Patreon Bonus: Photopia

Source material: Photopia by Adam Cadre

Blogged: December 10, 2020


Howdy! It’s time for one last Patreon Bonus liveblog!

A while back, the K6BD patron gave me a list of five different proposals for material to consider for one-off Patreon Bonus blogs after K6BD. This had, I believe, been put together before I decided to end the Patreon Bonuses when I caught up with K6BD, though it was sent to me afterwards with the suggestion of maybe doing some of them on a less frequent basis. I decided I wanted to do at least one of them before we wrapped this up.

And so I picked from this list:

  1. “Chili and the Chocolate Factory: Fudge Revelation” chapter 1
  2. “Death Billiards”
  3. “Fine Structure” first 2 or 3 chapters
  4. “American Vandal” season 1 episode 1
  5. “Photopia”

and here we are — today I’ll be playing Photopia.

Here’s what I know:

“Photopia” by Adam Cadre (1998) – this is a long shot because it’s outside the scope of your Patreon guidelines but I’m throwing it in anyway for your consideration. You’re familiar with the concept of “text adventures” I’m sure. You might not be aware that people have just kept on making them this entire time, but they’re all artsy & pretentious now and you have to call them “interactive fiction” or people get upset (god help you if you call them ‘games’).

Anyway, this is one of them, often regarded as one of the greatest of all time, or at least an ideal starting point to the genre, and I’m in general agreement. This one is very short – likely under an hour for a normal first-time playthrough, obviously slower if you’re liveblogging it but I think the time investment would be pretty similar to what you’ve been doing. This one is basically pure narrative, no real puzzles of any substance, so you’re not likely to get stuck at any point (maybe one point if you’re not paying attention).

In the author’s own words: “Game or story?  Story; almost no gamelike elements. Easy or difficult?  Easy to make progress, but may be confusing at first. Good for newcomers?  Yes.” Can be played through a web browser but there’s a slightly enhanced version (very neat) that would require installing a Glulx interpreter, a safe and painless process.

I honestly love how the patron wrote that Photopia was “outside the scope of [my] Patreon guidelines”, because the funny thing is that technically, so was K6BD. I completely forgot about comics when I wrote those guidelines, so we had to work out how much comic a post should cover as we went. That’s why I trust the patron’s judgement on this, though, so it works out.

Anyway, I also know there’s a description blurb (“You can read the description blurb if you want to; it’s completely spoiler free.”) on the page I have to go to go access the game interactive fiction and the link to the interpreter download, so I’m holding off on going there until I’ve written this intro.

So for now I’m completely blind on what the narrative here is about, and all I can really work from is the title… Photopia. A place of light. Presumably someone goes or lives there, and it’s probably bright and colorful.

That’s it, that’s all I’ve got.

Alright, time to install this text adventure game interactive fiction!


Interesting. This shield and flag logo implies Photopia is a country, which is not the scale I was expecting. I was thinking more in the direction of some hidden magical grove or something.

It’s also worth noting that once we have a scale of “country”, the “-topia” suffix becomes more suspicious due to its association with Utopia and the genre of fiction is spawned. I don’t trust this rainbow.

Oh jeez, this description blurb won’t let me copy-paste its text without WordPress turning my quote block into, of all things, a single-celled table. Umm… Raw paste, manually recreate the formatting?

1st Place, 1998 Interactive Fiction Competition

Voted best interactive fiction of all time (2015 intfiction.org poll)

“This is a work so hugely influential to IF development that anyone interested in the history of the form should try it.” —Emily Short
Photopia is important to video games as a whole, to the advancement of our understanding of the interactive medium.” —necessarygames.com
“I don’t think any other work of art has ever affected me to the extent that Photopia has.” —playthisthing.com

That works. Good, I was afraid I’d have to use my table manners.

Anyway, those are certainly some glowing reviews!

The fifteen people who think I’m famous think so because of Photopia.  It’s not my best work—​and I should certainly hope not, given how long ago I wrote it—​but sometimes you have the right idea at the right time, and I happened to hit upon a new approach to interactive fiction right when people were ready for it.  I have since developed this story for other media, and so to me this original version reads like a primitive ancestor of those adaptations… but if you landed at my site following some other link, and wondered “who is this guy?”, most people would probably point you to Photopia to answer your question.

Ah, the trouble with one-hit wonders. Though I certainly hope this guy’s other works get the recognition they deserve too.

And then there’s the questionnaire quoted in the proposal.

I do notice that below the play link, there’s also a link to a “making of” post — that seems like something I might come back to if I like this.

Also:

first release: 1998.10; current versions: 1.30, 2.01, 3.00

This thing is nine months younger than me.

I believe what I’ll be playing is version 2.01? That’s what the patron’s installation guide says and assuming 3.00 didn’t come out in the last few weeks, I assume the patron would have seen it was a thing when writing the guide if not before.

Huh. No link for 3.00 anyway.

Well, the interpreter’s installed, the game interactive fiction downloaded… it’s time to play!


Hm. Looks like I can’t copy text from the game interactive fiction. Guess we’re doing screenshots, and this will be too much text for me to reasonably transcribe while doing this. I’m sorry to those of my readers who rely on the image transcriptions.

Here’s how it — for now at least — looks on my screen. Just a fancy little box in the middle of my screen. It’s nice.

My screenshot tool has a feature that will make it easier and cleaner to take screenshots like this though:

So that’s how things will look from here on out.


yes

Let’s see the instructions. I’ve played text adventures before, but let’s just get a sense of what this particular interpreter expects of me.

All pretty basic stuff. Some of it will be useful, though, like the list of some useful commands, the short forms, and the note on giving the banana to the rhesus monkey.

Between the “fifteen people who think I’m famous”, the “if you’re a vegetarian” and the rhesus monkey thing, I can already tell mr. Cadre has a subtle sense of humor that I’ll probably enjoy when he gets into the fiction part of things.

start

Oops. I meant to type that and accidentally skipped through something that was reacting to any key. I think it said “Won’t you tell me a story?”… you know what let’s restart.

Heh, cute. Certainly fits with the way Cadre was selling the concept of text adventure games interactive fiction on his site.

And of course we open on the notion of bright light. Should’ve expected that one, honestly.

The fact that it’s unbearably bright light reinforces my suspicion of the -topia suffix. Even assuming this isn’t in Photopia, thematically it makes it very likely that Photopia is a place that appears too bright, a utopia hiding a darker side or using their light in a dark way.

The caps lock emphasis is a staple of text adventures, but isn’t it usually used mainly for things you can interact with? Can I type “look at living” when it’s my turn?

I see no reason not to try. If you know anything about me, surely you saw a lot of stupid joke commands coming. 😛

Rob is very charming. He thinks.

Yeah, this guy is bad news.

look at living

This is the downside of text adventures compared to D&D. The DM has little time for most of my dumbass joke commands. I’ll probably leave out the responses to some of them if they’re just like this.

Of course, we’re getting somewhere on that front with AI Dungeon 2. Even if it does have the limitations of modern machine learning holding it back from its stories making much sense.

Okay, this is actually neat, the parser is giving useful feedback on what is or is not understood rather than going “welp, didn’t get that”. Very helpful for newbies.

Evidently the car is not considered a location I’m in.

take steering wheel

also didn’t work, so let’s look around and see what’s around us.

Ahaha having the map upside down is a classic gag, but the address? Beautiful.

talk to rob “yo dude slow down man”

Naturally, not understanding. How does specifying what you want to tell someone work if the command is “talk to”?

talk to rob about speed

No.

Guess I’ll just

talk to rob

…though the only reason I’d want to is survival.

Ahh, that makes sense.

I expect Rob won’t really listen to 1 or 3, but let’s try 3 anyway.

Alas, Rob’s color vision is currently disabled by lethal levels of horny.

Are we about to collide with an Isekai Transport Corporation truck?

The light actually signifies “this way to Photopia”.

We’ve collected one color! Six to go? If you listen to Isaac “I’ll Artificially Divide a Spectrum into Seven Parts Because God” Newton, anyway.

Suddenly, Mars?

Are we going to be visiting people associated with each color in turn, with intermissions from the black story?

Either Adam Cadre or Wendy Mackaye seems to be quite concerned with defining these slightly bigger words.

To be fair, Google had only been created a year ago, so it’s not like looking up definitions was as easy as it is now.

With three instances in three screens after switching POVs, I think it’s the character rather than the author, which implies Wendy tends to think herself smarter than others. None of the words she’s defining are actually that complicated, especially compared to ones like orbiter or colony in this context, giving the whole thing an air of non-necessity. If she’s doing this in her narration, she’s likely used to thinking that others don’t understand the words she uses, whether she takes the time to talk down to others like this outwardly or not.

Time to do the only natural thing for someone in this situation who likes the sound of their own smart voice to do:

Well, that’s worrying.

Hol’ up.

This kind of parser error message is in first person active now??

I suspect meta shenanigans down the line if this is intentional.

That’s not quite the object I had in mind, but it does raise the question of how this game interactive fiction reacts to obviously stupid commands such as

remove spacesuit

Not gonna let me die through deliberate idiocy, got it.

Right. Well, there doesn’t seem to be much of use in this particular location, aside from the ship, so let’s go for a walk.

…does it count as a spacewalk if you’re on another planet? I don’t think so…

Yeah, Martian gravity or not, something like that’s going to pack a punch falling from the sky.

This doesn’t seem too salvageable.

tol

Ah, see, this one is actually a useful definition. Maybe I was wrong and Cadre just genuinely expected to have players that would struggle to keep up with Wendy’s astronaut speak.

Hm. Or maybe the person doing the defining is supposed to be the same person who only understood me as far as wanting to look earlier… Notice how that last one is in first person. In this medium, the POV and player character is generally the second person, which means first person narration is immediately suspicious as it implies the narrator is a character separate from the second person POV and player character.

The really weird part is that if that is where this is going, the narrator and parser here does not seem to be the same narrator as the one in the black on white section, who seemed robotic and/or better at hiding their influence.

“Astronautical” should mean something.

I definitely think I’m on the right track towards the goal here, at least.

I was trying to go in, but apparently that wasn’t south. Maybe I needed to >enter?

Let’s continue south and loop back to the living quarters later.

Nice, we found the rest.

Let’s try one of those recommended commands from the instructions…

I suspected I might not be able to do it from within the spacesuit, but this actual objection is blatant discrimination against cargo shippers and I will not stand for it.

…also I’ll keep that in mind for any aliens I meet.

Is that the end of the south line?

Huh. Seems almost everything landed in a neat north-south line.

Yay, food! That I can’t eat without taking off my helmet!

One plant won’t make enough oxygen for that, I don’t think.

Useful. Wendy’s gonna have a swell time on this planet.

Hey, Wendy, have you ever read a book called The Martian? Me neither, but it could’ve been useful for you.

Yes it is.

Let’s check out the living quarters.

oof.

Well, guess Wendy’s not leaving footprints on it either.

The destruction is worse than we thought.

exit
w

The explosion of the colony orbiter is certainly depressing to Wendy.

A metorite that big would create a crater much bigger than itself, I believe, so we’re talking a really big crater here. With it being shallow as well, a layperson might not even recognize it as a crater up close like Wendy is.

Well, not so much in flowing form, anyway.

If life does show up, I have the kiss command ready.

Fair point. So of course I’m still going to see if it lets me go east of the living quarters.

It won’t. I also checked the directions further south.

And so we return… is this ship capable of returning us to Earth (probably not) or a mothership (maybe, but she sure doesn’t seem to have contact with it)?

Huh. That was fast. Guess we have even more futuristic ships than I thought.

A little too fast, perhaps. Kind of looks like we’re heading over to Blue.

Nope, black intermission!

Freakin’ Alison, running off with a blue devil girl named after Coca-Cola.

Wait, so Alison is or was this character’s daughter? And something happened with her that prevented them from having more kids?

So we’re with an accountant or something?

One who lives close to where Wendy landed, by the sound of that transition.

Sent off…?

Maybe this office deals with taxes for people?

Oh come on, I pulled that one straight from the “verbs you might like to try” list!

What’s the point of having a screen in a text adventure if I don’t get to lick it?

Eh, it was probably just an astronaut falling from space after returning from a disastrous mission to Mars. No biggie.

That’s quitter talk.

listen

Gabriel… I wonder if we know him. There could be a connection between this and the previous black section.

Let’s see if he’s in.

Ah. Doesn’t seem like the guy from before with the questionable taste in friends.

So Alison is four. Yeeah, might be a little early to consider sending her to Paraguay.

Ahh, good ol’ transition fakeout.

Good on Gabriel for getting her out, but why was she in the water in the first place?

He seems like a good lad.

Right! 30/2, I’ve got this!

It’s not quite as funny as with the other narrator that failed to account for things that don’t need to be referred to, but still

Hmm…

Huh. Points for making that work.

Now I just need to figure out what it wants for the tilting if not “tilt”.

…apparently it needed to be her head, not alison’s head.

I wonder if this sequence in Photopia has ever saved anyone, because someone played the game interactive fiction and knew what to do as a result.

30 times. Man, imagine if it has me use the “again” command to do this…

A blue hedgehog had landed in there after being chased by police officers in racer cars.

That’s a good line, and if that line isn’t a transition to Blue, I don’t know what is.

Specifically Sea-Blue, apparently. Does that mean there’ll be another blue? Sky-Blue, maybe?

Oh neat, we’re back with Wendy. I was mostly expecting the different sections to appear as though their stories were fully separate and tie together mainly through themes and maybe the ending.

Wendy’s really not having a good day when it comes to life-saving technology.

Is there an Atlantis down there, or just– wait did Spotify seriously just shuffle to Under the Sea on me right now??

Undeh da sea, undeh da sea!

The spacesuit protecting against the water tracks, especially considering astronauts often train in water to get used to the effects of alternate gravity.

But with Wendy’s streak of technological luck here, it’s a wonder it held up long enough to get off Mars.

At least we’ve established she’s smol, so that might help a little.

Hah!

That’s the first one I’ve never heard before, though admittedly I wouldn’t have been able to define “geodesic”.

It is a very difficult puzzle.

One of the side walls is the floor but the back wall is the ceiling? This really is an odd angle.

Great hall? Sounds like we might’ve hit Atlantis after all.

Welcome to the depths! You might not want to linger too long, considering you were already concerned about oxygen when you visited the crater and you’d barely landed.

If this place is still inhabited by fish people, maybe I can trade them the seed pod. Make it a sea’d pod, I suppose.

It’s pretty clear I’m going to need this seed pod at some point.

Let’s go north first this time.

Watch out!

Wait, so these stairs’ most notable feature is that they don’t keep happening?

But why not?

Back south we go.

Am I going to have to bring my table manners to this blog after all?

Perhaps not, but it’s a verb I want to use.

I didn’t come all this way from Mars to have some spoilsport judge my decisions of which undersea dining tables to sit on.

Wait, so licking things isn’t recognized despite being in the instructions, but tasting things is and, as Wendy, has the excuse I was expecting for “lick”?

Dang it! I should have tried tasting the screen!

I know I almost certainly don’t have to do anything with this table, but when a text adventure is limited by the extent of programming, some of the fun is in fucking around to see what it will let you do.

Maybe this place wasn’t always underwater? Or maybe they had magic fire.

Miners?

Merdwarves?

Huh. Secret passage. I wonder if the stairs keep happening now.

Meanwhile the shovel is loose, so I could use that instead…

Let’s check on the staircase first, after picking up the shovel.

Sweet, we have an exit. Let’s dig ourself deeper into this mess if we can, though.

Alright, fine.

This is really not how she saw today going.

Where next? Spat onto a Green or Yellow deserted island?

Those things are seriously heavy, at least in our time. The fact that she can swim in it at all is impressive.

A yellow beach?

Well, I guess >look isn’t going to help much here.

So of course I had to try.

Asuncion… isn’t that in South America? I forget which country specifically.

Can’t find it on the world map on my wall.

Not through any fault of Rob’s, surely.

What in the world is this call?

Dang it, Rob!

“She”? I guess we’re with someone else at the same hospital.

Is this perhaps a Sound of Rain situation? Was “she” perhaps not born yet?

That seems like all we’re getting in this intermission, though, and judging by that last like, we might be heading into Ice-Blue or White.

Huh. Guess I was right about the beach though. “Gold” is within reason for “yellow”.

The interface looks really good in this silver, black and gold scheme.

Spotify, I just switched out of the hospital setting. It’s a little late to put on Like a Surgeon.

So apparently Wendy just found the island of El Dorado or something?

So on a scale from one to Davy Jones, how cursed is this gold?

And is there a risk of actually turning to gold yourself if you stay too long?

Wilson is still with us! And hey, the shovel came along too, against all odds.

You know what, that’s fair.

Let’s rest, but just in case something interrupts it, let’s first make sure we

I’m not putting that thing on unless I have to, are you crazy? This place screams “cursed treasure”, even picking it up is probably bad enough.

Uh… You heard it here first, folks: The ocean can’t contain things. There’s just no space in the ocean for a piece of jewelry. Would fill it right on up and cause flooding along all the world’s coasts.

Fine, I guess I’m bringing this ring with me in case we run into a volcano later.

Let’s get moving. North we go!

Good thing I’ve got my shovel!

Should’ve put Unbreaking III on the shovel.

I really, really hope this treasure chest is full of actual sand and totally useless.

Ahaha yesss

Maybe later.

Even the wildlife becomes treasures.

A conch shell, eh?

yess

But what do I hear from the shell?

…okay that was mostly a joke, but

I can’t imagine the K6BD patron didn’t see stupidity like this coming when he suggested a text adventure game an interactive fiction.

There’s little chance I’m not supposed to take the seashell, but on the other hand, I stand by the cursed treasure thing. It would certainly fit Wendy’s luck on this day.

Looks like listening to it the way I intended earlier would’ve been painful.

And so I take the curse upon myself by taking the ring with me.

And we’re back with Alley’s dad.

Points for recognizing that “her” referred to Alley in this context.

Are we going to Green next, represented here by the lawn?

Alley asks some very good, exploratory questions. I like that.

In this case, the answer has to do with speed limits. Light only goes so fast, so even if space is infinite, only some of that infinite is close enough for us to see it yet. Light obeys the speed limits and doesn’t waver much, both unlike Rob, who will go on to invent faster-than-light travel to get some of that sweet alien ass. No speed limit can stand against the power of a horny frat boy.

3 is obviously out, and 1 may be a little too mathematical for her, so let’s talk crystalline spheres.

I figured that would lead into a less mathematical explanation of what was going on, but I guess we’re going full inverse square.

I like how this implies he’s previously had reason to teach her about space AUs.

And photons, too. She clearly has an interest in this stuff.

My explanation did make it in!

Though to be fair, the brightness thing is more important. Stars visible to the naked eye are mostly all in the Milky Way, I believe.

Well, nothing known moves faster than the light, and I’m pretty sure the inverse square should apply to everything.

Give me the chances all you want, I’m not going to pick the boring dad option until I have to.

Neutrinos are fun.

Oooh, you get to tell her about supernovas!

This, along with how it relates to star birth, is one of the more poetic sides of astrophysics, as I’ve touched on before. I shared a poem I once wrote about it back in Migration 17.7.

It’s when the iron is practically all that’s left that the fun really begins.

…well, not quite as frequently as on that one beach, but sort of. Mostly it was just already there in the cloud that formed the planet though.

I… was too impatient to even think about screenshooting the topic selector this time. The topic now is “planetary accretion”.

…hey, Wendy, are you sure you steered your spaceship the right way at Albuquerque?

Huh, neat. I didn’t know about that.

Well, as long as they’re not weird isotopes.

(Look, I’m sorry if any of you are bored by the science talk by now, but I’m loving this. We’ll be here as long as the game interactive fiction allows.)

Michael Chrichton… is that…

…ah, the author of Jurassic Park. I was hoping for the presenter of an oldish documentary-adjacent dinosaur series with a time travel gimmick, that I watched sometimes as a kid. Walking With Dinosaurs, right, that was the title. But apparently that came out in 1999, so Photopia wouldn’t reference it.

Hey, chopped liver is also made of uniquely arranged star stuff.

Maybe after her time in Paraguay, she can visit the capital of Mars.

This is a lovely sentiment. We should all take a moment to look at the sky from time to time. Really look at it, and think.

And there’s the other Blue. Naturally.

So does that imply Wendy is going uphill now?

As lovely as going through a labyrinth in a text-based game interactive fiction sounds, I do have one other choice:

…what? No, I meant

’cause it’s 4 AM and just as past my bedtime as it is for Alley and her dad (even if I’ve been in my bed all along and my sleep schedule is currently pulling a Dolly Parton). Good night!


[Session 2]

Let’s go looking for David Bowie!

But first, I wonder what happens if I do try to head back the way I came. Can I access the golden beach while in Sky-Blue?

Nope.

I suspect most rooms in the labyrinth will have this description, with only the directions written.

Notably, I’m starting away from the entrance — “you immediately get lost” and there’s no “east” despite me coming from there — and I highly doubt it’s possible to find my way back there.

I’m going to refrain from drawing a map of this place for now, assuming it would even help. Keeping track of a labyrinth in text form is part of the challenge if the labyrinth is legit, and drawing a map is moot if it isn’t (I feel a shifting labyrinth would be on brand for these last few parts of the story).

*picks a d4 off his shelf and rolls it*

1! That’s north, let’s go.

Called it. Every room looks the same except for the directions.

Normally I’d exclude “back the way you just came” until other options were exhausted, but if the die says south, I will go that way. I don’t trust this maze to be euclidean, so “back the way you came” may very well lead somewhere else.

Mat Cauthon, I’m doing this for you.

But that’s a 2, so we’re going east!

Ooh. I don’t suppose “up” is an option?

Hah, fair enough.

Dang secret passage mechanism keeping me from bringing the pickaxe…

2 again. There’s no east passage, so we’ll just bang our head on the crystal wall and roll again.

South.

Is the implication that there was a turn somewhere (it does say I “wander around”), or did where I just came from disappear behind me?

The die says west.

We’ve got another landmark. Let’s test a thing. East, then west?

No arch, and time and therefore story is progressing. Yeah, I don’t think this maze is made to be solved.

Should probably take off the suit. Without cooling, that thing will get ridiculously hot.

Back when I was on Mars, I tried to “search” and the parser assumed I meant the suit. I think that implies I might want to do that now that it’s off.

Fair enough. Let’s go do something more sensible with our time.

Yes, that is definitely the problem with what I just told me to do.

Again implying Wendy is from a slightly futuristic setting. The kind of future a writer in 1998 might expect us to have by the time we sent people to colonize Mars, I suppose.

The >look now says my spacesuit is here, so I want to try going east and then west again. Then it’s back to trusting the die.

exCUSE ME?

Has Wendy been a bird woman all along?

“Your spacesuit isn’t equipped for flight” indeed!

Fucking

fly, you fool

I have to wonder if I could have done this back at the beach.

Heh, nice evasion.

You don’t say.

“angel” is also a valid aesthetic here instead of “bird woman”, but this sequence of being free as a bird in Sky-Blue carries some connotations, and the name Wendy Mackeye feels more birdlike than angelic.

Aw.

So I’m clearly supposed to fly west, but I’m seemingly free as a bird right now, so let’s leave it up to a d6.

How about east? That should be out over the sea.

Right.

North is the same as south. Only one thing left to do…

Ow.

So I guess the spaceship must’ve crashed through this ceiling somewhere?

Obviously there was going to be something stopping her from flying over everything. I would have accepted “you can’t fly that high, the air is too thin” but this is a fun approach that really fits the setting.

>w for “whoosh”.

And with that reveal, it’s back to Black.

If nothing else, this transition indicates that yes, angel is the connotation we’re supposed to draw from the white feathered wings.

So is this a kid having a crush on another kid? Perhaps Alley; she seemed older in the previous Black section than when we first met her, so maybe she’s grown up to kiddy crush ages now.

Maybe eventually we’ll visit her in Space Paraguay.

That’s just the way of life, kiddo. It always comes back to pants.

Pinkie’s been hard at work, I see. Meanwhile, I’m picturing this PE teacher as Coach Brunt from Carmen Sandiego.

It also always comes back to stars.

Please don’t make me picture this kid as Jon Arbuckle.

Jon:You’re burning kind of hot.”

…I have to see if something like that is an option.

Okay. Let’s say nothing for now, turn off the light and then say this.

Whaddaya know, she came down of her own accord.

And sure.

Oh wait, an orange. I thought she meant a streamer. An orange one.

2 sounds wonderfully awkward. “Hey, you know, we don’t hate each other’s guts. Wanna date?”

I sympathize with Jon and want him to succeed here, but on another hand I am easily tempted by hilarity.

Alley is such a good.

Let’s take it to the paramours. Better to get a sense of that first. Maybe it would’ve been wiser to lead with that before hinting at how you get along, but I have no intention of playing Jon as wise.

Real talk, this POV is very well written and very relatable.

Which I suppose is part of the point of the Black sections. They’re relatable and real to contrast with the absurdity and wonder of flooded castles and golden beaches and angels flying over glass labyrinths after a failed attempt to colonize Mars.

Right, let’s finally pop the big question:

Oh good, that’s much better. I don’t actually like oranges, apples are where it’s at.

I know, right? Fuck, now I want an apple.

Alright, for real this time.

Smooth as butter with glass shards.

This girl is easily the best character.

Presumbably the dance doesn’t extend to Saturday, so what, is she suggesting just the two of them break into the gym and dance to their own playlist?

Beautiful.

And we’re on to the next color. What’s it going to be? Orange, like the fruit?

Oh, huh. It was a perspective shift, but still in Black.

Ms. Mackaye… is she babysitting Wendy?

He kinda does, yeah.

He also sounds like he stepped out of the 30’s with that “heave-ho”. 😛

She did! She did babysit Wendy!

Is Wendy’s story a fantasy Wendy has based on stuff Alley has told her?

I would’ve gone for 1, but I want to hear more about little Wendy and Alley.

(A conquistador was a Spanish explorer and conqueror. Geosynchronous means something is orbiting the earth in sync with the earth’s rotation so it appears to stay still in the sky.)

Yeah, that tracks.

The intersection gets me thinking about the two Black sections that haven’t seemed as tightly connected as the rest: The frat boys and the hospital. What if the hospital section was a flash forward to something having happened to Wendy?

The frat boys don’t particularly need to be connected, due to that section functioning as an introduction to the Black/Color narrative device, but we do know it seemingly happened around the same time as the hospital section. What if the more sensible of them was Jon?

Ahahaha

Ooh, I can push further.

Hah. Are you sure you wanna invoke Freud to your daughter?

Sidenote, it only just now occurred to me that the frat boy accident and the one the hospital POV character was in were likely the same.

So however that section ties into the wider story, the frat boys made it happen, and if I’m right that that’s the reason Wendy’s being portrayed as an angel in this fantasy world with a black background (for example if she’s in a coma dream), then that justifies the frat boys being where this story started.

Let’s hear if Alley can babysit.

Kind of a mood.

Green, eh, that where we’re going next?

There is the possibility that something happened to Alley instead of Wendy, and the fantasy about the little (!!! she’s been noted as short!) angel Wendy traveling in space and finding places where it rains gold and platinum is common and so on is actually Alley’s. The more I think about it, the more sense that makes.

And the definitions! Alley would use the big words and then define them for Wendy’s sake

Basically, Mr. Mackeye should watch the road.

Though apparently he’s way off course already.

Alley Dawson… No wonder she goes by her nickname. Alison Dawson is a little much.

(Says the guy whose full name is eight or nine syllables long. But the hypocrisy is tempered by the fact that I think that too is a little much.)

Ah, here we go, time’s up I think.

Good going, Rob.

I like what Cadre did there with each perspective of the crash being tied to the traffic lights.

Little or no flight in this section, got it.

Now that we the audience know what’s going on, ish, this wondrous world takes on a darker edge. The real situation that caused us to be here is bad, and so suddenly this place is… off. It’s not right that she’s here, so here isn’t right.

Huh. I never thought of it before, but is petrified wood essentially fossilized?

“No! I’m not a leaf anymore. We’re malachite now.

How about charades?

Well, there’s one thing I’ve been meaning to do as soon as Wendy encountered something animate that didn’t immediately fuck off into the ocean.

“That would be quite a feat.” ahaha

So can I do it now that the wolf is clearly friendly?

Beautiful. This is the kind of thing I like to see in text adventure games interactive fiction — dumb commands accounted for in specialized ways. If I were making one of these myself, I’d probably spend all my time on thinking up responses to dumb commands and never get anything done on the actual story.

Right, I forgot to >retrieve arms from spacesuit.

Alas, the only other thing I have that could be construed as food is the seed pod, and I doubt that’s good wolf food.

I suppose the treasured dirt might have Narnia-like growth properties…

Gotta spell out each step.

This is the other reason AI Dungeon 2 is good. Preprogrammed text adventures can be so particular about phrasing.

Pirate turned astronaut. This is such a kid’s fantasy.

Maybe it’s less a coma dream and more a story Alley and Wendy made up together, and they were the ones in the intro screen before the frat boys?

In which case “You are Wendy Mackaye” was quite literal — I, the player issuing the commands, am playing as Wendy saying what she wants to do, while Alley is the parser and narrator who still hasn’t gotten around to telling me what it means that something is radioactive.

I love this.

But is it water rain?

Good thing I brought the ring along. I might be able to pay with it, if he requires it.

Though I doubt he would if I had nothing to pay with.

I do want to hear more about the queen, but let’s feed the wolf first.

Take it, it’s probably cursed anyway.

Damn, I did want to ask about the Queen too.

So why would gold be valuable here, anyway? The point was made earlier about the dirt being more valuable when gold is plentiful, so why does the salesman care about gold?

The answer, of course, is the same as why some of the gold came in the form of jewelry. This is a story for a little kid, and so realism falls to the wayside in favor of archetypes and wonder.

Yay!

And ending a section on the note of saving a life seems like a good omen for Alley.

Ah, except this black section seems to be set before the accident, at least for now. And you are Wendy Mackaye is still in effect.

If I had asked about the queen, would that last question not be there?

You could continue the story…. n e x t t i m e

I wonder if Alley’s bedroom is full of space stuff.

So I suppose the narrator of Black is… well, Adam Cadre. Telling us a story and letting us tell it with him, like Alley tells Wendy a story and lets her tell it with her.

I called meta shenanigans early on and I feel quite satisfied. This is a text adventure game an interactive fiction about text adventure games interactive fiction, just as much as it is the story of a horrible accident and the people involved in it and the story of an angelic astronaut exploring a fantasy planet

And the funny thing is, yesterday I got into a discussion about how people would go about making a D&D movie or miniseries. People were talking about fantasy settings and magic and all that, but I came in with “make it about the players”. I didn’t realize it at the time, but Photopia is almost exactly what I’d want in a D&D movie, and proves that it can be done well.

So I’m feeling vindicated twice over.

Alley is great.

How I get home? Is Wendy the narrator of Black?

A tad less chaotic this way.

Ideas next.

Dang it, that question was too meta. Of course that was going to proceed the story. (There was little chance the other questions were going to lead anywhere, but I wanted to read them.)

Purple. The color of nightmares.

And now it’s first person, because Alley is the narrator and she’s talking about herself.

I did not submit the command. I’m still Wendy, and Alley’s subconscious, not me, is controlling this story.

Or maybe there’s an exile. Who knows.

Solomon, that you?

Ah yes, the Queen.

Who is she, then?

“Normally this would be a sign of impending mental collapse, but luckily it’s already a dream.” is the most Homestuckish piece of writing here yet, aside from the things Homestuck specifically references text adventure games interactive fiction via, and I love it.

Also, the notion that “at least twenty” is “a lot older”.

Adulthood. She’s afraid of adulthood and losing that childish enthusiasm that her dad felt sad for his own loss of.

Sticking to the rules of interface while another character is playing the story. I appreciate that integrity.

“When I arrived here”… might not be long from now.

The Queen’s lands… And the lack of any people was a very distinct feature all along.

Probably a good thing the story hit the bedtime limit. Doesn’t sound like it would’ve ended well for the wolf.

Notably, towards the ending the story took a turn towards a more childish brand of fantasy. The first person other than Wendy showed up, literally out of nowhere and disappearing back to where he came from, only existing to provide a solution to let the wolf survive. I’m thinking this was a change from the original dream, something Alley did for Wendy’s benefit so the story wouldn’t end with the wolf starving to death.

Hah. And she doesn’t need her childhood leaving her.

Okay now Homestuck intensifies.

Whoops.

Aww.

And while I’m not allowed to use the kiss command, too.

…I wonder if Jon would work with me if I told him to randomly kiss Alley in the middle of their scene, and how much it might mess things up if he did.

Nighty night. Don’t let the frat boys bite.

This is the exact same thing Jim had to say about her, except “you and Linda” naturally changed to “you and Jim”.

Oof, that symbolism.

Aaand right back to a beginning. We seem to be Alley’s mom, Mary, now.

And we finally find out what Photopia is in-universe. Does it display images of the sky, castles, and so on and shape some of Alley’s interests at an early age?

Gotta admit, when I saw the title Photopia and considered what that might be referring to in-universe, “an LCD screen” was certainly not an option that crossed my mind.

Hah! You tell her, Sam.

I’m still not sure whether Black or White is a better name for these uncolored sections — they’re notably the only ones where the interface is predominantly not black, but black is used in the places where the colored sections have their colors (the corner and the text) — but if it’s White, then the Photopia’s setting could be tied to the interface.

When I press the button, the screen’s light and the interface alike may change to red, then sea-blue, then yellow, then sky-blue, then green and finally purple.

Color shifting mode?

That’s pretty nice, actually.

Yeah, that’s fair.

I would have turned it back on. I’m not a monster.

Moment of appreciation for the fact that Cadre let me use the kill keyword for this.

*applause*


> Krixwell: Finish Photopia

One more click and the story has been told, so it closes. It’s done. Cadre has said what he wanted to.

This game interactive fiction is a simple yet effective example of how to do metafiction well. The two sides of the story go hand in hand the whole way through, even if it’s not necessarily clear to readers like me how they fit together until near the end, and at every step of the way, each side is used to strengthen the other.

The childish wonder from both Wendy and young Alley makes the absurdity of Queensland, Australia, make its own beautiful brand of sense, and the story Alley’s dreams made and Wendy navigated makes it shine brightly just how close they are and makes us care even more strongly about both of them. And through that, the act of sharing a story, sharing that sense of wonder in your heart, is presented as an act of love.

It doesn’t have to be a fictional story, either. We see this between Alley and her dad, as Sam shares the wonders of reality with Alley and wishes he had the same enthusiasm for them as she does. He still talks about them at length, because it makes Alley happy. It’s the same thing as the bedtime story, just with facts instead of fiction. Stories told to stimulate that sense of wonder. An act of love.

I’ve watched The Beginner’s Guide, so I’m not going to go too deep into analyzing an author’s personality based on one work, but my impression from what little I’ve read of his website and from the themes of Photopia is that Cadre is someone who cares deeply about the interactivity of this medium and the notion of telling stories together. And so, too, Cadre tells a story with us… perhaps not directly out of love for each of us specifically, but likely out of a love for storytelling and the interpersonal connection it represents.

The Queen expected Alley to fear her, because she represented two things: a) “adulthood”, and b) loneliness. Each stands diametrically opposed to the values of “childish” wonder and interpersonal connection. And perhaps that is who even Alley would have eventually become, had one reckless frat boy not had a little too much to drink and a lethal level of horny. Or she could have avoided that fate, burning brightly as a rare exception. But as her life was rob’d from her, she had no chance to find out.

All in all, Photopia does some very good things with its time and relatively simple plot, and is exactly as long as it needs to be. I enjoyed this a lot — pretty much all complaints I had along the way were either directed at the medium of text adventure games interactive fiction itself, or practically unreasonable (again largely being because of the limitations of the medium while trying to tell a coherent story, so both).

I think “empty chest onto ground” should have worked like “empty chest”. That’s about it for serious, reasonable complaints directly at Photopia, I think. Good game interactive fiction.


Before I go, I’d like to say a massive thank you to the K6BD patron, whose generosity and kindness this last… nearly two years, wow… has been staggering. He’s also been a treat to work with and introduced me to several excellent pieces of fiction.

I ultimately chose to end the Patreon Bonus liveblogs at this point because I feel they take too much time and focus from what’s supposed to be the main content of this blog, but I have no regrets about starting them. It was all worth it to me. 🙂

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