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When Marketing Rules The World
Review by: Matthew Murray
Game: Coke Is It!
By: Various Artists

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"After seeing the wonderful promotional game 'The Lost Island of Alanna' on the Cherry Coke web site," begins the A Message from the Authors section in the ABOUT command in Coke Is It!, "a group of us decided to contact Coca-Cola and see if they would be interested in doing a similar thing with IF."

On the face of it, the idea is perhaps ridiculous... An IF game used to sell Coca-Cola? Could it possibly work? The answer, of course, is yes, because of the boundless creativity, sense of humor, and pervertedness of thought possessed by some of the finest authors of modern Interactive Fiction.

Rather than create a completely new game attempting to sell Coca-Cola, the seven authors of Coke Is It -- Lucian Smith, Adam Thornton, J. Robinson Wheeler, Michael Fessler, Adam Cadre, Dan Shiovitz, and David Dyte -- have adapted already released works of IF into advertisements for Coca-Cola. While each one is unabashedly silly, likewise is each -- in the final analysis -- not too bad of an ad after all.

Because of its very nature, Coke Is It ran the danger of being a one-joke game. What prevents it from growing old far too quickly, however, is the creativity of each of the authors involved. Everyone pulls out all the stops and gives themselves over completely to the idea, never failing to pander, at every turn, to one of the world's largest soft drink empires. The ABOUT text, previously mentioned, contains not only detailed information about the history of Coke Is It and the authors contact with JP Fizzlewick of the Coca-Cola Company, but also a statement from Fizzlewick himself, explaining that corporate sponsorship could finally put Interactive Fiction back in the public eye. The authors have all done admirably at creating a believable environment of the game as different from ours as that of the games from which the sequences in Coke Is It were derived.

The game is framed in an unexpected (yet strangely appropriate) way, in Smith's main module, with an opening location referred to simply as At the Coca-Cola Dispenser ("Of all the places in the world to obtain the sweet goodness of Coca-Cola..."). The player, however, faces a slightly unfamiliar sight. Instead of the machine peddling great-tasting Coca-Cola products, the buttons now display the names of famous works of IF! Curses, Adventure, Planetfall, Hitchhiker, Grip, and A Bears Night Out, to be exact. Pushing one of the buttons will transport the player to that games world where the names and locations may be different, but the goal of glorifying Coke always remains the same.

Take, for example, Thorton's entry, an adaptation of Graham Nelson's legendary Curses. The player begins in the perhaps familiar location of Chatelet-Les-Halles, facing a French-speaking seller of maps and guide books behind a kiosk. Here, however, you needn't rack your brain searching for the French word for map, you merely need to present him with something far more irresistible: the can of delicious Coca-Cola you're holding! The response is immediate and enthusiastic, as his French accent melts away, changing the man into a New Jersey native who wants nothing more than to join the player for a trip to Atlanta, the birthplace of (what else?) Coca-Cola. The humor with which Thornton handles the transformation is refreshing in an already strikingly original game. Yes, it may be derivative in its use of previously released works, but in nearly every other way, it appears fresh and very humorous.

The other entries are similar. Cadre, Dyte, and Fessler lend straightforward interpretations to their adaptations of The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, A Bears Night Out, and Planetfall respectively. Shiovitz's module for Losing Your Grip is slightly more involved and complex, while Wheeler's for the original Adventure is perhaps the most successful at capturing the true atmosphere of the game being adapted.

Ultimately, though, Coke Is It does make you think more about the price we are willing to pay for entertainment in our society. Though taken to perhaps the most absurd of imaginable extremes, we've all come to accept -- frequently unconsciously -- product placement in the movies and television shows most of us watch every day. It's a constant and, perhaps, understandable fear that the sponsors of a certain program or event might want to take care to make sure that their product is only presented in a certain way. After all, if they're putting up the money, why would they have the slightest interest in presenting something that would defame their product?

Created, perhaps, as a joke, Coke Is It nonetheless succeeds at making a very important statement about the way we view not only the Interactive Fiction we all care about, but also the steps needed to finance or promote it. True, IF may never be a strong commercial enterprise again, but the images presented by the seven authors of this game, and the thoughts created by the very possibility are enough to give pause. If you'd rather not, just drink a Coke instead. If Coke Is It is to be believed, that magical elixir will cure all ills and confusions. And who can believe IF would lie?

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