IFReviewed by Emily Short on 2006-08-01 04:56
Last year we had "Queen of Swords" by Jess Knoch, a piece about electronic
fencing equipment with a lot of wires and things to plug in. This year, we have
"Flametop", a still life about an amp and an electric guitar, and I was
initially worried that it was going to require a similar amount of setup.
Fortunately, that turned out not to be the case: this piece lets you get started
playing the guitar almost immediately.
In some other respects "Flametop" reminded me quite a bit of "Queen of Swords":
the player is presented with some specialized equipment he may not be familiar
with and invited to play with it until he figures out what to do. Like "Queen of
Swords", "Flametop" felt educational, not in a preachy or annoying way, but
because it presented me with a complicated real-world system I could play with
until I understood its workings.
The other obvious piece to compare is "Guitar of the Immortal Bard" (Jason
Burns, 2000), another IF Art Show entry about a guitar. The feel and experience
of the two are quite different, though: "Guitar of the Immortal Bard" had a
fantasy setting and a completely different mode of interaction, where you chose
to play specific musical styles. "Flametop" feels more grounded in the real
world, but also more interactive. When I ran out of ideas in "Immortal Bard" I
had to read the help text to get around the guess-the-noun problems, whereas
here I can just keep fiddling with knobs.
If there's a negative aspect to this comparison, it's in the descriptions that
actually come out when I do succeed in playing something. "Immortal Bard"'s
music descriptions were fairly accessible. The PC of "Flametop", on the other
hand, is vastly more knowledgeable about this kind of music than I am, and that
creates a bit of confusion and distance. This is a subjective call. If I *were*
more musically literate I would probably enjoy the specificity of being told I
am playing like Robbie Krieger. As it is, I don't know who Robbie Krieger is,
and the point is a little lost on me. (A minute with Google shows that he played
with the Doors, of whom, yes, I *have* heard. Another minute with a website with
background music gave me a rough idea of what was being described. But I had to
go outside the piece to get that.)
The guitar and its accessories are all described with great love and care. My
knowledge of guitars is near zero, but I would not be surprised if this
equipment represents some kind of ideal fantasy setup on the author's part. In
particular, the description of the finish on the body of the guitar made me wish
there were some custom answers for TOUCH -- the description seems to invite it.
Even without that, though, writing was quite strong and left me with a clear
impression of pieces of equipment that I've never seen before.
I had one UI gripe. Since the state of the various knobs on the guitar and
amplifier are so critical to what's going on -- and since it's hard to hold them
all in your head at once -- I would have appreciated something in the status bar
displaying the current settings. (I was going to complain about this more
strenuously until I found the SETTINGS command. After that, I just typed
SETTINGS over and over. Statusline would've been better.)
In general, though, it's clear that a great deal of care went into this, and
it's fun to play with. There's a wide assortment of different songs and
song-styles to find, and I'm sure I didn't get all of them. And the amp doesn't
go to 11, but "Flametop" is charming about that, too...
Best of Still Life on the 2004 IF Art Show.