IFComp 2016: The Queen’s Menagerie

Spoilers follow the break.

This is a grim little story, a slice of life of a zookeeper who looks after a legendary collection of mythical creatures. As you advance through the exhibits, things get more fantastical and grotesque, eventually reaching the prized beasts that feed on human blood or flesh. It’s a monstrous system, inverting the importance of human and animal, and it all rests on the labor of our humble little zookeeper, who isn’t even a beneficiary: he’s shown to live like an animal, sleeping on straw and eating table scraps.

More importantly, though, it’s written in Texture, and is the first Texture piece I’ve seen this Comp. So let’s use this an excuse to describe Texture a bit.

Texture is a promising newish authoring system that represents one of the few really interesting experiments in how to interact with text I’ve seen in recent years. It doesn’t quite fit in either of the two dominant IF forms, hypertext and parser. Instead, at each juncture, you’re given a pool of words or short phrases that you can drag onto specially-marked parts of the output text. So your set of choices is constrained and explicitly enumerated, just as in hypertext, but the combining of two parallel sets of things provides something like the range of possibility in a parser game. At least, that’s the theory. I haven’t played a lot of Texture games — not many exist yet — but the ones I’ve seen typically don’t provide a whole lot of draggable words or targets at once, frequently having either only one draggable word or only one target, so that they fall closer to the hypertext end of this spectrum.

And so it is here. The chief choices you make are about which foods to give to which creatures, mostly in groups of three creatures and three foods, which is to say, six permutations. (In one case, in the hall of blood-sucking creatures, all the foods are the same, but it pays attention to ordering, so the number of permutations is still six.) And apart from these in-node choices, there doesn’t seem to be any branching here, apart from minor callbacks to the beginning, where you choose your name. So perhaps The Queen’s Menagerie doesn’t take best advantage of its platform in that respect, but in one respect goes beyond the platform’s design. The obvious way to use Texture is to use verbs as your draggable words, applying them to nouns in the output. But this isn’t a requirement of the system, and people have started using it in other ways. All of the draggable words in The Queen’s Menagerie are nouns.

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