Interview: Jacek does Jacek

A WARNING: I think fast and I think deep. Because I do not want to waste your time, I suggest that all but the most intelligent readers ignore this post. If you do go on from here, please have the courtesy to concentrate. The art of deep thinking is disappearing, much thanks to the mental laziness of such audiences as the present one. Thinking is after all one of the two main pleasures of an intelligent human being, the other being fucking, known in polite society as “the pursuit of happiness.” If you find the thinking in this post too fast and too intricate, I suggest you pursue your happiness elsewhere.

This is the first in a series of interviews with pre-eminent members of the IF community. My first interviewee is none other than the (in)famous founder and CEO of Pudlo Industries, Jacek Pudlo.

Jacek: Why do you write interactive fiction, Jacek?

Jacek: So that I can reach out to millions and change the course of history.

Jacek: Okay, let me rephrase that. What do you seek specifically in interactive fiction that you cannot find in other media?

Jacek: I seek to discover in it the mode of art whereby my genius could express itself in unfettered freedom.

Jacek: What do you see as the most important quality in an IF writer?

Jacek: Sincerity. Once you learn to fake it, you’ve got it made.

Jacek: You’re flippant. Do you feel threatened by my questions?

Jacek: To be honest, yes. The long, sincere, non-flippant response to your question is that the most important quality in any writer is to always be more of a crackpot than a nudnik. A man on the street wears his shoes hanging from his ears. The nudnik asks the man why his shoes are hanging from his ears. The crackpot asks why they are untied. The problem is that the very act of painstakingly explaining the difference between a nudnik and a crackpot has made me into a nudnik. Wisdom is cheap and talent is precious and a writer should always aim for the latter. This is why interviews pose a threat to writers, because they tap a writer’s wisdom, not his talent. There I go again, being a nudnik.

Jacek: Do you have any religious ambitions?

Jacek: You can’t grow up in an orthodox Jewish family without thinking once in a while of becoming Messiah. But ever since my last attempt to walk on water ended in embarrassment, I try not to think about it too much.

Jacek: Are you a narcissist?

Jacek: Drowning while kissing your own reflection is such a wussy way to go. The character in Greek mythology I identify most readily with is Zeus. I guess that makes me a Zeusist.

Jacek: Do you think psychiatry will ever solve the problems that beset you?

Jacek: No doubt it will, and by doing so create new ones.

Jacek: How do you feel about money?

Jacek: Money is the one thing that gives a sense of dignity to people who otherwise don’t have it, which is why so many people humiliate and dishonour themselves to get it.

Jacek: You don’t think money is freedom?

Jacek: Not if your only way of getting it is becoming a wage slave.

Jacek: Do you believe the government was behind the 9/11 attacks?

Jacek: No, but I think it’s a healthy lie.

Jacek: Why?

Jacek: Because it creates the illusion of a government that is potent and competent enough to perpetrate a complex plot, and therefore dangerous and therefore worthy of our grudging respect. If people knew just how impotent and inept a democracy truly is, they would opt for National Socialism, as the Germans did when they realised just how inept the Weimar republic was.

Jacek: Do you believe in alien abductions?

Jacek: No, but my answer is based solely on cognitive empathy.

Jacek: Eh?

Jacek: Picture a family of space aliens living somewhere in the Andromeda galaxy. It’s Labour Day in Andromeda and Daddy asks Mom & Kids where they’d rather spend the holiday: on Planet Zyglot, which is just around the corner and has a new amusement park, or on Planet Earth, which is millions of light years away and where the only amusement is abducting humans and probing their anuses. Unless this family is seriously into rectal photography, they should opt for Zyglot. Assuming they’ve mastered inter-galactic travel, the cognitive gap between them and us is like the gap between us and dogs. When was the last time you spent Labour Day abducting dogs and probing their anuses?

Jacek: What is the meaning of life?

Jacek: (Here Jacek’s answer was lost to static in the tape.)

Jacek: That is really something. I’ve never heard anyone define the meaning of life so eloquently and succinctly. This will be a life-changing insight to so many people!

Jacek: Thank you.

Jacek: You have famously likened the IF community to “a cottage industry of isolated cranks who write computer games no one wants to buy and few want to play.” What kind of shape do you see interactive fiction in today?

Jacek: To see it really well I’d have to play more of it than I currently do. I belong to the fin-de-millennium generation, which means that by 2001 my tastes had congealed into a fairly stable jelly. Emily Short’s Savoir Faire, Mike Gentry’s Anchorhead, Adam Cadre’s Varicella and Jon Ingold’s All Roads are the games that define IF for me. Games written since that could equal these are few and far in between. Slouching Towards Bedlam has an interesting concept but sloppy execution while Emily Short’s more recent (over)production has yet to yield anything even remotely comparable to Savoir Faire. Cadre’s Nercolepsy was unplayable and Gentry is sadly as unproductive as Short is überprolific.

Jacek: These four are your idea of the IF Canon?

Jacek: Not in the Must-Play-Before-You-Die sense. More in the sense that when you can’t get what you like, you learn to like what you can get. Playing IF today is very much a process of learning to like stuff you would normally wrinkle your nose at, like the pseudo-profundities of Metamorphoses or the god-awful Lovecraftian prose of Anchorhead or the sophomorisms of Photopia or the obscurantism of All Roads.

Jacek: What about commercial old school games?

Jacek: Like Zork?

Jacek: Yes.

Jacek: I never understood the attraction. To me Zork has always been a trivial exercise in arbitrary puzzles with no sense of language, little sense of detail and a sense of humour that is uniquely dreary. It’s something you pay lip service to simply because it’s been around for a long time. Like a senile aunt or YAHWEH or Andrew Plotkin. But Zork is also inescapable. No other game is so widely and lovingly parodied. Like all crap, it improves greatly when seen through the lens of nostalgia. It’s one of those games that are more fun to reminisce than to play. A lot of noise has been made about how post-commercial IF has raised the standards compared to Infocom’s games. I suppose that’s true. The games mentioned earlier are hopelessly minor league, but unlike Zork they are not autistic.

Jacek: I couldn’t help noticing you didn’t include Plotkin in your IF Canon. I’m sure Andy’s mom and dad would beg to differ. And they are just two of the several people around the globe whose imaginations have been touched by the magic of Andy’s games. I didn’t want to upset you then, but now that you’ve brought him up yourself, perhaps you could calmly explain the exclusion?

Jacek: I come to IF not as a player would but as a thief. When I come across something witty in a Thornton game, I don’t write the author an email offering him goats and sweet incense in gratitude, as an ordinary player might, but instead ask myself this. How can I appropriate Adam’s wit in my own work without committing blatant plagiarism? This never happens when I play a Plotkin game. Wit, or indeed intelligence of any kind, is a rare occurrence in his work, and considering the paucity of his mind I can see why he is reluctant to insert it gratuitously.

Jacek: What about your own IF? Why the prolonged silence? Why haven’t you released anything since 2004?

Jacek: I can write only after at least one day of celibacy. I have not been blessed with such a prolonged hiatus of sexual activity since I was awarded the Golden Banana of Discord. The constant orgies (where the Banana figures prominently among other stuffed fruits and vegetables) have drained my creative powers. I need the energy of sexual frustration to sustain the anger that is the source of my creativity. It’s really a question of spermatic economy. The more jizz I spend on sex the less I can afford to ejaculate into my art.

Jacek: So what you’re saying is that your orgiastic lifestyle has castrated your art?

Jacek: Let it suffice to say that it’s not inkwells I’ve been dipping my quill into lately.

Jacek: This would be an incredibly tasteless reference to Oksana in Gamlet?

Jacek: (Jacek nods.)

Jacek: I suppose the question on everyone’s lips is how real is Oksana? Is she a mere foetus of your oversexed imagination or is she based on a real woman?

Jacek: She is neither. Oksana is a composite of sixteen women whose houses I had broken into to ejaculate in their hair as they slept. But Oksana is more than just a boyish prank. She is also a dozen or so publishing houses whose employees I viciously harassed for several months. Like all great artists I had sublimated my sex drive into art and written a bulky volume of poetry that absolutely no one on this planet wanted to publish.

Jacek: Despite the universal acclaim of Gamlet, you don’t seem to have many friends among your fellow interactive fictioneers. Most see you as a contradictious and divisive figure while some have not shied away from excoriating your good name with odious innuendos. What gives you the strength and conviction to persevere in your one-man crusade?

Jacek: Interactive fiction is facing big, complex problems. If Jesus Christ and Steven Segal have taught me anything, it is that big, complex problems are best tackled by a lonely guy with a god complex who’s crazy enough to take on the whole world.

Jacek: You do understand, though, why people react to you the way they do?

Jacek: I’m too honest, too intense, too fucking REAL. I suppose that makes people afraid and people who are afraid are often hostile.

Jacek: Do you think they are afraid of you because they understand you or because they don’t?

Jacek: That’s a good question, Jacek. I think they are initially mildly annoyed and begin to understand me as they grow furious.

Jacek: Adam Cadre has dubbed you a “sociopathic asshole” and compared you to the perpetrators of the Abu Ghraib scandal simply because you disliked his novel. How do you feel about that?

Jacek: A billionaire friend of mine invites me sporadically to his London townhouse where we get drunk and have merciless philosophical disputes where no feelings are spared. One time I won the dispute and awoke the following day with a hangover and the dread of having gone too far and lost a friend. The servants informed me he had left. On the kitchen table I found the keys to his Jaguar and a note. “I’m off to Baghdad to close a deal. Help yourself to the booze and the Jaguar, not necessarily in that order.” It’s hard to wound a man of action. It’s hard to nurture a grudge when you’re off to Baghdad the next day to be received as a personal guest by the Iraqi prime minister. Adam Cadre is a wonderful IF writer and a god-awful novelist. He’s also an idle man with enough leisure to nurture a silly grudge.

Jacek: How do you feel about I7?

Jacek: Before I answer that question, I’d like to expand on the Cadre debacle.

Jacek: Please do.

Jacek: Adam Cadre likes to quote Rilke and drop Heidegger’s name here and there, but he’s much more at home with The Fantastic Four than serious poets and thinkers. He has a comic book mind, which is fine when you’re writing light-hearted IF like Varicella or I-0, but a disaster when you’re writing a novel. Ready, OK! is one gimmick plus some silly anecdotes diluted to fill 360 pages. Reading it is a bonanza of vicarious shame. It’s an embarrassment of such proportions, the very fact that Adam is still among us is a testimony to the strength and perseverance of his personality. A lesser man would have thrown in the towel a long time ago. As to I7, I am certain it’s an MI6 conspiracy to take over our computers.

Jacek: But seriously.

Jacek: Seriously I think I7 is as useful as a fountain in the rain. A lot of this is going to get cut out, right? The Establishment will surely not allow this.

Jacek: Perhaps, but I’ll make the decision what will, not the Establishment.

Jacek: There is something heroic about Graham Nelson writing Curses while creating I6. I am reminded of Whitman personally typesetting Leaves of Grass. Nelson not only wrote a seminal game, but created one of the most useful and prolific tools of IF design. He is thus both the Gutenberg and Goethe of IF. I’m afraid I can’t say the same thing about his work on I7.

Jacek: In a recent interview E. L. Doctorow describes the novel as a “large canvas capable of holding the most substantial themes.” Do you think this description applies to IF?

Jacek: Is this what they call a subtle bridge? It’s funny you should mention that interview, by the way, because I’d just finished reading it and had asked myself the very same question.

Jacek: And?

Jacek: Is IF a large canvas? No. There’s some genre fiction, mostly sci-fi and fantasy, and there are some noteworthy murder mysteries and horror stories but nothing that approaches in seriousness the kind of work you might expect from, say, E. L. Doctorow.

Jacek: Why is that do you think?

Jacek: The narrative vehicle of a novel is the interaction between its characters. The narrative vehicle of IF is the manipulation of objects through the intermediary of a playing character who is usually a sociopathic kleptomaniac whose only aim in his interactive little life is to stuff his incredibly spacious inventory with everything that hasn’t been nailed down. It’s difficult enough to address “the most substantial themes” through the proxy of object manipulation. When you add a single-minded maniac to the equation, the problems become almost insurmountable. On top of everything there’s the crazy economic logic of IF.

Jacek: Crazy economic logic?

Jacek: The way the Incredible Underground Empire contains incredible riches but only one screwdriver and one pair of ear muffs and you know the screwdriver and the ear muffs are much more valuable than the riches because their singularity implies they are part of some future puzzle. You’d think that the people who built the Incredible Underground Empire and filled it with incredible riches could afford one more pair of ear muffs. On top of this there’s a tradition of IF puzzle design going way back to Zork that presupposes a barter economy. Stiffy Makane, Mentula Macanus and many other games have puzzle schemes where item A must be given to character X so that X may release item B to the PC which is then given to character Y releasing item C, etc. This is barter at its crudest. It’s basically Stone Age economics. There’s no way you could make this work within a realist mimetic tradition, unless your game is set in a Neanderthal community or among wizards and “moon ministers,” which amounts to the same thing. The problem is that IF depends on a verbal interface that works smoothly only when handling objects with unique names. This is why you don’t see many representations of monetary economy in IF.

Jacek: Are you saying that IF’s problems are endemic to the medium?

Jacek: Not so much to the medium as the tradition within which most IF writers have chosen to work. You can’t really play Chopin on an accordion. There are instruments and puzzle schemes that severely limit your repertoire. To widen our repertoire, we need to abandon the Zorkian tradition of puzzle design. If you’re wondering how a post-Zorkian puzzle scheme might look like, have a look at Savoir Faire. Savoir Faire is a good example of a game that spurns the Zorkian puzzle design tradition while retaining IF’s preference for uniquely named, singular objects. But these are fairly minor issues compared to the major hurdle, which is the IF community.

Jacek: Care to elaborate?

Jacek: The IF community is too geographically and culturally dispersed to engender any sense of commonality. It’s true that all great literature is universal in this sense, but there’s an oxymoron lurking in this statement, because while being universal great literature is also local and specific. Few novelists are as universal as Dostoyevsky, and yet his global appeal is possible only by dint of his distinct Russianness. The paradox of literary universality is that it feeds off specificity. There is an acute sense in Dostoyevsky’s novels of addressing not only a Russian-language audience, but more importantly a Russian nation, a people with a common destiny, and thereby shaping and defining that destiny. Please note that I am not using “nation” in a purely ethnic sense. Americans are not a cohesive ethnic entity, but they are nonetheless a nation, a people with a common destiny, and that destiny has been shaped by Whitman, Twain and Hemingway. There is no such thing as an IF nation, nor is there any sense of a common destiny among the people who play IF, which is why fantasy and sci-fi are the predominant genres of IF. Neither is exactly renowned for being capable of “holding the most substantial themes.”

Jacek: You’re not a big fan of Solaris, then?

Jacek: As a matter of fact, I am. I can see where you’re heading with this.

Jacek: I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be combative.

Jacek: That’s okay. Solaris is an extreme rarity. It’s a speculative novel that has successfully broken into the Canon. I can think of only two other such novels, Brave New World and The Left Hand of Darkness. It’s vital not to confuse speculative fiction with science fiction. These novels are not brainy episodes of Star Trek. They are conceptual experiments presenting us with contra-factual scenarios that extrapolate real social and technological trends into the future, thus helping us to question things we usually take for granted. The vast majority of Canonical novels are not contra-factual in this sense but highly specific works, set in a factual space and a factual time and informed by the author’s own experience. This specificity and factuality and authorial honesty is missing from IF today. The Dreamhold was written by an American man living in New York, but it might as well have been written by a mildly retarded Chinese woman living in Beijing.

Jacek: Are you suggesting that we write more non-English-language IF?

Jacek: Not at all. I don’t think there’s much future in Greek-language IF, but I do think Greek IF has a future.

Jacek: Now I’m confused.

Jacek: Don’t be. It’s really quite simple. Ulysses is a uniquely Irish novel despite having been written in English. What I’m suggesting is that Greeks write in English about their Greek experience, instead of wasting theirs and my time with flying unicorns and vapid surrealism. If you live in New York, don’t set your game in some insipid “memory palace,” but use the city you live in as a backdrop for your story. After all, that’s what writers do all the time – use their lives as material for their fiction. Reading a novel like Ulysses today is the closest you’ll ever get to time travel. Playing Metamorphoses fifty years from now will be like going to Moscow only to find they have the very same McDonalds there that they have everywhere else. The problem with inanity is that it’s the same no matter whether it’s made in Europe, China or America. What has stronger resonance for an educated adult: a story about a non-descript wizard haplessly roaming his “memory palace,” or a novel by Paul Auster?

Jacek: So why don’t you kindly fuck off and go read your Auster novel? What makes you think a tourist blithely strolling into the ghetto can presume to lecture its inhabitants about a place they’ve lived in for decades?

Jacek: Because I don’t think you necessarily must live in a ghetto.

Jacek: Point taken. Do you hope to achieve immortality through your IF?

Jacek: I’d much rather achieve immortality by never dying.

I think I would find this easier to read if Jacek’s questions and Jacek’s answers were somehow typographically distinguished.

Did you not read the warning, or are you deliberately jerking my chain? Should you decide to read the warning, you will notice that I am asking my readers to concentrate. If you… concentrate… on the… question marks… you will… notice… which Jacek is asking… the questions… and which Jacek is anwsering. Sorry about the ellipses. They are my only typographical means of calming myself down in the face of mental laziness. Also, the idea of there being two Jaceks is deeply insulting to my monotheism. There can only be one Jacek.

Hey, that’s quite good, old chap. Who will you interview next?

I will shortly send my Nazgûls after the Hobbits. [Jacek clears his throat.] I mean, send emails to possible subjects.

Perhaps I am just letting you know that your strategy for reducing your readership is succeeding! Although I would also suggest that putting strain on the readers’ eyes is not the ideal way to encourage mental concentration, a point that you have implicitly recognized by including paragraph breaks – for even without this typographical convenience, a reader could tell where the questions ended and the answers began by concentrating on the "Jacek:"s.

Ha! I knew Jacek can’t write. He misspelled “Steven Seagal”.


The time has come when I’ve got to ask:

Most of the time, when somebody like this shows up, he is either ignored or promptly shot down. For some reason, neither is happening here; to the contrary, many of the people on the board seem to be fawning over (and, worse, encouraging) him. I can only conclude that there must be one of two explanations: Either (i) other people know something about Mr. Pudlo that I don’t and, appearances notwithstanding, he is not really the biggest shithead to have shown up here in a while (in which case I owe him an apology), or (ii) he has photographs of many of the people on the board doing indescribable things with barnyard animals.

Would somebody please enlighten me as to which it is (no need to go into detail about the photos and the critters)?

Robert Rothman

I think he’s just a familiar name (from He was a jerk there too, but most people here are so friendly that they’ve refrained from being truly rude. And although I only skimmed the interview (I must not be intelligent enough to appreciate it), I got the impression that parts of it might actually be funny. It’s refreshing that folks here are slow to judge even the most obnoxious participants in the conversation.

I liked it because it’s funny. Well, to me. Also, I appreciate well crafted trolling (as opposed to “your stupid - no you” type of trolls; fortunately we don’t have any of those in this forum.)

The background is: One, Jacek has been around for a long time. If ignoring him made him go away, it would have worked by now.

Two, Jacek being a clowning jackass – under his known identity – is actually his good behavior. We try to encourage that. Or at least not discourage it. As noted above, he can be funny when he wants to be.

Keenly observed, sir.

I was especially amused by the gentleman who asks if I’m officially to be considered a shithead. Imagine a man so pusillanimous he’s so afraid to make up his own mind on a matter of personal taste, he asks management to send him a memo stating their current consensus on “Mr. Pudlo.” For a bunch of people who are supposed to be writers and artists, this is an oddly timid crowd. I’m reminded of the “Emily Short” person suggesting that members of this community write angry letters to my “employer” in response to an unfavourable review of Galatea. Timidity may be a healthy state of mind when you’re a wage slave terrified of the vast office landscape outside your cibicle. It is not a healthy state of mind when you’re writing fiction. In the opening paragraph of this thread I warn stupid people to stay out of my way. I wonder if cowardice is not a greater problem than stupidity in this crowd. How many people here share the cubicle mentality of the likes of Mr. Rothman and the “Emily Short” person?

As to Andy declaring that I’m a harmless clown, I’m curious how he sees himself. Assuming we perform at the same circus, is he the lion tamer or the guy who cleans up after the elephants?

Sir, “pusillanimous” and “cubicle mentality” are one thing, but when you accuse me of being a gentleman, well, sir, them’s fightin’ words!

Robert Rothman

funny read anyway. I actually think Pudlo is not Thorton, but perhaps Cadre. :wink:

I doubt it. (Content note: linked page includes a picture from Abu Ghraib)

Regardless of what I may or may not think of Jacek, I thought the first post in this specific thread was pretty amusing.

Though the line about sincerity was previously used in an episode of Johnny Bravo.

But wasn’t that the point? Him spouting all those second-hand witticisms as if they were new and his own?

(Or am I falling for your one now?)

How eerily appropriate.