Saturday 28 October 2023

Music for IFComp 2023 entry Barcarolle In Yellow

Since I've been prioritising my creative energy for making Andromeda Acolytes, something I've been missing is producing music.

After playing Victor Ojuel's giallo IF Barcarolle In Yellow (my review here) I was inspired to produce for it an opening credits track. I'm reproducing the style of music made for these films in the mid-seventies in Europe, so the production is reverby, toppy but not airy, not bassy, a bit cacophonous and a little strangled.

The track mp3 is downloadable from this post (no joining required if you aren't a forum member)

Wednesday 4 October 2023

IFComp 2023 review: Barcarolle in Yellow by Victor Ojuel

I've currently time to play only a few IFComp entries each year. I try to start with a horror game that speaks to me. This year, the game that's plainly shouting at me is Barcarolle in Yellow by Victor Ojuel.

Barcarolle in Yellow cover art
Cover art by Ara Carrasco

This parser adventure is an IF take on the cinematic subgenre known as giallo, in which I have some expertise. So even if this turns out to be my only review, I hope it's one that can help other players to appreciate the qualities of this game in the context of its source material. I'm sure Barcarolle will entertain anyone who enjoys a hectic, lurid murder-mystery thriller with violence and some sex/nudity, for that's what it is, but I can still imagine a lot of "What was that about?" questions regarding some of its content in the minds of players who've never encountered a giallo or giallo-like before.

* If you don't want to read a review of the game before playing it, but would like to know a little about the giallo genre before you do, you can safely read the About giallo in general section.

* Anyone can also read the Spoiler-free play advice section before playing. In fact, I recommend you do read that before playing!

* Otherwise: The review following those sections is not a spoilery review in terms of what the game would consider to be its surprises. It describes the initial scenes of the game, the nature of the game and story overall and the kinds of tasks the PC will be involved in during the game. It lists some specific ways the PC can die and describes the nudity that's in the game. It says nothing about the content of the ending but something about the nature of the ending.

About giallo in general

Giallo is Italian for yellow. In Italian publishing, there's a history of classic mystery novels being released in cheap editions with distinctive yellow covers and sensational cover art. Their success led to newer pulp mysteries being published in the same style. When these stories began to take cinematic form, directors quickly turned to producing original murder-mysteries inspired by them, but with a modern outlook. These films were more psychologically-focused, erotic and horrific than the books that originally inspired them (though sometimes not more so than the covers that inspired them) and often featured innovative audiovisual styling, gore, nudity, and a high body count. This kind of film became known as the giallo and was at its international peak of popularity in the 1970s.

The majority of giallo came from Italy, followed by Spain. Some were coproductions that shared Italian and Spanish actors and production crew. The film's casts were often studded with internationals. In Barcarolle in Yellow the heroine PC, Eva Chantry, is English (according to her passport) and is off to shoot a giallo in Venice when the game begins.

The name and cover art for Ojuel's game are on the mark in their pastiche quality. Compare the Barcarolle cover shown earlier in this post to this real poster for The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1963)

The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1963) poster

The international success of one particular giallo, Dario Argento's The Bird With The Crystal Plumage (1970) set off a copycat trend in the naming of these films. Numbers, animals and colours featured heavily. As did salaciousness. Consider these titles:

  • Lizard in a Woman's Skin (1971)
  • Cat'O'Nine Tails (1971)
  • The Red Queen Kills Seven Times (1972)
  • Strip Nude for your Killer (1975)
  • Watch Me When I Kill (1977)
  • Five Dolls for an August Moon (1970)
  • The Bloodstained Butterfly (1971)

It turns out that a barcarolle is a kind of Venetian gondolier's song. And for a giallo IF initially presenting to a giallo-unfamiliar audience, the colour yellow is an obvious choice.

Giallo, as they were unto themselves in the 1970s, aren't really made any more. Some thrillers have giallo-like elements, but never enough to fully qualify them or give them the giallo feel. What we do see produced today is the occasional hyper-loyal giallo pastiche, like the 1970s-set Abrakadabra (NSFW trailer) or 1980s-set Crystal Eyes (NSFW trailer). Abrakadabra and its trailer are so amazingly accurate, I genuinely thought the film was a giallo from the 1970s when I first saw the trailer; the film was released in 2018.

Finally, one of the giallo masters from the day, Dario Argento, is still alive, and brought out a brand new giallo in 2022, Dark Glasses (NSFW trailer). For all its flaws, I still think it's his best film for a long time.

Spoiler-free play advice

The game uses few verbs, and mercifully, all talking is achieved just with a TALK (PERSON) command. All commands needed to play are listed in the HELP. The key advice I can give is to WAIT whenever in doubt, as many scenes progress on their own, TALK TO (PERSON) whenever still in doubt, save frequently (though UNDO is also your friend) and finally, pay attention to your wardrobe. It's both fun in an IF sense to change your clothes, but it also turns out to be policed in a practical sense by this game. Wear whatever your commonsense tells you is appropriate for whatever task you're about to undertake.

About Barcarolle in Yellow

In this giallo adventure set in 1975, the player takes the role of Eva Chandry, an actor whom the credits describe as starring "as herself". The credits are interwoven with the game's opening turns set in a police station, where an interview with Eva is beginning. Eva often finds that life is like a performance, or that life reminds her of her art more often than the other way around. Thus the game is presented to the player within the frame of it being a film, and is also about a film actor appearing in a giallo film to be shot in Venice.

Giallo films often blur the lines between reality, dreams, imagination, and false memories of the seen and heard, but they rarely enter the postmodern. Barcarolle in Yellow throws in a foregrounded fourth wall element that adds to the pleasurably discomforting pressure the game is always applying through its prose. Is the game reality the true reality? Or does that lie in some layer above or below what Eva experiences? What she does experience is all the mayhem of filmmaking, typically chaotic giallo plotting, and being the target of a mask-wearing killler in Venice, the same way her character is stalked in the script.

Killers in giallo films are often motivated by Freudian traumas from their past. As often, the traumas are revealed to the audience in piecemeal flashbacks cued by the developing investigations of the murders. While I'm used to giallos going back, I laughed when Barcarelle went way back (to 1862) and to another country (USA) in what appeared to be its first flashback. In its typical rug-pulling style, this was revealed to be a scene from a Western Eva was acting in.

Overall, Barcarolle in Yellow turns out to be a dangerous and tricky game, with frequent physical threats to the PC, death on the cards and numerous abrupt changes of place and reality. However, it also has a strong, often linear trajectory that keeps it from being too hard. I found most difficulty stemmed from under-implementation. It doesn't cater to enough synonyms and possibilities for the amount of prose there is. This combined with a few timing-critical scenes makes for some frustrating passages. On the plus side, the THINK command will almost always point the player in exactly the direction they need to go. I didn't use THINK on my first playthrough, but used it a lot on the second to shore up identify-the-noun moments that had repeatedly held me up.

As the attractive Eva, the player must get around an excitingly compressed version of Venice, occasionally act in the film she's in (by following its script!) investigate the stalker who appears in both Eva's life and the film, and manually handle her wardrobe. Cue giallo-typical nudity, both appropriate (having a shower) and justifiable but glamourised (being nude in a prolonged dream, except for a mask). This being a giallo, the game comments, via Eva's thoughts, on the way the camera observes the female body through an exploitation film lense.

There are a lot of entertaining scenes and tricks that toy with agency as an IF player, as a woman PC and as an actor in a film. The world of the game is as aggressively sexist and sexual as many giallo films were, and those films already experimented a lot with people's roles. The agreed-upon prototype giallo is Mario Bava's The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1963) which foregrounded, in one stream of the genre, a kind of outsider female experience. The American heroine in that film takes a holiday in Rome, witnesses a murder there and eventually solves it. Eva is Barcarolle's outsider protagonist. She visits a city in another country to shoot a film and also has to play a tourist in that film. The player even has to shoot photographs during Eva's acting scenes.

Some giallo could be very gory, with particularly outré deaths that are now regarded as proto-splatter-film. Barcarolle hits these genre notes, too. It features a knife murder committed through the eye, a speedboat attack and a hanging by designer scarf. The fresh and well-informed performance of so many giallo notes in the game is really impressive.

Giallo films were ultimately open to exploiting any dimension of cinema sensation they could in their commitment to producing involving, shocking, thrilling and twisty murder-mysteries. Bigger twists and shocks were better, even if they didn't make a lot of sense. Some giallo were tightly plotted, others lurching shock machines, but most had their eye on overall audience satisfaction. This hectic quality can be perceived in Barcarolle in Yellow, too. Some of the game's shocks involve unexpectedly sudden endings or upendings, or the placement of moments of fourth wall breakage. There are in fact multiple endings to the game that riff on the bizarre nature of solutions to giallo murder mysteries; I found four endings so far and can tell there's at least one more.

I've played a couple of Victor Ojuel's other games over the years. They both featured vivid or innovatively-realised geography, and that's true again of Barcarolle's handy version of Venice. The games also needed more implementation work to my eyes, and that's also true of Barcarolle. Because I like this game very much, I would also like to see a solider version of it, without all the excess line breaks, with the typos cleaned up and all those synonyms added and programming beefed up to remove the bumping-against-the-walls moments. However, with its strong hint system, Barcarolle won't leave a player stranded if they do hit the walls, and that's more important for today and for players' IFComp experience with the game. I also appreciate what programming an IF game as event-driven as this one is like.

In conclusion, I highly recommend Barcarolle in Yellow. It shows great and affectionate knowledge of the films and related cultural milieu that inspired it.

Friday 14 April 2023

Spring Thing 2023 music prize details

This post offers a few more details about the Spring Thing 2023 prize I'll be offering than will be able to fit on their screen.

The prize is a music commission. I'll compose and produce something for you, or derive something from unreleased recordings I have if they're the ideal match and you like 'em, for your chosen purpose, which can be pretty much anything.

Previously the prize was chosen by the receiver (in IFComp). In the Spring Thing context, it's received randomly. In the IFComp context, I did things like make music for games people were making, or a theme track for a cable TV show.

I specialise in instrumental and electronic music, but can do or wrangle many styles and things, so long as you don't want vocals.

Here are my Restrictive Clauses!

  • If you get this prize, you have to call it in within a year of claiming it. If we haven't made the music within the year, the coupon evaporates.
  • For non-commercial use, the purpose can be almost anything. For commercial use, the piece can contribute to some creative project you've made or are making. I can decline if the purpose is hazardous, inscrutable or commercially murky, etc.
  • Length is a limitation, but up for reasonable negotiation in context. For instance, some electronic or ambient music can be made quite long in the same time it would take to produce a shorter piece in some other kinds or genres. Composing to vision also takes more time.

Links to my music

  • My long-term electronic music project is Aeriae:

Peril Triage is my most recent EP of new stuff. DE is a live set. Victris is my most recent album.)

  • Some other pieces I've made in different genres can be found on the following Bandcamp page:

of which, the ones listed below were actually for IF games:

Black Giant (sci-fi theme)

Andromeda 1983 (C64 style in-game)

Kerkerkruip (Diablo-esque)

Leadlight Gamma (horror, eclectic)

Ghosterington Night (cheesy spooky)

Wednesday 14 December 2022

Music Room Inform source code (from Cragne Manor) now public

Chill: Black Morn manor board game. The map reminds me of Cragne Manor.

Andrew Plotkin maintains a nice webpage hosting Cragne Manor Inform source code files that have been shared publicly by their authors. The other day I sent him my 30k-word source for room M1F5, The Music Room, so it can now be downloaded from or viewed (in easy-to-read format) on the page. Obviously, the source is completely spoilery for the location. A few observations on it:

  • I opened ten other sources at random and I guess one thing I can say about mine is it appears to be the most commented of the sources. This will help if you want to try to follow it much, because the room transforms amongst eight different guises during play. The phrases "wadrick-pack-the-new-room" and "wadrick-unpack-the-old-room" teleport people and objects in and out as the player moves through the different sub-rooms.
  • There are thirteen rules in the source intercepting all the actions (I could find!) that a player can use to launch a vital object into a room at a vital moment in order to stay alive.
  • There's also a reasonable amount of code (in "Section - Wider world rules") diverting/suppressing every alternate path to conversation. Tons of paths had been added by a coordinators-supplied conversation extension that may be great in its own right, but which I recall they ultimately regretted adding, because it created so many potholes for authors. My problem was that with the extension in place, Inform constantly harped on the topic of the vomit object I'd created. If someone was allowed to type ASK in my room, the game would immediately print "(about the vomit)", and as funny as that was for a few minutes, it was more genuinely an annoyance. So I moved aggressively on the whole issue.

Saturday 26 November 2022

Andromeda Acolytes Kickstarter planning notes available

During my 2022 Andromeda Acolytes Kickstarter, I said on the forum that once the campaign was over, I would share my planning notes. I've now done that (they comprise a a ten-page PDF of about 4700 words) in a post on the forum along with some explanatory notes.

Sunday 2 October 2022

IFComp 2022 review: Nose Bleed by Stanley W Baxton

Nose Bleed by Stanley W Baxton, is a clicking-choice-based story with graphic elaboration – ostensibly about social anxiety – that elicited a combination of visceral nausea and hysterical laughter from me; a pretty strong combination for a ten-minute (to play) game. I don't think the first game I've tried in any previous year's Interactive Fiction Competition has made me feel ill so quickly, so after a fashion, this was a good start.

I'd say that if nose bleeds, or blood coming out of your body in general, either in prose or as animated spatter on the screen, or from the cover image below, are likely to make you ill, then both this game and my review are likely to make you ill ill. You have been warned.

Nose Bleed cover image

The player-narrator of Nose Bleed works in an office. They're meant to be doing something with spreadsheets but they feel barely capable. The details of the work, or indeed of anything but the narrator's flustered mental space, and later, their spectacular nose bleeds, are omitted by the game. Their headspace and the negative self-talk going on in there are the main event. I am not a psychiatrist, but I have been incapacitatedly socially phobic (two-and-a-half decades ago – treated over years, ultimately left behind) and this looks to be the psychological terrain of this game. Also, the content warning says "social anxiety". In the protagonist's distorted mindset, they expect to be negatively evaluated by others all the time. The narration is a spiral of feeling incompetent, incapable, distressed, depressed, and wanting to flee situations.

When the PC's nose starts to bleed during the work day, it comes in like a metaphor for their anxiety. It starts, it can't be stopped, it seems uncontrollable, others can see it and evaluate them negatively as a result. The bleeding gets worse. The PC is invited to an event they can't get out of, and the blood  keeps-a-coming. Choices about what to do next are made by dragging words on the screen to nouns that light up. The actions tend to be basic ones that are either ineffectual (rub nose) or fobbed off upon selection by the protagonist's own self-defeating brain (apologise).

What makes Nose Bleed so nauseating is the way the blood is animated on screen. The paper-white backdrop is stained first by a single streak, then as spots that appear, and finally as an unstoppable animated splatter that follows the cursor about. Coupled with selectable prose options like "Lick" (the blood off your lip) the effect of all this was to begin to induce in my arms that strange weakness that precedes blood-related nausea for me. And then I began to laugh. The whole thing was reaching the intensity of a skit where a patient sits in a waiting room while geysering blood. Or of the most spectacular nose bleed I ever experienced second-hand as an adolescent, where I was in a car with two sisters, and one of them started jetting from the nose in time with the pumping from her heart. The streamers of blood would hit me whenever the car turned a corner. As much blood gets all over the prose in Nose Bleed. It piles up on the on-screen choices and nothing can stop it. The PC doesn't even try basic techniques I'm aware of like pinching the nose while tilting the head back, though they do come up with the head tilt alone.

Nose Bleed's finale has a kind of twisting escalation that reminded me of a David Cronenberg film or two. I'm not sure what meaning I ascribe to the very last event in the game, but I'll give it time to percolate. The game's overall design is excellent, moving quickly from banal office work and equally banal thoughts, via the start of a typical nose bleed, through the discomfort of being unable to stop the bleed, to an eventual wittily programmed and (to me, hilarious) graphical geyser. I kept thinking as I played, "Surely, it stops here," but I was repeatedly wrong.

If all that animated blood is in danger of having an eclipsing effect, I could say that having all one's thoughts eclipsed by one panicky thing is like social phobia, after all. In Nose Bleed, the blood literally gets in between you and the interface.

Monday 22 August 2022

Andromeda Acolytes at $9200 of $14k with 54 hours go go!

If you've yet to back and/or promote, we're obviously entering the crunch time, so please don't delay in backing and/or promoting as suits your life situation.

Tell people you're backing a sci-fi game on Kickstarter and it's nearly there. And you can tell them in person or on socials or forums or wherever!

Here's the main link again:

I'll also link you to my latest backer update to let you know where my head's at. Note that if you're already receiving my direct Kickstarter updates and remember me quoting The Phantom Menace, you've read this update.

Here are two other IF Kickstarters I'm backing right now...

(I'd share some graphics but my graphics are screwy on Planet IF at the moment, so I'm leaving them out until I hear back about that)


Did you know that Scott Adams (through his company Clopas LLC) is also Kickstarting a game at the moment? The Kickstarter for ios/Android game Stereotypical finishes soon after mine. I am backing the project and have faith in the pitched base game described on the page, though I don't think the campaign video is very good. There's also a community element involved in the creation of the game. Check it out yourself:


I'm also backing Adam Frank's Grimfel, a fantasy Interactive Fiction/Visual Novel hybrid "about your character's gruelling journey through the age of great desolation""(!). I really like the aesthetic he's developed for the game. It offers base content and then ongoing scenarios. If you like these kinds of stories, and in a dark and not-fey mode, check this one out!