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Number of Reviews: 3
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This particular competition (Speed IF Jacket 2) seems to have had a looser timeline than most, with license of up to a week given by the organizer and an IFMUD post indicating that entries were still being accepted a month after the official kickoff. I don't know how long Mr. Ashwell (who was the organizer) spent creating this work, but the original poem in the introductory sequence makes it obvious that Ugly Chapter is no rush job from a writing perspective.
This work quickly convinces you that it's going to be something very different and very good. In just a few short moves, Ashwell's masterful writing brings into focus the extremely inventive narrative framework he created in which to tell this story, while outlining enough features of the setting to show that he's invested some thought into making it all hang together.
There's a certain style of writing that I love, in which the author spends little or no time on formal exposition and instead builds up a picture through details. It's a difficult trick, but when done right, this literary pointillism gives the reader the vivid impression that he or she is looking through a window at a complete and consistent universe; the individual dots begin to merge into a coherent whole. Ugly Chapter pulls this off almost offhandedly, while it's busy snaring the player's attention with expertly crafted replies to the usual opening moves, replies that quickly make it clear that 1) this game will not have a "you" in in it in the conventional sense of IF, and 2) that won't reduce your enjoyment of the work one bit.
Ugly Chapter is an excellent use of the interactive fiction medium, conscripting even the parser interface into the service of making clear what's happening as the story unfolds. Once the method by which this story is ostensibly being conveyed starts to sink in, the player is quickly railroaded to the conclusion(Spoiler - click to show), before the novelty of the reader/player simultaneously experiencing "being" both the trapped protagonist and the pathos-inspiring narrator wears off.
I would not qualify this piece as a comedy, it's more like poetry. Perhaps what's most remarkable is the way that this work so dramatically exceeds the threshold of expectation set by Speed IF Jacket 2's structure: Authors were given a set of fictional, out-of-context blurbs -- each created by a different participant and given to one other -- and were supposed to create a work to which they would apply.
It's an interesting variation on the random-seed-ideas premise; instead of X components, authors are given X perceptions. As you might expect, many blurbs were silly. A silly piece in response would be entirely expected and appropriate. A story of this quality in response is astounding; Ashwell makes the pretend blurbs seem silly in an entirely new way.
Without knowing the development time, it's hard to say whether this should truly be considered speed IF. Either way, I'm glad I didn't miss it.
-- really, saying any more would be spoiling this short piece.
Ugly Chapter is a piece of Speed-IF, and it shows: implementation is sparse, the highly linear path through the game is slightly underclued (but see this walkthrough), and the story and setting, though good, are more hinted at than developed. Still, given the small scale, this is an impressive work.
And it makes me itch to see more pieces where the narrator has a strong emotional investment in what is going on in the game.
> examine you
to examine the narrator. The game is perhaps excessively verbose, but the quality of the writing keeps the extended passages from becoming too tedious. By the end of the game though I was pretty tired of the unrelenting resentment of the narrator.
Overall it's worth playing, it is extremely short and the pastiche of exaggerated tones and genres make a surprisingly rich texture, even if the end result is a bit jarring. If nothing else, the quotes preceding the game a worth are brief chuckle.
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This is version 4 of this page, edited by Emily Boegheim on 24 October 2010 at 8:19am. - View Update History - Edit This Page - Add a News Item