Author Highlights: Katherine Morayati

Background: Katherine Morayati is known for complex and ground-breaking works of interactive fiction. More than most authors, I hesitate to post analysis of her games because they have several layers of meanings and there’s a good chance that I, a somewhat dense reader, don’t really grasp what I ought to.

Morayati has done extensive work in IF and in music writing, and is the most recent editor of SPAG Magazine, a webzine dedicated to adventure gaming. She also was one of the authors involved in Alabaster, a collaborative project led by Emily Short that is one of the best conversational games out there; and Cragne Manor, a huge collaborative tribute to Anchorhead.

Selected Works:

Broken Legs (2009):
This game was nominated for 6 XYZZY awards, including Best Game, and won Best NPCs and Best Individual NPCs.

The 2009 IFComp was, in some ways, the nadir of the comp. It had the fewest games since the Comp’s inaugural year. It came right before the boom in choice-based languages (a Choicescript game was entered in 2010, an Undum game in 2011, and Twine in 2012).

But there were at least 2 games which would have done well in any year, and Broken Legs is one of them.

This is a vicious social game, like Varicella or Sting of the Wasp, and it has all the hallmarks of a polished game. As you, Lottie, compete for a spot in a musical, you have to fight against a cast of other equally heartless girls.

There are multiple independent NPCs which react to you and obey commands, along with an ASK/TELL conversation system. There are hints enabled by calling your parents. There is a ‘director’s cut’ available after playing, and the text itself is sharp and witty.

This is a very hard game, as well, but not quite as hard as I thought the first time I played it (with walk-through). If you try it out, examining everything helps quite a bit!

Laid Off from the Synesthesia Factory (2015):
This game was nominated for 3 XYZZY awards, and won ‘Best Use of Innovation’.

In contrast to Broken Legs, which was a master example of classic parser writing, Synesthesia was a direct break with parser tradition.

The goal of Synesthesia is to create a story (or ‘dynamic fiction’, as the about mentions) piece by piece. Most parser transcripts don’t read like a story; instead, they have the same text repeated over and over and lots of error responses.

This game avoids all of that by having a great deal of ‘floater text’ that replaces error messages or repeated text. The program also (when downloaded) outputs a file that contains a complete story.

It’s a difficult task to get any kind of coherence out of a transcript, so the game is written in a sort of dreamlike, introspective way. Everything is allusions on allusions or asides.

Interestingly, I know of two other authors who have tried to write parser games without repetition of error messages, making it more booklike. The first was Jon Ingold’s My Angel in 2000, and the other is Chandler Groover’s Mirror and Queen in 2016. All three games have the same dreamlike quality, and I don’t believe any of them were directly inspired by each other.

Take (2016):

This game, entered in IFComp 2016 under the pseudonym Amelia Pinnolla, attracted a great deal of attention. I remember seeing tons of reviews for it, perhaps more than any other game at the beginning.

In 2016 the limited-parser trend was in full swing, and this game was an extreme example, focused almost entirely on the single word TAKE.

Except instead of picking up things, this TAKE refers to a ‘hot take’, defined by Emily Short in her excellent review as “a rapidly formulated piece offering often moralistic views on current events or popular culture.” You are a woman, facing against men in gladiatorial combat, and your job is to post on media your many thoughts and reactions to the upcoming combat.

This game is witty, and was the first parser game to win Best Writing in the XYZZY awards in many years. It also comes with an extensive post-mortem. I recommend reading both the post-mortem and Emily Short’s article mentioned above.

Human Errors (2018):

This is perhaps my favorite game published in Sub-Q magazine, and was nominated for the Best Writing XYZZY.

This game eschews the parser look completely. Instead, you are monitoring the help desk for a weird implant that interfaces with people’s brains. You read people’s complaints and either close them or respond to them. It’s bizarre and trippy, and the story slowly spools out. I’d love to hear more people’s thoughts about this.

Her interview in Sub-Q magazine is especially enlightening.

Other Works
I can highly recommend the recent Undum/Raconteur game Lies and Cigars and the much earlier (and charming) Leap Time.

Themes:

I mentioned at the beginning of this essay that I had trouble understanding a lot of Morayati’s works, but as I was writing this essay, I came across this sentence in her Take post-mortem:

I went and wrote another story about the tragic lives of New York media people, except allegorical

This actually sums up just about every Morayati game, if you add in ‘technical virtuosity’ as well. These games describe a very specific way of life. Lies and Cigars, mentioned earlier, is perhaps her most direct window into this mediaite world.

Conclusion:

Morayati has been driving innovation in the IF world for a long time, now. Her technical skills and writing chops make for excellent games. She’s mentioned in several interviews that there’s an upcoming Choice of Games work by her, so keep an eye out for future work!

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