You're the essayist now, dog! -- a look back on a bad game 10+ years in the making

First, thanks to manonamora for creating a jam that let me write such an … effort … with minimal guilt.

Second, apologies to people who wanted to see the image in the (unsolvable) link maze and got a broken image. That was unintentional bad. The only way to “solve” the link maze is to click on 10 different words, which allows you to slink out the back.

reject image


Okay, on to the main stuff.

October 16, 2013. Has it been that long? I know the date, because I have screenshots. I may’ve mentioned in another thread that it came from Ryan Veeder’s alternate universe IFComp topic.

part 1

part 2

The title comes from a quote in Finding Forrester, from Sean Connery. As a teacher, he tells a writing student, you’re the man now, dog. When the student wants to write. The whole phrase became a meme long ago, even with a site called You’re the Man Now, Dog aka “YTMND.” I’m not sure how much of this bit of small internet history everyone remembers, but it’s where the name came from.

It was originally conceived as what a troll entry would be like, if it got past the IFComp administrators. So you were an IFComp judge and had pretty much lost at life. Of course, I wouldn’t want to do this to any of them, past or present, so I figured it was just going to be vaporware for a long time. But I always wondered if a work could go for the Golden Banana, hit it, and not make everybody feel terrible in the process, as YTJND sadly might.

Obviously you can make a lot of people feel bad by being divisive, and I think there was a recent IFComp entry that did that. It got part of its text redacted at the administrator’s request, because it contained a personal attack in one of two branches. So I left feeling even less likely than ever to write my troll game–it really upset me, and I can only imagine how the target on my hands.

The self-serving bits built up over time. “If I would write such a horrible entry,” I thought, “what would it include?” Okay, a lot of entries are self-serving in their own way, but they sort of hope to connect with other people and say, hey, did you feel this too? Or hey, I know there must be somebody out there, or this is how I see things now. So I wanted to avoid anything resembling that. I wanted it to be a game by somebody who was obviously too cool for all those interactive fiction dorks and almost … almost … too cool to let them know. (That means parser or twine. I do have an idea for a bad parser game.)

As for the name, I hope the fellow named Buford who was at summer camp with me, if he sees this, knows that Buford Rootberg is not based off him. (There was, in fact, a Buford Rootberg there he found annoying.) I just liked the name and how it meshed, and I always liked the last name Rootberg, because when I was seven, I noticed it sounded like root beer.

But of course anything could be trolling. How do you troll creatively? How do you make it so that you are legitimately going to be a real jerk about things?

Then Damon Wakes dropped Dick McButts Gets Kicked in the Nuts as a deliberate try for the Golden Banana. I figured I could not top that.

That didn’t stop me what-iffing. The thing was, though, even releasing this after IFComp would be kind of mean. I didn’t want to do that to IFComp.

But a contest with deliberately bad games? Well, when I saw that, the gears started turning. I still had doubts. Then I saw this link, and I felt freer to skewer what I wanted. Why is this important?

Well, I’d had a good long think about time to text. I really really hated it. I have for a while, and when I saw other people say they hated it too, bam! Solidarity! (Plus I felt ahead of the curve.)

I mean, okay, parser games can give a text flood or have you press a space bar when the text goes off the screen call but that’s totally different. Let’s ignore the issue of, if you have these text dumps, that’s bad for another reason.

So why would people use time to text? Don’t they get it? And the answer is, well, in a way, yes and no. I think what it’s saying is, I need you to listen. I need you not to interrupt and make your own judgements right away. There’s some nuance here I’ve tried to express quickly, but I can’t. Perhaps the writer has had someone else interrupt, and this time it’s not going to happen and they need to hammer home the point, even though the person on the other side is just clicking away and the writer won’t ultimately know the difference if the player does, in fact, edit the code.

But it does feel like you the reader are being asked for a receipt. And I’ve been on the other side of people who make meaningful pauses all the time. (You’d better not interrupt them. But they sure can interrupt you!)

And of course, there’s a big flaw when you label too much in your work to important. That should be your reader’s job to determine what is, if it happens too often.

So I sort of swore I would never use timed text, but on the other hand, I started remembering times when I had something to say and it was a bit of a complex thought, and someone would jump in and say oh I know what you mean I’ve heard that before, or they would even say oh that’s weird I’ve never heard anything like that. That is a time when I wish somebody would have taken a second or so to shut up, or to let me gather my thoughts to say something more than just the usual niceties. I had something planned, and maybe I saw an angle I didn’t quite understand, and I wanted the chance to work through that and make sure I didn’t put my foot in my mouth. But I really did loathe when other people decided to put their foot in my mouth.

I suspect that’s a lot what’s happening with other people who use timed text, that they’ve been silenced, and they say, well, I’d like you to just sit and think and not make any premature judgments. That’s the best case, and I think it’s the more common one, but it’s easy for our more petulant side to see some pompous goon up there saying, no, “you will listen to my splendidly paced meaningful pauses.”

And hitting the point too hard, especially for stories of bad things that happened, is potentially DARVO. (“Oh, sure, he violated your dignity, but you complained about it the wrng way, which is worse.”)

Once I worked through that, I said, okay, let’s have this really bad person who puts in meaningful pauses just to leave people hanging. This ties into the broetry above. If you read what’s there, it’s really nothing much, and not very meaningful, but it does elicit a sort of, hey, what comes next, even if the reader doesn’t care.

Now that’s what some people need, when they’re telling a tough story, as opposed to hearing, “well, it happens to everyone.” But there’s an element of “please don’t ignore me,” and we deserve to say that, without sounding like begging, but it’s so hard. Whether it’s for something big or small that bugs us.

Okay, enough of that touchy feeling nonsense. What did I do to make the game actually bad?

Well, the time text came first, once I reassured myself I wasn’t dunking on people who used it to describe something pretty awful. But I didn’t want it to be forced on the reader, because they would never get all the way through it. I wanted to put in an option above but of course I didn’t want to make it too easy. That’s why I put the passive aggressive narrator in, who says, oh, I guess you can do this. This sort of thing is often better for messing people’s minds then more brute force stuff. In other words, you should be grateful for the opportunity to get rid of something that never should have been in there in the first place.

I sort of paid the price, programatically. I couldn’t find a way to put everything into a for Loop, or a nice and tidy one, because Tweego didn’t like how I filed to close the > loop. So I wound up cutting and pasting a lot of code. Maybe for a post comp release I find something slicker, but it’s really window dressing. I’d like to know, though, because it’s an interesting puzzle.

As for the story, such as it is: well, the blogger living life of squalor and eating Ramen or Hot Pockets or whatever is kind of a silly meme, and I figured kind of well, why don’t we make the player that person, against their will? And I think I borrow it from other things I didn’t particularly like. I have to admit I’m not the fan of ChoiceScript having you customize a character and not do a whole lot with the customization, so I put in a bunch of options, where the game will insult you no matter what you chose. Just pointlessness to get started.

Also, I didn’t want direct self-aggrandisement, because that would probably hammer the reader too quickly. I decided to have somebody say, oh, you know, for your own good, you can strive for what I want to strive for which is to be like, well, this other guy who’s even better than I am, which shows a sort of very very shallow humility indeed on the part of the author.

The details popped up as I started thinking, okay, how can I make this legitimately bad in its own way, without being impossible? How to be really annoying and yet lead people on? Have actual game play?

And that’s where eating all the Hot Pockets came in, where you had a link that only highlighted one letter, and sometimes it highlighted the space. I considered having you click on the non-underlined spaces, but I didn’t have time to write the code. I, however, laughed hysterically when I saw how mean it could be. Sometimes having things happen randomly ca n make a reader feel more helpless.

And then there was the link-maze. Of course I wanted to be an extra jerk and explain how you could have done things quick, but only of course after you did it. And I was quite pleased with the reusable code that I had, where you could pick one letter for both the Hot Pockets and the entries. These used dictionaries of a sort, or they did in the final post comp release, where you would have an array of things to eat or judge, and then your reaction to them. One thing I didn’t get to do was have a reaction to each Hot Pockets you ate. I couldn’t think of anything good, but this went in post release.

I also gave myself free rein to be kind of insulting (that’s how the most effective trolls operate,) but not too insulting, and a lot of the slip-ups I made while writing made it into the actual game. They seem like bugs, but they were so wonderfully terrible, I had to include them. The original release kind of bungled having the sound active, due to folder pads or case sensitivity or whatever, but I remember seeing how twine started sound. I’m not a big fan of sound in twine games, but it’s tolerable, and so when I decided on sounds to make, I thought I would make them rather silly and pretentious and annoying, thus the five different bongos. What I didn’t realize was that you had to shut one sound off, or it would keep going, and the result was having a couple of sounds on top of each other, which was delightfully horrible.

By the way, the bongos themselves are from William Shatner reading a speech of Sarah Palin’s, back in 2008, or maybe it was 2009. He has the whole Shatner voice going on, and there was a guy playing bongos in the background, and he fails to stop cracking up. So I always had an image of that, well before I even wrote my first text adventure game, and I actually applied it to somebody writing on another site, where I pictured him making him gestures to someone playing the bongos to stop, or to make a crescendo, or so forth.

I figured it was legitimately important to toggle kayfabe, but not too much, and also given that I had trouble actually toggling the sound, I figured, well, what if I just didn’t and told the player they could do it if they just click the mute up in the upper right, because the game can’t do everything for you. I really like that sort of thing where someone pushes what is their responsibility on you, and it’s true, you could go out of your way to do this, but you weren’t expecting this horrible noise. Certainly I’ve had, at work, people tell me that if conversation annoys me, I can just wear headphones, well, for an hour or two.

I couldn’t resist putting an exorbitant amount in the donation request either. I felt guilty even having two bucks there sometimes, so I figured, why not just go overboard?

Actual influences on this game were 1984 and the late 90s television series Strangers with Candy. Oh, and Kafka too. But then again everyone claims Kafka!

Strangers With Candy influences a lot of what I do, because it’s about a twist on overwrought High School special episodes, with each episode being “painfully special,” and having exactly the wrong moral. The point being, of course, high school or life can be this way, and one lesson we need to learn most of all is, adults in charge as well as popular kids who will grow up to be in charge, are all pretty awful. Here, too, you wind up thinking Buford is great in the end.

But more seriously, I meant it to be like 1984, and that it wants you to love Big Brother in the end, and indeed, Big Brother is Buford, even though Buford would probably be sure he was against communism and all that. He just, quite simply, expects you to believe that two plus two equals five when it comes to his own action. That his nastiness and harshness is nowhere near you actually having a bad thought about him or thinking he’s a bit of a jerk, which is actually being charitable. The whole reprogramming session with Buford seminar, and the whole being watched by Buford even though he has no interest in you as a person, laid up to that sort of authoritarianism that says, well, you’d better obey even though he’s not looking. He has henchmen who makes sure you will, like, well, the narrator.

I suppose Kafka was an influence too, where nothing you do actually works, and you have lairs of confusion to unravel.

I was quite pleased with the graphic that said you guessed wrong. It is a horrible warping of Robert Indiana’s LOVE statue in Philadelphia. In a way, I had fun with it, but each time, I couldn’t help but think, I’ve been on the other side of this, of the narrator and Buford, and I actually was worn down into believing that their way was the right way, and their aggression was somehow clever. And unfortunately, we see it today. It’s easy to see Buford as someone who would call others out for virtue signaling, or worse. Buford Rootberg needs attention, and so does the narrator, and they’re willing to take it from people they have no respect for. In fact, even if someone gives them attention, Buford et al will lose respect.

It’s tough for me to deal with the Bufords of the world. I’m still not very good. I suppose like in the movie War Games, the only way to win is not to play, but unfortunately, we live in the real world and we have to, sometimes. And also, unfortunately, all the self-help books of as soon as training and not letting it get to you only go so far. The people who want to get in your head, well, if they’re focused enough, it’s hard to push back at that. They’ve had a lot of practice, around other people, and you haven’t really had practice repelling them. You have your own life to live, but trolling is part of theirs.

I’m reminded of Gresham’s law here, which says that good bad money drives out good money, but it also could be said that bad conversation or bad attention drives out good conversation or good attention.

And I touched on some other things, like how Buford remembers you, and it’s as if he was the one who put up with you, instead of the other way around. That’s sort of DARVO, and for those who don’t recognize the acronym, you may find it useful to review <a href = ">here. He’s obviously a lout, if a well-heeled one, but in real life, it’s not so easy to say that, because these people often have hangers on, or some measure of success, and they say “Well, I wouldn’t be so successful if I were just polite all the time.”

I don’t know how to fight that. But I sort of wanted to. And so at the heart of this bad game is hopefully something good and moral that comes out, that says, yes, people are this way. We can lock them. We probably should, and we need to find our own way, and we shouldn’t feel guilty about it, because they sure as hell mock other people for not being as cavalier as they are about other people feelings or personal autonomy.

Of course, in the end, the title is the opposite of what happens. The reader is left judged. Perhaps they may be adequate enough for Buford Rootberg one day! Gosh!


awwww yeaaah we got a post mortem :green_heart:
One of the best worst game ever :green_heart:

2013?!?!?! You were so ahead of the jam! wow

r/brandnewword :joy:

the judge becomes the judgee :scream: