A couple of nuggets of IF news:

I've mentioned a couple of times how much I liked Eric Eve's Nightfall. It's been brought to my attention that you can now play the game online, assuming you have Silverlight installed (you may have picked it up through Windows update).

If you're interested, you can also find a transcript of the online XYZZY awards ceremony here, although nothing save an egregious typo hints at the nerves I was experiencing at the time.


Best Puzzles

Image from Gun Mute's IFWiki page.

Gun Mute was nominated for every 2008 XYZZY Award going, and won Best Puzzles. Kind of interesting, because if you ask me what the one thing I like least about most IF games is... it's the puzzles.

"The XYZZY Awards are an event to recognize extraordinary interactive fiction, serving a similar role to the Academy Awards."


Thursday Comic

I've resolved to finish the book I'm reading before I touch anything else, but I found this xkcd comic from a while back to be quite memorable.


Monday Movie: A Bittersweet Life

Knowing that the next film Kim Ji-woon made after A Bittersweet Life was called 'The Good The Bad The Weird', it's hard not to see it in a new light. The camera-work, the score, the dry sense of humour, the way the film slowly escalates from carefully paced characterisation to an epic and violent confrontation – a lot about it is definitely Leone-esque, and in the best possible way.

But influences aside, Kim marked himself out as a director to watch with this film, depicting thunderous gun battles with the same evocative and eye-pleasing artistry that he applies to moments of lonely, late-night insomnia.

Dead Like Ants: Make Rocket Go Now

For EnvComp, the IF environment competition...

Dead Like Ants
An IF fairy tale, of sorts.

Dead Like Ants is a low-fi, fairy tale-ish game for an Interactive Fiction (i.e. text game) environment competition. Explore your surroundings, meet strange new people, try to stand-out from your thousands of identical sisters... And perhaps at the end of it all, you'll grow some wings.

-Download Dead Like Ants as a .t3 file [mirror] [random mirror] (350kb)
-Download Dead Like Ants as a windows executable (1Mb)
-A download page for both competition entries can be found here.


-If you have Windows, you may prefer to download the zipped executable. Just click the link above, unzip the download and double click the application.

-Alternatively, if you're a seasoned IF player, or you're using Linux or a Mac, download the .t3 version. Unzip the file and run it with an interpreter from this page.

-(You might also like to play the competition's only other entry. To my chagrin, this other game seems to be rather good, but you'll need to run it with a Z code interpreter. Before you get too confused, note that some interpreters can run both games. Try Gargoyle for Windows, or Spatterlight for Mac.)


You can find the official EnvComp reviews here, as well as reviews and mentions from SPAG, Baf's Guide, Gnome's Lair, Auntie Pixelante, TIGSource and Jay Is Games.

Click here to read all my blog posts on Dead Like Ants.



My latest game is almost out the door. Since I've entered it in a competition, I'll let the competition organiser release it first before I post it here.

Into the Mind of the Sky Spiders: Part 37

Previously: “Transported, somehow, from the place where EON-1 was supposed to be, we found ourselves in strange company - and in Unity City. Perhaps now we would finally get some answers...”

Part 37: Questioning Remus

As darkness drew over Unity City, Una and I sat in an electric lit drawing room, opposite Remus – the androgynous and beautiful emissary of the Sky Spiders.

 “Questions,” Remus said. “I will answer what I can.”

 Una snorted. “And who are we asking?”

 Remus looked confused, as if the answer should already be evident. “You're asking me. Remus.”

 “And what are you?” Una pressed. “Who do you represent?”

 Remus smiled angelically. “I represent myself. I am neither a puppet of, nor a party to the entities you call the Sky Spiders. It would be quite contrary to their intentions if I were.”

 I leaned forward. “And what are their intentions?”

 “In general, their intentions are as varied and obscure as human intentions. With regard to me, their intentions are merely that I should live and be myself.”

 Una scoffed. “And why are you so special? Why do they care about you so much, compared to the millions they've killed?”

 Remus shifted uncomfortably. “I am... It is difficult to phrase this. I am not in any way better, but I am among the first altered humans.”

 “Altered by the Sky Spiders?” I asked.

 Remus nodded.

 “If not better,” Una said, “altered in what way? And why?”

 Remus looked down at the plain carpet between us. “We are altered to survive.”

 I asked the obvious question. “To survive what?”

 Remus looked me straight in the eye. “To survive ourselves.”

 Una and I looked at one another. Una touched a gloved hand to her pale earlobe. “I must admit, I find that confusing.”

 “Allow me to explain,” Remus said. “You're aware that the Sky Spiders are ancient. They're also extremely well travelled. They've seen a billion worlds, and on those worlds the ruins of a thousand civilisations.”

 This was the kind of thing I'd always hoped to find out about. My voice quivered as I asked, “Ruins?”

 “Always,” Remus said. “If not immediately, then within mere centuries, no time at all for the Sky Spiders. Seeing this same pattern again and again, they were forced to acknowledge one unpleasant fact: with almost no exceptions save their own, civilisations are inherently self-destructive.”

 “You've seen the beginnings of it yourself,” Remus went on. “Machineguns mowing down hundreds; bombs dropping on thousands; the organised, industrialised slaughter of millions. Your capacity for killing humans is increasing exponentially, and you've only just started to scratch the surface. In time you would discover ways to shatter whole cities in an instant, to darken the sky and poison the soil. In an instant!”

 Remus' jaw was set tensely. “And all this before you overcome your instincts to compete for resources and territory, before you see clearly through prejudice and superstition. In the time it takes you to learn to never use such weapons, you will have had countless opportunities to send yourselves back to the stone age, or wipe yourselves out utterly.”

 Una let out a long sigh. “And you wouldn't ever use weapons like that? You see clearly? You have no base instincts?”

 Remus spoke without any pride or arrogance. “Correct.”

 “So,” Una said, “you're our replacements? They wipe us out and you step in to carry on where we left off? And somehow that's not the same as us wiping ourselves out?”

 “That is a statement with many glaring inaccuracies.”

 Una spread her hands in a sarcastic parody of magnanimity. “Do tell.”

 “The Sky Spiders did not intentionally wipe out anyone. Although there were numerous unintentional deaths associated with the Sky Spiders' work evaluating and transforming this world, the majority of humans that were killed were engaged in the act of interfering or attacking the Sky Spiders. Futilely, I might add.”

 “But understandably, as well,” Una said coldly.

 “Yes,” Remus said. “I regret their deaths. I am not a replacement human, I am not in any way distinct from you, except insofar as I am not self-destructive. I would not have had anyone die. But... Forgive me, Viscountess Una, but you come from a family of hunters. You have culled deer because you know that it is necessary for their long term survival, even though this would likely be small comfort to the surviving members of the herd. The Sky Spiders perceive their work with us in the same terms. They are callous in their compassion.”

 “If that's true,” Una said, “why are you sending your possessed humans to attack Fortress City?”

 Remus looked very uncomfortable. “That is not a question I can answer. All I will say, skirting on the edge of indiscretion, is that if you are concerned about the fate of Fortress City, perhaps that is the place you should look for answers.”

 I'll confess, I wasn't interested in Fortress City in that moment. “What else can you tell us,” I asked, “about other civilisations, about the path of technological species and intelligent life?”

 Remus smiled. “There was another like you, some time ago. Arrived to seek knowledge, to interface with our analytical machines. We directed this person to our - somewhat misnamed - panopticon. You knew them as EON-3, although as we grew up these past few years, my siblings and I called it 'the Seer'. Not in any mystical sense, merely in the sense of one who sees things.”

 Remus seemed to think of something suddenly. “Would you like to meet the Seer, Doctor Peregrine? Perhaps it can finally sate your curiosity.”

 I nodded eagerly. Finally, after the Select Committee, after risking my life on three continents, after military work and intellectual drudgery – finally I could sense the chance to dip my fingertips into the knowledge of the Sky Spiders.


Next week: Peregrine finds himself torn between two equal and opposite devotions – an impossible decision on the horizon! Check back in a week's time for the next instalment of Into the Mind of the Sky Spiders!


Monday Movie: The Seventh Seal

"You drew black."
"Appropriate, don't you think?"

Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal has a reputation as the quintessential art-house movie: turgid and obscure. But I actually find it quite a snappy film to watch: only ninety minutes long, and with a mood that oscillates perfectly between dark foreboding, observant wit and outright comic relief.


Into the Mind of the Sky Spiders: Part 36

Previously: “Transported, somehow, from the place where EON-1 was supposed to be, we found ourselves in strange company - and in Unity City. Our quest to learn about the Sky Spiders seemed to have come to a premature end – and to make matters worse, I learned that my close companion Lady Una was dying.”

Part 36: Kissing Una

We stood on the balcony, watching the last red rays of the setting sun colour the marble rooftops of Unity City. Lady Una – just Una now, we'd decided – leant over the railing, the wind snatching at a few strands of hair that had slipped from her bun.

“Had you been much to Unity City before all this happened?” she asked.

I shook my head. “To parliament at times. But they didn't like me much there. A few meetings with the Minister for Science, when she wasn't in Kingchester, General Cass as well, the bastard...”

“Always business.”

“Yes, unfortunately. Has it changed much?”

She looked around at the various rooftops and spires and domes. “No. Except it didn't used to all be white. It was grimy and sooty, like you always assume a city is. I grew up here, with my mother. I was always getting on the train to go visit my uncle in Circhester, or on the tram to visit disreputable characters in districts I shan't name. Do you remember me from before? You knew my uncle, didn't you?”

“He was a lesser evil. I never cared for weapons research, but with the Danegeld war, and then the Sky Spider seeding, I could never really get away from the military. Your uncle I didn't mind so much, although I suppose his war machines had killed more than any of his peers'. Do I remember you? I know he always had family around, but I never noticed anyone in particular.”

She pivoted around, turning her back to the view. “I'm sure we must have been in the mansion at the same time. Probably more than once.”

I said nothing. It was getting dark.

“It's for the best though,” she said. “If I'd been able to get close to you, I'd only have used you.”

“In what way?”

She smiled wryly. “Blasted title. I could never do anything by myself. I was always looking for ways to get into lectures, exhibits, dissections... I'd have hit the jackpot with you.”

“Honestly,” I said, “I didn't do all that much until the Sky Spiders came along. And then I only came to prominence because all the scientists better qualified to investigate wound up dying. Were you really such a minx?”

She looked down at her hoop skirt. “It's academic now. I'm not even human any more.”

“That's very academic,” I agreed. “Almost philosophical.”

The last sliver of sun disappeared behind the city skyline. Everything became dull and grey.

“I thought we might save the world,” Una said. “Instead there's only three of us left alive, and we're no use to anyone.”

“Saving the world,” I mused. “Would you think me a traitor if I said that I was only ever interested in finding out what the Sky Spiders are really up to?”

She scoffed. “I would, as a matter of fact. Peregrine...”


She looked away from me. “Sometimes I forget who you are. There's the person I've spent all this time with, confided in, grown fond of... And then there's your place in history. Your role. Not a hereditary title, but things you've done of your own volition.”

“You mean the Select Committee.”

“You went to chat with the creatures that destroyed my body. To offer our unconditional surrender.”

“And you want, what, revenge?”

An angry expression flashed across her face before she quashed it. “You know what: maybe I do. Maybe I don't care why they've done what they've done. They have no right to cause such misery and suffering. Look around you. This was a city of millions of people. And now it's completely silent. Everyone is dead or forcibly subdued. These aren't actions that you try to understand and appease. This was an attack that we had to repel or die trying.”

I tried to keep my voice level. “Was it really, though? General Cass decided that it was, and he did die trying, along with a million other people who might well still be alive right now if he'd kept his anger and his arrogance in check.”

“Or maybe, if Cass hadn't given John Kirkham the change to steal Prometheus, everybody in Fortress City would be dead now as well.”

It was a good point. I struggled to think of a riposte for a little while, and then sighed. “I don't want to argue with you, Una.”

“Well perhaps I want to argue with you.”

I laughed. “Okay. I won't argue with that.”

Una touched a gloved thumb and forefinger to the bridge of her nose and laughed with me. “You bastard. I think I'd prefer it if I didn't find you so agreeable.”

I pushed her hand aside and leaned over to kiss her. She placed her hand on my shoulder and kissed back, then broke away and let her forehead rest against mine.

“You idiot,” she said. “There are still plenty of women left in the world who haven't been rebuilt with machinery.”

“Do you remember kissing me when you thought I might die? I've been alive some time since, so I just thought I should repay you.”

“With interest, it seems,” she said - then pulled away from me suddenly. “Remus. How long have you been there?”

Remus, standing just inside the door to the balcony, bowed with a flourish. “I was waiting for a suitable moment to interject.”

Una slipped her arm in mine. “There's no time like the present.”

Remus smiled. “I said that I would answer what questions I could. If you would step inside, perhaps we can begin.”


Next week: Questions? Most certainly! Answers? Well, I guess you'll just have to check back in a week's time for the next instalment of Into the Mind of the Sky Spiders!


Small Potato (Martian)

Image source with more information
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

Deimos, the smaller of Mars' two moons, doesn't get nearly enough love, it has to be said. Time, then, for Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter to turn its amazingly powerful camera on this little rock and show it to us in unprecedented detail.

Deimos is also the better behaved moon. Phobos (which MRO photographed last year), orbiting Mars fast and close, is expected to break up in the Martian atmosphere within the next hundred million years.


Into the Mind of the Sky Spiders: Part 35

Previously: “Transported, somehow, from the place where EON-1 was supposed to be, we found ourselves in strange company - and in Unity City.”

Part 35: Remus

Lady Una folded her arms. “Do you know this person, Peregrine?”

I shook my head.

With a swoosh of silk robes, our new friend bowed. “You may call me Remus. There's no need to be formal. I already know of you, Peregrine, and the Select Committee. When we found you, I'm afraid you'd experienced a fatal level of exposure to the toxins that result from our work in that area. We found it necessary to retrieve you and perform a mild restitution.”

“Necessary?” I asked. The servants, their heads bound with glowing Sky Spider machinery, silently placed trays of food on the room's single low table. I was hungry, I realised suddenly.

“Morally necessary,” Remus said. “It was within our power to help you.”

Lady Una swirled about in her hoop skirt, trying to avoid the servants and keep a careful watch on Remus at the same time. “And you brought me along too, because I seemed to be attached to the doctor?”

Remus turned to her, ignoring her question. “And you: Viscountess Una of Circhester. You're quite a peculiar case. No immediate danger, but we thought that we could at least discuss your condition with you.”

“I'm certain I will discuss no such thing with you.”

Remus' delicate features assumed a sympathetic expression. “But is the pain bearable?”

Lady Una flushed red. “There's no pain. What are you talking about?”

“You're an appalling liar. Even if I hadn't seen your organs for myself, I wouldn't believe you. Without drastic improvement - or replacement - that primitive machinery will kill you just as certainly as if your body had never been repaired. It would be remarkable if you lived another two years. Fortunately, we can help in that regard.”

Lady Una spoke very carefully. “You damn well keep away from me.”

“If that is your wish.”

Remus turned to me. “I am sure that you have many questions. I may not have answers for all of them, but I will be happy to hear them. In the meantime, perhaps you would care to eat. You must have questions for Una as well.”

The servants filed out - silently, orderly. Remus followed close behind. The double doors to the room closed with a heavy click.

I looked at Lady Una. She was as angry as I'd ever seen her.

“When he used the plural,” she said, “when he said 'we' or 'our', did he- or she- Was that referring to-?”

“I don't know,” I said. I turned to the food on the low table. “I'm hungry.”

“Were they uncertain what to feed us?” she said. “They seem to have prepared a little of everything. Does lobster really go with cheese?”

“Are you in pain?” I asked

“And I suppose they expect us to sit on the floor as well. Although, since my backside is made of metal, it's actually quite a comfortable position for me.”

We sat down on the floor either side of the table. Utensils had been laid out for us in long, silver rows. Spoons, forks, knives, chopsticks - and items I'd never seen before.

“Are you in pain?” I repeated.

She speared a potato with a fork. “My vital organs are crammed into bottles connected by rubber hoses. I might have become used to it over time, but I suppose there is a constant... discomfort. I certainly wouldn't suggest making yourself into a half-machine creature like me without very good reason.”

“And 'viscountess'?”

She turned the fork around, spinning the potato on her plate. “Didn't you think it strange that my uncle didn't want to see or speak to any of you after we arrived back from the Twisted Forests? He was like you in that respect. Always curious and eager for knowledge.”

“You said he'd taken a turn for the worse.”

She avoided my eye. “Yes, about as worse as it gets. He was already dead by the time I arrived.”

“I'm sorry.”

“Don't be. It's not like it was a surprise. Anyway, the title's hereditary. I'm his only surviving relative. But I'm sure you'd be the first to point out that it all seems so pointless and arbitrary. It's not like I earned it. I'd sooner be a doctor than a viscountess or a lady.”

“Maybe it'll suffice to be a Una.”

She smiled. “I'd like to think so.”

I looked down at my empty plate. “If... If they - whoever 'they' are, can help you - could end your discomfort and prolong your life, would you let them?”

She kept smiling. “If 'they' are the Sky Spiders, then I'd rather die.”


Next week: What do the Sky Spiders want with our world? To what end have they caused a billion deaths? Who or what is Remus? There may not be any answers to these questions, but still check back in a week's time for the next instalment of Into the Mind of the Sky Spiders!



Thursday Comic

The Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite - Gerard Way, Gabriel Bá et al.

Thirty years ago, forty-three women - most of them single, and none of them showing any signs of pregnancy - spontaneously and inexplicably gave birth to extraordinary children. Sir Reginald Hargreeves, a.k.a. the Monocle, world renowned scientist and secret space alien, sought out these children, succeeding in finding and adopting seven. When asked why, he simply replied, “To save the world.”

The Umbrella Academy is the kind of story where the writer - Gerard Way, apparently a well-known musician* - has clearly let his imagination run away with him. At a lightning fast sprint. Creating a book with talking chimps, the zombie-robot Gustave Eiffel and a violinist so talented she can cut you in half (lengthways) with a single note is quite a feat in itself - but more than unchained imagination, what‘s impressive here is how well this all hangs together, how all these disparate and impossible elements are melded into a cohesive whole.

I suppose that, since it’s about super-powered people trying to save the world, this is really a superhero comic. But it doesn’t feel like one. It feels like a story about a dysfunctional adoptive family trying to live and love in a world where pretty much anything can happen. A world that looks set to end in only a few days as a direct result of their own bitter in-fighting. It pleases me that the next story arc featuring these characters is already underway. If Apocalypse Suite doesn’t quite manage to find the time (in between flights of fancy) to fully flesh them out, that’s only to say that it left me wanting more.

*I don't really follow music.


Big Glossy Books of Joy

So I finally got fed up with sifting through the superhero comics in my local bookshops and decided to make an order from Amazon. I value the range of choice that you get from ordering things over the Internet, but I still like being able to pick up a book before I buy it, flick through the pages, check there are no surprises.

The surprises I got with these latest books from Amazon, however, were all pleasant. For a start, I didn't realise two of them were hardback, although they're both recently published so maybe I should have expected that (or just, you know, read the descriptions more carefully).

And there's also a lot of pages between these three. Honestly, I don't know where I'm going to put them. All my bookshelves are full as it is. Still, if finally reorganising things is the price I have to pay for hundreds of pages of gorgeous artwork (well, that and the money), then I think it's worth it.


Into the Mind of the Sky Spiders: Part 34

Previously: “We had found the outpost of EON-1 to be manned only by an automated wireless transmitter, patched into the network of Sky Spider machinery that grows through the soil of the Poison Wastes. Unfortunately, our activities drew the attentions of a Sky Spider automaton.”

Part 34: Commute

It steamed fast towards us, crawling bat-like over the ruined soil, moving with impossible grace, as if it didn't even touch the ground. It was transparent. Barely visible, except where the thick, smoky air curled around it.

Sigrid fired her rifle at point blank range.

The automaton breezed passed her as if it hadn't even noticed.

I grabbed Lady Una's wrist, feeling the steel beneath her sleeve. She lowered the barrel of her automatic pistol, rolling back just in time to get out of the thing's path.

It stopped in front of the ragged tent and, without even pausing, tore it away from its moorings with huge, inhuman hands. The small bundle of equipment within lay exposed.

A glassy hand lowered over the antennae of the transmitter, fingers multiplying and growing to spread out over the cylinder of the analytical engine and the hoses that bound them to the throbbing black machinery in the soil. And then EON-1's equipment was gone - fading to darkness, silhouette, non-existence. The hole in the soil sealed up in the blink of an eye, closing like an earthy iris.

Lady Una swore again, the curse muffled by her face mask.

The automaton turned around. Something vaguely resembling a head turned from Sigrid, to Una, to myself. Stayed fixed on me.

Its hand shot out again - smaller now, with fewer fingers, almost human. It closed around my throat before I could even think about trying to get away. The grip was like iron. No, worse, like the grip of an ancient oak, infused with the strength of aeons. Lady Una shouted something.

It lifted me up off my feet. Another hand grabbed my gas mask and tore it away from face. I screamed with pain. The thick, toxic smoke in the air burned my eyes. Through my tears I could see the Sky Spider automaton looking at me, face to face.

I gasped for air, but nothing could get past the choking grip of its fingers. The air was poison anyway, without my mask. Lady Una was firing her gun, but it seemed very distant. Blood thumped insistently in my ears.

I could feel myself starting to faint. It was with a strange detachment that I noticed Sigrid had pulled a characteristic disappearing act. Small wonder, I thought, that she had survived so-


An elegant sitting room, the walls lined with books. Double windows stood open onto the balcony, providing a narrow view of a marble-white city, tinged orange by the sunset.

Lady Una stood up from her chair with a swoosh of skirts. “Wait,” she said, “what just happened?”

I looked down at myself. I was wearing a new suit. I felt clean and healthy. The pain of breathing that I'd grown used to over the past days was gone. “We were in the Poison Wastes,” I said. “There was a Sky Spider machine.”

Lady Una suddenly patted the sides of her dress. “My pistol. I assembled it myself. It's one of a kind.”

I shrugged. “I've lost two and counting so far.”

She fixed her aristocratic gaze on me. “Oh, don't you delight in being unsurprised. I suppose this kind of thing is all old hat to you, isn't it?”

I started to speak.

“I'm not interested in your wit, Peregrine,” she interrupted, before I'd even got a syllable out. “I just want to know where we are. And perhaps some minimal understanding of how we got here wouldn't go astray either.”

I pointed out the open window. “I recognise that skyline. Don't you?”

She rotated perfectly on her hoop skirt and stared out at the sunset, her hands on her hips. After a moment, she sighed deeply. “I suppose it would have to be, wouldn't it?”

“Unity City.”

The voice came from the door to the room, now thrown wide open.

Servants entered: human and immaculately dressed, their heads encased in bright white knots of Sky Spider machinery. Following close behind them was a tall, slender person: androgynous and impossibly beautiful.

“Dr Peregrine Gleve,” the person said. “I'm sure there must be some disorientation, but please allow me to explain. I brought you here from the brink of death.”


Next week: Unity City. Everybody speaks badly of it, but is it such a bad place? Then again, surely some things are too good to be true... Check back in a week's time for the next instalment of Into the Mind of the Sky Spiders!