SPY INTRIGUE
July 16, 2019 3:43 AM   Subscribe

SPY INTRIGUE is one of the finest and bravest things ever produced in the [interactive fiction] medium: personal and true, technically masterful in both code and design, literary in the best sense. - Emily Short

Some people, I’ve seen, refer to it as raw. I wouldn’t call it so; I’d say it has a quality I prefer to rawness, an ability to present the most intense and traumatic experiences with such understanding that it offers others a tool to dismantle their own pain.

Yes, I am still talking about a game in which you can shove banana bread down the front of your spy pants. That game. Yes.


SPY INTRIGUE (IFDB) is a long Twine game by furkle about growing up, living in a world somewhat like ours, and no shortage of ESPIONAGE.

If you find the interface confusing, make sure you read the SPY SCHOOL INITIATE MANUAL, linked from the first screen.
posted by value of information (17 comments total) 39 users marked this as a favorite
 
It's long been my personal opinion that Twine is the worst thing to ever happen to IF as a medium. It really seems to, by its very nature, steer authors towards less interesting and more masturbatory art than the preexisting alternatives.

But if Emily Short is this excited about a game, I will give it a try.
posted by 256 at 4:43 AM on July 16 [6 favorites]


I originally misread the pullquote and thought this was a new game BY Emily Short, and I was so excited!

But yeah, if my favorite IF author sings its praises, I'll definitely gave it a try even if Twine isn't my preferred engine.
posted by solotoro at 5:13 AM on July 16 [1 favorite]


This is a tangent, 256, but your comment was really interesting to me. I know exactly zilch about interactive fiction, but at first glance Twine seems like just a useful tool for a non-technical person to write IF. What about it pushes the medium in those directions?
posted by The Baffled King at 5:30 AM on July 16 [4 favorites]


Wow, yeah, if Short heaps this kind of praise on a game, I'm there. In fact, I see I've played few of the her Top 20 list that this concludes, and much more of the ones she cites reasons for omitting despite their being great games. Thanks, value of information.
posted by Zed at 5:37 AM on July 16


Okay, so I'm going to caveat everything that follows because I've taken about ten minutes to play around with SPY INTRIGUE and have two takeaways so far:

1. Either Twine has leveled up since I last looked at, or this author is a genius at getting more out of the engine than it wants to give.

2. This game is REALLY well written.

That said, Twine rant:

Interactive fiction has a long history as a sort of verbal ping pong between author and player, where the author has built a whole new version of ping pong and part of the game is figuring out the rules.

You say "Look at self" and the game says "For the first time in years, you take a true moment of introspection. A portal of self-discovery opens to the inner northwest."

Certainly, except for in extreme recombinant examples, which are themselves very interesting, everything you read while playing has been composed, but there is a degree of agency, puzzle solving, and surprise present in the best interactive fiction that makes you feel like you are truly in control and that the world is almost limitless. Out of this, some brilliant narrative structures can emerge with surprising emotional strength because the "reader" feels a sense of personal investment and even responsibility that they would not achieve with static fiction.

With Twine, most of that immersion is taken away. It's almost always clear from the get go that you are just choosing what order to read the pre-written story in. It's hard to feel a sense of investment or responsibility when you are presented with two links basically asking which html page you want to read.

I've said before that a good IF is like a tabletop role-playing-game with an artificial intelligence dungeon master, whereas a twine game is more like a choose your own adventure book.

And that's without even starting in on all the really bad poetry that keeps trying to pass itself off as good just because the author used Twine to make it non-linear...
posted by 256 at 5:54 AM on July 16 [16 favorites]


As someone who's written a Twine game, I sorta know what you mean, 256. I wonder if anyone is working on any other promising IF engines that could emerge as potential Twine successors, ones that are less Choose Your Own Adventure?

The thing that leads me back to Twine is, when I look around for more world-y "you're in a story and everything seems possible" Twine alternatives to play with, I usually find something that tries to bring back the Infocom days, with the player typing X THE RED CRYSTAL THEN WAIT. I love all those games, "Cutthroats" and all those, but it feels like a lot to ask modern players to get into a text parser game if they didn't grow up amazed by Apple IIEs and stuff. So then that leads me back to click-based games. But then the clicking just leads back to the Choose Your Own Adventure-style html railed choice stuff.

Will check out this game for sure tho. Lot of interesting and worthy stuff being done with Twine now.

posted by johngoren at 6:28 AM on July 16 [3 favorites]


I feel like I've only scratched the surface of this after playing around with it on and off for half an hour, but there is already some very good stuff there. I wish I had time to really dig in.

I'll also agree with 256 that Twine is not really capital-I capital-F Interactive Fiction in the way that I think about it. It's fascinating stuff -- Horse Master is one of the best things I've ever read -- but it isn't IF, not yet.
posted by Rock Steady at 7:22 AM on July 16 [3 favorites]


long history as a sort of verbal ping pong between author and player, where the author has built a whole new version of ping pong and part of the game is figuring out the rules.

I loved Adventure/Colossal Cave and spent many hours wandering through a maze of twisty passages (all the same and all different) then wandered off into usenet. Recently got a copy finally delivered of a game that I'd sent in $20 years before, cool, but started up, and just was not into the syntax guessing game. Would love to explore or dig into a hard puzzle but just could not get into learning the one time quirky lingo.

There's a real issue that I'm sure is discussed in IF circles, should there be a universal language or is the personal writers syntax the point.
posted by sammyo at 7:40 AM on July 16 [2 favorites]


I wonder if anyone is working on any other promising IF engines that could emerge as potential Twine successors, ones that are less Choose Your Own Adventure?

It's sort of the canonical answer, but Inform 7 predates Twine, is so much more powerful, and is absurdly easy to learn. And there are so many extensions (libraries) out there that you can import pretty much anything you might need without having to get into the more esoteric parts of the language unless you want to.

There's a real issue that I'm sure is discussed in IF circles, should there be a universal language or is the personal writers syntax the point.

In a way, I feel like Inform really started to solve this almost by accident when it became the default language for IF (before Twine came along). You can very much build your own vocabulary in Inform (and you always will, to a degree), but there are so many verbs that are inherently handled by the engine that it makes it so that authors are really encouraged to use those verbs as their primary scaffolding. Interactive Fiction of the 2000s, where msot authors are using a common engine and a common pool of libraries, is a very different beast from IF of the 1970s and 1980s, where most every author was inventing the wheel from scratch.
posted by 256 at 8:44 AM on July 16 [9 favorites]


My girlfriend grew up after the heyday of Infocom's text adventures, and I introduced her to that style of game last year. We played Trinity, Curses, and a few others together via screen sharing, as we were far apart at the time. I was expecting it to be Not At All A Success, and the first evening (getting into Trinity) took some getting used to. But that session ended with her saying "...we are doing this again tomorrow night, right?" and then the night after that and the night after that for months after. I think that the best-written of those games still hold up wonderfully well. It ultimately led to (1) her painting a picture of the two of us in a scene from Curses, and (2) deciding that we should write one of our own (someday, someday). If we do, it'll be in Inform. We played two of Emily Short's works, Metamorphoses and Savoir Faire, and found them "meh... ok" and "pretty good, but not Trinity / Curses good", respectively.

Solving problems together is an awesomely good, bondy feeling.

/personal anecdote
posted by Wolfdog at 9:23 AM on July 16 [3 favorites]


If you really want to bang your heads against some problems, you might try one of my favorite video games of all time, The Gostak, An Interofgan Halpock (previously).
posted by Rock Steady at 9:56 AM on July 16


This was interesting, but I sure did come to a point where I was just kinda clicking on whatever highlighted text looked most likely to advance the story. Which is a point I seem to come to in pretty much every Twine game that goes on past “short story” length. There’s this combination of short screens of text plus just enough interaction to occupy a chunk of my brain but not enough to really be decisions I have to *think* about based that makes my eyes glaze over after a while, and it happens often enough that I feel like this is a fundamental attribute of Twine and how its conventions interact with my brain rather than a feature of any one game.

Maybe it’ll be better if I come back to it like Short did but I didn’t even make it to An End much less a good or bad one (if you ignore the numerous times you can die, possibly have a lengthy cutscene about growing up broken, lonely, and trans, and/or losing your cat, then go back to the last “checkpoint”).
posted by egypturnash at 12:40 PM on July 16 [1 favorite]


I'm sure Inform 7 is immensely powerful, but the online documentation is so bad that I noped out after a few clicks, and I write software for a living.
posted by grumpybear69 at 2:08 PM on July 16


This was interesting, but I sure did come to a point where I was just kinda clicking on whatever highlighted text looked most likely to advance the story. Which is a point I seem to come to in pretty much every Twine game that goes on past “short story” length. There’s this combination of short screens of text plus just enough interaction to occupy a chunk of my brain but not enough to really be decisions I have to *think* about based that makes my eyes glaze over after a while, and it happens often enough that I feel like this is a fundamental attribute of Twine and how its conventions interact with my brain rather than a feature of any one game.

I know just what you mean, and I'm not sure what to make of it. Taking breaks does help -- it's like there's a quite limited amount of Twine I can do in one sitting.
posted by value of information at 3:36 PM on July 16


I like the map of timelines, and the save points (passwords)
Also you can hack the password. Change a false to true and then you cheep chirp cheep cheep
posted by otherchaz at 5:18 AM on July 17


And on the subject, Inform's to be open-sourced later this year. Nelson has said in the past maybe someday but I want to clean up the code and I frankly thought that meant it'd never happen.
posted by Zed at 7:13 AM on July 17 [3 favorites]


❤️❤️❤️this is so good
posted by Two unicycles and some duct tape at 1:29 PM on July 20


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