Looking for Intimate, Personal Games written between 1993 and 2012

Yeah. I’m not sure how or why, but despite being away from IF I heard about Panks quite soon after his death. Anyway, Pudlo said far worse things about him elsewhere, if you can believe that.

This is not a Panks/Pudlo thread. Just surprised to be pulled back to one of the only big IF moments that I had in the aughts. Next up, a bit of Constraints, which I see that you’ve rated quite highly, Mike!

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Jacek Pudło is a famous historical troll who I think goes back to the usenet days. He was one of those people who was frighteningly intelligent and had actual things to say and potentially good ideas, but he was always intentionally trying to stir up controversy and his reviews included lots of personal attacks.

I actually privately beta-tested one of his games that didn’t get released as far as I know. It was a really interesting concept where the PC was a mummy who wakes up when their pyramid/tomb is breached and had to collect and reassemble themselves by locating various odd viscera bits in canopic jars. I think it was historically accurate in that one of the jars contained the PCs genitalia and if I remember correctly that played a major role in the horrific revenge taken on one of the antagonistic British grave-robbers desecrating the pyramid… It was kind of a reverse Infidel mixed with I Spit on your Grave if you can imagine…


Finished part three in Constraints. It’s very well written! I will return for the rest.

Something that strikes me is what I perceive as an interest in subverting narrative conventions in IF. This seems to be a feature in many of these confessional or confessional-adjacent texts. In a few cases, I’d go so far as to call them metafictive.

On to In the End, which was released–give or take–in close proximity to my own fictional game (1996). I see that it has a parody, too–unreviewed at present.


RE In the End:

It doesn’t seem that Mason ever released a post-competition version, which the work sorely needed. Still, the handful of available reviews from 96-97 do seem to suggest that Mason’s game was the first highly visible attempt at puzzle-free IF. Mason stuck around the Usenet scene for years, but never wrote another game, so far as I can tell.

If the writing were stronger, we might be talking about In the End more than we do. I found the protagonist’s motivations inscrutable, which yes, might illustrate the distance between himself and the rest of the world, but I don’t think that was Mason’s intent.

In two years, of course, the question of puzzle-less IF would be answered more definitively. I’m tempted to play the parody before moving on to An Episode in the Life of the Artist.

E: I’ve played the parody. I didn’t think it was very funny. Not sure it’s worth the time unless you are planning to write about In the End in detail.


Photograph: A Portrait of Reflection from 2002 fits the criteria: it’s a an extremely-puzzle-light psychological character study where the protagonist is paralyzed by obsessive regret.


Great! I’ll check it out. Thanks.

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Finished An Episode in the Life of an Artist. I guess this is just going to be a recurring bit in this thread, but

The narrator was definitely close to the subjective life of the protagonist. We overhear his thoughts, but his inner life ultimately remains a mystery. I see that he is sometimes characterized as autistic, but the author didn’t clearly telegraph their intent, and I haven’t seen any reviews that say something like, “I’m on the spectrum, and this speaks to me.” So for now, I will say that the character is quirky.

The beginning is “realistic” in the sense that real life is often boring and unremarkable (toweling off after a shower!), but by the end, we’ve driven a grue to smash through a door by turning on the lights. From 2003.

Next up, Blue Chairs.


I am hopeful - and pretty confident - that Blue Chairs will keep the “what an odd game!” streak alive!


Where will it end? Who will draw the line?

I didn’t enjoy Blue Chairs as much as most reviewers have, but I found it interesting and worthwhile.

I thought the prose was great. The protagonist had a consistent voice, and his personality was convincing and well-realized. Judging from the “unofficial soundtrack” listed in the help menu, we probably would have run in similar circles, though my crowd was a bit older and liked a different stratum of indie rock.

I was bothered by what felt like a lack of commitment to mood and story. Reviewers tend to point out the maze as an isolated issue, but you know what? I don’t blame the maze in particular. The puzzles in the party all felt like natural parts of the world, but those that followed felt tacked on or otherwise random. Even dream logic is, after all, a kind of logic.

I think what I wanted was a Mulholland Drive spinoff with Naomi Watts’s ex-boyfriend from Baltimore, but the game never coheres the way that film does (bet you never thought you’d see a sentence like that!).

Still, it is very much indeed a story with a close narrator–sometimes uncomfortably so. Definitely one to play for people interested in that topic, and I found the writing sharp and funny.

I also thought that the title might refer to that excellent Elvis Costello and the Attractions song, “Blue Chair,” but it doesn’t really line up.

Next: A Moment of Hope


While my game Photograph is probably a reasonable match for the criteria, it’s also one that was very much of its time in terms of implementation and approach.
I’d second Hanon’s suggestion of Rameses. Rameses was very innovative when released in the IFComp of 2000: with its complete lack of puzzles and a removal of agency that was very effective in firmly tying the player to the protagonist, and to his frustrations and state of mind.


I’ve played and enjoyed Rameses!

A Moment of Hope (1999) is a historical curiosity, sitting as it does between Photopia and Rameses. It feels like it, too. The text features close narration, zero player agency, and an unhappy teenage protagonist. At least one reviewer was completely exasperated by the absence of complex interaction in A Moment of Hope, but I think we are more accustomed to narrative-heavy experiences in 2022. The real problem with aMoH is that it isn’t very good as a fiction. I think it would have benefited from some sort of heroic recognition, as in the conclusion of “Araby”, instead of a somewhat creepy fantasy about clogging a crush’s inbox with fake hits from a dating site.

Ah, well. I still think it’s noteworthy as a structurally intermediate step between two better-remembered games. I also think it deserves credit for taking on a novel–and likely unappreciated at the time–approach to narrative design.

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Due to reader interest, I’ll respond to these games on Mastodon rather than here.

However! I’ll be playing them through the end of the month, so if you think of any more before then, I’m all ears!

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