Author Highlights: Adam Cadre

(Brian Rushton) #1

This is my first post in a new series on IF authors with a notable corpus of games. This is not a ‘who’s who’ or ‘best authors’ series, as some authors (such as Jeremy Freese) are notable for only a single game. Also, I won’t focus heavily on biographical history outside of IF (so, for instance, I won’t reveal the many pseudonyms or discuss the personal life of the authors).

There are six authors who have especially strong portfolios: Emily Short, Adam Cadre, Andrew Plotkin, and Jon Ingold each have 2 XYZZY nominations and an IFComp. In addition, Steve Meretzky and Porpentine have portfolios whose views and ratings are comparable to the first four.

I’ll be covering these first six authors alphabetically by first name. The first author is Adam Cadre.

Background

Adam Cadre entered the IF world in late 1996, appearing on the forums and asking for help on his first game, I-0. That game was released in 1997, earning him his first XYZZY.

Cadre had an education in film, and frequently credits films for inspiration for his games.

He started Spring Thing in 2001 before passing it on to Greg Boettcher.

He went on to win numerous awards before tapering off after 2003. He took a long break before coming back with his biggest game, Endless, Nameless, in 2012. Outside of IF, he is known for running the Little Lytton contest (which has been mentioned in People magazine), and releasing the novel Ready, Okay! in 2000.

Selected Works

These first few posts will have the most ‘selected works’. Cadre in particular has picked 8 games that he publicly displays, and has removed his name from the others. I have to discuss at least one of those anonymous games, however: I-0.

I-0 (1997)

I-0 was Cadre’s first game, and won the 1997 XYZZY award for Best Game, among others. It featured a hitch-hiking teenage girl protagonist name Tracy Valencia, and immediately attracted attention for having wildly variable playthroughs, something which was not common at the time. One of the earliest comments in raif is from a player who was shocked to hear someone mention a gas station and its attendant, as they had never run into anything like that.

I-0 features death-defying situations such as dangerous drivers, excessive heat, and poisonous animals, as well as a large cast of characters. It has been disowned by the author, likely due to its heavy implementation of risque commands.

Photopia (1998)

Photopia is one of the most-played and best-known IF games in existence, although its high status has made it a target for skeptical reviewers in recent years. When it came out in 1998, it was revolutionary. It features nonlinear storytelling, being divided into color-coded episodes that are presented out of order, requiring the player to piece together the story. It introduces a menu-based conversation system, multiple viewpoints, and two parallel storylines that only slowly merge together.

While not the first ‘puzzle-light’ game, its popularity brought many imitators. Many later authors cite Photopia as an inspiration, including J. Robinson Wheeler (for Being Andrew Plotkin, another XYZZY winner) and many others. In a way, it is less striking to current players as many of its innovations have become standard.

Varicella (1999)

Varicella is a dark fantasy game that has spawned its own sub-genre of Varicella-likes (including games such as Broken Legs and Sting of the Wasp) referring to games that involve numerous autonomous NPCs on a tight schedule who must be defeated one at a time.

Varicella is one of the most difficult IF games, and involves heavy themes such as insanity, rape, pedophilia, mass murder, terrorism, and familial abuse.

It won the 1999 XYZZY awards, and remains a popular game.

9:05 (2000)

The game 9:05 is a short, simple game that has nevertheless proved to be a perennial favorite. It entirely revolves around a single conceit, and so I’ll discuss it in spoilers.

This game features a protagonist whose descriptions are purposely misleading. Its popularity is likely due to the effect that it directly says something about the player themselves, rather than to the protagonist. It almost seems to say, 'Who do you think you are, coming into these fictional words, taking everything you can, ignoring all rules of society. Here’s the kind of person that would have that personality in real life." The idea of making the player (not the PC) complicit in evil actions is a theme that shows up in De Baron, Vespers, and Eat Me.

Shrapnel (2000)

Shrapnel carried the non-consecutive storytelling of Photopia to an extreme. It involves a sort of mystery as you explore the same scene over and over again in various timelines that intersect in unusual ways. It calls back to classic IF tropes by being set in the house from Zork.

Shrapnel used forced text entry (a favorite trick of Ryan Veeder), an abrupt and unusual ending, and subverts expectations of player death.

Textfire Golf (2001)

This is the oddest and least played of Adam Cadre’s self-selected canon. It uses Inform’s real-time code. You have to aim and select strength of your golf attack during 9 rounds of golf with several characters.

Of course, Cadre subverts the idea of a sports game. The game is really about the power dynamics of the five characters (including PC). Responses to standard actions have been heavily modified. And the branching storyline concept from I-0 is perpetuated here by having many endings depending on your performance.

Lock & Key (2002)

Lock and Key pushed the limits of Interactive Fiction in several ways. It has you play as the dungeon; you set up a variety of traps in a snaky path in a dungeon, and then watch an intrepid hero escape (or not) using various ridiculous IF tropes. It was meant to mock the ‘escape a cell’ genre.

It has also pushed the limits through its fancy graphical interface.

Narcolepsy (2003)

Narcolepsy was an ambitious project that fell somewhat flat. It is a game with three entirely separate branches determined by what you first actions in the game are. The three branches are very, very different.

It was ambitious because it involves a dozen or more co-authors, including many IF luminaries. You see, the main character has narcolepsy, and constantly falls asleep. Every time it does, the player experiences one of the many independent dream scenes written by other authors.

Unfortunately, there is little indication that there are three branches, so that each player only sees a fairly small game. This game hearkens back to I-0 in layout, branching structure, and content.

Endless, Nameless (2012)

After a several year gap, Cadre released the game Endless, Nameless, his most ambitious game yet.

This game also played with IF conventions, in this case discussing metaphorically the history of independent IF and the community’s interactions with it. Cadre chose a game that was once notoriouis, Westfront PC, to riff off of. Westfront PC was an old game written in the late 90’s to early 2000’s. It used colors extensively, was very large, was based off a village with a tavern where you throw darts, and was generally panned as being cliche and hard to get into.

Endless, Nameless creates a similar world, with many things copied word for word. Death in this world, however, reveals another world, sending the reader on a journey through the history of IF. This is in my top 10 favorite IF games of all time, but many didn’t really interact with it. Cadre himself said:

Since this game, Cadre has had little interaction with the IF community.

Other Games

1981, Coke Is It! (as co-author), Flowers for Algernon, Jigsaw 2, Mystery House Makeover!, Pac-Man and The Nemean Lion are all one-off games by Cadre, mostly written for small competitions. All of them tend to use one or more of Cadre’s classic tools: graphics, twists on IF conventions, or vibrant characters.

Themes:

Cadre has a distinctive style that is vibrant and bursting with life. His games are packed with bright colors, desolate wastes, death-defying situations, evil villains, angelic martyrs, and consequence-heavy actions. By creating games that directly oppose the IF cliche of the abandoned, ponderous wasteland, he carved out a unique place in the IF canon.

All of his games feature compelling NPCs (even the brief 9:05 has some memorable NPC scenes near the end). Cadre experimented freely with conversation, with Photopia’s menu-based conversation being particularly successful.

Many of his early games featured unusually vibrant PC’s, with Tracy Valencia, Alley, and Primo Varicella being some of the most recognizable characters in IF.

Despite a wide variety of topics, most of Cadre’s games feature a sordid world where everyone has to be on their guard against each other. The businessmen in Textfire Golf would be quite at home socializing with Varicella’s ministers, and the scum from I-0 might well be cousins of the dysfunctional family in Shrapnel.

Cadre is a fan of graphical techniques, putting a great amount of effort into color, splash screens, amount of text on a page, forced text entry, and UI.

His games featured two kinds of nonlinear presentation: branching paths (used in I-0, Narcolepsy, and 9:05) and disjointed time (used in Photopia and Shrapnel).

Finally, every one of his games subverted some common IF tropes, from the branching paths of I-0, to the forced path of Photopia; from the upending of the usual effects of death in Shrapnel to the most basic of all assumptions in IF in 9:05.

Conclusion

Cadre remains one of the most well-known IF authors to this day. His games have influenced essentially every work in the last 20 years, whether directly or through intermediaries. One only need look at the IFComp games from 95-97 compared to those that came after to see the massive shift that occurred after I-0 and Photopia. But of course he wasn’t the only one. In the next post, I’ll discuss Andrew Plotkin, another prominent author who influenced Cadre’s own style.

#2

Cadre’s quote really chimes with me. I think saturation and community dissipation is responsible for the limited discussion of Endless, Nameless and other games. There’s a big difference between a small group of people making games for one another and discussing their craft, compared to writing for a wider range of less engaged people. Writing is a conversational act-- releasing a game can feel like pushing it out into the void. People mostly want to submit games to comps because they’re hoping for reviews or discussion, for audience feedback and engagement.

(Ruber Eaglenest) #3

I’m curious what others have Cadre removed his name from, apart of I-O.

(Hanon Ondricek) #4

Calling these out on a public forum like this would kind of defeat the purpose of him wishing to distance himself from them.

[Please discuss this privately, if at all.]

(Ruber Eaglenest) #5

Will do. Thanks Hanon.

(Ruber Eaglenest) #6

Talking about the saturation problem and the lack of readers and players and reviewers, I’ve been thinking of this from the last 10 years because this something we have suffered before in the spanish community.

The solution (IMHO) and something I’ve trying to evangelize since then, is to open to the outside world. This is something we have accomplished in part, but it is something to remember from time to time. Publish your games outside of the community, publish them at itchio, at textadventures, go, put them in Steam. Write to literature blogs and magazines. If your game is about zombies, promote in communities that are fans of horror tropes, etc.

Of course, this is more easy said than done. In the meantime everybody could enjoy reading this marketing guide:

pixelprospector.com/the-mark … evelopers/

#7

I think it’s well worth mentioning Adam Cadre’s Ask/Tell podcast.
It’s his return to reviewing IF after a long time away, and has 10 episodes so far.

(Brian Rushton) #8

Thank you for the link, Nathan, and the comments for everyone else.

The reason I include I-0 despite Adam removing his name is that it was a significant cultural landmark and had a large effect on Adam’s own later style. It’s like how the authors of A Clockwork Orange and The Anarchcist’s Cookbook became dissatisfied with their works and wanted to remove them.

(Brian Rushton) #9

By the way, this is a potential list of authors that I’d like to cover at some point after the first 6. I highly doubt I’ll get through them all, but you never know. These are people who have enough games that I can talk about their themes, and whose games have received enough attention that players will be familiar with one or more of them. It also includes some people who are lesser known but have a very strong theme (like Paul Panks and John Evans).

This list doesn’t include some people who made one or two very popular games (Jeremy Freese, Daniel Ravipinto, Marco Innocenti), as it’s difficult to talk about a ‘theme’.

Graham Nelson
C.E.J. Pacian
Ryan Veeder
Chandler Groover
Andrew Schultz
Hanon Ondricek
Jason Devlin
Ian Finley
Aaron Reed
Nick Montfort
Victor Gijsbers
B.P. Hennessy
Astrid Dalmady
Robin Johnson
Joey Jones
Michael Lutz
Kathleen Fischer
Jim Munroe
Robb Sherwinn
Christopher Huang
Lynnea Glasser
Eric Eve
Paul O’ Brian
A. De Niro
Ryebread Celsius
Paul Panks
Brendan Barnwell
Steph Cherrywell
Carolyn Van Eseltine
Stephen Granade
Jack Welch and Ben Collins-Sussman
Mike Snyder
Buster Hudson
Simon Christiansen
Caleb Wilson
Jim Aikin
Sara Dee
Laura Knauth
Michael Berlyn
Mike Roberts
Scott Adams
Arthur DiBianca
Adri
Ade McTavish
John Evans
Bruno Dias
Sarah Morayati
Papillon

#10

Nice!
It’s interesting that trendsetting games like I-0 and Photopia are not so loved in retrospect, because now that the trend exists, they’re not the best examples of it. TV Tropes calls this effect Seinfeld Isn’t Funny.

(I do think the misogynistic sex-puppetry in I-0 is uncool and I understand Cadre’s distancing himself from it for that reason.)

Emily Short did a few “author profile” articles in her “IF Only” column at Rock Paper Shotgun: CEJ Pacian, Steph Cherrywell, Ryan Veeder. (I don’t know if there are any more but if there are, I can’t find them.)

(Brian Rushton) #11

Thanks for the links and the good points, robin!

#12

I like knowing that there’s a name for this. You could also call it “The Lord of the Rings is just a bunch of fantasy cliches,” but that’s probably too wordy.

#13

This comment is so wrong on so many levels, I’m not even sure where to begin. So I’ll just pick one at random: why would an author have the ability to limit what can be discussed by others publicly? Someone wishing to distance themselves from something is a personal decision that does not affect what other people are allowed to talk about.

Cadre is even vandalizing ifdb by deleting the author from the author field in the database. This is not something that should be supported.

#14

The EU has the Right to be Forgotten. Were Cadre a EU citizen it may be a legal requirement to honour his wishes. (I don’t know how the law works or how it would be applied here, just pointing out that the idea that such requests should be honored is not without precedence.) As it is, seems to me that nothing is really lost by not overtly linking his name with everything he has ever written; those who are know can still write analyses comparing all his works, that’s just not what Mathbrush wants to do in this topic.

(Brian Rushton) #15

If cadre asks me to remove the I-0 comments, I will. But in the US, I think one court’s description of the right to be forgotten is relevant:

“The court held here that there were limits to the right to control one’s life and facts about oneself, and held that there is social value in published facts, and that a person cannot ignore their celebrity status merely because they want to.”

However, again, I would remove it if requested. Despite its flaws, I-0 is culturally relevant and an important part of understanding IF history.

(Hanon Ondricek) #16

I posted that mod comment as a request for good-neighbor discretion here on the public forums. It was not a request by Cadre - in fact, I have never actually spoken with him and do not know him personally. I was attempting (as a Mod) to head off any sort of “mini doxxing” event that might result inadvertently through such discussion. I am sure there are people who do know Cadre and what these games are, but I believe it’s best to err on the side of personal privacy in these situations.

IFDB is publicly-editable, so I don’t think an author adjusting the information available about their own work approaches what you are calling “vandalism”. I myself exist online as a pseudonym so I can relate - there are probably a few people who know my actual identity, but I would be furious if someone decided to actually edit all my IFDB entries to include my real name where the public could see it when I have specifically not done that myself.

I’m not saying you can’t discuss this, but I’d prefer you exercise discretion and not do it here (or in any public social space ideally). As a Mod on a forum with a Code of Conduct, I’m going to lean toward not allowing members to disrespect the privacy of other members of the community.

Craiglocke: I think you’re totally fine - the fact that Cadre wishes to remain anonymous with regard to some of his work is public knowledge that’s worth including in an overview, and I-0 is one of his games that includes published reviews that refer to him as the author.

(Adam Sommerfield) #17

I’ve listened to these, some multiple times, very interesting! I like that they aren’t reviews but more commentaries and discussions.

(Adam Sommerfield) #18

Great post (and series of posts), thanks for putting them together!

Just a note on I-O, when did Adam Cadre decide to “disown” (for want of a better term) this game? I have no issue at all with anyone stepping away from a piece of work, that’s their decision, I only ask because literally yesterday I was watching his interview video for Get Lamp which would have been circa 2006 and in the video he happily discusses it; moreover a key point he makes (some of which is used in Get Lamp, the “HUGE Worlds” bit) is that he actually loves the big world game and would do more of them if time allowed. Just curious to know a little more on this. Thanks.

(Brian Rushton) #19

He removed his identifying information on June 4. 2014 according to the IFDB page history.

(Adam Sommerfield) #20

Thanks Craig. Sorry I probably could have checked that myself!! (lazy!)

That answers that then, must have been a change of heart.

Again, thanks for putting these together.

Adam.