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Romance Novel Comp 2002 Reviews

by Adam Thornton

Remember Valentine's Day in high school? When all the other kids got flowers from their secret admirers and you didn't get any? Or worse, the two you got were from teachers? Remember how the little sugar hearts with pithy sayings would always conspire to tell you "HEART BREAK," "BITE ME," and "DIE NOW?" Remember how, when you finally escaped from high school, your Valentine's Day would be spent in a drunken stupor in the bathroom of your dorm room, waking from your lonely, gin-sodden stupor only to mercilessly choke down more cheap rotgut until passing out and/or vomiting, the blood from your perforated ulcer lending an appropriately festive touch to the scene? And then, in middle age, how Valentine's Day--how appropriately initialled "VD"--would always go horribly wrong, the mocking sneer of the hooker at your woeful inability to perform making a farce of your desparate gamble for pleasure on this most detestable of all days?

Well, thankfully, this year's RomanceComp entries are nothing at all like that.

There are two, one using Jon Ingold's CYOA framework penned in Inform by David Dyte, by the name of Choose Your Own Romance, a love story in variable parts, and one TADS 3 (!!) game, Forever Always, by Iain Merrick, using his nom de plume of "Elizabeth Hawk."

As it happens, I will not be the only contributor to this brief set of reviews; I have here, champing at the bit, as it were, both The Pissing Bandit and Stiffy Makane. Both are eager to contribute their unique viewpoints to the analysis of these two romances.

Let us begin with David Dyte's opus.

This romance charts the course of the love between Lady Constance D'Ellicott and her true love Sheldon Huskey. The scene depicted is the day that Captain Huskey, wounded in the Navy, returns to D'Ellicott Manor.

The game is written in lovely, purple Victorian prose (as nearly befits its setting--from the telegram, we can deduce it is post-1844; "His Majesty," however, forces us to the conclusion that the setting must be post-1901; yet it lacks any of the grimness of the Great War. Nor is it the world of flappers and degenerate remittance men beloved of Wodehouse, so we can conclude that it takes place in either the reign of Edward VII or the early years of George V's rule); as one would expect from a David Dyte work, it tends toward the silly side. Some of it, indeed, is laugh-out-loud funny.

The only flaw of the game is its slightness. Every avenue afforded by the CYOA format can, alas, be reached within twenty minutes, even if one is taking time to savor the bodice-straining prose. This will not be a game that takes even the most hesitant player very long to complete. Part of this is due to the CYOA form, of course: with no verbs to guess, nor any nouns, there is little to delay the player unduly.

All in all, Choose Your Own Romance, is a delightful diversion--a charming but minor work by a fine writer who is clearly enjoying playing within the confines of the genre--and it even contains a little something extra for lovers of fine dairy products. I give it a bulging pectoral and two heaving bosoms. With that, I relinquish my keyboard to The Pissing Bandit.

Ha HA! This year's RomanceComp has been a Great Boon to me. Both the Ludi Amoris Whisper'd to my Innermost Heart. Both Fill'd me With Great Joy. First, I shall tell you--My Adoring Public--of David Dyte's Choose Your Own Romance This is a Magnificent game, tho' I was At First a Bit Put Out to be Playing the Role of the Weaker Sex, for The Pissing Bandit does not Go In For Such Things.

Nevertheless, I soon Warm'd to the Part, and took Great Delight in Safely Guiding Constance Back to the Welcoming Arms of her Lover. However, I am Slightly Concerned that the Esteemed Author has made it Possible--nay, Easy--to Portray Constance as a Woman of Easy Virtue. This Detracted from my Enjoyment of the Work in Some Degree, but this Unaccountable Moral Failing--which is, At Least, Justly Punish'd--aside, it is, indeed, a Most Enjoyable Romance.

Having heard from TPB, let's allow Mr. Makane to weigh in:

Unlike my esteemed though maybe a little light-in-the-loafers, if you get my drift, colleague, I have no trouble playing a chick. Especially when she's a hot and sometimes slutty chick. And believe you me, Constance is a big turn-on. I liked the CYOA format, because sometimes I don't spell so good, especially when I get excited. This was a good game, but it was too short to really allow the player time to reach a satisfactory conclusion, even when he's typing with his left hand, if you get what I'm saying. That said, the prose was hot in that weird old-fashioned way where they don't say words like "hooters." Now, that's not for everyone, but I guess if that's your thing then this is pretty darn fine. Different strokes for different folks and all that.

That, then, brings us to the second game, Forever Always. It's a very simple story: you, as Robert McAtre, are briefed by your friend John McAlistair that you would be just as good a wedding candidate for Felicity as the detestable Rupert Atrebury-Hawke. You must stop their wedding and convince the beautiful Felicity to marry you instead.

The craftsmanship of this work is astonishing. It is the first piece I have seen written in TADS 3, and it makes ingenious use of the graphics capabilities of HTML TADS (which means, alas, that it probably only runs on Mac or Windows; I'm running it under Windows within VMWare). It has an innovative conversation system, with a great many verbs for "talk," which set conversational moods; that is, "TALK," "EJACULATE," and "WHISPER" will give you three different sets of menu choices. There are also adverbs: "WHISPER MENACINGLY" and "WHISPER SOFTLY" can offer different sets of choices.

The prose is also very nicely done over-the-top bodice-ripper; it is, as you might have gathered from the names, a Scottish Romance (one wonders if, perhaps, it was a HighlandComp entry that was not finished in time), and bristles with adverbs such as "manfully," "powerfully," and "determinedly."

There are two puzzles in the game: how to enter the church, and how to stop the ceremony. The first is brilliant, not because it's hard--it isn't--but because it has at least six solutions. You see, the graphics used in the game are clan tartans; each clan is known for a different trait, and the tartan you wear determines the manner in which you can get past the thugs guarding the church door.

Alas, we do encounter the traditional problem with adverbs in IF. If I can TALK MENACINGLY, why can't I SHOUT BOLDLY or MUTTER HOPELESSLY? I also can't figure out what the equivalent of NORMALLY or UNADVERBIALLY is. Minor quibbles, to be sure. I also was disappointed at the default response to "LOOK UNDER KILT," particularly as there is, apparently--if one can judge from the rest of the game's responses--something rather unusual to be found there.

This game is probably just as short as Choose Your Own Romance, but took me much longer, because navigating to a satisfactory ending through the ceremony-stopping conversation tree was fairly difficult. If Choose Your Own Adventure was often laugh-out-loud funny, Forever Always is--admittedly less often--nearly-wet-yourself funny. SPEAK MANFULLY to the Kiltmaker and you'll see what I mean.

Forever Always therefore receives from me high praise indeed: a rippling thew, four ripped bodices, and a passionate embrace. Now over to Mr. Makane.

I just don't get it. There was no nookie at all in this one. I mean, zero, zip, zilch, nada. And when I tried to EJACULATE, the game thought I'd typed TALK; is that wacky (no pun intended) or what? It was pretty cool that you could take your kilt off, and "Hasselhoff Square" was kinda funny, but I guess I just don't get why these two fruitcakes here liked it so much. I mean, Pissy over there is breathing heavy and sweating and everything. It's starting to creep me out. Screw this, I'm going over to Moose's crib to pop some roofies, swill some brewskis, watch some porno, and let whatever happens, happen. Later.

I'm a little nervous about relinquishing the keyboard to El Bandito Micturado, since as Stiffy pointed out, he appears to be in a highly stimulated state. But here he is anyway.

Joy! Bliss! Ecstasy! Forever Always is The Game For Which I Always Wished! There is No Aspect of this Triumph that is Less Than Divine! Adverbs, Adverbs Everywhere! The Epic Struggle of Good--as Personified by ME (for Such was the Identification I felt with Robert McAtre), versus Evil--the Utterly Wretched Rupert! The Beautiful Felicity! The Gothicky Goodness of the Cathedral! The Manful Mystique of the Kilt!

And Yet, I Wonder...How Might This Game Have Been ('Tis Sacrilege Even to Whisper it Cautiously) Even Better? Why, Of Course: This is but Chapter Forty-Six! I Cannot Wait to play Chapters One Through Forty-Five, nor Indeed Forty-Seven through N. And, Lord, if Thou Art Kind, Let N Approach Infinity!

So there you have it. The RomanceComp games are a brief, but very pleasant diversion; if you like Valentine's Day, they'll probably put you in the mood. If you don't, well, perhaps they'll take your mind off it, and they're certainly more fun than attempting suicide by gashing your wrists on someone's discarded rose-stems.

This article copyright © 2002, Adam Thornton

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