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Romance Novel Comp 2002 Reviews

by Emily Short

I looked forward to judging this competition with some curiosity. After all, as any romance connoisseur knows, there is a broad range in those novels that the untrained lump together under the title of Romance. There are the lavish, torrid tales of sex and wealth amongst a glittering modern jet-set; there are time-travel romps of the most ludicrous implausibility, delighting in their extraordinary abuses of history; there are 70s Harlequins in which virginal secretaries elude (for a while) the heated embraces of their dark-browed supervisors; there are Gothics, thrillers, tales of ghosts, stories of amnesia, westerns about tanned cowboys with muscular thighs encased in leather. And each one of these genres offers up rich possibilities for implementation in IF, though I think I would be dismayed by some of the possibilities:

You are carrying an unborn child (whose father left you [the bastard]).


You are unable to raise your glance above the manly cleft in his strong chin.

In the event, we have offerings in two of my favorite subgenres, the Polite Regency and the Scottish Historical. Moreover, with an impatience that I myself often feel, they both leap directly to the end of the story, since that is the best part anyway. (Also, perhaps, to prevent the player from deciding he would prefer to marry Tall Man #3 halfway through.)

Choose Your Own Romance
David Dyte

Cheese Rating: Stilton out of a possible Brie
Cheese Rating: Florid out of a possible Painfully Excessive
Gratuitous Reference to Ducks: QUACK

Created with Jon Ingold's Adventure Book, CYOR offers the reader the opportunity to steer its strangely-fated heroine through the various twists and turns of Love. As sheer coincidence would have it, a nontrivial percentage of these twists are in some way associated with cheeses. But I'm sure that's entirely accidental. To proceed:

As might be supposed to befit a choose your own romance, this work is whimsical and light; its chiefest grace is the delightsome prose, which blends to a nicety the modest mannerisms of speech appropriate to a refined lady with the strength of feeling that will inevitably engender itself in the breast-- er, upper torso-- of a Person of Romantic Temperament. To say more of the plot would be to reveal overmuch, if plot it may accurately be said to have; for like many of its ilk, the Choose Your Own Romance is narratively wayward and frolicsome.

In short, a highly entertaining piece. This will scarcely surprise those familiar with Mr. Dyte's previous work in the field of parody (Sycamora Tree, Pick Up the Phone Booth And Aisle [for the concept of which, at least, he is to be blamed, even if other rash parties partook of its implementation]).

Forever Always
Iain Merrick

Gratuitous Implementation of Kilts: YES
Even More Kilts: YES
Did I Mention the Kilts?: OCH YES DAMMIT

This game makes me happy from the very first screen. Mr. Merrick's research into the topic of romance novels has clearly been thorough and exhaustive. Not only has he got the plot devices to a T, but he has noted with care the required vocabulary and syntax. I imagine that this deep and thorough knowledge of the genre must be the result of reading at least one -- nay, perhaps as even many as *two* -- pages of a romance, not to mention the back covers of several more.

How about the gameplay? The game features an extremely amusing puzzle, with multiple amusing solutions. I am always in favor of this, and went back to replay the game several times in order to see all the possibilities. The last scene is a bit sketchier, in that it's harder to predict what the outcome of a given course of action is going to be, and it seems a bit random sometimes when something occurs. But on the whole I can forgive this; it's a flaw that could be recovered from with a bit of judicious revision, and conversation systems are, uh, notoriously difficult to tune.

Speaking of which, I guess I'm probably Required By Law (or at least custom) to say something about the conversation system here. You decide you want to talk and are presented with a menu, but you are granted some control over that menu by the use of adverbs. Yes, adverbs: this is a game in which it is possible to WHISPER HUSKILY. The tone choice has obvious effects on the menu system, so I felt less like I was flailing in the dark than I did with tones in Varicella. There are a few places where it is not as smooth as it hypothetically might be: I tried TALK POLITELY a few times and found that my only option was something along the lines of, "You unbelievable bastard," which, all things considered, it is probably impossible to utter in a polite fashion however mincingly you form the syllables.

But all this is beside the point. Another highly entertaining piece of work.

This article copyright © 2002, Emily Short

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