Autumn’s Daughter is a short hypertext story made in Undum/Vorple. Text can be enlarged nicely. Auto-scrolling (automatic focus on choices) can take text off the screen prematurely. A log of the story remains on the screen after each choice. No option to share the story. I couldn’t find a way to undo choices or to restart (but reloading the web page goes to the title screen). It was a little frustrating having to go back to the beginning to try different paths.

There is a sidebar with a “character” status.

You are young and beautiful.

I was under the impression that the position of a village girl in South Asia is much like Cinderellaput upon and abused might be more true to life.

It was difficult to place the genre at first, send a man to evaluate a girl’s game: fictionally raped in marriage, frequently raped, a murderer, a suicide – he unerringly picks out the most violent fates. Girl’s game?! It’s not a literary read. Bad outcomes for permitted marriage and a possible romantic ending for elopement read like a polemic. A sort of grim fairy tale or wake-up call for rural girls drifting into arranged marriage. Can many village girls in Pakistan and Afghanistan can read English? But it could be translated.

I played release “1.1”. Sometimes status didn’t update during the ending so that, in seeming bad taste, you could see “You are hopeful” for a violent ending. The risk associated with trusting a strange woman is explored (for a moment the player takes the role of fate in an uncanny choice) – but although the heterosexual romance can fail I would have liked a choice which showed that running away with a man isn’t a guarantee against an abusive marriage. In general, chance has a big role in life but not in the story.

The endings were unbalanced; one so abstract that it could have been a sweat shop or a brothel. I thought that a girl’s game would refrain from being explicit but other endings tell of recurring marital rape, show personally committing spouse murder, or show and esteem personal suicide.

Another interactive fiction competition entry, Impostor Syndrome is a static hypertext story in which you play the role of an IT worker presenting a talk who is subject to the titular condition.

Given the anxiety and self-doubt of impostor syndrome, the story is understandably earnest and humourless. It is written in the second person “You see… You feel…” like most interactive fiction, but I think I would have liked it better written in the first person. The pseudonymous author captures nerd culture well with comments on a fictional programming language and amusing thinly-veiled references to tech companies e.g. Goggle.

Make sure to try all the choices. I often find it difficult to detect implicit choice points in a mostly linear narrative. There may be many choices at a node; some are just cycles returning to the node; the expectation is that there is one choice that escapes to the rest of the narrative as is usual in a linear narrative; but, rarely, there is more than one exit when there is a branch in the narrative.

Narrative branches are more likely near the end (imagine how frustrating it would be if your first choice out of a hundred tacitly determined if you have a good or bad ending) but in the first play it can be hard to estimate progress – although where you are in the story offers a clue, atemporal choice cycles complicate the relation between playing time and narrative time.

I’ve played about half the 2013 interactive fiction competition entries, and Coloratura by Lynnea Glasser is the best so far. The narrative is a science fiction story with strong horror elements. In some horror games you hear of bad things happening in a remote place and you may just meet a horrible monster! In this game, things happen – but you’re close to the action – you’re the monster!

You love nothing better than to sing sing sing! The whole universe sings in pure saturation. But out of timeless bliss comes dissonance. Hurt. Jolted and jostled. Disarranged. You can feel some beings around you but they are benighted. Blind, solitary voices groping in cacophony, colours awry. If only someone would help them! They just need somebeing to reach out…

Coloratura is a full-length parser-based game which can be completed in an hour or two (if you solve all the puzzles). There are HINTs and HELP (you can enter highlighted words in this review into the game as commands). You mostly interact with the game by typing commands to the protagonist like “GO NORTH”, “TOUCH MAN”; and occasionally by asking the protagonist to command another character “CAPTAIN, LISTEN TO ME” (this means that the protagonist should ask the captain to “LISTEN TO ME” i.e. listen to the protagonist). The game reports the result of a command (it might succeed or fail). The game world changes each turn (and as a result of successful commands).

There is a large graphic map provided with the game download. I didn’t find it easy to locate the protagonist on the map – it was not until half way through the game before I could match locations (which the protagonist visited) to those depicted in the map; by then I had stopped looking at the map.

When you type commands in this kind of game, you rely on the game recognising what you want the protagonist to do, and responding aptly. The game’s responses to commands show good intuition from the author or capable testing or both. Serving the player so well demonstrates uncommon mastery. In a departure from convention, the alien protagonist can’t carry things. There are environmental puzzles – when the alien touches some objects, the alien embodies their character e.g. touching a hot thing makes the alien hot; now you can heat something by commanding the alien to touch it. If you’re finding it hard to get started, EXAMINE things mentioned in descriptions, and try TOUCHing things.

There were one or two glitches which escaped editing. There are two protagonists but the WAVE command gives the response for the first protagonist (an alien) even if the second protagonist (a human) is the current protagonist (in the EPILOGUE).

The language was mixed: sometimes creative and beautiful, other times like a bad translation. With a nod to Shyamalan the protagonist is shy and retiring not a bloodthirsty rampager. More cultist than wirehead. The creature’s chromatic sense of human character’s emotions’ is delightful although using the creature’s colour-shifting powers on people was disturbing. I loved the glimpses of a horror story from the reverse perspective. The (best) ending cleaves to the horror theme, a gothic departure from realism which may be a little frustrating for science fiction fans.

I will be surprised if there are more than one or two other entries as good as Coloratura. If you can cope with entering commands to make things happen (and don’t mind an inhuman protagonist who may become sympathetic through the story), I recommend it highly.

The Inform Interactive Fiction 2013 competition has begun! Interactive fiction is typically a story where (instead of pressing “next page”) you make choices to advance the story. You might type instructions to the protagonist “GIVE RING TO JULIET” or choose an option from a menu. After you make a choice the story tells you what happens next. There might be a good ending or a bad ending depending on your choices.

 

There are thirty five games available to play now. After you played a game you can vote for it (give it a rating out of 10 where 10 is the best) – the votes are added up and after the judging period the games are ranked. You’re supposed to play at least five before voting. In the past, I scoffed at people who couldn’t find the time to play all (or most) of the entries but now all my free time is full so I understand.

Last year I wrote reviews on IFDB hoping to promote the competition but there weren’t any more voters.

HD

The basic (M+) package I tried has HD for BBC1,2, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5, and Film 4. Frustratingly there was nothing on most of them (half the content isn’t HD anyway – check in the schedule).

I watched a live football match on ITV HD (MPEG4). In HD, you can see the texture of the turf and the pattern on the ball as it rolls; In regular broadcast (MPEG2) you can’t.

Good

I saw a trailer for paranormal series Lost Girl (Syfy) a while ago. I believe series 3 still has the same music; it still rocks (it reminds of Covert Affairs – I think it’s the same).
A whiff of male fantasy but strong writing lets the story live; it’s not overwhelmed by sex/nudity vs e.g. Spartacus.

I also recorded Defiance (Syfy) – science fiction, post-Civil war -style aliens, monster-of-the-week. And Fringe (Sky2), well-made detective/parallel-world fusion.
New channel TLC (seems not to be on Freeview?) is similar to Really, but more so (BBC Worldwide source?).

I watched the pilot of Unforgotten (Sky Living On Demand) via On Demand (internet-streaming). Quality was as good as broadcast (MPEG2). (Poppy Montgomery is an ex-detective who can relive her memories. I plan to watch more.) Not sure how to re-find On Demand series you have started.

You can set the box to request the 4-digit PIN (Personal Identity Number, the default is in the manual) before doing something with a fee (e.g. pay-per-view). When I tried to access unsubscribed On Demand channels (Sky Living HD) I got a page with a phone number to subscribe.

Bad

Inconvenient to flip back-and-forth between an On demand (internet-streamed)/recorded program versus a live broadcast (e.g. LastChannel controller button only works for broadcast programs). Especially (in the first day) I didn’t (know how to) turn off PIN guard for adult content and I was watching recorded night time shows before 10PM.

Every cheap video recorder has PLAY, RECORD, PAUSE, FAST-FORWARD buttons on the front, but not on the VMedia/tivo box. To be fair: the buttons have everything you need to watch one recording or broadcast, or to browse the schedule (but not fine playback control or rating buttons).

After two days of heavy use the TV controller batteries are done. Rechargeables are a good idea but they may only last a few hours if you are a heavy user. If you have a computer you can do most stuff online, or buy a USB port (e.g. wireless) extension and connect a keyboard/mouse to your VM box.

Ugly

If you haven’t seen Buffy the Vampire Slayer before avoid the Syfy broadcast. Back in the day (analogue broadcast) the quality was similar but not with the graininess in the mpegs (from old VHS videos?) on Syfy. Charmed is a bit younger and still has good quality (4:3 aspect) mpegs on channel e4. BTVS ran for many series so it had time to build a fanbase (we grew up with it when there were few channels) you might find it slow to jump in; it probably tried harder in earlier series. Try online or try out a DVD.

By default 4:3 aspect shows (about 25% of content on some channels – looks odd on wide 16:9 or 2:1 LCD displays, but that’s how shows were made decades ago) are stretched horizontally to fit your (presumably) wide display – looking odd. In the settings I changed it to “Panelled” so it was roughly normal (with black bars at the sides on my 16:9 display).

Recommendation discipline

You can thumbs-up (a button on the tv controller) a show (applies to all episodes) you like or thumbs-down a show you never want to see. The box generates recommendations (new shows) based on your choices, and what’s popular. These suggestions appear at the end of the My Shows (button on the controller) link.

For a self-interested user it’s best to make few ratings. Each counts; if you change your mind you can get new content quickly without a deadweight of too many to change in one old genre. You don’t need to rate every show in one genre, just a few.

Don’t use thumbs-down unless you’ve seen a show and you hate it. Especially if the box is shared, if everyone’s a critic, there can be a tyranny of the majority so that only bland stuff appears. It’s easy to lose the one good show in a genre you generally dislike by going mad with the thumbs-down.

I mainly ticked-to-record, one tick for interesting looking stuff, (by default “suggestions” are recorded – you can disable that). When I look through the suggestions I can drop my tick if the show doesn’t turn out to be good. Hint: Ticking daily or long items will take a lot of space.

For the shows you love most in all the world, you can give multiple ticks (up to three). This will help the box to recommend similar shows.

The English Civil War and Ancient Greek are radio programmes I listened to, in which the protagonist, a disillusioned or angry man, transgresses social norms for the sake of some cause dear to him.

One day a cavalier walks into a supermarket. Is he the real thing or is his battle a more modern matter?

Cavalier soldier Hals-1624x
In the introduction, a woman describes the pleasure of sitting high in a big tree, while an officious man broadcasts legal threats through a loudspeaker. At first I thought I had the wrong channel or time, but after a minute or two the woman reminisces about stacking shelves in a supermarket, and the day on which something out of the ordinary happened. I gave up after listening to the first half of this drama. I couldn’t believe that the cavalier adapted to the modern world so quickly e.g. How would he know the names of parts of the supermarket? Would a historical cavalier have accepted a woman manager as an authority figure? Why is he shooting at people and holding the staff hostage anyway?

I guess that the “cavalier” is an unbalanced modern man with a personal grudge, perhaps an ex-employee. I fear that employing a random psychopath to express a rant about society isn’t an effective medium for social criticism. Who sees authority in a gun and a fake mantle of tradition? Ludicrously, the ending paints the gunman as some sort of messiah. Blessed are the Peacemakers (a brand of gun)! Apparently the reactionary rant is against supermarkets. There is singing.

Ancient Greek

My patience was exhausted after ten minutes of this forty-five minute radio drama written by Oliver Emanuel. Like The English Civil War, the protagonist commits crimes in the name of some (reactionary?) rant. The first ten minutes introduced some characters and described the crime – a student vandalises a school – but didn’t say anything about the rant thesis. Students are more oppressed than slaves (with luck a slave who runs away can soon become free; a student who escapes is cursed forever). Authoritarian administrations are an easy target. I think “show don’t tell” applies. Radio listeners are fickle. If I don’t know why the drama exists after a good chunk, it failed.

English:

Kennedy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This short story is set in the late 1960s during the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis, a young woman struggles to plan for a future which may not be. Rhona has run away from her relationship problems. At her hotel, she comes to an understanding. I listened to an audio adaptation read by Jilly Bond. The audio was introduced by the period music, Telstar.

English: Telstar 2 satellite Polski: Satelita ...

Telstar 2 satellite (Photo credit: Wikipedia)