April 12th, 2006


oh look, a tea party

And so you were taken from this place to another place, where you had absolutely no damn idea what it is you're supposed to be doing. It's OK, you'll be all right. Just don't pick up the phone booth, or else you'll die.

a NyQuil nightmare by R. Noyes
Version 619 / Serial Number 960409 / Inform v1502 Library 5/12
Serial number 960409? Well, I'll be damned. That must've been the last compile (I had to do it twice, cause there was a bug the first time around that kept you from scoring 100 once you won. Oh, and a bug where trying to eat the booth made you want to pick it up first, and, well. If you can't guess what happened next, you may want to go back to reading Ziggy.) Google Groups shows I announced the game to alt.stupidity on April 7, 1996 and I remember having to fix the silly thing right quick.

So maybe I missed out on the exact date. But anyway. Happy Tenth Anniversary, you one-joke masterpiece you. I never realized an exercise in learning Inform could be parlayed into some small modicum of Internet fame but hey, you takes what you can get, eh? Sure, the game never bought me no lunches, but we've certainly had our fair share of "You're the PUTPBAD guy?!" moments over the years. I hear the MIT kids dug it pretty well.

Maybe you've never played. But you can (see that clicky clicky link up there? Click it.) The premise is mind-bogglingly simple: You're in a single room (a nondescript New England town square.) There is but a lone phone booth in the town square with you. And if you pick it up, you die. And then the game makes fun of you, because after all, the name of the game is Pick Up The Phone Booth And Die. Duh. The game can be won, however (and not simply "by not playing") and at least one person has experienced Zen-like enlightenment upon realizing this fact, many years after first experiencing the conundrum. The goal of the puzzle maker is to successfully shove a koan into your head over which to mull and agonize, well after you've put the game down. Well, at least, one of the goals should be that. But if you can manage to accomplish the shoving, brother, you're golden.

Oh, and then there were the parodies. So many things will kill you if you pick them up you, know. Including the city of Anaheim Hills, California. Oh, sure, accolades were also nice -- the game got nominated for a XYZZY Award, found its way into computer magazines via sly screenshots or references, was ranked "Top Dog" in the House Of The Underdogs if I remember correctly -- but the game even received the Interactive Fiction MSTing treatment. That last achievement puts me right up there in some kind of pantheon, rubbing elbows with the authors of Detective (who populated his game with "wooden wood" and a "solid dog") and The Incredibly Erotic Adventures of Stiffy Makane, the only work of "erotic" interactive fiction known to man where, in a nod to King Missile, you can drop your penis and lose it.

Then one day a bunch of IF authors were hanging out on a house in the Outer Banks and they decided to write their own parody, fusing PUTPBAD with Sam Barlow's "Aisle", the game where you only get one command each time around. This meant that a custom response had to be created for every single verb in the stock Inform library -- and zillions more were added in the name of good, wholesome, cryptic references to ifMUD and wronged blood-pumpers. David Dyte sprung the project on me before release so I could take a look and add in some commands of my own, and the result, dubbed "Pick Up The Phone Booth and Aisle", received an interesting reaction from the rest of the IF community. I consider it one of the dearest tributes a fellow could ever receive, and the fact that it's got more injokes in it than a Kevin Smith movies just makes me love it even more.

Course, if you don't get the joke, you tend not to come back. The people who didn't get PUTPBAD really didn't like it, though never to the point of vitriol, and I've always enjoyed taking a tip from Tom Lehrer and using negative reviews in write-ups and descriptions. The most perplexing comment I ever saw, though, was someone on rec.arts.int-fiction who called the game "...essentially a fan-fic continuation of 'Leather Goddesses of Phobos,' which also had booths and ways to die..."

Here now the part of the post where belongs a picture of an owl looking incredulous.

I'd finish the sequel but it almost deserves to be left an enigma. You guys probably wouldn't get the cameo that The Bacon Sandwiches were going to have. And I'm pretty sure I lost the source to that ages ago (which keeps me from making fun of ISCA ever again, I realize.)

However, maybe I should write up the walkthrough I had sussed out. It was gonna be great, but unfortunately once you thwarted the vending machines in Vendoland, jumped around at the Bacon Sandwiches concert ("Good lord, you're pogoing. Stop that.") and foiled an alien invasion with Mentos ("The Freshmaker!") I'm not quite sure how much more abuse you were going to have to give the damn phone booth.

I do know I wrote the spine-tingling ending, and it played amazingly just like the first one. Maybe that kind of repetition wouldn't win any prizes, but I felt complete.

The third game was going to start off with you playing the original in a Virtu-Holo-Realistico Simulatron. It was entitled "Pick Up The Phone Booth And Die 3 IN SPACE" or something if I remember correctly.

Ah, plans and dreams, plans and dreams. I actually still work on some of the older projects. There's life in certain roadside attractions yet, but if there's anything I've learned and taken to heart in these past 10 years, besides the fact that drinking too much NyQuil gives you Absolutely Fabulous dreams, is the complete futility of self-imposed deadlines.

But hey! Look! A shiny thing!