Pale

By Ally Vordan (Twine; IFDB; play here)

Pale starts with what was, for me, an off-putting technical note. Okay, I can choose to play from Tobias’s (whoever that is) point of view… and I can’t play from Klaudia’s (whoever that is)? Perhaps this is/was a work in progress.

Anyway.

You’re Tobias, the handyman around these parts. These parts, for you, is a small town in Germany, called Bree. Things are quiet; the people are a peaceable sort… until you find Stefan dead and don’t tell anyone. As you try and deflect suspicion, you can only mire yourself deeper into trouble.

The writing is a little dry, but I’m not sure how to explain this, because it’s not for lack of details. The author has made the effort to include things which would be part of the daily landscape for a person living in a small community, things like grouses and small jealousies. The writing feels like it lacks emotion, though. Tobias speaks rather formally, which comes across as being emotionally flat about what would usually be emotive subjects.

I also had a grouse with the pacing, somewhat. Pale started with a halfway-promising hook – that you, the PC, had been accused to murder – but, in one branch, built up the setup rather slowly, and in another, never gave any payoff. That made one branch feel very unbalanced. The other lacked the suspense that one might find in similar ‘suspicion in a small town’ storylines such as in Broadchurch or Jagten.

As a side note: unless I am mistaken, the author was a little careless in releasing this… did you really leave a blank passage there?

Bell Park, Youth Detective

By Brendan Patrick Hennessey (Twine; IFDB; play here)

Twelve-year-old Bell Park, Youth Detective, gets in over her head when she’s called to investigate a murder at a tech conference. What starts out as a favour for a friend to keep things low-key quickly becomes much stranger.

I admit that I played this game after playing Birdland because I wanted to see more of Bell Park. In Birdland, Bell is sharp and witty, yet often the outsider amongst her peers. In Bell Park, Youth Detective, Bell is an outsider in different ways, as a child amongst adults. Her voice is distinctive as ever, with a mixture of irreverence and uncertainty. Here, Bell is much less confident than she is in Birdland: she openly admits to guessing; she hestitates

The writing was colourful and conversational. Descriptions are made from a brutally honest point of view, which is fun to read.

Bell Park, Youth Detective hints that you shouldn’t be taking it all too seriously, with names like Argent Sunflower and clueless event organisers. Even the way each NPC speaks is hugely exaggerated. I still found it hard to suspend disbelief in the final plot reveal, which felt, ironically, like the product of a bright kid’s imagination. What was I expecting? I’m not sure. Maybe an adult crime, something which would fit in with the grimness of a dead body. Maybe I wasn’t in the right frame of mind. Maybe I was being too strait-laced. Nonetheless, it took me about half an hour to click through, and it’s not a bad piece of writing at all.

Wolfgirls in Love

by Kitty Horrorshow (Twine; IFDB; play here)

Two wolves go out for a night on the town. Neon. Cobblestones.

Written for Porpentine’s Twiny Jam, in which one creates a Twine game within 300 words, the author eschews spartan sentences, instead using single words, linked with timed appearances.

The combination of music, macros and the individual words makes Wolfgirls in Love incredibly evocative, and evokes loss and love and relief with the briefest of brushstrokes.

This game relies as much on graphics and music as it does on the text; the timed appearances give a rhythm to the text that the words alone do not. Wolfgirls in Love is a fascinating illustration of what 300 words in Twine can do, but equally also a gripping, bite-size story in itself.

The People’s Glorious Revolutionary Text Adventure Game

By Taylor Vaughan (Parser-based; IFDB)

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(Cover art: pseudo-Soviet poster: game title in red on red background, with three figures looking at a portrait of Marx)

Today is the day you’ve been waiting for! Today is the day when the Revolution arrives to sweep over this entire town, converting it to a worker’s paradise! Your heart beats with trepidation and excitement and you can almost taste victory!

There’s a lot left to do before you can yet claim victory, and the first of those things is to find your Revolutionary To-Do list.

The game follows a relatively simple structure with multipart puzzles. Most of these puzzles are relatively quickly solved by talking to your comrades around the city, but there are also adaptive hints. Helpfully, the to-do list serves as a checklist for the puzzles you have to solve to complete the game.

The writing is a definite plus. The tone is exaggerated to the point of parody, yet remains self aware, as seen in this quote from the opening scene:

The red light that illuminates the room might cause eye strain and make it hard to work, but it is truly inspiring.

This game was definitely enjoyable thanks to its overblown writing, even if it felt thinly implemented at times. Play if you like such parodies.

Mainframe

By Liz England and Jurie Horneman (Twine; IFDB; play here)

You wake up in an unfamiliar spaceship. Something is wrong with the ship’s mainframe and it needs help.

Developed for ProcJam 2015, this game features procedurally generated locations and objects, the writing of which nonetheless felt natural. Indeed, the writing is one of the high points of Mainframe. It went in a similar direction to Her Pound of Flesh, in that what was inanimate takes on life and flesh, and your treatment of it must change accordingly.

This game contains squicky body horror and gore.

(Side note: there was a discussion earlier on the IF Euphoria chat on to what extent procedurally generated writing is the work of the author, and that was interesting, because the author does need to put a lot of work into the writing to make it sound good, even if the end result is assembled by a computer.)

Mainframe progresses through a series of repeated scenes which often have wildly differing endings. Because of the structure of the game, it’s hard to avoid lawnmowering, but at least the locations are bizarre enough to make this varied.

Mainframe has a solid story at its backbone and excellent writing; it’s certainly a good look at the kinds of things procedural generation can produce.

My Name is Tara Sue

by Maki Yamazaki (Twine; IFDB; play here)

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(Cover art: The text ‘My Name is Tara Sue’, with ‘TARA’ made out of Twine passages)

You are Tara Sue and, simply put, you lead a pretty boring life. However, things are about to get more interesting…

MNiTS follows a kind of time cave structure, which allows it to be highly branching despite it being so short; of course, the length of the story and early branching allows for easy replay. The scenarios are slightly outlandish, especially towards the end – a whim of the author’s? – but veer towards the grim.

The joy in such ‘boring work life’ games is discovering the secret whims and fancies of the PC which lie behind their urbane exterior, but MNiTS didn’t establish much specifics.

Worth mentioning is the rather attractive layout and scrollback formatting, which made the final story readable as a conventional short story.

Ultimately, MNiTS made use of a mundane concept which, ironically, could stand to be more interesting.

Her Pound of Flesh

By Liz England (Twine; IFDB; play here)

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(Screenshot of game)

Here’s a game set in another cyberpunkish, dystopian world, where biotechnology is so advanced that all you need to clone an organism – and indeed a human being – is a bit of their tissue and a special reagent. This is what you’ve resorted to, in an attempt to bring back your fiancée.

But nothing’s ever as easy as that, and you may not always get what you expected…

Her Pound of Flesh had a theme familiar to that in many of this year’s IFComp games, with the theme of sacrificing something to get your heart’s desire, yet ending up with less than you started with. Because the author establishes the PC’s motivations and dreams so well, the PC’s helplessness in the face of events taking a rather squicky turn evokes sympathy: it’s clear that thoughts about her are consuming the PC’s life, even to the point of appearing in the PC’s dreams.

No matter how far you run, you can’t seem to escape her.

Maybe you don’t want to.

“Today will be different,” you tell yourself.

The game progresses in ‘days’, with each day comprising about three to four choices. In dealing with her, there’s often the choice to treat her as the human you remember her to be, or as something… less. Each day reveals new and terrifying things about what she has become.

In some ways, Her Pound of Flesh wonders what the limit of humanity is. Is it worth it, to have the physical form but nothing else? But more than that, this game is a story about longing. Despite there being less and less of her humanity day by day, the PC keeps turning back to what reminds him of her: things like her scent and her hair.

Overall, it may involve quite a lot of body horror and gore, but ultimately this game is heartfelt… and tugs at the heartstrings. Read that how you will.

Her Pound of Flesh was made for Asylum Jam, which challenged game devs to create horror games unrelated to mental illness or mental asylums.

 

Six Gray Rats Crawl Up The Pillow

By Caleb Wilson (as Boswell Cain) (Parser; IFDB)

Written for Parsercomp 2015 on the theme of ‘sunrise’.

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(Cover art: SIX GRAY RATS CRAWL UP THE PILLOW in sans serif font overlaying blue-tinted countryside scenery)

On a hundred florin wager, you spend the night in Count Ruggino’s house. No, you are definitely not afraid of ghosts. Definitely not.

There was deeper story than I’d expected, delivered in an unexpected way. I certainly liked how the memories telescoped out and were treated as an inventory object, a la Lime Ergot. The writing is half jocular, half dignified and retains the air of quiet amusement through the game.

The one puzzle in the game is made out of very many small moving parts; I found myself picking up and dropping a lot of things. In itself, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially since the puzzle itself was relatively straightforward. It was just that, without implicit actions, the game became repetitive.

Six Gray Rats has a simple enough story with an uncomplicated puzzle. Despite my little grouse, it was still entertaining, even if not absolutely memorable.

Eidolon

By A. D. Jansen. (Twine; IFDB; play here)

 

When you wake up, something is passing through the night sky.

 
You can’t sleep. It’s like the insomnia your mother told you about: it’s like a seed, and every night you can’t sleep, it takes root and germinates… what then?
 

Eidolon is at first a kind of interactive dream sequence, but it quickly becomes something much weirder. The beginning sequences felt a lot like S Woodson’s Beautiful Dreamer. The imagery and NPCs have the surreality of Alice in Wonderland, coloured by faerie folklore. Jansen’s writing style favours the weird turn of phrase and evocative metaphors, which suited a story which may or may not exist in your own head.

 
The story is largely linear, but, unusually for a Twine game, involves some puzzles. These had consistent mechanisms and weere meticulously done, with lots of moving parts. Because the story world relies on a bit of symbolism and not taking things too literally, I admit I had some difficulty but… this should not be a problem for most. (Disclaimer: I resorted to the walkthrough here.)
 

Eidolon is well-written, and much deeper than it first appears. If you like dreamlike stories set in a faerie world, of sorts, or subversions of fantasy quests, then you might like this.