Author Highlights: Chandler Groover

Background:

Chandler Groover is the most recent author to have a large portfolio of well-received games. With 15 games having at least 10 ratings and at least that many with at least 3 stars on IFDB, his games have received a lot of positive attention. He has 3 XYZZY wins and 20 more nominations.

He also has a commercial portfolio (including the Exceptional Story The Rat Catcher for Fallen London).

He made his debut with a twine game released in the middle of IFComp 2014 (called Hunting Unicorn). It received very little attention, and led Groover to focus on a) competitions and b) parser games to gain more attention. He now is fluent in both formats (Twine and parser), as well as other, more exotic forms of IF.

Selected Works:

Down the Serpent and the Sun (2015)

This was Groover’s parser debut, entered in the first Parser Comp competition. It contains many factors that would be common in later Groover games. In particular, like Pacian, Groover found the compass confusing in parser games. This game uses UP and DOWN for almost all directions.

It also features a grim and gruesome setting. You are literally inside the body of a sort of God-snake. Viscera and tissues are described in great detail, and progress involves cutting and slashing and splashing your way through.

This game received only mild attention, not placing in any of the three categories of ParserComp. Groover left a lengthy postmortem for the game, describing several things he learned in the process. I am reproducing portions of that here (the full text is available at: [url]https://intfiction.org/t/down-the-serpent-and-the-sun-postmortem/8219/5]):

This is a recurring theme through Groover’s work, the idea that he is unaware of how others view the horror in his games.

Groover’s later parser games became monuments to polish, winning the Best Implementation XYZZY twice and taking months to create.

Like Veeder, Groover eschewed regular puzzles, which became characteristic of his later games.

Toby’s Nose (2015)

This was Groover’s first breakout hit, and won Spring Thing 2015 in both categories. Perhaps the least gruesome of his games, it has you play as Sherlock Holmes’s dog, Toby.

It is revolutionary in a couple of ways. First, it is a mystery game where the mystery is conducted entirely in the head of the player. You can ACCUSE any of the suspects from the first step of the game to the last, and you will find out who the killer is that way. So you only proceed with the accusation when you, the player, are certain of who committed the crime. This is opposed to most mystery games where clues must be collected before proceeding.

Second, it uses the same type of movement system as Pacian’s games Castle of the Red Prince and Weird City Interloper. Instead of moving around, you SMELL objects in one memory to unlock a new memory. This game is more extensive than Pacian’s, I believe, and represents a deepening of this movement system.

Midnight. Swordfight. (2015)

This game netted Groover his first Best Game XYZZY nomination. It completely goes against most parser conventions.

It provides the player with a ‘playscript’ that lists every command the player is allowed to use. It then implements every single combination of those verbs with every noun in every description. (For instance, try KISSing everything in the garden).

This is an important example of the limited parser technique, and one of the most popular applications of it.

Movement is a bizarre melange of time and space. You can move FORWARD and PAST and CLOCKWISE and COUNTER-CLOCKWISE instead of N/E/S/W.

It’s intricate nature proved very popular. This game also features the strongest profanity I’ve ever encountered in any IFComp game, but it’s isolated to a single scene.

Taghairm (2015)

This game shocked IFComp. It has been described as a ‘cat torture simulator’ and as a ‘complicity tester’. It primarily consists of you choosing over and over again to roast and kill cats alive for a magic ritual.

This game provided a great deal of discussion (14 pages of links on Intfiction show up when you search Taghairm). Groover said of his choices:

Mirror and Queen (2016)

Mirror and Queen is the most ambitious purely conversational game since Galatea. It recognizes around 1000 nouns and uses complex ‘tracks’ to develop conversation.

Mirror and Queen has you play as the Evil Queen from Snow White talking to the mirror one night. It is designed to offer the player complete freedom in conversation, to try to remove any hints of parser non comprehension.

Its universality proved to be a drawback for some, as some reviewers expressed a feeling of lack of direction. This game, together with Ingolds My Angel and Morayati’s Laid off from the Synesthesia Factory should be essential reading for anyone considering removing parser errors from a game.

The Queen’s Menagerie (2016)

Jim Munroe, another prominent and well-received IF author, developed a game system known as Texture in 2016. Many people tried the new system, including Groover.

Texture is similar to Twine in appearance, but has the player drag and drop words onto each other to progress, allowing for slightly more complex puzzles.

Groover made clever use of this in this IFComp game. He made the nouns you drop be food. You play as the caretaker for a dark fantasy menagerie. At first, you feed simple food to simple monsters, but soon the feeding becomes much more visceral and powerful.

Eat Me (2017)

This is Groover’s most successful game, winning 2nd place in IFComp and 2 XYZZY awards, as well as being nominated for Best Game.

Eat Me is a rich and decadent and gruesome game. You play as a child imprisoned in a castle of food. All you can do is Eat and Examine. Many, many verbs in the game are implemented, and they almost all redirect to eating. The castle is filled with different kinds of food, each with their own description and their own smell.

The game involves devouring six different individuals or groups who stand in your way. Progress destroys them and the castle.

It is light on puzzles but strong on implementation. On a personal note, I played it 6 or more times because of how impressive I found it.

Themes:

With few exceptions, Groover’s work is immediately recognizable. His theme is usually some form of “Power comes with a price”, whether that power is magical, legal, or otherwise.

Groover’s settings are generally dark and gritty, and make use of well-known worlds to set up more intense reactions to them (Doyle’s London, Grimm’s fairy tales, etc.). His non-player characters tend to be competent, ambitious and powerful figures who have their own sense of morality. Queens are a very, very common theme.

Groover’s writing is heavy and rich. If Veeder is angel’s food cake, Groover is devil’s food cake. Take, for instance, this opening line in Eat Me:

“My dear child, listen, and I’ll feed you a tale. It begins with dinner denied. No bread, no butter, not even dessert. A mean repast by the meanest measure, enough to make a stomach grumble and an ill will stew.”

Note the use of unusual verbs (‘feed you a tale’, ‘an ill will stew’), the use of words with multiple grammatical interpretations (mean, will, stew), unusual text patterns (dinner denied, by the meanest measure, ill will stew). The text is designed to eliminate speed-reading and force careful interpretation. This is common in all his work.

Finally, Groover takes special care in the presentation of his work, using unusual styling on almost all of his games.

Conclusion:

Groover continues to be prolific and write compelling games using innovative techniques. As part of a group with Pacian and Veeder, he is a leader in the newer field of story-focused, puzzle-lite and compass-lite games in fantastic settings.

I think it was Chandler who once said that one of his tricks is to avoid using the word ‘of’ as much as possible. It gives his writing that weird otherworldly feel. It’s unsettling because you can tell something is different, but you can’t say exactly what, which goes wonderfully with his grotesque themes. Sort of like modality in music, maybe.

(If it wasn’t him, sorry.)

I do avoid “of” but not really to make stuff seem otherworldly. I just think “of” tends to weaken writing. But if the result does seem otherworldly for some readers, that’s not bad! And I love the phrase “of course.”

Also, I wouldn’t say I write parser games to gain attention. That is why I enter competitions, because many text games get ignored otherwise. But I just write parser games because I get ideas for parser games.

It’s funny, with the queens, I kinda consider Mirror and Queen, The Queen’s Menagerie, and Eat Me to be an “evil queen” trilogy.