Friday, October 20, 2017

"Bookmoss" (review)

"Bookmoss" is a hypertext style interactive fiction written by Devon Guinn for the 2017 interactive fiction competition.

The first thing which caught my attention were the "instructions" linked to the title page. I have never seen instructions with a hypertext game before. These provided an interactive introduction to beginning players. These gave me some sense that the author cared about me, the player. That sense of confidence in author carried me through the first two chapters, but waned as I began to fear this was just a mundane account of a father-daughter trip to the Harvard library. Fortunately by the third chapter some elements of magical realism are introduced. By the fifth or sixth chapter there is even a compelling goal. But it was a little slow to start.

I noticed three distinct writing styles: detailed descriptions of place, scripted dialogue, and excerpts from classic books. I'll describe these one at a time.

The best writing is the descriptions of place. According to in-game acknowledgements, The Bookmoss project was supported with a fellowship from Harvard University’s Houghton Library on the occasion of their 75th Anniversary. Even before learning this, I could tell that the author had a deep connection to the Harvard Library. Lots of IF has been written about "my apartment" or "my crappy work space" but I'm sure this is the first time the special exhibits room of the Houghton Library has been simulated so carefully in text. Other scenes set near the fields of Concord are described with similar detail and familiarity.

The book excerpts seemed natural, given this is a story about a library. In some cases these excerpted passages also contribute to the sense of place and magic.

The film-script style of dialogue seemed slow and clunky in a work of prose. After reading the author's biography I understand that he is a Harvard educated animator and entertainer. He probably has taken some film writing classes (as part of his animation training). Scripted dialogue works when actors are reading the lines. All the little one word "Hmms" and "OKs" and banality of natural conversation can take on added meaning when it is delivered by a voice actor. But prose dialogue needs to be a little more stylized and tightly edited to keep from slowing down the action.

In summary, I would have liked to see faster pacing. But maybe you're just not supposed to move too quickly through a simulated magic library.

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