Beware the Faerie Food You Eat

By Astrid Dalmady (Twine; IFDB; play online)

(Cover art: red-capped fly agaric mushroom, with the game title in the foreground)

You’ve heard that faerie, if you treat them right, will grant you any wish. That’s why you’ve sought out a faerie ring, to step into the other world.

Like Dalmady’s other work, BtFFYE is a beautifully designed Twine work, with stylistic (and judicious) use of rhyming. There aren’t really outright puzzles, though there’s a bit where Dalmady does some rather clever things with the text… ‘nuff said.

Each scene plays on the tranquil image of elves and fairies playfully cavorting in the woods, combined with common stories: that cold iron will stave off the fae, that eating or drinking food in the faerie world will change you permanently, and so on. Another common theme in BtFFYE’s fae world is the search for home. This is explicit in one of the choices you can make early on, but it’s there in the other story branches, I think.

Dalmady includes multiple endings in BtFFYE, none of which are happy endings. Some might say that as long as you meet the queen, you’re pretty much set for disappointment, if you were ever expecting anything vaguely optimistic to come out of it. It made sense, though, because it was in line with the idea of faerie being duplicitous, of being all about glamour and trickery. Some of the endings are brutal, visceral; others are bittersweet.

A technical note: the link text jumps around every time I get to a new page when playing on Chrome, but this resolves when I put the browser on 90% view. Or switch browser.

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All Alone

By Ian Finley (2000) (Parser; IFDB) (This game is 15 years old!)

You’re alone in Harvey’s apartment. It is raining. The news is on: the ‘Slicer Killer’, who has young women living alone as his prey, has claimed another victim. Harvey will be back soon.

Because of genre expectations (the genre is horror, few surprises there), I, the reader, was already conditioned to expect something bad to happen. The serial killer news is the most obvious hook that the threat to the PC’s safety comes from outside, almost definitely the serial killer. That the PC is actually in danger, though, is implied. I played this once early last year, and I remarked then that because the danger was implied, it meant that there was little sense of urgency. Now that I’m playing it again, I think leaving this implicit made the player make a lot more assumptions. What’s to say that the PC fits into the serial killer’s demographic? All we know about the PC is that they’re wearing Mickey Mouse pajamas, for goodness’ sake.

There are some bright spots. Events outside the PC’s control heighten the tension, including, like it or not, the news. Despite my misgivings about various cosmetic and storytelling approaches, All Alone does become quite foreboding in parts. The standard ‘my dirty apartment’ details are drawn up adequately to give the impression of squalour (I like “Piles of Harvey’s dirty clothes crouch on the floor.”).

But this is not the most polished of games. Ellipses are rendered strangely throughout (maybe it’s my interpreter?). There are double spaces after full stops, which is Not A Thing we do nowadays. 

Another major problem is that there is not nearly enough to know about the PC to make the player care about them. We know more about Harvey and even about the serial killer than we do about the PC – in this way, the PC automatically (and disturbingly) becomes the typical horror movie victim: nameless, generic and lacking almost all autonomy.

There are some events which you may or may not see, depending on what you do and in what order you do it. Some of the later events are satisfyingly foreboding. My grouse, though, is that the ending comes suddenly, and it felt a little out of the blue for me. It was ambiguous, and didn’t quite link up with the implications from earlier in the game, but was perfunctorily effective (and I really liked the last sentence).

Akkoteaque

By Anthony Casteel (Parser-based; IFDB)

(Cover art: red and white lighthouse against a purplish sky)

This was part of Introcomp 2013, an IF competition whose entries are meant to be introductions of full-size games, so many entries are necessarily less well-implemented than the author might have liked them to be.

In Akkoteaque, you’re being taken to an island to see your biological grandmother, which is kinda a bummer because you’ve not ever seen or heard of her all these years.

First impressions: this game is technically strong. Keywords and exits are highlighted, and the exits change to reflect the places they lead to. There’s an inbuilt hint system, which I thought presented hints quite elegantly. All very nifty, and reflecting a good amount of polish. The writing is pretty good, and its occasional snarkiness helped to create the impression of a teenage PC who is growing into that age of sarcasm.

The problem is that there feels like very little content, for all the polish. The game is quite obviously unfinished, with areas you can’t reach, and as it stands there isn’t a post-comp release up on IFDB yet. A pity: I would very much like to play the finished game!

Some things I think are bugs: the suggested conversation topics unfortunately reveal puzzle clues in a way which I think is unintended. At least the way I read it, the PC shouldn’t know of the topics suggested quite so soon. There are prompting sentences which appear if you wander around too much, but those don’t seem to change with the game state.

Akkoteaque has some quite enjoyable writing and a PC interesting enough that I wanted to know more of their story. It’s just a pity that it was so short, even for an introduction.

Beautiful Dreamer

By S. Woodson. (Twine; IFDB; play here)

(Cover art: black and white ink? drawing of a pagoda-like building to the right and lots of pigeon-looking birds)

It’s a sleepless night for you, and instead of laying in bed trying to go to sleep, you’ve started exploring the house. You can read books, listen to the radio, or do a million other little things; like Magical Makeover, there is a bit of combinatorial explosion, which lends a surprising but welcome depth to the game.

The breadth of the writing makes for entertaining reading. You can listen to a radio discussion between what we would probably call aliens, disputing the existence of parallel universes. You can catch the lunar moth which has been eating your books. Thankfully, the seemingly arbitrary worlds are unified with a few common themes, and things referred to in the beginning are remain consistent to the end, which stopped Beautiful Dreamer from being bogged down with beautiful but pointless detail.

It is stated in the ending text that this game was meant to be chiefly an exploration game. The order in which you explore partially determines what you experience, but otherwise there is a single ending. This is not meant as a criticism. Woodson creates gorgeously detailed worlds, awash with colour and light, as befits a world meant to belong in a dream – not your dream, but someone’s dream.

Ashes

By Glass Rat Media (Twine; IFDB; download from here)

(Cover art: looming wood cabin; ASHES in bright red on the top left; ECTOCOMP 2015/ENTRY BY GLASS RAT MEDIA in the bottom right)

Content warning for explicit violence.

In this Ectocomp 2015 entry, you and the people you once called friends drive out into a cabin in the woods to fulfil the last wishes of Laurel, once part of your circle. What changed? How did you all drift apart like that? How did you know Laurel?

Ashes is particularly effective in delivering backstory, without ever being too wordy. Rather, Ashes uses gestures and off-hand remarks, succinct enough to give a sense of each friend’s personality, and of the ever-present spectre of Laurel.

The characters in Ashes have a storied past with each other, rich with regrets and unspoken wrongs. The author cranks up the tension quickly, using both external events and conversation to create a risky space where each comment could spark off fury, and fury could so easily result in tragedy. As an Ectocomp entry – an entry in a competition for horror-themed games – this falls firmly in the ‘man is the worst monster’ genre of horror.

Play this if you like the kind of harrowing drama that hinges on dramatic tension and friction between friends. Play this if you want to read about friendships breaking apart, because this doesn’t end well for anyone.

The Ritual

By Ed Turner (Twine/IFDB/play here)

The Ritual is a game about summoning a tentacled god with the blood of a pesky inspector and a bunch of loyal but none too bright followers.

Tone-wise, it feels similar to Hunger Daemon or Pratchett, with its irreverence for cult-like events and its matter-of-fact treatment of the eldritch. The Ritual is quite wordy, with paragraphs of text at each decision point, but it is redeemed by Turner’s strong and snappy writing. There is some ambiguity about the PC’s true feelings about this B’tek Mer character, and a smattering of typos, but otherwise it was solid enough. There are also hints of a more fleshed-out backstory.

In terms of structure, The Ritual has only one decision point, and then minimal clicking through. This made it easier to replay the game to tinker with the possible outcomes – and Turner is generous with each of these. 

So: play if you like parodies of Lovecraftian horror, tentacles and all, and if you want a mildly entertaining twenty minutes!