Dang, "The Years of My Birth" by Louise Erdrich was an extraordinary short story and perfect audio adaptation by LeVar Burton for his "LeVar Burton Reads" podcast. It's a story of family, adoption & unconditional love. Recommended - if you've never listened to the podcast, this is a great episode that showcases Burton's range as a reader and the high production quality.

Fascinating to poke around in the Replika subreddit. It's an AI companionship app that looks like a hybrid between scripted chatbots and GPT-3 style language models.

This generation of AI is still very limited, often produces gibberish, and is biased by the corpus it's trained on (to sometimes horrific effect) -- but clearly it's "good enough" for large numbers of people already to function as a day-to-day companion. No longer a "some day" thing but it's happening now.

reddit.com/r/replika/

The team just published a splendid showcase of upcoming indie games (that are part of the current Steam Next Fest) made with Godot.

godotengine.org/article/godot-

(Godot is a powerful open source game engine that's becoming increasingly important for indie game development. Like Blender it will likely continue to make inroads there first before larger industry adoption -- though it was also used for the Switch port of Sonic Colors.)

IFComp is perhaps the longest-running game jam in the world - it's a yearly interactive fiction competition that's been going on since 1995.

The entrants for the 2021 edition are now up - lots of interesting looking text adventures, some parser-based, some choice-based. Helpfully it tells you the approximate playtime for each entry:

ifcomp.org/ballot

IF is also a very accessible art form - thanks to tools like twinery.org/ , anyone who can write, can create a game.

Since I spent some 8 hours or so with Gabriel Knight (a 1993 point and click adventure), I figured I ought to attempt a review:

lib.reviews/review/6173b0c7-08

Very innovative game design, great soundtrack, celebrity voice actors, but: a plot with lots of racial stereotyping (fight the evil Voodoo cult), and plenty of intentional gameplay frustrations (the expensive Sierra hint line was waiting for your call).

Not sure it needed a remake, but it's certainly a milestone in video game history.

It's nice that Android lets me disable specific notifications from apps, but it looks like many apps get around this by splitting their spam into many categories like "news", "promotions", "special offers", etc. Annoying.

Her: A co-worker told me a dad joke today. How do you find Will Smith in the snow? ... You follow the Fresh Prince. That reminds me of another joke: How did Luke know what Vader got him for Christmas? ... He felt his presence. They're almost the same joke.

Me: A humorologist would probably have a word for it.

Her: A humorologist? But how do you find one of those?

Me: You, er, follow the Fresh Prince?

Playing Gabriel Knight (1993 adventure game) for the first time. It's wonderfully atmospheric, and a bit disorienting to play a video game in 2021 with full voice acting by the likes of Tim Curry & Mark Hamill, set in the modern world but at a time before even email was commonplace.

The soundtrack is one of the more underrated 1990s gaming soundtracks, perhaps not quite as amazing as Monkey Island but with some beautiful tracks. Here's the bookshop theme, for example:

youtube.com/watch?v=2gIsF9I8DD

I've posted about "Seedship" before, a free text-based browser game in which you control an AI that must determine the future planetary home of humanity.

It's quite well-done -- more story generator than game -- and I recommend checking it out, so I decided to write a review as well:

lib.reviews/review/886cbb08-a3

Or just hop on to give it a try -- a single run takes only a few minutes:

philome.la/johnayliff/seedship

If you use Steam for all your games, "If On a Winter's Night, Four Travelers" is now available there as well -- it's a pretty amazing free pixel art point and click adventure game (be warned that it's very dark in tone and content though!).

The developers also released an art pack if you want to support them.

store.steampowered.com/app/160

Of course, I reviewed it a while ago, here:

lib.reviews/review/ff1dd8f5-69

Yesterday I played "What Remains of Edith Finch". I had heard good things about it (Steam still has it as "Overwhelmingly Positive"), but the screenshots didn't really grab me. Another "explore an old home" game?

Boy was that first impression wrong. I don't throw the word "masterpiece" around casually, but it fully applies here. It's only ~3 hours of playtime, but utterly spellbinding. Cannot recommend highly enough. Spoiler-free review:

lib.reviews/review/542f21d1-a9

On a transcontinental flight yesterday, I finished "The Cipher" by Isabella Maldonado, a former police captain turned crime writer.

It's definitely a page-turner, but also a bit of a turn-your-brain-off book. Basically, "What if Zodiac Killer, but on Facebook?"

That said, many other reviews are more positive than mine; if "suspension of disbelief" is no issue for you when reading a story like this, you may enjoy it:

lib.reviews/review/7566efa2-5f

Last weekend I finished "Calculating God", another older sci-fi novel by Canadian writer Robert J. Sawyer. It tells the story of a paleontologist's encounter with extraterrestrials who treat the existence of God as a scientific fact.

The friendship between the main character and a spider-like alien scientist named Hollus is charming & funny, but the book doesn't manage to live up to its larger ambition. Full review:

lib.reviews/review/2cf43c65-fa

"Tavern Crawler" is a lovely, free choice-based text adventure with RPG elements. It starts with a seemingly straightforward quest to slay a dragon that is terrorizing a village - but all is not what it seems. And there are lots of side quests and little touches that make the world and characters come alive.

Worth checking out:
cogsandspanners.itch.io/tavern

"LeVar Burton Reads", in which the host typically reads one short story per episode, is an absolutely lovely podcast. I finally had to write a review of it, here:

lib.reviews/review/9f1c1b05-3d

In short, if you like fiction & listen to podcasts, I cannot recommend it highly enough. The review has links to some of my favorite episodes.

Trüberbrook is a sci-fi mystery point-and-click adventure set in late 1960s Germany, with visuals based on digitized miniatures. As a point-and-click aficionado, I had to give it a spin when I was able to get it on sale.

Unfortunately it's only a mediocre game, but I still had some fun with it. Some impressions:

lib.reviews/review/f2a71163-d0

I've been meaning to read more Robert Sawyer ("Flashforward"), so I just finished "The Terminal Experiment". This 1995 sci-fi novel about life after death, mind uploading and AI (which won the Nebula that year) hasn't quite stood the test of time, and I can't recommend it for anything other than the interesting philsophical questions it explores.

I really can't seem to write short reviews anymore, but here's a longer one:

lib.reviews/review/28dcce0a-12

Another quick review, "Billy Summers" by Stephen King. Tropes galore (hitman with a heart gets contracted for one last job), but King manages to keep things interesting including with a "book within the book" about Summers' past.

An easy recommendation for fellow constant readers, unless you're looking for a book with a strong supernatural bent. Full review (spoiler-free but does go further into the plot):

lib.reviews/review/e14c7486-7f

Last weekend I finished another Dontnod game, "Tell Me Why". Set in Alaska, it's a family mystery in which you play both as Alyson and Tyler Ronan, 21-year-old twins, who are trying to understand the story of their mother's mental breakdown, which led to a deadly confrontation ten years earlier.

An engrossing story with great characters & graphics but underdeveloped choices. No masterpiece but a good game. Played it on Linux w/ Proton without issues. Full review:

lib.reviews/review/a73c1ff0-ca

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