Liminal spaces

Liminal spaces are spaces characterised by transition and impermanence: bus stations, waiting rooms, airports. The first few days of the year often feels the same way to me. All I seem to see is retrospectives and forecasts: forever looking back and looking forward, because the year hasn’t quite got its footing. It seems appropriate, then, to highlight one such game which occupies a similar space.

Bus Station, Unbound, by Jenn Ashworth and Richard Hirst (IFDB; inklewriter; play here)

[Time to completion: 45 minutes. Some branches may describe violence]

You’re going home for Christmas, for the first time in years, if only to make up for all the damaged relationships you’ve had over the years. But the snow is coming down hard, and your next coach is likely to be delayed.

The authors describe this substantial, large work as primarily an interactive novel, but it works as a vaguely open-world exploration as well. There are lots of optional ‘side quests’ and characters with whom you can interact; exploration opens up different endings and storylines.

But this is built on an emotional heart, reflected in the parallels between the PC and the building. The location’s brokenness reflects the PC’s own. The shoddiness of the building itself, the glitchy machinery, the inertia of the buses, even the irritable, argumentative NPCs: aspects of these are reflected, in some way or other, in the PC’s own relationships with their family and in their own life decisions. Perhaps even the liminal nature of the bus station – a space characterised by transition and impermanence – reflects how the PC stands on the cusp of something new.

The theme of symbolically rich buildings, buildings as containers for ideas, is not a new one. This idea, for instance, is taken more literally in Bruno Dias’s Four Sittings in a Sinking House (IFDB page). In both, the titular building reflects brokenness elsewhere: it is the PC themselves in Bus Station, Unbound, while it is the owners’ material worship in Four Sittings.

Something else I enjoyed in reading this were the contrasts and almost-contradictions in the bus station’s ‘characterisation’. It is described in ways that sit uneasily with each other. It is at once a “monstrous waste of money”, but also a structure of “pale concrete petals”, “heartlike” in its action. The storylines invite comparison between Preston Bus Station’s mundanity and terror, human warmth and mechanical coldness. You might run across bus station staff, whose roles are entirely expected, almost boring; or you might stumble into an abyss which would not be out of place in Failbetter Games’s Fallen London.

Bus Station Unbound is pretty word-heavy, and it deserves the title of ‘interactive novel’, but there is a lot in here to explore.

Another game worth mentioning, even if I have not yet collected my thoughts regarding it, is Bruno Dias’s Not All Things Make it Across, a collection of short vignettes drawing from his previous works, including the aforementioned Four Sittings in a Sinking House.


Games for beginners

A few of my classmates just downloaded the Frotz interpreter for their phones but are sadly bereft of games to play. Recommendations welcome. So far my list has:

  • Bronze (forever and always; the tutorial mode saves a lot of trouble and frustration)
  • Photopia
  • The Dreamhold
  • Violet (but so much textwalls!)
  • Shade
  • Indigo (pity it can’t run on JFrotz/Frotz)
  • Glass
  • Afflicted
  • Counterfeit Monkey (again, not Z-machine, so can’t run on Android IF interpreters)
  • Dinner Bell
  • The Baron (essential for highlighting the emotional content of IF argh)
  • Nautilisia
  • Accuse (as an example of very short logic puzzles in the form of IF)
  • Little Blue Men (traditional, but story-driven and stuff)
  • MAYBE Ecdysis. Wasn’t one of my favourites, but it’s short and packs a decent punch. Perhaps in that note, Fish Bowl might also count.


hypertext platforms

While I have not been playing much IF recently, I just realised there is an extensive- and growing- range of online IF platforms. I have not tried all of them, but here is what I have seen so far, and my first impressions, if applicable.

While Twine is gaining traction and challenging the idea of ‘traditional’ IF, there are other hypertext and CYOA platforms out there.

  1. Varytale
    The platform Emily Short used for her game, Bee, if I am not mistaken. Reads like a book. Great fun, really.

  2. Undum
    Was it used for First Draft of the Revolution? Aesthetically pleasing hypertext.
  3. Choice of Games
    A platform for CYOA (choose your own adventure) games. Uses its own language, Choicescript, which is supposed to be similar to traditional programming.
    seems to contain mostly poorly written, barely implemented IF so far. It seems a clunkier, slower version of traditional IF.
  5. Versu (new!)
    An iOS app for text adventures. Similar to Varytale?