IF Comp ’09 – Richard Bos’ Eruption!

October 13, 2009

I’m playing Eruption next because it really, really pissed Conrad Redacted off, and I want to know why.  (Conrad, while I don’t think he’s a bad dude, does not strike me as having the world’s baldest trigger, but damn, man, “donkey headed jackass?”  I gotta see what that’s about.  Also, aren’t most jackasses donkey-headed by defi-no wait nothing I said nothing please don’t hit me)

Mostly Spoiler-Free Upshot: Well, it wasn’t an exciting game, but I can’t really be angry at it, and actually wrote sort of a defense of it near the end there without entirely intending to.  I guess I just felt sort of bad for Richard Bos, who I don’t think was trying to enter this game “to show his contempt for all scoring-worse-than-average game writers.”  I think he just wanted to write a not-very-interesting game with some mild puzzles and no egregious bugs or spelling errors and submit it to the comp.

When I first read Conrad’s post, I thought Bos had done something really snarky and actively mean to first-time IF authors, but it seems all he’s done is make a game that conveys not much of a story and is not art, only he had the audacity to spell everything correctly, which I think Conrad is taking as a “fuck you” to games that might have interesting stories but are riddled with egregious implementation errors.  I really don’t think Richard Bos meant to hurt anyone with his wanton acts of spellchecking, and I think maybe we should all calm down and eat a muffin.  Man, I wish I had a muffin.  Anyway.  Drama.

Update:  Oh, I missed a bit in the help text that explained how Richard Bos intended this as a demonstration of the minimum technical requirements for a competition entry.  That would probably alter my opinion of it and lengthen this rant, except it’s almost 10 AM (very late for me these days) and all I can think is “fix your bloody map, then, Jesus.”

[spoilers explode off of the page below!]

Starts with a quote from Hamlet.  I have no idea how to feel about that and so am remaining neutral.

Well, as of right now, I’m sort of bored.  Amazingly so, in fact, since the game just started and there are clearly things to go look at, like that shack over there.  Also I am on a tropical island, I think, which is not my usual state and should be rather exciting.  “You wake up hungover in a cave with no idea what’s going on” is not a terrible hook, either, it just sort of… fails to serve as one, perhaps due to the stark flat prose.

In the rock to the southwest is your cave
Wait, if I’m not in the habit of sleeping in caves, why is it “my cave?”  Have I given it a name?  If I haven’t, I’m going to.  I shall call it Cavey.  Say hello to the readers, Cavey!  Shake hands!

Where is the volcanic rumbling?  I was told there would be volcanic rumbling.

As you descend into the crater, the environment makes you remember why you were drinking yesterday.  It had been predicted that the volcano was going to erupt soon, probably today.
That’s actually sort of hilarious, in an Arthur Dent kind of way.

At this point the Island Path, running around the foot of the volcano to the west over the promontory to the southeast, crosses a small stream which runs from the slopes of the mountain to the south down into the sea[.]
Your typical IF player has no idea how to parse that sentence, because our brains are on autopilot scanning for exits.  Which way is the sea?  Or, for that matter, the stream?  Oh, hey, there’s a path to the east!  We’ll have that one, then.

Wait, the breadfruit grove to the north?  I just left that breadfruit grove from the east!  Sure, it’s probably a large breadfruit grove that extends both to my north and to my east, but anything outside standard IF location conventions breaks my damn brain.  I wouldn’t mind quite so much if the breadfruit grove were said to be to my north and east, but it’s not, just the north of me.

Uh.  And I went north, and wound up back in the breadfruit grove, then went west, and wound up back in the harbour.  THIS IS TRIPPING ME OUT MAN

Oh, good, a crusty note from my crusty friend, who at least left me a sailboat before he and everyone else abandoned me on a doomed island.  Did no one think to look in Cavey?  He’s only got one room!

I don’t know if you’ve ever sailed there, but if not, the Southern Islands are, surprisingly enough, due south.
Jack thinks he’s being wry here, but considering the breadfruit grove debacle, that actually is kind of surprising.

Y’know, in real life I would never have this problem, which I have all the time in games:  do you escape the doomed whatnot right away, or do you investigate it first to make sure you haven’t missed anything, because you probably won’t be able to go back?  I feel like the second impulse, which would be absolutely idiotic in real life, is nearly always the correct one in games.  That actually sort of bothers me now that I’m thinking about it.

No Islander in his right senses would consider going out on the sea without a decent supply of drinking water.  You might die of thirst, surrounded by water!
Yeah, that really would suck a lot, huh.  “Hey, water?”  “Fuck you, I’m salty.”

I have no idea what this broken altar to Machichouti is going to be useful for, but if the answer is “nothing,” I’ll be very surprised.

…y’know, you could’ve mentioned I’d need something to eat when you were telling me I’d need something to drink.  Granted, I probably could’ve worked that one out for myself if I’d thought about it, but still.

It was nice of them to leave me a single ripe breadfruit.  I hope it’s enough to keep me from dying on the ocean.

Oh.  Okay.  That was it.  Not terribly exciting, but I don’t think I could work up any sort of anger over it… well, I could over the map thing, if I tried really hard – when I go west I generally expect to be able to go back east and be back where I was – but I’m not sure I can actually be angry with it for failing to express – hey, what was up with that quote from Hamlet? – anything, or be art, or whatever – hey, that broken altar didn’t have a purpose after all!  Consider me surprised!

I dunno, man.  The game might not have been saying much, but it wasn’t entirely a void:  the Jack character was almost two-dimensional, and the “No islander would” failure message gave me a sense of my character living on this island, learning the customs, adopting the identity, trying to fit in as well as possible, even though it was never explicitly stated that I was a foreigner.  (Cue the Mooninites to make “Double Vision” jokes.)

Yeah.  You know, when it comes down to it, choosing between games that say nothing competently and games that might be saying something but you have no idea what it is, because the thing is unplayable, is like deciding whether you’d rather listen to some boring guy talk about the weather or an unmedicated schizophrenic dude who mostly speaks in Black Chinese, a language he invented that shorts out wiretapping devices on contact, talk about… probably something.  The second guy might be more interesting in the hypothetical, but functionally it doesn’t matter.  (He might even be talking about the weather also, it’s just that things sound so much more interesting in Black Chinese.)  The first dude has at least demonstrated that, if he ever thought of something interesting to say, he would be able to communicate it clearly and distinctly, as he does the weather.  If they teamed up, of course, together they would be the most fascinating person at any given party, or, to de-analogize clunkily, a comp-winning IF game.  Having something to say and being able to say it are both important, therefore competent implementation is important, therefore this game is not, I would argue, worthless.

That being said, it wasn’t all that great.  I’ll give it a four.


  1. I do think Conrad and Bos could write a great game if they worked together.

    • Maybe we could handcuff them to each other and they’d be forced to cooperate? It always worked on television.

    • I have nothing to learn from Richard Bos, who does not solve one interesting technical challenge in his game. Nor does it mean anything that I could help him write a better game. I could, but then so could a small child, a Roscharch, or keeping a dream journal.

      In fact, I recommend a partnership with a small child to Bos for his next game. That’s how Carroll wrote _Alice in Wonderland_.

  2. The path is circular, I think–so when you go north along it, you enter the next place from the east. (Or west.) This still led me to wander around aimlessly for awhile. It would’ve been a good idea to say that the path was curved.

    Leaving aside the author’s attitude, I pretty much agree with Jota’s comments at Conrad’s blog. I’d rather play an innocuous but functional timewaster like this than a game like [one you haven’t played yet], which does some really exciting and innovative stuff and is created with love, and which also causes many violent impacts of my head against the wall. Not the good kind of violent impact of my head against the wall, either.

  3. The path is circular, I think–so when you go north along it, you enter the next place from the east. (Or west.)
    If I’m going to wind up southwest from where I was, I want to get there by fucking typing fucking southwest. I feel very strongly about this and Richard Bos can go dip his balls in it.

    And this… here is a thing I just realized. The person who makes a game full of heart and implementation errors is pretty much a spellcheck and several beta testers away from making a really good game, which is something the competent-but-dull author might never achieve. Doesn’t it then make sense to critique the shit out of the first author, to say “no, this is not good enough, you can do much better and this is how?” I just don’t see how glossing over a game’s faults is supposed to help the author grow.

  4. Doesn’t it then make sense to critique the shit out of the first author, to say “no, this is not good enough, you can do much better and this is how?”

    For example, by writing a public review that says: “Do you understand this? Fuck you.” — when the game played was a corrupted version of the game on an interperter it wasn’t built for? And not even noting the fact? Is that your idea of constructive criticism?

    I just don’t see how glossing over a game’s faults is supposed to help the author grow.

    Who has advocated glossing over a game’s faults? Or do you just like straw men?


    • For example, by writing a public review that says: “Do you understand this? Fuck you.” — when the game played was a corrupted version of the game on an interperter it wasn’t built for? And not even noting the fact? Is that your idea of constructive criticism?

      Well, it doesn’t really matter if it is or not, since I’m the one that wrote that review, not Jenni. But no, that wasn’t constructive criticism, and it wasn’t meant to be, either — it was me letting off steam at a game that was riddled with bugs on an interpreter that was nominally perfectly capable of running that game type, and I’d seen nothing that indicated otherwise. I would also like to point out, for the record, that what I said was “Fuck you, game.”, not “Fuck you, Conrad Cook.” I expect you’re probably an okay dude; I’ve never met you, though. I have met Lair of the Cyber-Cow, and it was nonsensical, unplayable, and frustrating.

      Anyway, just pointing out that attempting to refute Jenni’s statement by pointing at my review is basically a non-sequitur. Any constructive criticism I might happen to provide in one of my reviews is basically coincidence, and I’ve never stated otherwise.

      • Actually, I’ve just gone back and re-read that review, and as it turns out we’re both wrong — I was aware that LotCC might not work properly in Spatterlight, because of something called SCARE, and I did make mention of that fact up front. I played it anyway, in the expectation that it might be broken in a way that I would find entertaining to write about. (And it was.) So, if you really are deeply personally offended at my giving your game the finger, well, I think you’ve got little cause to be, really. I am plainly not someone to be taken seriously.

      • I am plainly not someone to be taken seriously.

        If you honestly feel that way about yourself, then shut up.

        I mean, that’s like writing a game for the IF Comp that starts off with an apology for not meaning anything. Why bother?

        But better than shutting up, find something that means something to you, that you can be sincere about, and talk about that. Raise the level of the discussion, rather than bringing it down.


    • I love straw men. Love ’em. And no one’s advocated glossing over a game’s faults that I remember. When did I say “fuck you” was my idea of constructive criticism? Have you been dipping into my straw men?

      Also, what is the hostility level in this conversation? It’s hard to judge without tone of voice or facial expressions. My personal hostility level is zero. I kind of just wanted to share opinions all congenial-like, as though we were on one of those PBS talk shows where everyone wears huge eyeglasses and corduroy jackets.

  5. I’m not hostile.

    But I am serious.

    What I am against is people being uncivilized in the way they write reviews. Telling someone they should give up and not enter games in the IF Comp, as Wesley Osam does frequently, or telling someone to fuck off — or however he put it — are neither of them defensible on the grounds that they are constructive criticism.

    Jenny, you say in the packaging info in the header of your blog that you are selling vitriol. Why? How does that help anyone? Vitriol is mean. Are you a mean person? Do you think being mean is fun?


    • I think if you had not by this point lost all perspective where Jenni is concerned, you would be able to see that her heading presents “interactive fiction reviews” and “general vitriol” as two different things. Also, that she is not Wesley Osam. Or Riff. So it’s not clear why you think she should have to answer for your vitriol regarding the negativity of other reviewers.

      Anyway, you seem like an okay guy, but your inability to let go the LAIR of the CyberCow reviews from last year seems really unfortunate. I get that it must have been very disappointing.

      • Jeremy, people really are mean in their IF Comp reviews. That’s not something I’m making up. And you can see all the (let’s be honest) sick excuses they make for being mean — that they shouldn’t be taken seriously; that they’re somehow really being kind; that they’re heroically clearing away incompetent authors from the IF authoring community.

        Certainly I was disappointed that people like Riff, who I was hoping to entertain with my modest little game, were toxic and abusive. But I was also part of the author’s forum, and I saw the cheerfulness and excitement unravel as new authors were fed mouthful after mouthful of shit.

        By all means, if a game is buggy, say it’s buggy. If you didn’t like it, say you didn’t like it. But the toxicity and visciousness are not needed and they damage the IF community by lowering the tone and preventing people from coming back.

        And it’s not true that Jenny somehow isn’t really mean in her reviews. She wrote a blog post last year, “About the meanness of these reviews” — or something of the sort — where she gave one of the standard excuses abusers always give — it hurts her more than it hurts you, or something.

        This is a problem, and we need to address it.


      • I wrote a very cranky reply here, which I then deleted in favor of sending you an email, because crankiness and defensiveness are not my favorite gears to be in, conversationally or otherwise. I would like to address this one bit, though, because it’s sort of amazingly misrepresentative:

        […]where she gave one of the standard excuses abusers always give — it hurts her more than it hurts you, or something.
        When I read that, I thought, “What? I would never say that, because it’s fucking stupid.” What I did say, admittedly rather blithely and naively, is here.

    • Of course I don’t think I’m a mean person. No one thinks their game is bad, no one thinks they’re a mean person. Being nice to people is one of the few moral convictions I carry, actually, because the way you treat people affects the way they treat people, and on a large scale niceness can change the world. (I realize this is some major beauty-pageant bullshit, but I’m being sincere.) I have never once written anything for the sake of being gratuitously mean, because that would be mean, and therefore not nice. (I do still feel bad about the vehemence of my remarks towards one certain game, but come on, making your players type WAKE UP like six friggin’ times is a douchebag move and deserved some yelling.)

      As far as this blog is concerned, though, the main thing I want is the right to be honest without pulling punches. I want to say that I liked things I liked, hated things I hated, said “fuck” a great deal at things that were bullshit, and made fun of things that were ridiculous, without having to stop and say “but I recognize that the author of this game is a living being just as I am with feelings and a heart.”

      What I am hoping with the big neon signs everywhere saying “this mean bitch is going to be snarky at you” is that people will go in with the expectation that I am going to rip their game a new asshole, then be relieved to read a mostly fair review with only a couple fucks in it. This may be misguided, sure, but I think if the same reviews were posted in the =^.^= Happy Kitten Blog of Loving Every Game I’ve Ever Played, people might start actually crying, and I would feel just awful.

      There, now you know the terrible secret of Animal Crossing. What is this discussion about exactly? I feel called upon to defend myself and I’m not really sure what I’ve done.

  6. If you honestly feel that way about yourself, then shut up.

    Nope! The internet is stuck with me, I’m afraid. Fortunately, you needn’t feel obligated to read my blog if you don’t want to.

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