Who do you write like?

Hanon Ondricek linked a while ago to https://iwl.me/, a site which analyzes a sample of text and compares your style to various prose authors’. I put in a partial transcript of Scroll Thief, and got Ursula K. LeGuin.

I’m curious now. Whose prose styles do other authors’ IF works resemble?

Huh. Apparently I write like David Foster Wallace. This from an excerp of an aborted WiP from six years ago (blimey, but time files!) AND from a very, very recent review of mine of Pen and Paint (under RANT). That analyzer is nothing if not consistent.

[rant=Pen and Paint review, a month ago, maybe]Hindsight’s a funny thing.

There are games that, when released, are just put down as not terribly good. Or a bit too different. Or not quite polished enough. In a Comp environment they do badly, really badly. Even if they gather a cult following, they’ll still do badly at comps, because there are some games that are just never going to do well in a competition environment, where the word of the day is polish, polish, polish.

But what if the strength of the game is its sketchiness?

When playing Pen and Paint, I had flashes of Deadline Enchanter and Blue Lacuna. Deadline Enchanter because it’s a very sketchy gameworld, where the player is deliberately fed only the vaguest hints about what’s going on. Blue Lacuna because both explore the idea of an artist travelling (in a sense) through their work, and they even begin similarly, waking in the middle of the night, in their own home.

Got the comparisons? Good. Becasue I don’t want to give you the idea that Pen and Paint is as good as DE or BL. It really is not. DE is wonderfully meta, and its world is bizarre, surreal, and solid, if skeletal. P&P is merely sketchy and vague. BL is detailed, meticulous, polished to perfection, and explores the ramifications of what it presents. P&P, well, isn’t. Doesn’t.

So it’s no wonder it would never do well in a Comp. It’s no wonder it’s not a game that people rush to play.

Doesn’t mean it’s a bad game, though. Doesn’t mean it doesn’t absolutely deserve a play. Doesn’t mean it’s not one of those little gems I so enjoy finding - rough around the edges, yes, could have done with a bit more work, probably, but it’s something quite different.

In P&P you play a writer, whose wife/colleague is a painter. Except that it’s not as simple as that; your wife’s painting has power. So have your written words.

Exactly what sort of power is up for grabs, the game hints at everything and explains nothings. The PC’s description of their surroundings hints at a strange way of life that mixes the mystical with the humdrum. I’ve seen criticism of the way the wife and their relationship is portrayed; namely, that she is barely interactive at all, they barely talk, and she is therefore just an object masquerading as an NPC.

I do believe that that’s a very “IFComp” criticism to make. It’s valid in the Comp’s context. But if we step back, what do we see?

I saw a very clear relationship where the PC is totally submissive to his wife, but not in any humilliating way. She is the practical one, she is the leader. He is the dreamer. She solves problems, or she tells him to solve problems. He just does as he’s told, in a quiet manner; he doesn’t talk much, but his actions are pregnant with meaning, because he doesn’t act without having breathed in everything around him. He gets lost in sounds, in smells. They don’t talk much; they don’t have to. They know each other intimately, and they know their art.

I played the same game as the people who called the NPC and PC out for their lack of characterisation. I just had different expectations. That can make all the difference.

The actual gameplay is as sketchy as the writing. Implementation is only deep enough to serve its purpose - with the occasional little extra that surprises you (I don’t know why I tried to EAT BATTERY, but the game recognised that. And it wasn’t a standard “eat object” response, either. That’s when I started to trust the game).

The thing is, and this is true with the implementation as well as the story, this looks deep but is shallow, in a disconcerting balance that threw me quite pleasantly. It’s like a frozen lake, where the ice is totally transparent (if such a thing exists!) and you can clearly see all the way down to the bottom. It looks very deep, and you can see it teeming with sealife, but you remain separated from all of that by a layer of transparent, unbreakable (work with me here!) ice.

(sigh) Fine, ok, you win. It’s like a glass-bottomed boat where you can’t break the glass. And you can’t touch the water, either. Ok? No, I don’t know why you can’t touch the water.

Joking aside, this worked much better than it should have. Part of why it worked was a very simple gaming mechanic - enter four small worlds, find the intruder. Entering a world requires that you get proper inspiration; if one of the paintings depicts a forest, then you look for sounds and sights and smells (BTW, kudos for the game actively involving other senses) to properly inspire you, then you write in the book that is linked to the painting.

See that bit of mysticism there (Myst-like) that I’ve just alluded to? It won’t be fully explained in the game. Nothing is.

That’s part of the game’s charm.

In its sketchiness, the game really excited my imagination. It also cut off my legs and wings by severly curtailing my interactions with this world to little more than the minimum, but hey, that also helped me create a mental picture of the PC - he’s the kind of guy that notices very specific things about the world around him.

The one small actual complaint I do have is that in certain sections a certain verb, which is vital, isn’t properly clued. The verb is LISTEN. You can’t finish some sections without using it, and I honestly don’t think the author did a good job in making that clear.

Something intriguing about this game is that - and I loved this - all the books into which you travel have an incomplete section. The book is a work in progress. This really tickled my fancy, and it does strike me, a few days after having played the game, that P&P is “incomplete” in the same way those books were incomplete. That thought brings in a nice extra dimension, an extra layer. I’ve no idea if the author meant for it to be read this way, but it’s possible (and if, like me, you’ve loved DE, it’s rather tempting to make P&P slightly meta as well. The sketchy implementation, the media res start and abrupt end, the slightly off-beat setting, all of that shares a similarity with the books that the PC usually writes).

I’ve rated this game three stars. I can’t say that I think it’s worth more than that. But it’s not a bad game by any measure. It’s a game I can recommend with reservations… but which I can definitely recommend. The walkthrough exists and can be used without fear - this is not a game to enjoy puzzle-solving, this is a game to enjoy for the atmosphere.

BTW, this is probably the most positive review you’re likely to find of this game. I can totally understand why that is… but, years after its release, without any Comp expectations, I really think Pen and Paint deserves a chance.[/rant]

[rant=Intro to an attempt to demake Phantasmagoria into IF, six years ago. Warning: it gets gruesome]Hilltop
From here you can see all the way to eternity.

Well, not really, but you feel as though you should - if you can’t see that far from up here, then there’s nowhere you can, not even in a writer’s magic eye, and the mythical phrase should be stripped of its powers and thrown down from the pedestal it occupies in the world of fantasy.

All the same, you can still see quite a lot from up here. On a clear day like this, you can easily see most of what has recently become your property. In fact, you can see little else - the Carnovash estate is vast, and the house itself stands proudly over all it surveys. It occurs to you, not for the first time, that you’ll need some people to tend to most of it - either that or let nature keep on taking its course. Both alternatives appeal to your romantic nature, so it’s a win-win situation.

You feel as though you’ve stepped into a fairy-tale spring - warm sun, fresh air, fragrant flowers, chirping birds, a single tree tall and robust enough to provide a cool shade and still so modest as not to impose itself, even the occasional butterfly. It feels like a dream.

You go down from the hilltop…

By the door
Your feet took you here, to the front door. It leads north. It is closed, but it looks like it wants to be open.

You hear what seems to be a smattering of applause.

You can hear perfectly well without making any special effort.

Suddenly everything goes quiet behind the door - but you think you can feel hundreds of people holding their breath, expectant.

listen to door
You can hear perfectly well without making any special effort.

A voice is talking on the other side of the door.

open door
You open the door and go through…

First, you see the stage. It would be hard not to - even if it were not adorned with all sorts of banners, props and contraptions, even if the tall, well-dressed man wearing the top hat weren’t right in the middle of it and drawing all the attention to himself, even if, in short, the stage was bare as rock, you still would have seen it first, because of its sheer size. It stretches forever, to the east and west, and as high up as the eye can see.
When you manage to look away from the stage, you see a vast audience, sitting in rows after rows after rows of milimetrically-placed chairs - but it isn’t long before your gaze is pulled back to the man onstage.

The man onstage beams at you from his vantage point. “Ah, just in time, ma’am! I believe we still have a seat left! Please, make yourself comfortable. Woefully, I cannot lie and say you haven’t missed a thing, but surely,” he winks, “you haven’t missed the best.”

Time passes.

No one budged when the man onstage announced you, but now they’re starting to notice you. “Do be seated, ma’am, please. We still have a whole evening, and for some of my best tricks I need the aisles clear.”

Time passes.

The man onstage seems to be growing a bit agitated. “Lady, please sit down. The show must go on.” You hear murmured agreement from the audience, from whom you’ve earned quite a few hostile glares by now.

It doesn’t take you long to find an empty seat, although from the looks of it, it must be the only empty seat in the house. After a few grunts, excuse mes and a few that’s all right dearies, you finally sit down, ready to enjoy the show.

Theater (on the seat)
From here, you can see the stage remarkably well. In fact, you can see almost every little detail.

“Now, ladies and gentlemen”, says the man onstage, “I would like to experience a moment of revivalism. Pure nostalgia, for which I beg your forgiveness - it is an act all of you, I’m sure, have seen several times in your lives, but nevertheless I hold it dear to my heart, and my very heart dictates - dictates, ladies and gentlemen! - that I can not possibly leave this stage without sawing one of you in half.” He smiles.

You try to stand up, but are immediately grabbed and forced down on your seat.

You watch the magician call out for a volunteer, look delighted by the ensuing commotion, and finally settle on a totally random (yeah, right) patron. At his signal, a table comes rolling onstage from the wings, and on it is what seems to be…

…is that a coffin?

x coffin
In your opinion, that’s in very poor taste.

“Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome our brave Lydia!”
The audience complies, rather enthusiastically. “Lydia” seems to be a pretty young woman, completely charmed with the magician. You can’t say you’re surprised. She has also been darting quick, worried glaces at the coffin.

When the ovation dies down, the man opens the coffin and helps her inside.

“Are you comfortable, dear?” And, an inaudible reply later, “Oh, don’t worry, my dear, this won’t take long. At most, it might sting a little.” He titters, and the audience obediently chuckles along.

The chuckle dies when he closes and locks the coffin. The sudden sound is rather loud.

x banner


                           an intense performance by

                               The GREAT CARNO

“Of course,” he says, “every artist has a different interpretation of any given subject, and I can assure you, ladies and gentlemen, that my act is rather unique. If I may say so myself.” He pulls out a very large saw from somewhere in his coat. “You may have seen women sawn in half, but make no mistake - not the way I saw them”.

You feel rather uncomfortable. This is a very grim show, too grim for your tastes.

x carno
A tall man, dressed elegantly in black and wearing a top hat, in the tradition of magicians everywhere.

He begins to saw the coffin. The odd thing is, he’s really sawing it. You can easily tell. Your father was a carpenter - many were the hours you whiled away in his workshop, much to the chagrin of your mother. You know that sound as well as you know the smell of your father’s pipe, which he smoked right until the day he…

Anyway, you know that sound - he’s really cutting the wood. Wasn’t that thing supposed to be prepared?

Time passes.

The magician is still sawing the coffin. He’s also telling a rather elaborate story about the origins of this particular act - it’s egyptian, apparently. Everyone seems fairly engrossed. As for yourself, you’re growing severely bored, and to make matters worse the person sitting in front of you just lit a cigar. You can’t stand the smell of those things.

Time passes.

A sudden gasp, muffled but still very loud, puts a stop to the magician’s tale. Unperturbed, he beams at the audience and says “We have made contact! Now we may begin - at our leisure.”

And he resumes cutting, with renewed vigour.

The sound of cutting wood is loud, and the sudden, terrified shriek is louder still, but they cannot hide the hideous sound of a saw tearing the flesh, shattering the bone, ripping internal organs. In your mind, you hear them clearly, though the shriek is so loud you can’t possibly be hearing them with your ears.

The coffin starts to shake violently, and you see Lydia inside, as clearly as though it were made of glass - see her cut open, bleeding, crying, hurling herself against the sides of the coffin in a desperate attempt to save her life, but the madman is now practically lying on the coffin, trapping the already trapped, and still sawing. He’s grinning madly, and picking up speed. Blood starts leaking from inside the coffin - and soon it is pouring out, forming a terrible pool on the floor of the stage.

Horrified, while the coffin rocks, and the victim shrieks, and the lunatic saws on and on, you see for the first time that there are other pools of blood, all around the stage. You look up and see the magician is also streaked with it - his otherwise immaculate face a mixture of blood and make-up, a cheshire cat’s grin so wide it could…

…and suddenly it stops. The saw reaches the end of the coffin, and comes out the other way. The shriek has apparently stopped for a while now, but it goes on inside your mind - it goes on even as the magician places each hand on each half of the coffin and proudly pulls it apart.

The remains that splatter onto the floor are unspeakable.

It starts somewhere in your gut, where the modern poets insist all emotions have their genesis, it defies anatomy by gathering speed around your heart, it enters your lungs… and dies before it goes through your vocal chords, turning a scream into a scared whimper.

In the deathly silence, the man walks over to the centre of the stage… and takes a bow.

And applause breaks out from all around you! You hear the Bravos, you hear the avalanche of sound, hear people cheering the Great Carno, and you try to talk, you try to yell, you try to say no, stop it, didn’t you see it?, it was REAL, he did… but nothing comes out, nothing but a series of gasps. You try to stand up - your rubbery legs send you crashing back down.

As the murderer blows a kiss to the audience, the world seems suddenly full of cigar smoke… but it’s not a cigar at all, it’s a pipe, and when the person sitting in front of you (who, for one, had not stood up for the aplause) turns around and tells you what a great show it’s been, you look into the face of your father, and finally the scream comes belting out, shattering reality -

You wake up.[/rant]

I posted excerpts from seven different stories and got seven different answers: Arthur Clarke, Vladimir Nabokov, James Joyce, Leo Tolstoy, Dan Brown, H. G. Wells, William Shakespeare. Not exactly the most homogeneous group. I don’t really agree with these choices either…

I also posted the intro from Toby’s Nose and got Arthur Conan Doyle, but I feel like the appearance of the name “Sherlock Holmes” in the text probably tipped off that particular analysis.

I posted a bunch of excerpts from Tea and Toast and got… Chuck Pahalaniuk? What the actual heck?

Hey, I put a bit of Hadean Lands in there (the intro) and also got Chuck Pahalaniuk. Cute.

EDIT - If I remove the names “Watson” and “Sherlock Holmes” from Toby’s Nose, it shifts from Arthur Doyle to… you guessed it… Chuck Pahlaniuk.

We should get Chuck Pahlaniuk to write IF.

Lastest blog post: Raymond Chandler.
Latest IF review: HP Lovecraft.
Last post on XYZZY blog: David Foster Wallace.
Invisible Parties: JRR Tolkien.
Olivia’s Orphanorium: William Shakespeare.
Twine WIP: Jonathan Swift

…yeah, I think that the results might be eeever so slightly arbitrary.

That site gave me Arthur Clarke. I only gave it one small sample, though. Might play with it more later.

Last novel: James Fenimore Cooper
Last IF: Stephen King
Latest Blog Post: Cory Doctorow

I’m surprised it didn’t throw Dickens at OO.

I just copy/pasted an excerpt of Chuck Pahlaniuk’s “Haunted” in there.

Apparently, Chuck is now writing like Stephen King.

I consistently get Chuck Palahniuk. Maybe we should use this to our advantage. Include a tagline on our games: Ever wanted to play a game written by ?It may be a lot like this game!


A pretty sizeable excerpt from Mere Anarchy gives me Neil Gaiman, which, yeah, sounds about right.

But two recent blog posts give me HP Lovecraft - maybe I should stop grading games with the “squamous appendage up/cthonic protuberance down” system?

Incidentally: On two separate occasions, different reviewers brought up China Miéville when talking about my prose (and not even the same game!). I have never read China Miéville.

It seems to change depending on which excerpts I include, even within the same work.

Delphina’s House: Dan Brown and Cory Doctorow.

Molly and the Butter Thieves: James Joyce, Tolkien, and L. Frank Baum.

The people I got compared to in college (by peers, not a system) were Isaac Asimov and Raymond Chandler. (My style has evolved since then.)

Here, I’m getting results all over the map.

Write Like You (The Best You Possible) - HP Lovecraft
Pinball and Game Balance - David Foster Wallace
How to Become a Game Dev - Cory Doctorow
Sample seeds from ChoiceScript WIP - Neil Gaiman

If I replace “your sanctuary” with “the attic” in the intro to Delphina’s house, it changes from Dan Brown to Stephen King. Hahaha.

I posted several chapters from the same story (entire chapters at once) (this isn’t a computer game, but it will do) and got several different answers, including Palahniuk and Rowling and Stevenson and a few others. (Nevertheless, this code is TeX code rather than plain text, so I don’t know how much that would affect such thing much.)

I haven’t heard of Palahniuk before so I also looked at Wikipedia, it has a section about his writing style. However, I do not know how to classify my own writing style.

I got Dan Brown for A Roiling Original’s intro, which horrified me because I agree with Stephen Fry about him, though the youtube video has a few minor profanities, so I won’t link to it.

But then I got Kurt Vonnegut for Shuffling Around. And Stephen King for Threediopolis and Ugly Oafs. So I felt better.

More expressively comic writers don’t seem to be highly represented, as I’d hope PG Wodehouse would be an option. Though I bet comedy is the toughest to quantify.

Incidentally, Amanda McKittrick Ros’s Irene Iddsleigh gets HP Lovecraft, and The Eye of Arqon gets David Foster Wallace.

Pissy Little Sausages posts come up fairly consistently Cory Doctorow. I’ve never read any Cory Doctorow.

I suspect the thing is analyzing content rather than style, because when I put in chapters 1 & 2 of my erotica WIP, I get Anne Rice. Chapter 5, the one with the wizards, gets me J.K. Rowling.

(well to be fair Chapter 1 has the same wizards in it but they are overshadowed by that horse)

I got Arthur C. Clarke. I feel flattered.

I wish they shared a bit about the algorithm. I’m sure it’s mostly linkbait and not very sophisticated, but now that my sloppy prose was compared to A. C. Clarke, I can’t help but wonder — how?

Btw, if I could choose, I kind of wish I got Chuck Palahniuk… :’(