a newcomer to AIF. More than once I've seen someone on a forum ask where they can get more games "like GoblinBoy's" and they're inevitably disappointed to learn that there aren't any.

      Also, I think that the main barrier that newcomers to interactive fiction face is not knowing the vocabulary. TE may not have many explicit puzzles (something it has in common with most of GB's recent games), but it still flummoxed people who didn't know that you 'unlock' a chest rather than using a key on it, or that you could 'search' a body. From that standpoint you could actually argue that TE isn't a good game for newcomers because it doesn't teach them to interact with the environment, with the result that when they get to the point where they have to, they don't know how.

      However, I would agree that TE is the most accessible of GB's recent games. You don't have to have played any previous games, you're not left wondering what you're supposed to do next, and you're not placed in the role of an obnoxious sexual predator. The one thing it lacks is player freedom, which is more important to some people than it is to others.

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  7. I helped GB beta test GOP3 and I can tell you that it became very apparent to me in talking with him even back then that he was burnt out on doing interactive scenes. As you rightly stated, sadly, I think that the Meteor finale and the GOP3 family romp are the last of his major interactive scenes.

    This holiday season has been incredibly busy for me so I didn't even play TE until yesterday and even then only gave it a couple hours. That blasphemy aside, my initial reaction to the game was much like yours: not disappointment in GB or his effort, but more a disappointment of the ongoing realization that the thrill of discovering SD3 and Meteor the first time will not be happening again.

    I often feel bad in reading your (and mine, to be honest) critiques of GBs work because I almost want to corner him and say "Look man, you just set the bar too high."

    I really feel like it's going to take another author to revolutionize AIF like he did and I don't know if in this unpaid environment that author will ever materialize. Perhaps we shouldn't be looking our gift horse in the mouth like we do... and I am just as guilty in doing so.

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    1. I think GoblinBoy is a victim of the fact that gratitude is often no more than a lively expectation of favours to come. For all the plaudits that TE won, all GB really got out of a year's work was a two week respite from people wondering when his next game would be coming out.

      He mentioned on aifarchive that this is the first time in seven and a half years that he hasn't had a game in development, and I get the feeling that in the last couple of years that's been driven more and more by audience expectation.

      One of the other unfortunate side effects of the success of GB (and to a lesser extent BBBen) is that it's changed the definition of what is 'good AIF' to something that's out of reach of the average author. Adding graphics widened the audience for AIF, but it also severely narrowed the number of games that audience was interested in playing. For that reason, I don't think we need someone else to 'revolutionise' AIF even further.

      What I'm hoping for is that with GB taking a well-earned rest, his absence will force the audience to recalibrate their expectations and allow other authors to capture the spotlight for a bit.

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  8. I think it's arguable that AIF as a genre ended years ago, and that Goblin Boy's games coincided with, rather than precipitated, that end. Interactive fiction is always going to be a niche market; pornographic IF is a niche of a niche. Let's face it: this is a lot of work to have a fantasy about banging a cheerleader.

    Goblin Boy, if you think about it, rarely makes IF. Sure, the games use text interpreters, but there are few puzzles as such. SD 3, in particular, is a dating simulator more than anything, albeit a unique one in that there's actual sexual payoff.

    For better or worse, if there's a future for this technology, it's probably in appealing to the ever-robust erotic fiction crowd, which by and large is not going to invest a weekend in a sandbox full of logic puzzles.That audience will demand tighter, more playable games, and probably the lure of illustration to entice them to play. Games ... like the one you've described here, probably. Could be Goblin Boy is out in front one more time.

    You could argue that's not the worst. Sexy games don't come any more open ended than SD2, you know, and I don't care for what I learned about myself playing that.

    I'm sorry, truly, that your little community dried up. Frankly, I'm beginning to believe the whole internet really peaked a decade ago as a place where interesting people associated. Internet users now have grown up with computers, and the thrill of sharing with strangers has been so thoroughly monetized and data mined that I don't see that sense of wonder ever being reclaimed.

    If Goblin Boy has been the last hurrah of the genre, I'd like to thank him, and the authors of my favorite games: the prom in the hotel one (mmm, the closet scene), the pool party one (so bittersweet), that playable Animal House game (hilarious, dude).

    You might consider, rather than lamenting an era past, raising a glass to some uniquely entertaining smut. For those of us so inclined, there are few sexual thrills quite like it, and I've got no regrets. But all things must end, no?

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  9. "Goblin Boy, if you think about it, rarely makes IF."

    GoblinBoy rarely makes *traditional* IF, as in the kind of puzzle-heavy games that characterised the genre twenty years ago. I'm not heavily into mainstream IF, but the impression I've gained from the little I have played is that the genre has developed away from explicit puzzles being a necessity. GoblinBoy seldom has explicit puzzles in his games either (the one in Meteor stuck out like a sore thumb), but there certainly are things that the player has to work out.

    "I'm sorry, truly, that your little community dried up."

    I'm going to assume that you didn't mean that to be as patronising as it sounds. It's also a highly debatable assertion. In terms of numbers the AIF community is larger than it's ever been, and in terms of activity it's about the same as it's always been. It's only authorial activity where there's been a decline, and even there we get the occasional Indian summer such as we're currently enjoying.

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    1. Patronizing, no. I'm occasionally tone deaf but rarely do I harbor ill will toward complete strangers!

      I think the narrower statement of my opinion is that fewer internet users write because fewer of them read. The generation of authors you reference came to the internet when Usenet was still a thing. It was a literary medium. they've been replaced by a highly visual, more easily bored generation, and your complaint that nobody seems to write is echoed just about everywhere on the internet but in communities built around the act of composition itself.

      GoblinBoy made games these new comers could play. Lots of quick gratification, jolts of dopamine for every right answer. Sure, there are still "puzzles", but the answer, as with flash games, is usually to experiment, not to reason it out - that is, not to read carefully. You could argue that Meteor was a meta commentary on the trend, though that might be giving it too much credit.

      That's why I mentioned erotic fiction as a possible future of the genre. The issue I see is literacy itself, not just raw interest in writing AIF as such.

      Put another way, I just can't see getting an attention span shaped by RedTube and Call of Duty to invest the necessary time. Not unless bandwidth rates triple in the near future. I suppose mobile friendly AIF is another option, though the keyboard had always struck me as part and parcel of the interactive fiction experience.

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    2. The Internet being what it is, I can't tell if this post reflects what you actually think or feel. However, I will note that nostalgia is a misleading lens through which to view anything. There are a lot of Internet behaviours prevalent today that annoy me. The way opinion is represented as fact, the logical fallacies that litter any comment thread, and the way in which anonymity makes people feel able to behave in ways they wouldn't in real life (ranging from trolling to outright bullying and harrassment).

      But it was ever thus. The Internet users of today aren't any worse (or better) than the people on the Internet fifteen years ago. There are just more of them, and they have more avenues in which to 'express' themselves. And yes, they have more things competing for their time, such as Call of Duty. However, the sweeping generalisation that you're making only has to be untrue for a tiny percentage of people for there to be enough to sustain interactive fiction as a genre. If Goblinboy (and others) stop making graphical games, then most of the people who were attracted to AIF by them will probably disappear as well. But that tiny percentage is going to end up sticking around and adding to the community, and indeed that's what we've been seeing.

      I'm not saying that interactive fiction is ever going to be anywhere near as popular as it was in the mid-80s. That's obviously never going to happen. But I do think that interactive fiction is going to survive as a genre for the forseeable future for a couple of reasons.

      Firstly, from the point of view of a would-be game author, interactive fiction has the lowest requirements of any genre. You don't need to buy specialist software, you don't need any artistic talent, and you might not even have to learn a specialist programming language. All you need are an idea and the willingness to expend a bit of time and effort to make it reality. Eventually game creation tools are going to advance to the point where more sophisticated games are within easy reach of the amateur, but until that time I think interactive fiction has enough appeal for amateur authors that games will be created.

      Secondly, interactive fiction offers something that static fiction can't match in terms of immersion. Playing a game is a much more immediate and personal experience than reading a story, That's particularly important in what might be described as a 'wish-fulfillment' genre. For that reason, I think that as long as games are being created and distributed, there are going to be people who will play them. And as long as you have authors and players, you have a community.

      That doesn't mean that interactive fiction isn't going to change and evolve from where it is now (which is a lot different to where it was twenty odd years ago). Different styles are going to wax and wane in popularity, there will be more cross-over with other communities (such as erotic fiction), and it's going to find itself on different platforms (there are already IF interpreters for Android, for example).

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  10. I've only skimmed both the review, and the comments thread, but I just felt the need to jump in with a few thoughts of my own. Hopefully these topics have not already been well-trodden.

    I like GoblinBoy's stuff a lot. I hope he keeps making it. However, part of me thinks it might be nice if he made a few games without graphics. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy the graphics well enough. That type of computer generated pictures always comes just a little close to the uncanny valley for me, but as far as they go, I think GB is quite good at making them. But I also fondly remember playing his earlier games that lacked any such embellishments, and I still enjoyed them a great deal.

    Presumably he enjoys doing the graphics, or he wouldn't do them, but I have to assume they take a great deal of time, and in my personal opinion, I'd rather see a game that was larger and deeper without graphics, though I'm sure others probably disagree.

    Maybe I just need to revisit my old idea of learning to write these games myself... but then, if many of the new players are now expecting AIF decked out with illustrations, anything I did make would probably not be particularly well received.

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  11. god i am odd i hate goblin boys work yet i play all of his games i guess i am going to download this one and give it a try i wonder if his writing has gotten any better probably not

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    1. I think his writing has improved over the last few years, although I have to admit that this game treads pretty familiar ground.

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