Author Highlights: Mike Snyder

Background

Mike Snyder is a sort of hidden figure in the history of Interactive Fiction. While not talked about as much as Adam Cadre or Emily Short, his accomplishments are impressive.

He is the only person to have been nominated for the Best Game XYZZY Award three times without winning.

He turned his first popular game (Lunatix) into a web-based multiplayer game in the early 00’s with almost 200 paid subscribers. You can see some screenshots here.

In August of 2006, when rec.arts.int-fiction and usenet in general was showing its age, there were numerous debates about what format to move to. Many were opposed to forums, because forums are moderated, and a group of early IF participants were opposed to any form of moderation. Mike Snyder created a new forum, intfiction.org, under his pseudonym Sidney Merk.

In 2014, during Gamergate, there was a major clash over moderation. Twine authors, especially women, came into conflict with a group of parser enthusiasts who were generally aligned with Gamergate ideology. Mike felt that he was not the right person for the future of the forum, and resigned.

Later that year, Mike started the Video Game Generations podcast with his daughter Addie. It ran for 150 episodes, with the last episode taking place in March of last year.

Selected Works

Lunatix - The Insanity Circle (1999)

This game had mixed reactions. On one hand, it was nominated for the Best Game XYZZY. On the other hand, it only took 12th place in the 5th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition.

Why? It is an MS-DOS game with a custom parser, for one thing. Those words alone were pretty much a death-knell to most IFComp games. But it had a full set of graphics, many NPCs, a large map and complex puzzles, as well as sound. I myself enjoyed this one quite a bit.

As I mentioned earlier, this one was turned into a large multiplayer game that lasted for years online. I haven’t tried the online version, but it seems to be hyperlink-based:

luna3

Distress (2005)

Mike’s choices in platforms may explain why he is less well-known today. While Lunatix was written in a form of Basic, Distress was written in Hugo, the least popular of the three ‘big’, fully-developed parser engines (the others being Inform and TADS). Hugo didn’t have online play for many years, but it does now, so I recommend you try some out!

This game took 4th place in the IFComp that year, and was again nominated for a Best Game XYZZY. The atmosphere and setting are impeccable: you find yourself crash-landed at night on a dangerous planet. One crewmember is dead and another is dying, and something is howling in the distance.

Some of the puzzles are a bit tricky or fiddly, but the game has a deep sense of place and action.

Tales of the Traveling Swordsman (2006)

The final Best Game nominee, and also a 4th place finisher in IFComp. It won the award for Best Story. In contrast to Snyder’s other games, this is a light and charming game with a heartwarming twist.

Jimmy Maher said:

"You see, Tales very much wants to tell you a story – one particular story. It is very linear, and implemented just deeply enough to get you through that story. And it is a fantasy game, not my favorite genre of IF or literature. The fact that someone like me, who is generally interested by more simulation-oriented, open-ended IF set anywhere BUT a world of magic and fantasy, finds the game so appealing is a testimony I think to just how well it operates within its chosen restrictions. "

The idea is that you are a mute swordsman wandering the land to aid the weak and helpless. The game is, as Maher said, linear, the puzzles are fairly simple. There are numerous characters, including a memorable villainous cat-man. It has an extremely polished set of walkthroughs available on its IFDB page in PDF form.

Hallowmoor (2013)

This game, along with The Axolotl Project from the same year, presaged the surge of exploration- and puzzle-based Twine games we’ve seen recently (such as Lux and 16 Ways to Kill a Vampire at McDonalds).

Christine Nordlander said of it:

Hallowmoor stretches the capabilities of Twine to their limits, containing a complex world model, an inventory, a compass rose showing possible exits (though these can also be accessed by clicking keywords), an automap, and puzzles that are not necessarily easier just because you don’t have to type in the solution.”

The setting is a kind of goofy Halloween one, but the puzzles are very intricate. The point of the game is switching back and forth between possessed bodies. Most nouns have descriptions implemented, making the game have a ton of content.

Other Games

Snyder has quite a few other polished games. Trading Punches is an ambitious Sci-Fi game with a recurring theme of serving drinks. The Profile was a pretty unsettling game for me, but had a good twist.

Themes:
Mike Snyder’s games are filled with pleasant darkness. The settings are generally grim, filled with enemies who are out to get you and with a constant threat of death or defeat. But, unlike the hopelessness or amorality of Gijsbers and Groover, Snyder’s games are filled with a sense of hope and often even comedy. It’s a feeling that resonates with me, making Snyder an author whose games I especially enjoy.

Conclusion
Mike Snyder is an IF figure off the beaten path. Whether running a forum under a pseudonym, writing games in unusual engines, or engaging in IF-adjacent online activities, he has been a definite force in the field.

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Nice writeup. I have fond memories of Swordsman from my own first IFComp. When I turned up, Mike was one of the people patiently and correctly explaining to me why writing homebrew engines is a bad idea. Now I occasionally explain that to newcomers. Funny how it’s the homebrewers who do that…

This isn’t something you should try to be impartial about. Diverse authors were continually attacked by horrible gatekeeping dudes.

[ETA: I don’t know (or want to know) the details of what happened, and I wasn’t trying to imply any individual was a g*tor]

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Well, I should clarify: I consider “Gamergate” to be a misognynistic and racist movement, and one that everyone involved in it should be ashamed of. I am fully on the side of the Twine-based group. Those who attacked the women and LGBT authors did something terrible, and I support those who were attacked.

Reading through the past comments, though, it seems that Mike Snyder himself was not one of the attackers, and I support him personally.

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Confirming Brian’s post that Mike was not involved in any attacks on posters in that incident, nor allied with Gmrgt in any way.

Mod note–Brian and Robin haven’t done anything wrong, but it would probably be better to keep discussion to Mike’s games rather than the old board incident, which has the same role in the history of the board as the last story told here.

(That link may be inaccessible to screenreaders–this link is the original and should be more accessible, I think?)

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