Magic Makeover

by S. Woodson.

tl;dr: entertaining, if wordy, parody.

Magical Makeover is a self-styled parody of over-the-top Flash games ‘for girls’, namely those whose interactivity consists wholly of choosing outfits. It starts with floridly described makeup products and a rhyming, snarky mirror but delves into a touch of body horror, and into riffs off fairy tales.

It eschews any fancy Twine effects, relying wholly on the text. Although the background was very likely a nod towards the games it parodies.

This game is generous, in various senses of the word. The writer revels indescription, evoking sparkly, colourful images. While the passages got lengthy at times, this was made up for by the wit: the game lampshades tropes from fairy tales and adventure stories. In fact, ‘lampshades’ doesn’t even begin to describe it – much of the game felt more like an exuberant riff.

The level of story branching was certainly generous as well. As the author says, there are seven possible endings, but I was impressed by how distinct and well-developed each of them were, with their own backstories.

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The Castle of the Red Prince

by C. E. J. Pacian.

You are a traveller in the town of Amaranth, a town you have seen often in your dreams. This town is plagued by the eponymous Red Prince, whose predatory diet has sucked the lifeblood out of the town. You have to stop the dreams. You have to kill the Red Prince.

The plot of Red Prince features one single, very compact puzzle. Lost players are helped along by an adaptive hint system. The most intriguing feature of this game, however, is how it plays with the idea of exploration. In this game, the player does not explore by travelling in the compass directions; instead, the player explores a virtual space by zooming in onto objects or locations, which suits the dream-context of the game rather well.

Castle of the Red Prince is an interactive grimoire by the mad Englishman C.E.J. Pacian – said to have been inscribed during a series of terrible rites in which George Oliver, Konstantinos “Gnome” Dimopoulos, Emily Boegheim and Stephen Lavelle served as human sacrifices (or “beta testers” as they are known to students of the occult). Helpful prayers were also offered by Anna Anthropy and Robert Yang.

Conversations with my mother

Screen Shot 2013-06-30 at 4.16.15 PM

Playable at http://aliendovecote.com/uploads/twine/others/conversations%20with%20my%20mother/conversations.html

By Merritt Kopas.

Hypertext! This Twine… game… is short and sweet. The player can replace words in a conversation to alter its direction. As plot goes, it is minimally branched, featuring about three major choices, but perhaps thought-provoking all the same, since it works on the commonest, almost meaningless phrases we use in conversation.

Indigo

By Emily Short

I must say I only managed to finish this with the help of a friend. Despite that, I suspect the puzzles aren’t meant to be too difficult.

This game is one in the series of Emily Short’s games based on fairy tales (the others including Bronze and Glass). In this game, you are Rapunzel, or some version of her, and you are attempting to get out of your tower. There is a in-game device key to progressing in the plot, which is broadly hinted at using textual clues. Once you figure that out, the puzzles should all be fairly straightforward; I took about twenty minutes on Indigo. There is really little I can say without spoiling it. What I can say, however, is read everything carefully, including and <em>especially</em> the introduction.

There is, however, a very very intriguing epilogue which hints to the backstory of the PC which still has me scratching my head.

The Privacy Game

Playable here. Hosted on philome.la, a free host which only requires the author to have a Twitter account for publicity purposes.

This Twine creation is best described not as a game, but as a minimally interactive public service announcement. In it, you play… yourself, probably, during an average day at work. Almost all decision-making points present you a choice of a variety of named online services- GrubHub, Uber and Buzzfeed being some of the names mentioned- to get through the day. After making the choice, it mentions, almost smugly, how much information that choice reveals about you.

Some might say this game was deliberately made generic so that the average player could relate to the events described. However, the game is so non-specific, it seems more like a widget than a true telling of a story. Even if it intended to reveal the true extent to which we reveal our personal details to faceless corporations, then the one-size-fits-all ending surely defeated it. The result is a somewhat starchy moralistic illustration- not even a tale- of privacy wrested from us.

This game could have been made into something with a clear call to action, or even an exploration of the pros and cons of giving up your privacy to conglomerates. Its scope could have been broadened to the privacy we do not voluntarily relinquish. It could even have been made into a government conspiracy thriller, because those seem to be in the rage nowadays. This game could have been much more, but the authors seemed content to stop at the moral of the story without actually telling much of one.

Horse Master

horse master_icon

By Tom McHenry. 

Playable at: http://noncanon.com/HorseMaster.html

As the game itself states: you have trained your whole life for this moment: you will be a Horse Master. And so your journey starts, through buying a horse and training it and, yes, even naming it.

The game starts out light-hearted, but things quickly turn dark. The PC’s commentary swings between mad hope and sheer depression. At one point, I was unsure whether I should actually hope for the best for the PC, or whether it would all come to nought.

It’s an emotionally taxing and compelling game. (SPOILERS BELOW)

It conveys the desperate, wild hope of once unattainable success, which was enhanced by not letting the PC know the horse’s stats. There are painful descriptions and details- a loose tooth; having to scavenge food- and below it all, a haunting lesson on success. What price would you pay? What would you sacrifice?

The power of this game is in that despite everything seeming to lead up to the Horse Master Championships- even though, in a simple world, that would be the ultimate reward for the PC’s sacrifice and pain so far- the eventual outcome of the Championships is not the final reward. The PC’s response to what would seem to be a ‘successful’ ending gives cause for thought: at what price success? What are our dreams, and will we really be happy achieving them?

An excellent, dark, brooding game.

The Axolotl Project

By Samantha Vicks. Playable here.

You are Casey Cama, an intern in the moon base of Sadler Labs. You just realise that one of your test subjects- a moon salamander- has escaped and if you’re fast, you can get it back before your egomaniac of a boss, Bill Gallo, catches it. But the computer system is behaving strangely, and as you go on the trail of your salamander, you discover evidence of a devastating cover-up.

Despite some slight inaccuracies and misspellings here and there, the story was engaging and well-written. The puzzles were mostly straightforward, with clear textual and contextual hints; this kept the story going at a brisk clip. The heart of the story, however, emerged fully only in the later half, and especially in the endgame.

This Twine game was smoothly and cleanly implementated, with only a few bugs and boasts a navigation system more often seen in parser-based games. The Axolotl Project is moderately long and fully enjoyable, but with enough emotional content to veer the game away from frivolity.  

A Dark Room

I don’t know if this counts as interactive fiction. It is classified under webtoys in Jayisgames and is part resource management, part roguelike, even part flash game. 

The premise is simple: you start in a dark room, and all you can do, for a while, is light and stoke a fire. After a while, though, villages move in into the huts you build and they’ll do various tasks for you. Some will build structures; others will gather wood- it’s up to you to assign them to their tasks. 

You get to build a village of your own, with villagers arriving from around the woods, and you build up resources by allocating different numbers of villagers to different roles. 

This game is not passive: spontaneous events pop up occasionally. In the rogue-like bit, you explore a monster-ridden, almost barren world. There is combat! Monsters! Villages to build! A whole world to explore! All oddly satisfying. 

A Dark Room creates a quietly foreboding atmosphere through its bare-bones descriptions. And though the PC builds a village, there is no real sense of interaction with characters: it is all really resource management. Combat can be frustrating as your weapon choice is limited by a ‘cooldown period’, in which a certain amount of time must pass before you can use the same weapon again.

 A Dark Room, however, has a coherent storyline, satisfying gameplay (for me, at least, because… well, hoarding!) and a very handy save feature, which made up for its awkward bugs.

EDIT: Those who enjoy the game are encouraged to try the mobile version. The user interface is very different, but very well-designed. I am led to believe that there are also more endings and more story in the mobile version.

Moon-shaped

By Jason Ermer.

In this retelling of Little Red Riding Hood. You are Rosalind, the girl with the red cape, tasked to deliver food to your grandmother, who has been ill of late.

All is really not as it seems, though, and this is no walk in the, well, woods. What I liked about this were the refreshing twists on the story we’re so used to. The idea behind the game was creative enough, and, after playing, still remains ingenious. The story is mostly linear, though it contains several alternative endings, all determined by the endgame.

However, several things detracted from enjoyment of the game. There are alarmingly long stretches of text in the form of ‘visions’, which seems, above all, to be a rather lame attempt to force a lot of backstory into a few actions. This, unfortunately, occurred several times, especially toward the end of the story. Part of the moral of the story feels very heavily laid on in the beginning of the game, to the effect that it sounded very artificial. Yet nothing was said about this moral in the endgame.

The game also felt slightly glitchy at times. Some descriptions did not change even after performing actions which should have changed the object; some actions must be performed at specific locations to be able to progress with the game. The game could have been more robust if it were more flexible for the player, but this is really a small matter.

Don’t get me wrong: Moon-shaped is enjoyable in parts and does have an interesting story, but it was let down by the textwalls of backstory.

Although one of the themes in this game is family, I felt little emotion for any of the main characters- even the grandmother, who in some ways is the lynchpin of the story. There wasn’t much in the way of personal involvement for the PC, who seems to have stumbled on this whole story purely by accident. I mean- what’s stopping her from just going home and not bothering?

Progenitor’s Folly: Killing Orders

By Clinton Ma.

Set in New Caldonis, an overindustrialised city along the lines of China Mieville’s New Crobuzon, you play Miranda, a young scientist, who wakes up in a boardroom with an assassin on her heels.

The game immediately launches into action sequences which would not feel out of place in a movie, though the density of text in some scenes broke the rhythm somewhat. Still, for a game which advertises itself as a fast-paced, adventure thriller, which initially seems a tad much for a debut game, it is technically excellent and very well implemented.

Progenitor’s Folly could be considered almost a genrebreaker for Choicescript games. For one, it eschews the ‘personality questions’ which are commonly used to establish the character’s stats. Instead, it plays more like so-called ‘traditional’ IF. As short as this game is, it is heavily story-based. There is not too much in the way of characterisation, nor in setting the scene. Is this a weakness? Maybe. One must get one’s expectations right.

Despite some tiny spelling/language mistakes here and there, Progenitor’s Folly is a promising start for what the author says is a planned trilogy.