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.
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.
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 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 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 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.
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 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 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.
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.
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.
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.