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digital: a love story -- one-hour review
games Posted 2010-04-30 20:13:20 by Jim Crawford
Digital: A Love Story is an ARG-style adventure game for the PC by Christine Love.

(Yes, I totally ripped this format off of Games For Lunch.)

0:00 Hm. The interface presents as an Amiga-alike OS, called “Amie Workbench.” I never used an Amiga, so this is going to be a bit less nostalgic and a bit more alien for me. Not necessarily a bad thing. It asks me for my screen name, then my real name, saying it's okay to be honest. I lie.
0:01 There's a little music app open, so the background music qualifies as diegetic. I don't recognize the song, or the song name, but here's hoping the game comes with a nice little collection of old-school mods, like Uplink did.
0:02 Reading email on how to use my new modem. It comes with “dialer.exe,” which is 421 bytes. I'm just supposed to trust a ludicrously small -- yes, even for the era -- executable sent to me by a “Mr. Wong”?
0:03 It's not like there's anything else to do, so I open it up, and it asks me to enter a phone number. Whoa, I have to remember the number included in Mr. Wong's email. I have to take notes. Old school!
0:04 I dial in and am greeted with a modem tone I don't recognize (I went straight from 14.4k to broadband) and a nice cheesy ANSI art logo. “LAKE CITY LOCAL.” I create a new user with the password of “password.” If some simulated hooligan takes control of my simulated BBS account, all the more entertaining.
0:05 I open up a message called “The BBS FAQ,” read it, then hit the offered reply button. The message goes away. Is this a bug, or is “reply” fully automatic? I don't expect the program to parse natural-language text entry, but I do expect some sort of interaction.
0:06 I open up a message called “First Poem,” from “Emilia.” Emilia apparently sends email to people who've just registered on a BBS and asks for critiques of her poetry. I hit “reply,” and virtual-me presumably sends back some insightful commentary.
0:07 I've exhausted the forum, so I hop over to the private message interface and send a message to everyone. Again, I have no control over what I'm sending, so there's not much in the way of mimesis here -- the game is basically asking me “do you want more content”? And because the content has been pretty good so far, my answer is “yes.” I click send each person a few more messages for good measure. Maybe I'll get some entertaining replies about spamming.
0:08 Poking around, I find replies to my replies on my desktop. My own text isn't there. Um. So I have to guess what I wrote that elicited these replies?
0:10 I'm pretty confused at this point, so I'm disengaged. I've spent the past couple of minutes basically clicking “reply” on everything to see how far this content goes.
0:11 The same song that I liked once has been on loop the whole time. I poke around the music interface, looking for a way to switch songs, but don't find one.
0:12 I dial in to “The Matrix,” a “hacker” BBS that I read about in the LCL forums. I'm told it has “downloads”! I love downloading stuff, let me tell you.
0:13 The first message is an explanation of what the infamous “PC LOAD LETTER” printer error means. That's something hackers worry about all the time as they're downloading stuff, I'm sure.
0:14 All the messages are about various computer errors, actually. Some of them are Amiga-specific, and pretty fascinating.
0:15 I replied to a message about a problem with the Amie Workbench OS, and I got an illicit disk image of the most recent version of the OS in return. Should I trust that? Sure, it's more fun that way. Now to wait 15 minutes for the 140k file to download...
0:16 It appears to have downloaded instantly, but it's not appearing on my desktop like dialer.exe did. Oh, the message says to “download and reboot.” That's not how downloads work even nowadays, but I can play along.
0:18 That process was more confusing than it should've been due to the game using OS components as saved-game-manipulation metaphors, but I got the job done. 1.4.1! I've totally leveled up.
0:19 I log in to LAKE CITY LOCAL to see if anyone has anything to say about my new OS version. Nope, but there is a new question in the BBS FAQ and a new message from Emilia in our ongoing conversation I have no control over and can only see one half of.
0:20 Back in The Matrix, I see a message exhorting me to learn Japanese because they're going to take over, and another message to which somebody's attached notepad.exe. It's only 102 bytes -- dude, that's obviously a trojan.
0:21 I download and run it anyways. It contains the BBS numbers I've learned so far. So much for old school note-taking! Probably for the best, to give the user a taste for how things used to be and then providing the amenities again.
0:22 I think I've exhausted this BBS again. Back to LAKE CITY LOCAL, I guess? This reminds me of back before I started using an RSS reader, where by the time I was done reading my regular web sites, I started back at the top of the list again, because it had taken enough time to go through the list that someone might've updated.
0:23 Okay, after a four-message exchange with Emilia, I think I might just be getting inured to the no-idea-what-I'm-saying paradigm of conversation. Emilia has become a character in my head, anyways.
0:24 Okay, from now on, I only tell you I'm switching BBSes when it's a new BBS.
0:25 Someone with a number for a name uploaded a game called “Super Roberto Bros” to The Matrix! Unfortunately it's a DOS game, so I can't play it. It is in .arc format, though. Man, that's before even my time. Funny thing is, the actual Super Mario Bros clone from that era was Great Giana Sisters, an Amiga-only game. It's like when you switch to the faster lane in traffic and then the lane you were in is suddenly the faster one.
0:26 Hm. RobFugitive posted some “new c0dez,” whatever that means. He reminds me not to use them on a Sprint line. I'll keep that in mind. They've shown up in my notepad app, so they're probably important. Alright, let's plug one of these babies into the dialer and see who knocks on my door.
0:27 Urf. Evidently that's not how you do it, because when I open the dialer, the notepad switches to the “phone #s” view. Very well, let's bounce back and forth between the two phone numbers I know a few more times, then.
0:29 I accidentally hit “dial” with an empty phone number and I hear DTMF tones anyways, then a wrong number message. Man, I bet it plays the same sequence of DTMF tones no matter what number I dial.
0:30 Aha, evidently virtual-me shares my confusion about c0dez, because hitting “reply” on the message about them got me a response explaining what they are: stolen long distance calling card codes. Yeah, I was never a part of that scene. He gives me a long-distance BBS number to dial as a bonus.
0:31 Alright, let's give this long-distance Gibson BBS a shot.
0:32 Tasteful ANSI logo by “wintermoot.” “Cyberpunk lives here.” Oh no, it's invite only. I risked getting busted just to not be able to log into Cyberpunk's well-secured home.
0:33 Plot point! Emilia ran away from home. Hope she'll be okay.
0:34 Huh. I'm disconnected from LAKE CITY LOCAL just as Emilia expresses her love for me. Is not being able to send a reply immediately supposed to add tension?
0:35 Yep. Dialing in again, I get a bunch of ASCII garbage. Harsh.
0:36 There are messages on The Matrix about LAKE CITY LOCAL being down. Also messages implying that somebody deliberately took it down. Also, someone posted a password cracker for me to use on Gibson BBS, which is super convenient.
0:37 Akuma sent me a message saying just “FUCK YOU.” See, wouldn't it be nice to know what I said to him?
0:38 Hey, the cracker worked. I hacked the Gibson!
0:39 “Acid Queen” posted a message on the Gibson about how he or she is about to have a child. That's just crazy; BBS users didn't have sex.
0:40 “Fritz” complains that it's ridiculous to name a Cyberpunk BBS after William Gibson because he wrote Neuromancer on a manual typewriter.
0:41 I send a PM to the Gibson sysop. He says he doesn't recognize my name and asks me if he invited me. Okay, game author, that's not how password guessers work: I would be a user that did exist.
0:42 Dialing in to The Matrix, I suddenly remember, the thread about stdlib.h being broken on the Amiga was on Lake City Local. I'll never get to find out what was wrong with it!
0:44 The sysop of Lake City Local is trying to get ahold of me. Apparently he has an important message to pass on.
0:45 The message is ... odd. “LOCAL SYSTEM HAS BEEN COMPROMISED ... CONTACT *PARIS HE CAN HELP” followed by binary garbage. Obviously, Emilia is a rogue AI downloaded from space by the NSA that escaped to live on the Lake City Local BBS. Sorry for spoiling it if you wanted to play the game!
0:46 Uh oh. Trying to dial in to Gibson, one of my “c0dez” failed. Here comes the party van!
0:47 Phew, this one worked.
0:48 Hey, here's the number of a FidoNet node. FidoNet is the perfect place for a rogue AI in a cyberpunk story set in the 1980s to live.
0:49 That less-than-erudite complaint about William Gibson using a manual typewriter led to a neat discussion of how little academic scrutiny is applied to science fiction. Interesting. It certainly feels like there's a good amount nowadays. Is it more than in the 80s? SF was pretty established even back then.
0:51 There goes another “c0de,” as I try to dial in to the Sector 001 FidoNet node... and there goes my last one as well. Hups!
0:52 New c0dez posted to The Matrix, just in time. Thanks, RobFugitive!
0:53 I think whatsisface gave me the wrong number for Sector 001. I would be way less sure of this if I'd had to copy the number down myself, but it's right there in the auto-created notepad entry.
0:54 Nothing new on either The Matrix or Gibson BBS. Clearly I'm supposed to be connecting to Sector 001 to advance the story. I'll give it a third try, I guess.
0:55 Huh. Connected fine this time. Maybe I really did just mis-type it. Hilarious ANSI art of the Starship Enterprise. “Over 50 MB of files!” I guess that was awesome for a while, but BBS owners were the earliest adopters of CD-ROM drives.
0:56 Hah, the first message on Sector 001 is someone complimenting me for totally hacking the Gibson. I know, I'm great!
0:58 I just downloaded a C compiler called “build.bat” from Sector 001. Okay, I'm ready to troubleshoot this stdlib.h thing, where's my IDE?
0:59 No C compiler on my desktop. I guess it only comes into play later.
1:00 Hey, cool, The Matrix now has archives rescued from the wreckage of Lake City Local. I can reread the BBS FAQ! And, awesome, here's a message explaining that yes, the Amie C compiler actually did ship with a bug in stdlib.h.

Would I play this for more than an hour? Yeah, I want to track down and give a stern talking-to to whoever murdered my AI girlfriend. Also I'm a sucker for fake BBSes. Also, I found a really intriguing message in the Lake City Local archives just after the hour ran out.

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