Ryan Veeder has already been extensively covered by Emily Short, had an entire IF competition dedicated entirely to pleasing him, has been translated into French, has an entire school of interactive fiction named after him with instructions on how to copy it, and co-runs an interactive fiction podcast with over 46 episodes. This is a person who clearly needs no more attention, and it may perhaps even be dangerous or foolhardy to draw more attention to him. Unfortunately, I’ve already written this and you’re already reading this.
Ryan Veeder is known for writing games about rats and/or crime, spending a lot of time polishing inconsequential games, and subverting player expectations. He won IFComp in his rookie year (2011) and had two games in the top 4 in 2013.
Veeder has many works that are of fairly equal quality. So you may very well find games of his not on this list that you like better than these. So have I.
Taco Fiction (2011)
This was Veeder’s second game, and his longest and most played. The byline says, ‘This is a game about crime.’
But what this game really is about is player agency in various forms. Veeder said in an interview with Sub-Q magazine that “I build a very specific world and try to give the player different ways to react to it… The goal is “to entertain.” It’s not very sophisticated.”
And so in this game, you’re given a gun and told that you’ve planned to rob a taco store. There is another store nearby which is essentially optional, but has an surprisingly detailed NPC with menu-based conversation and whom can be treated neutrally, as a romance option, or as someone to rob; the game is neutral, so whatever the player imagines, that’s what it can be.
On the other hand, the game viciously restricts player agency, including (at one point) hijacking the parser and typing out things for the player. Much of the players victories become inconsequential, and seemingly difficult problems have laughably trivial solutions.
This is the game the spread wide the ‘Veeder style’.
Robin and Orchid (2013)
This game was co-created with Emily Boegheim, who has written several games of her own. This is a ghost mystery game. You wander around a school, trying to find evidence of a ghost.
It includes a very complex photography system, where you can take pictures of anything, depending on lighting and other factors, and you have an evaluation at the end of the game where your pictures are discussed.
In classic Veeder style, there is a huge chunk of content which is easily ignorable. The ‘help’ system, a notebook from a romantic interest, contains much of the writing in the game. A whole second game plays out in the book that doesn’t in-game. Several IFComp reviewers missed this part entirely.
Captain Verdeterre’s Plunder (2013)
Ryan Veeder is the only person to place twice in top 4 of the same IFComp. This game is one of several of Veeder’s rat-based games. You are a human in a sinking ship with a rat, the eponymous Captain Verdeterres. This game has been translated into French.
It is an optimization game, with a high score recently achieved by Mike Spivey (5 years after it originally came out!). It is organized like a classic platformer (left/right and up/down, no backwards and forwards). There are various treasures you can grab, some of which look good but are horrible, some of which look horrible but are good. The rising water destroys more and more of the ship, rendering you unable to, for instance, run back down for a key.
Winter Storm Draco (2015)
Notable for its cover art if nothing else (a bank white square), this game is a grab-bag of oddness, and a favorite of authors such as Chandler Groover (and others, I’m sure).
It begins as follows:
The game only gets odder after that. It seems as if the goal of the game is to keep the player completely and utterly off guard, without a moment of understanding or intentional decision making, but also without any boredom or frustration.
This ‘random assortment of bizarre techniques’ is a little bit like The Statue Got Me High, which features an elaborate and completely irrelevant logic puzzle.
An Evening at the Ransom Woodingdean Museum House (2016)
One of Veeder’s first forays into horror, this is a short game about locking up and going home after a day spent as a historical impersonator in a historical mansion. It has Veeder’s light mischievousness, which here comes off as disturbing rather than amusing.
It consciously calls back to other horror games such as Anchorhead. I found it genuinely disturbing, even while replaying it for this article.
The Lurking Horror II: The Lurkening (2018)
This game, Veeder’s most recent, is less of a straight horror story and more of a parody. The game is set in the same location as the original Infocom game The Lurking Horror. Like Captain Verdeterre’s Plunder, this game has you racing around to beat a clock. Unlike that game, this one relies on secret passwords that can be remembered from iteration to iteration.
This was part of MIT’s Mystery Hunt Puzzle.
Veeder’s style in story is magical realism, a style popular in Latin American literature beginning in the 1950’s. One writer describes magical realism like so: “Unlike in fantasy novels, authors in the magical realism genre deliberately withhold information about the magic in their created world in order to present the magical events as ordinary occurrences, and to present the incredible as normal, every-day life.”
Ryan Veeder’s games are filled with this. The ghost in Robin and Orchid is a classic example, with many players able to come to different conclusions about its reality throughout the game. The rat captain in Captain Verdeterre’s Plunder; the burning house and vengeful statue in The Statue Got Me High; the possibly sentient crows in Winter Storm Draco; the secret society in Taco Fiction; the sudden shifts in writing in An Evening at the Ransom Woodingdean Museum House. All are presented matter-of-factly, leaving the player to decide if this is odd or not.
Programming-wise, Veeder intentionally describes the world in a way that very few scenery items need to be implemented. Everything either drives the action or adds to character. He has used many conversation systems, sometimes in the same game. His works are puzzle-lite, but not puzzle-less.
Now that this article is done, there will be more time to cover other authors.