The Reverend: (lights cigarette) That was awesome. Good heavens. I hope it was as good for you as it was for me.
IFComp: It was slightly better than I expected. Let’s leave it at that.
The Reverend: I had so much fun! Entering you was one of the best decisions ever. The insane amounts of thoughtful feedback! The discussions! The limericks!
IFComp: Easy there, Tiger. For a first-timer, you were servicable.
The Reverend: Be honest. Was I the kinkiest and smuttiest you ever had?
IFComp: Oh puh-lease. Just an hour ago, I met a guy literally called Dick McButts. Kicked him in the nuts and he liked it.
The Reverend: Wow. Looks like the joke’s on me. The terrible procedurally generated erotica wasn’t enough?
IFComp: Oh yes, it was. It was too much, in fact. But that was the whole point, wasn’t it?
The Reverend: Yes. Besides, I always hated when the joke in sex comedies is that we never actually get to the sex. Feels like a cheap copout to me. I like it when art is generous. Even if it goes overboard in the process.
IFComp: Look, I know you tried your hardest to be meta and subversive and provocative. But really, who are you trying to fool? The more we kept at it, the more I realized you’re just a big softie. You tried way too hard to obscure the fact that this is a simple love story between a man cryogenically frozen for 267 years and a holographic sexbot AI. Also, what part of “playtime under two hours” didn’t you get?
The Reverend: Sorry. Remember, I’ve never done this before. When I finally popped the bottle after almost 40 years, all sorts of stuff just exploded all over the place. It was the most beautiful creative process I’ve ever experienced. There were no design documents. No puzzle dependency charts. No sketched-out world maps. Just one mad, six-months-long rush of wild, aimless, id-driven creativity that slowly built to something cohesive and somehow got finished in time, just for you.
IFComp: “Cohesive”, really?
The Reverend: Cohesive-ish.
IFComp: Be honest: Do you have any idea what you were even trying to say? Is it about the toxic nature of interactive pornography? Is it a personal exploration of your relationship to sexuality? A reflection on gender and technology? A love letter to the fringes of interactive fiction? A weird way to work through your vasectomy? Or just a big dumb joke?
The Reverend: Yes, definitely. All of those.
IFComp: You’re not one of those “Golden Banana” chasers, are you?
The Reverend: Look, the beautiful thing about art is that it doesn’t work that way. I’m a fan of conciseness. If I could just put the essence of this thing into a tweet, I wouldn’t have had to write 69550 words of Inform 7 code.
IFComp: How many of those words were synonyms for “dick”?
The Reverend: A substantial amount. There’s something called the “Bad Sex Award”, given out by a magazine called Literary Review for the worst descriptions of sexual encounters in literary works. I combed through all past winners. Boy, was that a gold mine.
IFComp: You thought way too much about this. In general. No offense, but was this really the right kind of game to include a town with dozens of NPCs, optional background lore, a collectible card mechanic, and multiphase anime-style boss fights?
The Reverend: You don’t know the half of it. Have you discovered the one hidden way to die? Retired to the privacy of your bedroom for a little self-love? Find out what’s behind the heavy iron door beneath the church? Tried to FLIRT WITH or PICK UP people? Indecently exposed yourself in various situations? Get a chance to enjoy Shamhat’s cooking skills?
IFComp: Please stop. I don’t get it.
The Reverend: Call it camp.
IFComp: What has camp got to do with it? You can’t set out to make camp.
The Reverend: See, camp has many definitions, and my personal one doesn’t so much hinge on its deliberateness or lack thereof. I think what you need is a premise that’s as ridiculous as possible, then put as much care, effort and attention to detail into it as if it’s the most important thing in the world.
IFComp: You know, for it being “camp”, it’s all a bit heteronormative. Just sayin’.
The Reverend: I know. What can I say, it’s a “write what you know” kind of deal. I mean, sure, the ignorant backwardness of it all came with the source material and was definitely intentional, but at the end of the day it is a game written by a fairly uptight 38-year-old straight man. Should I ever make Citizen Makane, Part Deux: The Stiffening, I’d make sure to explore a wider array of sexual orientations and gender identities.
IFComp: By the way, why the random references to the Epic of Gilgamesh? Why is the AI called Shamhat? I mean, she clearly isn’t a priestess that civilizes the player character through use of her sexual skills.
The Reverend: Yeah, but you see, in the end, isn’t she though? All I’m going to say is: Why use a literary reference at all if you don’t give it some kind of twist?
IFComp: I guess it depends on which of the three endings you got. Good thing you signposted the “true” ending so heavily. You made it basically impossible to miss.
The Reverend: See, that’s what I thought. But there were still people that missed it. I’ve read a transcript of someone who spent over 3000 turns on the game and grinded all the way up to level 8. They found both of the other endings and quit. Broke my heart. After all, the best ending is the only one that gives you a satisfying emotional payoff. Also, I want my characters to have the best possible life in every multiverse.
IFComp: Your characters are just static pieces of code.
The Reverend: Not if their your characters. I’ve watched them come into existence, change, evolve. Beatrice Mirabeau is a good example. Initially, she was conceived as a straight villain. But as I started to write her, I suddenly started to like her. Her snarky sense of humor. Her obsession with envisioning herself as some kind of uber-kinky underground revolutionary in a world where people couldn’t care less. Mayor Lopez was the same in reverse. The more I wrote her, the more she felt removed from the people she’s supposed to represent.
IFComp: Can we talk about the elephant in the room?
The Reverend: You mean Stiffy Makane?
IFComp: He’s the most important character of this story, and he isn’t even in it.
The Reverend: Honestly, I had my doubts. That old community in-joke of taking a terrible game written as a joke by a 14-year-old and mixing it with high-brow references and literary criticism was fun while it it lasted, but it seemed kind of exhausted.
IFComp: But you just couldn’t refuse.
The Reverend: No. Stiffy’s history fascinated me way too much. So I thought, if I’m going to dig this up yet again, I’d have to do something different with it. I’d have to do it my own way, by looking at my personal feelings about the original game. Drag the whole thing back to its roots.
IFComp: Kind of like when Hollywood inevitably reboots a franchise after a few years of dormancy?
The Reverend: Kind of. We know there was supposed to be a husband character in the original game that got cut. That’s what lead me to the idea: What if that game was just the tip of an iceberg, with a much bigger, even more ludicrous story lurking beyond?
IFComp: Nevermind the idea of “camp” – why make your first published game about something so stupid? Possibly even offensive?
The Reverend: They say you need to do something for 10000 hours before you’re good at it. If that’s true, then it doesn’t really matter what your first game is about, because it’s probably going to suck. Which, in a way, is incredibly liberating. It means it can be about anything. And the more ideas and mechanics you cram in, the more mistakes you make. And the more mistakes you make, the more you learn. So i just enjoyed playing around, trying stuff out, following my every whim. And you being infamous for provoking detailed, honest feedback…
IFComp: Pff. Well, I’m glad I lived up to your expectations.
The Reverend: It’s not just you, it’s the whole community. My two beta-testers from the IF forums were amazing. One of them, @The_Pixie, went to insane lengths to finally, finally make me understand English-language punctuation rules in direct speech. The other one, @Keltena, not only made me realize that one of the endings was awful, prompting me to rewrite it, but their dry observations pointing out the absurdity of the worldbuilding may be funnier than anything in the actual game.
IFComp: Yet you knowingly antagonized parts of the community by using GPT-4.
The Reverend: With all the stuff that’s in the game, I don’t think that GPT-4 was ever going to be the sticking point.
IFComp: Fair enough. Can’t spell AIF without AI!
The Reverend: Look, I used GPT-4 for the design and research process as well as for some placeholder and background text. My experience: It was very helpful in the beginning stages of the project and became less and less helpful the further it went along. So yeah, if you want to throw a few design ideas at someone, want to test out some mechanics, need some quick provisorial text for a room description, or want to know what the main hall of a church is called, it’s pretty useful. It’s also great if you want dialog that sounds bland and hollow. The TV interview and the university lecture – official, “public” forms of speech – contain probably the most amount of AI-generated text. GPT is certainly not good at humor. In fact it’s terrible at it.
IFComp: Your idea of humor is giving the player character the option to answer “No problemo!” when a university dean tells him not to molest her students.
The Reverend: Yes, and?
IFComp: I shudder at the thought of what you may do next.
The Reverend: No worries. Right now, I’m working on something 100 percent wholesome and family-friendly called The Funny Boneyard, about a young woman and her friends saving their favorite bar. But it’s not meant for you. It’s an homage to the old LucasArts adventure games. You know, graphics and all.
IFComp: Ick. So you’re already finished with IF?
The Reverend: Not in a million years. You gave me your number, remember?
IFComp: (sighs) Fuckin’ tequilas.