Fairest Postmortem

Oh, wow. I’m just tickled pink to have won a Best in Show ribbon. It’s absolutely bizarre and lovely and unbelievable. And the company is mighty—it’s a true pleasure to share the honor with a great game writer like @agat. I tested The Bones of Rosalinda , and said to Agnieszka in a PM that I thought it would win Best in Show. I’m delighted to be proven right!

Here are my concluding thoughts on Fairest :

Part 1: It Still Takes a Village

Fairest is my sophomore effort, and as with my freshman game (What Heart Heard of, Ghost Guessed), this was in many ways a group effort. I got a great deal of coding help on the forum, and I hope the game shows these patient teachers how much I learned from them. And my beta testers were incredible and contributed so much to the story: Pete Gardner, Larry Horsfield, Jade, Jill Jeffery, Zed Lopez, Christopher Merriner, Travis Moy, Eva Radke, Edo Rajh, Mike Russo, Agnieszka Trzaska and Truthcraze. Thanks so much to all of you for being so generous with your time and expertise. I have to especially call out @Zed, who not only gave a great deal of technical support, but also challenged the narrative in really useful ways. This was incredibly important in shaping the the final product, and the game would not be what it is without his honest criticism and attention to the nuances of player experience. Thank you, Zed.

And always the most thanks to my true love Tom. Although he simply will not play a parser game, even if I wrote it, he makes everything about my life happier, funnier, and lovelier.

Part 2: Goals

I had learning goals here. I took a deep breath and engaged with the criticism my first game received, and I think this game is far better as a result of the feedback I got last year from reviewers. My main goals were:

a.) To have multiple endings;
b.) To have lots of NPCs to interact with;
c.) To bring the player into the game and explore questions of agency in IF;
d.) To make a game that would be friendly to folks who don’t normally play parser games;
e.) To improve my writing (several reviewers commented on the terseness of the writing in WHHoGG)…

along with all the various other basic things my first game didn’t do, like managing inventory and using basic Inform verbs. I learned a ton doing all this (swearing like a sailor all along because learning is hard), and I’m pretty pleased with the results.

I really like thinking about the layers of the power dynamic in playing games: author controls player who controls PC by some interface. Mostly authors are trying to immerse the player by making them forget that they’re playing a game, that they’re not really the PC, and that their choices are constrained by the author. I wanted to turn this on its head a bit. A germ of an idea for involving the player directly, as they played the game, had been floating around in the flotsam of my mind for a long time, unrelated to my plans for Fairest; after a lot of great feedback from testers, the mirror was added after most of the game was written. I had an AHA moment after the first round of testing when I realized that this game was actually a perfect place to use some fourth-wall-breaking, and doing so could address some of the testers’ concerns. This was my way of literally separating Conrad1 from the player. Since Conrad is a fool who needs to learn a lesson, but the player is likely not a fool and probably doesn’t need the lesson, I needed to make the player part of his come-uppance instead of suffering his fate along with him. I’m not totally happy with the mirror, though. I still really like the idea, and I’m grateful that it landed as well as it did, but I don’t think it’s integrated very well as it was such a last-minute addition. You could go through the whole game without ever using it (although I hope you will use it).

Another thing I’m not very happy with: I needed to be able to address both Conrad and the player as “you”, and I feel that some of the writing is unclear on who is being addressed at times. This was challenging, and I did the best I could. It was also difficult juggling a lot of NPCs without names, and I worry that in some areas with multiple NPCs in the scene, there’s some confusion over who is doing what.

I am really proud of a few things, though. I love how many fairy tales I was able to integrate, and how well I think they fit together in the quest. I truly love some of the endings—writing those was the best part of working on the game. And because I am ten years old at heart, I love my responses to the magic words (xyzzy, plover, plugh). I loved having an opportunity to get some potty humor in, and to bring myself into the game. If you didn’t try these in play, please go back and do it. And keep doing it with each magic word, as the gags keep going.

Part 3: Subject Matter

This game was largely inspired by Emily Short’s “Fractured Fairy Tale” games, in which the author takes a well-known fairy tale and retells it. Playing these games made me want to smoosh all the fairy tales together and retell ALL of them (and I got about 20 of them in). I wanted to balance well-known tales with less well-known ones, as I think some of the best and most interesting stories get overshadowed. And the well-known stories have been garbled by Disney to mask some of the more overt violence and misogyny, which irritates me, as a lot of underlying rot is still there beneath the sparkling surfaces.

Obviously I was concerned with archetypes in the game, especially as they relate to women’s roles in fairy tales, especially tales that end in marriage. The princes and kings in the Tales are quite often bumbling idiots, and the mostly nameless beauties they encounter are often flat, cardboard characters. The Tales were always more concerned with pushing archaic morality than with character development, and so it pleased me to impose my own moral reckoning in the end, and to punish Conrad in terrible ways for his narrowminded misogyny. But I did need some character development, so on the advice of testers, I allowed him to develop into something better in one ending. The game is better for that decision, so thanks to my testers for helping me get there.

I hope that the game prods some people to go and read the original versions of the Grimm Tales. My parents read to me/gave me the original Tales when I was very young (many of you are nodding now, thinking, “Well, that explains why this person so strange.”), and so I never wore the Disney-colored glasses. When I saw the Disney Cinderella2, I was shocked that the wicked stepmother did not cut off parts of her daughters’ feet to make them fit into the slipper (which is, of course, how the Grimm version of the story ends)! It is of constant interest to me how interwined these violent, misogynistic, old stories are with current Western culture. The archetypes might be wobbling a bit here in the 21st century, but they are still standing, and I liked taking a vicious whack at them. I do have a love/hate relationship with the Tales, and while I denigrated them a good deal in the game, I hope I also kept the spirit of demented, deeply strange, moralizing fun that keeps them resonating with me.

Part 4: More babbling

Thanks to everyone who played it, rated it, and reviewed it. It takes so much time and effort to write reviews, and it is so appreciated. It’s a privilege to be able to write IF and get feedback on it, and to be part of this community. Learning Inform and writing games has kept me (relatively) sane throughout the pandemic and through a lot of personal upheaval in my life, and all of it is a gift. I’d still be happy doing it without any recognition; but the recognition is a gift as well, and I am profoundly grateful for it, especially considering how many moving, well-written, and thought-provoking games were on offer (I nominated 4 for Best in Show ribbons, because there were so many good ones). Thanks from the bottom of my heart for all the support and enthusiasm.

And a big congratulations to @agat and to all the authors. I’ve played a little over half of the entries so far and have been amazed at the quality of them all.

For anyone curious about how the original version of The Three Feathers (the base Grimm Tale for Fairest ) ends:

Summary

After winning the the carpet and ring quests (thanks to a magic toad in a hole in the ground and not due to any cleverness or effort), our prince-- called “Simpleton”-- brings home a ravishing girl who was a toad five minutes ago. His two lazy brothers don’t put any effort into the quest and bring home ugly peasant women, because Simpleton can’t do anything right (except for winning the carpet and ring challenges, which really should have clued the brothers in). And even though Simpleton brings home the beauty, there has to be another challenge: all three women have to jump through a golden hoop in the castle (no, seriously. Jump through a literal hoop for the pleasure of marrying these idiots). His brothers are all like, “Haha! Our sturdy peasant women will survive this, and the delicate little toad-girl will surely break all her bones!” But of course, the gorgeous toad-girl leaps through the hoop “as lightly as a deer” and the clumsy peasant women break all their bones instead, because fairy tale. Simpleton wins the throne, marries the toad-girl (who exists only to be pretty and is totally uninteresting aside from once having been a toad), and lives happily ever after. The broken peasant women die, I guess, since why would they matter?

Gag. Barf. Ew.

Notes:
1 The main character in The Three Feathers is just called “Simpleton.” Conrad is the name of the annoying little goose-boy in The Goose-Girl , so it was a private in-joke with myself to call the prince by the name of a boy of much lower class.

2 The only mention of Cinderella in Fairest is a nod to it in one of the marriage endings. I purposely stayed away from that story (too much cultural baggage), although I truly would have loved to cut some feet up to fit in shoes. But without knowledge of the original story, this probably would have been too gross for many players. As would many of the fairy tales I wanted to use. Many of my favorites didn’t make it into the game because they are just too violent.

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Where’s the pig’s blood? Darn it, @DeusIrae , you had one job!

Congratulations, @AmandaB ! Well deserved.

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AHHH I KNEW IT!
Eyes blast fire! Heads implode!
Thankfully @DeusIrae fell down on the job (never, ever trust the sleep-deprived parent of a baby to bring the blood), and so I can just run off stage.

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Yeah what with the baby I’ve got rather an oversupply of certain bodily fluids, but pig’s blood’s not on the list for good or ill (I’m going to go with “good”)

Congrats and thanks for writing up the postmortem – it’s cool to see your goals going into it!

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Thanks for the postmortem and congratulations for the prize.

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