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Friday, December 15, 2006
This is part of a series of Slamdance Finalist reviews and interviews.

Book and Volume is an interactive fiction (IF) piece by Nick Montfort. If you're wondering what IF is, think of an old-school text adventure and then turn the literary craft up a few notches. This particular piece deals with information-tech and geek culture, and it has a bit of a cyberpunk flavor.

For me, reviewing IF is tough: I'm so new to the genre that almost all of it is 100%-pure magic. Here's my take on it: an almost palpable world comes to life right inside your head. Because you can explore the world actively, it feels even more compelling than what I've ever experienced while reading non-interactive fiction. The result, for me, is incredibly powerful---almost to the point of making me feel like my mind is coming unhinged.

Of course, it's what the creator does with the medium that really counts. Mr. Montfort is obviously a solid prose writer, and his descriptions are what bring the 24-block city of nTopia to life. Within this artificial world, he tells a relatively simple story, at least in terms of surface-level plot points: Some servers in the city are down, and you need to reboot them; a user needs tech support; another server is down. Beyond completing the various maintenance tasks that are assigned by your in-game boss, the rest of the story---I'll call it the sub-plot---seems to be optional.

The piece plays on a fixed in-game time schedule, and it always comes to an end eventually, no matter what choices you make. Thus, you can't get "stuck" at an obstacle half-way through that will keep you thrashing for many real-world hours. You always get an ending of one kind or another after reading for a while.

One ending, it seems, is the "winning" ending, although the piece does not make this very clear. That ending ties the whole work together with a some nice prose flourishes and a heavy dose of post-modern self-referentiality. I'm still thinking about the piece, mining the experience for meaning. Issues such as illusion, reality, creators, creations, and corporate culture are explored nicely.

Nick Montfort is not only an active IF creator, he's also the field's chief theorist. His book Twisty Little Passages was the first to analyze IF. I recently had an opportunity to interview Nick by email, and we discussed, among other things, the importance of storylines to successful games.

Read the full review and the full interview at Arthouse Games.

Name: Book and Volume
Developer: Nick Montfort
Category: Interactive Fiction
Type: Freeware
Size: 221 KB

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3 Comments:
Blogger gnome said at 12/14/2006 06:54:00 AM:  
Excellent +++

Considering text-adventures have always been a personal favorite genre...

Top post!
Anonymous Shih Tzu said at 12/15/2006 10:43:00 AM:  
Yay! More IF on Independent Gaming blog!
Blogger Tim W. said at 12/15/2006 11:26:00 AM:  
very much depends on whether jason will write more for us. :)