The Bryant Collection

Gregory Weir is a name that comes up fairly frequently on the sorts of game blogs I read. His best-known work is probably still The Majesty of Colors, but he’s done quite a lot of other small, experimental games, mainly in Flash. (I particularly like Exploit, which seems like it could form the basis for a really good hacking mini-game in a larger work.) In fact, he’s apparently set himself a challenge of releasing one game per month throughout 2009. The Bryant Collection is one of them.

What we have here is several vignettes and a frame-tale. The frame tells about how Weir bought the papers of one Laura Bryant at a yard sale. Some of the papers described what Bryant called “story-worlds”, which she apparently used in a one-on-one pastime with aspects of both adventure games and pencil-and-paper RPGs, but predating both of them. Weir admits to having altered the content of the story-worlds somewhat in order to adapt it as IF, and leaves it unclear by just how much. Still, it’s fascinating to see how close to the familiar forms this independent invention came.

It’s also a pack of lies. The coincidence of this proto-IF falling directly into the hands of a game programmer stretches credibility somewhat, and a sample of Bryant’s writing included in the game bears an incredible resemblance to Inform 7 source code. There’s also the simple fact that the game was released on April Fool’s Day, something I failed to notice even when I saw the date in the in-game author’s notes. Weir took some flack for this, much like the author of Infil-Traitor did for his Scott-Adams-era pastiche. These things are really best presented without pretense. You don’t get willing suspension of disbelief by tricking people, and the idea of Laura Bryant is actually pretty charming if you’re not distracted by the hoax of Laura Bryant.

Apart from the frame, the game content consists of five unrelated vignettes, pretty varied in their content: an immense disaster, some musings on the Garden of Eden story, two slices of life, and a gratuitous puzzle scenario. More significant (to my mind, anyway) is that each story-world is a study in a different form of interactivity or pseudo-interactivity. One is a glorified cutscene punctuated by command prompts that can’t affect what’s going on, one consists mostly of examining character-revealing scenery. There’s a study in ask/tell conversation and another in conversing entirely by answering yes/no questions. And the gratuitous puzzle scenario is, of course, all about manipulating stuff. Some reviewers seems to have been puzzled by the lack of a unifying theme here, but it seems to me that it’s basically a sampler, an exploration of different techniques to see what the medium can do. Which is also a pretty good description of Weir’s work as a whole.

3 Comments so far

  1. Emily Short on 17 Oct 2009

    I think actually the effect of the April Fools’ hoax was to make a lot of people think the whole project was fake and there was no actual game, a problem Greg discusses a bit here:

  2. Wesley on 18 Oct 2009

    I played “The Bryant Collection” last month, and I think there is a unifying theme, one hidden in plain sight: each mini-game indirectly tells us something about the life of Laura Bryant. I reviewed it here:

  3. Carl Muckenhoupt on 19 Oct 2009

    Interesting. You are no doubt right. I guess it shows something about those of us who missed that layer, but I’m not sure what. Probably that, to the extent that we’re thinking about authorial intent when playing these stories, we’re thinking about the author as Weir, not Bryant.

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