Not-Quite-A-Review: Gamlet (2004)

Recently I’ve been working on a project that has impressed upon me the difficulties of writing parser-based interactive fiction. I believe that any honest criticism has to include this perspective.

Some might argue that I am about to engage in criticism that is not honest; after all, any hack on the internet can find a couple of flaws and incessantly complain about them. Fair enough. In my defense, I am writing to announce that, from now on, I will be ignoring Mr. Jacek Pudlo. I will no longer acknowledge this character’s existence. If the person behind this character is capable of producing a work of interactive fiction that is even half as brilliant as he thinks it is, then perhaps it would be worth a look. For now, I’d like to discuss this person’s only known work of interactive fiction: Gamlet.

(In the rest of this post I might occasionally refer to “Mr. Pudlo” and Mr. Pudlo’s creator as if they are the same person. This is merely for ease of reference.)

I’m not sure if Mr. Pudlo has ever publicly admitted to being the author of Gamlet. Perhaps this recent statement by Mr. Pudlo is as close to an admission as we might expect:

(Recently Mr. Pudlo seems to rely more on profanity to sustain his writing. Malcolm X has said that “A man curses because he doesn’t have the words to say what’s on his mind.” Mr. Pudlo certainly provides evidence for this thesis. Consider this recent expression of disagreement with the administration of this message board:

But I digress.)

I will acknowledge that the game’s “about” text says (in part):

Later statements in Gamlet suggest this statement is not true. Recently Mr. Pudlo made this statement:

I will not be bothering to use the spoiler tag in this review. If anyone actually wants to play Gamlet before reading beyond this paragraph, they probably should. I would just like to warn anyone who is going to actually play Gamlet that there is a “WALKTHRU” available in the game, and in my opinion, this is a walkthrough that many a player will not regret using.

Gamlet has a strong opening:

Many many openings in IF go on for too long. This one sets the stage quickly and effectively. The opening scene also goes on to set up a clear task: get a specific book and bring it to your dead father in the park.

The game ends with the display of two different boxes contain a message. The last one is a standard copyright notice. The penultimate box:

As someone recently wrote, “Writing is about making choices.” The author choose to put this in the game. What could this text mean?

Perhaps a player’s first thought is that the game is playfully complimenting players by calling each of them an early minicomputer. What whimsy! Each player might have each spent only a couple of hours to get to this point. When players think of how many more hours the author invested in preparing the player to get to this message, players might wish to return the compliment by calling the author many more Wang 2200 systems.

But then a player might assume that the author could be calling each player a term that refers to male genitalia. This is how I read this message. The game provides no indication of how large a “Wang” I should consider myself to be. When I think of the countless hours that Mr. Pudlo spent just to insult people he didn’t know, I think it is only reasonable to infer that he is a much smaller “Wang” than I.

In this spirit – certainly inspired by the “critical reviews” that Mr. Pudlo has recently posted – I would like to point out a few problems with the writing in Gamlet.

I can’t claim to hug myself all that often, but I have yet to do so with my tongue. I could note that the Inform6 default library maps the “HUG” response to the response for “KISS” and leave it at that. I’ll leave it up to the reader’s imagination to consider what Mr. Pudlo would write here.

The next two examples take place in the Study.

“Oblong” does not need the adjective “narrow.” What really drew my attention to this piece of writing is the description of something “blacker than shadow” and saying its blackness is more dense than ivory. Uh, really? That destroyed the comparison for me: saying it’s denser than something that’s white just doesn’t make any artistic sense here.

How does a desk “creakes”? If I were Mr. Pudlo, I would be forced to ask in my review: was this game proofread? (In all fairness, he could come up with something more irritating to say here.)

And then this piece of writing from the end game. This is after the ghost comes to the PC and reveals himself to be a giant praying mantis who just so happens to be God and Jacek Pudlo. The game says about the praying mantis:

No “regional flavour”? No entity that “knew so many languages” would use a word in this sentence that also has an Anglicized spelling. It undercuts the meaning.

(Anyone who wishes to accuse me of being mean to someone who isn’t a native English speaker might want to consider how much courtesy Mr. Pudlo has extended in his reviews.)

Let’s be honest: Gamlet could be the ultimate “Your stupid for caring what I say!” message ever from an interactive fiction author. Based on Mr. Pudlo’s subsequent behavior on various internet fora that merely continues this tiresome joke, I’m ready to take him at his word and proceed to ignore him.

It’s possible that this is not the message he wished me to receive from Gamlet. All I can say is that, as a writer, it is his task to clearly state his message. (Mr. Pudlo might wish to claim that the problem here is that I am unable to appreciate his genius. In the words of another writer, “Whatever Gets You Thru The Night.”)

Any community that seeks truth in whatever form has to open itself to criticism. I get this. One of my favorite questions in the history of science has to be Olbers’ paradox. It took genius to question the ordinary: why is the sky dark at night?

Similarly, I’m vaguely aware of the place of the court jester. The jester is free to speak truth to the king. Note, however, that part of the jester’s job is to entertain other people.

I find it interesting that Mr. Pudlo seems to direct his ire at IF authors who have placed higher than 9th in a competition and have actually published something since 2004. I suppose it makes sense: these authors have something that he clearly lacks. At this point, Mr. Pudlo might wish to add that interactive fiction “is not worthy of attention because it is not true art.” Why does Mr. Pudlo spend so much commenting on something not worthy of comment? (Whoever plays the role of Mr. Pudlo is doing an excellent job here of mimicking Freudian projection.)

Is art (whatever that is) immune from criticism? Of course not. Consider Citizen Kane: if no one else was present when Charles Foster Kane died, then how do we know what he said? No matter what one thinks of this film – or film in general – I think this is a legitimate question. Merely because someone starts with a legitimate question like this does not mean they are entitled to my further attention for discussions of how corpulent Orson Welles became or how film is an inferior form of artistic expression.

Mr. Pudlo has made it abundantly clearly what sort of criticisms he wishes to throw. Here are just two examples:

Writing is all about choices. Whoever plays the part of Mr. Pudlo choose to share statements such as the above with the world. I no longer wish to read what Mr. Pudlo has to say.

Whoever plays the part of Mr. Pudlo needs to find a new act. The motives of Mr. Pudlo are transparent. I suppose the details of Mr. Pudlo’s prose might be somewhat unpredictable – to put it politely – but, ultimately, everything he writes is about himself. Mr. Pudlo is a wonderful dramatization of a narcissist, someone who doesn’t care if they are liked as long as they are the center of attention.

I have suspected his recent caustic “reviews” were an attempt to get beta testers. (“Oh yeah? Jacek, if you’re so smart, why don’t YOU write a game?”) I haven’t had to look far to find my suspicions confirmed:

I suspect that “Limbs of Osiris” will go something like this: after you gather the limbs of Osiris, the game ends and you meet Jacek Pudlo. He regales you (the pathetic player) with stories about how in the intervening nine years Mr. Pudlo has been spending his valuable precious genius learning Coptic Greek as well as how to play the ukelele. (Someone of such immeasurable genius cannot be bothered to write interactive fiction!) In this game, instead of ripping off the Kabbalah Mr. Pudlo will steal from Egyptian mythology to describe his Greatness.

Perhaps this drawing from Egyptian mythology will be intended as some ironic commentary on the follies of power and popularity. This will be an obvious (?) commentary on the folly of the interactive fiction monarchs! Under Mr. Pudlo’s narcissistic nihilism, all is folly, and the only thing that makes life worthwhile is the greatness of Mr. Pudlo.

If Mr. Pudlo wants to believe things like this, why should I care? If nihilism is true, it follows that there is nothing special about Mr. Pudlo.

Ultimately, that’s the problem with Mr. Pudlo’s act. It’s boring. It demands attention and offers nothing in return except demands for more attention. The character pretends to believe that he is capable of greatness yet offers no evidence. Rather than provide such evidence the character devotes his time to tearing down those with higher rankings. Those who doubt the character’s greatness? They are clearly inferior! In a world with no meaning, Mr. Pudlo only offers more tedium. (I suppose that’s one way of arguing a philosophical point.)

I hope my reasons for ignoring Mr. Pudlo are clear. I can’t speak as to why Mr. Pudlo is still a member of this community. Perhaps his presence could serve a useful marketing purpose: “Join the board and you can ignore his posts!”

One final note: I too was surprised by Mr. Pudlo’s post today that stated: “As far as I can see, I’m the only one who’s posting criticism in any serious shape or form.” I’ve been working on this review for a couple of days (I’d be foolish not to post now). At first I worried that I might be mistaken for one of Mr. Pudlo’s sockpuppets. But then it hit me: the people who can’t tell the difference between us aren’t worth knowing.

Mr. Pudlo is Dorian Gray, but without the wit, and without the painting.


Wit isn’t Dorian’s forte. That’s Lord Henry’s thing. Dorian’s thing is his unfading beauty over which the painting hangs like a Damoclean sword. So I’m Dorian Gray without the painting, am I? That means I’m a man of unearthly beauty whose looks will never fade. Thank you for the compliment, I guess.

The reason why I’m pointing out these things is because Wilde deserves to be read with comprehension. Not that I’m implying you read him without comprehension. I’m implying you didn’t read him at all. Being the plebeian that you are, you saw the movie.

Without a painting to do so in his stead, Dorian would age normally and would bear the marks of his sins. An interpretation of the book that claims that Dorian would have had eternal beauty if the painting hadn’t existed is ludicrous.

I don’t know much about this person, but he seems to be much like one of those puppies you have to keep hitting with a rolled-up newspaper. :question:

You are weakly misreading the character. Dorian’s beauty derives from his innocence. His overriding concern is to remain beautiful, which he does by remaining innocent. Only when Basil paints his portrait does Dorian descend into sin. He does so because the portrait allows him to sin with impunity. A Dorian without the painting would be eternally beautiful by dint of his innocence.

What kind of Dorian am I? Bald Guy With Tongue Hanging Out suggested I am one without a sin-absorbing painting, presumably a Dorian whose beauty is untouched by sin. Others have suggested my sins are of such multitude an entire gallery of sin-absorbing paintings couldn’t possibly absorb them. Please organise yourselves in groups of 4-5. Each group is to appoint a Jacek who will randomly insult the other members as they discuss the exact nature of my beauty.