Thursday, 29 June 2017

Five of Infocom's Best Interactive Fiction Games

The fact that Interactive Fiction, as a genre, would reach the height of its popularity back in the 1980s probably makes perfect sense, on reflection. This was, after all, a point at which the graphical capabilities of even the best personal computers could be described as rudimentary, at best.

In that sort of environment, it is actually perfectly understandable that a style of game based entirely around the written word, and the player's own ability to visualize the action, would become popular. The fact that many of these old games actually were genuinely entertaining was really just a nice bonus.

While Infocom was not the only company to develop Interactive Fiction games, they were definitely the company best known for producing them - and, the ones most strongly associated with the genre, even today. The five games listed below, for example, are among my own personal favourites - games which I feel do the best job of showing exactly why Infocom became so popular.

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Review - 'American Gods', S01E08 - 'Come to Jesus'

Throughout its first season, one of the more interesting recurring themes has been the very real difference between the Old Gods and the New Gods, when it comes to issues of faith and belief. The Old Gods, for example, draw their power from a more deliberate form of belief, that relies on prayer and open worship – and, this is the primary reason why they are struggling in the modern world. The New Gods, on the other hand, have been able to grow out of our devotion to the trappings of the modern world. No one actually prays to Media or the Technical Boy, after all – but, the time we invest into what they represent still gives them power.

This whole idea became especially interesting when previous episodes began to delve into the possibility Old Gods reinventing themselves to survive in modern America. Vulcan, as we had learnt a few episodes ago, had managed to establish himself as the god of guns and firepower in America – something which had allowed him to thrive, despite the fact that no one actually prayed to him, anymore. The New Gods had even offered Wednesday the chance to do the same – though, he ultimately turned them down.

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Review - 'American Gods', S01E07 - 'A Prayer for Mad Sweeney'

On thing that I've had to gradually come to terms with, while watching the first season of American Gods, is the fact that what should be the season's overarching plot-line actually feels like its least important element, so far. Wednesday's efforts to recruit Old Gods for an upcoming war against the New Gods of America has been a catalyst for much of the drama that has taken place, of course – but, the war, itself, has always been something that existed in the background.

Instead, this first season has seemed much more interesting in simple world-building – introducing its cast of wildly varied characters, and giving each the time they need to truly establish themselves. The result of all of this has been a variety of incredibly entertaining, though loosely connected, sequences which haven't done very much to push forward any central narrative. The season's fourth episode even set aside Wednesday and Shadow's road-trip entirely, in order to focus on exploring the background of Laura Moon – and now, with only one episode to go, the seventh episode does the same for Mad Sweeney.

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Film Review - 'John Wick: Chapter 2'

John Wick's quest for violent revenge may have been the catalyst for much or the action of the first film – but, one thing that becomes apparent very quickly, here, is that John seems to have found himself pushed back into a much more reactive role for the sequel.

In the aftermath of the first film's carnage, it seems that John Wick is eager to return to his retirement – even going as far as to offering to make peace with Abram Tarsov (Peter Stormare), the brother of the previous film's villain, in the opening sequence (though, not without killing a handful of faceless goon on his way, of course). Of course, while John Wick may be done with the criminal underworld once more, it obviously isn't done with him. It seems that, as a direct result of his recent activity, an old contact has decided that now would be the perfect time to call in a favour – and so, despite his obvious reluctance, it seems that John will be required to take on one more contract.

The contact in question is Santino D'Antonio (Ricardo Scamarcio), the son of a deceased crime-lord who hopes to earn himself a place on the 'high table' – the ruling body of this universe's wonderfully outlandish criminal underworld. The only problem, though, is that the spot that Santino intends to claim is currently held by his own sister, Gianna (Claudia Gerini).

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Review - 'American Gods', S01E06 - 'A Murder of Gods'

After finally bringing the impending war between the Old Gods and the New Gods into the spotlight, with its previous episode, American Gods seems set on returning to somewhat familiar territory with its sixth. We may have a better idea of the nature of the central conflict, now – but, it seems pretty clear that the series still isn't in any rush to get to that point.

Returning to the basic 'road movie' structure that has carried much of the season, up until this point, this episode sees Wednesday and Shadow making their way to a small town known as Vulcan – where they hope to recruit the actual Old God, Vulcan, the ancient Roman god of fire and the forge. Unlike so many of the other Old Gods, though, it seems that Vulcan has manage to successfully reinvent himself in America – essentially taking on the role of god of guns and firepower in modern America. Naturally, this gives him quite a bit of power and influence – and, he certainly seems to be quite comfortable at the heart of his own personal little empire.

Meanwhile, at the same time, Laura and Mad Sweeney find themselves somewhat reluctantly thrown together, as Laura is eager to set out in pursuit of Shadow. Sweeney is just as determined as ever to get his coin back – but, realising that she is never going to return it willingly while she still relies on its magic, he has come to the conclusion that his best option is to actually help her. As they prepare to set out, though, Sweeney's decision to attempt to steal an oddly out-of-place New York taxi leads them to cross paths with Salim – who, it seems, has set out on his own quest to track down the Jinn he met a few episodes ago. So, the three resolve to travel together – their respective goals lining up quite conveniently.

Sunday, 4 June 2017

A Very Brief History of Interactive Fiction

Despite considering myself to be a life-long gamer, I have to admit that it actually took quite a while before I came to consider video games as a legitimate medium for telling good stories.

It was the arcade influence, I suppose. My first experiences with gaming all seemed to revolve around begging my mother for whatever loose change she happened to have on her, then feeding those coins into whatever arcade machine happened to be nearby (Double Dragon had been a personal favourite).

As much fun as these games had been, though, it had always been pretty clear that they weren't there to tell a compelling story. As a result, very few of those old arcade games had been able to make any sort of lasting impression on me (with Double Dragon only really standing out due to that one time I was able to beat the game, on a single credit, while a small group of older kids watched). They certainly didn't come to mean as much to me as many of the films I remember seeing, at around the same time.

My earliest experiences with console gaming were pretty much the same. The first console to be brought into the house (an Atari 2600, bought cheap as the rest of the world was moving on to Sega and Nintendo's first consoles) had, after all, only ever managed to offer a somewhat inferior version of many of those same arcade games. The second console (a NES, bought cheap as the rest of the world was moving on to the SNES and the Sega Megadrive) did seem to offer a little more, though – and, it was at about this point that my attitude toward gaming, and the games that I played, began to change.