Thanks for everyone who has contributed to the discussion so far! As Veeder noticed in his acerbic retort, it has been some time since I’ve played some of these games, and I may forget details. Feel free to offer corrections!
C.E.J. Pacian is earliest of the ‘new wave’ of productive authors. Pacian, Veeder, Porpentine and Groover all started in the last ten years, and now produce quality work on a regular basis.
Many of Pacian’s best games are in the TADS format.
Pacian holds numerous records. He has the second-most rated TADS game (Gun Mute, beat by Babel from 11 years earlier). He has the second-most rated game of the last 10 years (Gun Mute again, beat only by the wildly popular one-off Violet). He has the most-rated game of the last 2 years (Superluminal Vagrant Twin), which is also the most-rated parser game of the last 5 years and one of the highest-rated games of all time.
He and Ryan Veeder have tested games with each other, and share some of their beta testers.
Gun Mute (2008)
This is Pacian’s most well-known game. It’s remarkable for several reasons. First, its format is more similar to a first-person shooter than an adventure game. The player’s only movement options are going forward or backward between shoot-out scenes.
Each shoot-out scene has the player using different techniques to beat an opponent. Some possibilities include just shooting everything up, other possibilities include careful examination or precise timing. This is a truly memorable puzzle sequence, one which I consciously adopted in Absence of Law.
This game is also notable for having a mute protagonist who can only nod and point and so on (thus the name Gun Mute), as well as featuring a prominent gay romance.
Finally, the setting is wild and bizarre. Everyone is a sort of wild-west/cybernetic hybrid, with half-woman/half-farm machine warriors, nuclear mutants, and so on. It has a heart-warming feeling in the midst of its destruction.
Dead Like Ants (2009)
This is a ritual game. By that, I mean a game which has only mild puzzles, but which contains many symbolic acts which follow a prescribed pattern. Other ritual games include “You are standing at a crossroads” and “The House at the end of Rosewood Street”.
You are a worker ant whose queen has ordered you to help five distinct insect characters. These characters are similar to the creatures in James and the Giant Peach, anthropomorphic bugs.
The game eschews cardinal directions, and plays with one standard IF convention in a surprising way.
Walker and Silhouette (2009)
This TADS game uses a keyword system that would become a common feature in Pacian’s later games. It features a bowler hat-wearing detective paired up with a mischievous flapper graffiti artist as they track down murderers in an alternate world of giant squid and ornithopters.
The keyword system makes it so that this game could feasibly be ported in Twine, but this game has the strong sense of space and the complex puzzles typical of parser games.
As one reviewer said, “this one feels like the author was smiling constantly as he wrote it. I also carried that smile throughout the experience.”
Rogue of the Multiverse (2010)
This game has been on and off my top 10 of all time for the last few years. It is a very funny game.
Of its creation, Pacian says
Rogue of the Multiverse is a sort of hybrid of his earlier style with more traditional games. The game features complex action sequences like Gun Mute, but it also features exploration sequences with N/E/S/W movement. It features an extensive money-management subgame and procedurally generated text, but it also features standard exploration and take/drop/inventory problems.
It also features Dr. Sliss, one of the best-known NPCs of all time, a narcissistic saurian woman who is convinced that you would do anything for bananas.
This game took 2nd place in IFcomp 2010 against stiff competition from 1st place winner Aotearoa and 3rd place winner One Eye Blind.
Castle of the Red Prince (2013)
This game dispenses with traditional exploration entirely. Instead of movement, the player merely examines things, and all objects are available from everywhere, a feature later seen in Lime Ergot and Toby’s Nose.
This makes for a surreal, dream-like game. You can be in deadly battle with an evil villain one second and wandering a flowery meadow the next.
This game represents an enormous break from IF parser tradition. Pacian started really pushing the limits here and hasn’t let up since.
Weird City Interloper (2014)
This game is nothing but conversation. There are no locations, only people. Your guide is a rat woman who will lead you to new people. People give you keywords. You can ask each character about these keywords, as well as a few spells you get.
The world is utterly different from our own, the way a Porpentine game would be. You are in a city where the old gods are gone (mostly) and the new gods have vain and disgusting servants. There is a snail the size of a house, bizarre machinery, royal birthrights, and more.
Superluminal Vagrant Twin (2016)
This game won the Best Game XYZZY for 2016, up against some truly great games. It makes sense that it won.
This game features an exploration over a large part of the universe, with 53 different planets you can visit. Each planet has a location for being in orbit and usually a location for landing. Most planets have NPCs, sometimes several.
The game has an economy, with credits earned for menial tasks, or space racing, or bounty hunting. You are trying to pay off your debt to recover your brother who is in hibernation, while simultaneously returning a space princess to her rightful place on the throne.
It has a restrained parser, with all interaction taking place through keywords. The player must discover new planet names and buy equipment, and so on.
Story-wise, Pacian’s games involve bizarre worlds and people. I found this exchange in his author interview highly illuminating:
Mechanics-wise, Pacian is a fan of user-friendliness. Most games are conducted with keywords, so the players have a lower chance of incorrect input. Several games involve trading or some sort of economy. The only game on this list with N/E/S/W movement in it is Rogue of the Multiverse, which only uses it for one small portion.
Pacian shares a lot in common with other prolific authors of this decade, such as Veeder, Groover, and Porpentine. Pacian has the same sort of smoothness and cheerfulness as Veeder, but Pacian’s games tend to also have protagonists that face real-life issues and crushing social problems. Like Groover, Pacian eschews the compass and other IF conventions. Pacian’s worlds have much in common with Porpentine’s, with body modification, aliens, cyborgs, and so on making frequent appearances in both.
All four of these authors have reduced puzzles compared to the older schools.
What’s next for Pacian? On his blog last August, he said “It’s always my goal to release a completed project of some size at least once a year, but I don’t have anything near completion at the moment. Before Christmas, hopefully!”. So there’s something in the works!