ADRIFT has run up a big score in only a few turns. The Windows-based game creation GUI, which allows users to create surprisingly complex games by simply filling in boxes and clicking on menus, has spawned a hyperactive community, with an enthusiastic forum and a rapidly expanding number of slick websites. As a nonprogrammer who has written a couple of ADRIFT games (Lost and Doomed Xycanthus) I can vouch for the system's effectiveness. But now creator Campbell Wild has begun charging to register the ever evolving generator used to write in ADRIFT. "Drifters" familiar with the fate of shareware in the short history of IF have to hope their fledgling community is at a crossroads and not plunging into a maze of twisty little passages all the same.
Maybe it's a good time to ask what ADRIFT has produced so far. What games are worth trying out? Since ADRIFT authors seem reticent about announcing on the Usenet newsgroup rec.games.int-fiction and uploading to the IF Archive, many games can only be found on the official ADRIFT Website, on the "Adventures" page. This creates a problem for potential players, since the rating system on the downloads page is apparently controlled by blood thirsty sword swinging eleven year-olds who know -- and care -- as much about writing as any of us did at that age. As an example, Heal Butcher's Silk Noil, one of the most fascinating ADRIFT games, has one of the lowest ratings.
Although I've only played a small minority of the games, and thus have doubtless missed some gems, I might recommend the following, in no particular order:
Silk Noil and The Wheels Must Turn, by
Both are slickly done, short, puzzleless, weird and darkly disturbing.
Menagerie, by David Good
Set at a circus, this puzzle-packed game also has a plot and is probably the best example of ADRIFT's capabilities for sound, pictures and varied scene description.
The Cave of Morpheus, by Mark Silcox
Available at the IF Archive as a Comp 2001 entry, this one's humorous, surrealistic and has a cameo by Will Crowther of Colossal Cave fame.
The Long Journey Home, by Danny Chabino
Also available at the IF Archive. An image- and symbolism-saturated dream quest. Kind of buggy, but aren't most dreams?
Other games to check out, that have received attention on the ADRIFT Board and seem to be favorites of the ADRIFT community, include Wrecked, BY Campbell Wild; The Adventures of Thumper Wonder Wombat, by Diablo; and ADRIFT Drifting In, by Ketgid.
Recently, I played some of the games released in 2002. For me, two stood out.
Selma's Will, by MysterySelma's Will, one of a series of games by Mystery, posted to the ADRIFT downloads page, is an example of how solid an ADRIFT game can be. Selma's Will is short, easy and traditional, which is to say that it is exactly the sort of game a lot of us feel like playing from time to time. Your Aunt Selma has died and, unless the will she concealed somewhere in her house is found before sundown, her estate will fall into the wrong hands. You and an assortment of relatives are set loose to find the will.
Gameplay consists mostly of finding objects the relatives want in exchange for other objects helpful to your quest. These various aunts and cousins are implemented in simple, cartoonish style, but they're amusing. And although the game is lighthearted, the map is also enlivened by the varied memories of childhood visits the rooms trigger.
I found the parser remarkably responsive for an ADRIFT game. Although the system may not be as strong as others in the way it handles default responses, or have as many universally-applicable verbs, it should make it easy for authors to insure that players will be easily understood when they try to enter those commands absolutely needed to advance game play. Yet few ADRIFT authors seem to use this capability and instead allow players to slog along, hip deep in a game of guess-the-verb. That isn't the case here. As long as you have the items required for a task and some idea of what to do, the game will understand -- or, at least, that was my experience.
I hope I won't be giving too much away if I mention that, as it turns out, there's a bit more to the game than meets the eye. For example, there are multiple endings, each of which reveal the future courses of the relatives' lives and which make a lot of sense when you recall the objects they wanted. There is also what I thought was a spectacular, hit-myself-over-the-head-for-not-thinking-of-that twist near the end.
Panic, by Stewart McAbney
In his Mileout guise, Stewart McAbney has posted extensively to the ADRIFT Board, written reviews and how-to features and hosts one of the better ADRIFT web sites, so the release of his game, Panic, is something of an ADRIFT event. The game, in which you play a stigmatic exploring the creepy Cathedral of Saint Venerius during an apocalyptic night, doesn't disappoint, even if it does feature practically everything I personally dislike in a game.
Let's start with the writing style. "Over the top" is hardly an adequate description. Images pile on top of metaphors which scramble over similes. The author seems compelled to strain for effect in every sentence. You won't find melted wax hardening but, rather "resolving quickly to a state of cool." Does that really tell the reader anything, except that the author is laboring mightily? For me too many words and images, all clamoring for attention, muddy the picture, much as with watercolor, where many different pigments mixed together always end up as brown. To be fair, other reviewers have characterized the writing as "superb" and the consensus seems to be that it represents the best to ever appear in an ADRIFT game.
Then there are the puzzles. One, in particular, struck me as hellacious, if I can use that word in a cathedral. Without the walkthru I'm not sure I would've even recognized the existence of the riddle, and even if I had it would've taken me until Judgment Day and then some to figure it out. Some of the lesser puzzles seemed poorly clued, or at least dependent on actions I wouldn't have any reason to perform except in the world of IF, where you try everything just in case. Traditional IF puzzles tend to have little relationship to the way the world actually works or to people's usual motivations. Thus they seem to me a poor match for any game edging toward the relative reality with which the world is depicted in non-IF fiction.
However, strange visions and bizarre actions are not entirely out of place during apocalyptic nights, nor is overwrought language. Undeniably, the game creates a powerful atmosphere. It is a tribute to the author's skills that, even using methods I dislike, he engaged my interest to the extent that I felt compelled to keep going to the walkthru to reach the conclusion. How often do you play a stigmatic anyway?
Although I wouldn't recommend anyone write in the author's style, I commend the care he's obviously taken to polish the writing. The game setting is original; the concept, audacious. Anyone wanting a glimpse of the ambitions those working with ADRIFT have for the system should start with Panic.
This article copyright © 2002, Eric Mayer