That Sinister Self

By Astrid Dalmady (author website, IFDB site)

[This game contains mentions of self-hate and anxiety.]

You’re a girl on her first day of high school, but you’ve got a problem greater than friends or horrible teachers on your hands: your reflection in the mirror is threatening mutiny.

The first thing that strikes me is that it’s a very aesthetically pleasing game. Visual elements are used to great effect. The evil mirror-self is shown in the reflected text which changes, not very subtly, to insert negative thoughts about a situation; the text changes when you click through links to reflect what is presumably the PC’s insecurity and anxiety about her new situation. There’s a whole lot of clicking through, though, not all of which I thought was strictly necessary.

The content – family life, high-school social minefields – is very much the stuff of many teen fiction novels, and what should have made it impactful would be the presentation of the evil mirror-self, but the goal of the game was probably nothing overtly spooky. Rather, it was more about the internal emotional conflict of the PC.

Spoilers below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So far I’ve found one ending, the triumphant one. I found the confrontation well-written and personally it struck a chord with me, though there was little to build up to this. The endgame could have been much stronger if the PC had been less generic. If we understood a bit more about her fears and personality, then it might have made the triumph feel more like one. That said, I enjoyed the sly ending (though really nothing surprising to one who reads horror fiction so often).

New Cat

by Poster. (gblorb, IFDB page)

You are a cat, and you have no name. Maybe if you explore a bit, you’ll find your name. 

Cover image of game - grey rectangle with 'New Cat' written in cursive font above a stylised sketch of a kitten

Cover image of game – grey rectangle with ‘New Cat’ written in cursive font above a stylised sketch of a kitten

This game is a li’l bit similar to Snack Time, wherein you view a typical human environment through an animal’s eyes. This kind of game works when there is charm and puzzles/actions which hinge on understanding the perspective and making use of it. 

I can’t say a whole lot without spoilers, so spoiler space—

One big problem is that ‘look’ doesn’t produce a description of the room you’re in. In an exploration game, this is a very strange omission. Also, for an exploration game, a lot of things aren’t really implemented. I don’t understand how examining a object lets you know its name. 

The limits of your understanding also seem arbitrary: you don’t know what walls and doors are, calling them ‘ows’ and ‘mows’, yet you know what ‘metal’ is, even ‘bathroom’, even though a moment ago you were calling it a dark room smelling of water. 

The inconsistencies make immersion into the game difficult. Even if the premise is very cute, I found it hard to get into the flow of the thing, because a lot of objects were described in rather generic, sterile ways… unlike a kitten.

The Urge

image

by Paperblurt. (IFDB link; play here)

Content warnings for gore and violence.

I saw this in last year’s IFComp. It had a very disturbing blurb, which is why I wisely did not play it late last night…

You are a serial killer, with his (his? It’s not entirely clear) next ‘guest’.

The Urge is by turns gory and mundane, but largely linear. It is more a character study than an interactive story. It takes us through what the author imagines to be the everyday life of a serial killer, juxtaposing the PC’s uncontrollable bloodlust with mundane activities like cleaning up and going grocery shopping.

What graphics included in the game are well-rendered and attractive, but the formatting of the text had several slips, including missing punctuation marks and inconsistent line breaks.

The story could also have taken some interesting turns – letting the reader decide the PC’s motivation, for example, or the extent to which the PC will go. Instead, the linear storyline reads like lots of other serial-killer TV serials, with little nuance or, indeed, anything to invest the reader in the PC. Maybe this was a reflection of the unstoppable nature of the titular urge to kill. Maybe it was unintentional. But it felt like clicking through a story, and not a very engaging one, at that.

Overall, I felt the graphics looked good and were used thoughtfully, but the story was rather lacking.

baby tree

by lester galin. (Parser; IFDB)

baby tree feels like an origami model of a game.

This game’s main gimmick is its extremely sparse prose, as if it had a strict word limit (300 words, anyone?). This helps to set the mood,especially when this style extended to the default parser responses.

However, the scarcity of prose also means there’s barely any feedback on the player’s actions (i.e. was I doing the right thing? Can I examine thisthing?) grew frustrating after a while. I wouldn’t call it getting stuck,per se, since there’s so little to do that it’s pretty obvious how to get to the end of the story. But again it’s like those simple origami foxes or cats or whatever: it’s so stylised that it gives the idea of the thing,though it lacks many of the features that make the fox or cat or whatever it is.

Is it horror? Because of the prose, a lot of the content which would be considered horror is implicit, and depends on how you respond to certain situations.

As another reviewer has mentioned, the ‘epilogue’ feels rather rushed. The attempt to smoosh in some semblance of ‘story’ was a letdown, precisely because it felt so out of place. Still, it’s interesting for a one-time playthrough, as a writing experiment or a little piece of art.

An inadvertent experiment

Writing-wise, I’ve been working on my Introcomp entry. I don’t think it’s ever going to win anything, but it’s my first time writing a game in earnest, and possibly the last time I have this kind of time on my hands.

None of that was the point of writing this. The point of writing this was to give a short account of how it was like searching for beta-testers. I started the search pretty late, because, er… let’s just stop there.

So I ended up advertising mainly on a writing website. That’s a site somewhat unfairly known only for its teenage girl writers and downright appalling Twilight fanfics. Nevertheless, I got a surprising number of replies, some from people who were already interested in IF, some from people who were just interested.

This made the comments from my testers much more from a layman’s point of view. They didn’t refer to character agency or the quirks of Choicescript. Instead, they talked about choices being grayed out and textual transitions: they looked at it from the perspective of a reader, not a player. That was very helpful for me because it made me look more seriously at the look of the piece and not just the mechanics of the thing.