I was the perfect audience for this game, or near-perfect anyway. I’ve seen and enjoyed Being John Malkovich, the film by Spike Jonze. I’ve hung around the IF scene for a long time. I’ve played every Plotkin game, even Inhumane. I’ve also played every Infocom game, which turns out to be helpful as well. Even with all that, I’m not sure I caught every reference (especially given the prodigious list of such references provided by the author in the endnotes), but I think I caught a lot of them. Consequently, I’m not sure how somebody who doesn’t fulfill some or all of the above criteria would react to BAP, but I can tell you this: I thought it was a delight.
In fact, even as I was reflecting on what a rockin’ great start to the competition this game gave me, I was also regretting how small its target audience surely must be. No doubt somebody familiar just with the IF newsgroups, or just with Zarf (that’s Andrew Plotkin’s nickname, for those of you not in the know), or just with Jonze’s movie would find some entertainment value here, but how much more they would derive if they were, well, me. And believe me, there is a lot here to be appreciated. The game is gleefully deft at playing with the identity themes so memorably plumbed in the movie, and it does so in ways that are wonderfully appropriate to the medium of IF and to the specific project of exploring Zarf’s head. On top of that, it throws in lots of nifty IF references and generally has a hell of a time exploring some dark and unmapped corners of the form. In short, it works as a riff on the movie, as a riff on Zarf, and as a riff on IF itself.
The writing is, at times, a bit wobbly. I admit to being a little worried when I saw the first sentence of the game: “At last, your troubled fortunes seemed to come to an end.” The use of the past tense rather than the more traditional IF present tense, as well as the awkward phrase “troubled fortunes”, confused me. It felt like there was an initial paragraph missing, or perhaps that the PC had just died (which is how most people’s fortunes, troubled or not, tend to come to an end.) I think if the game had started out with “At long last, your troubles seem to have come to an end,” I could have swung with it, but as it was, it took me about a hundred moves to turn off the little editor in my head (apparently we all have a cast of characters capering around inside our skulls) and go with the flow. Once the game got rolling, though, there were some fantastic bits of writing. Particularly evocative and exciting were the effects generated by the various shifts in perspective that the game executes.
Those perspective shifts are some of the most intriguing things that happen in this game, or in any comp game I’ve ever seen, for that matter. I don’t want to give away spoilers here, so I’ll just say that the game explores some more or less uncharted IF territory by doing quite a bit of “head-hopping”, in both the literal and figurative senses. And of course, the fact that it is both literal and figurative is just one of the many fun things about this game. I love it when I’m still thinking about a game long after I’ve played it, still having little “aha!” moments making connections and grokking references. Yes, it’s true that the text probably could have used another round or two of revision. It’s also true that there are a few bugs remaining here and there, though there were other moments when I was pleasantly startled by the depth of implementation in some areas. The author confesses at the end of the game that “He began coding it on 2 September 2000 at 7:04am, and raced like the wind to finish it in time,” and in places, the rush shows. On the whole, however, the game is a whole lot of fun, and very thought-provoking, too. Being Andrew Plotkin is an experience not to be missed.