Dastardly

by Andy Chase (Parser; IFDB)

When you and James first set up the Orpheum, oh, what dreams you had! But now, burlesque is the only thing which brings people to the crumbling theatre.

The ‘about’ section promises just one puzzle, but without a clearly indicated goal for the PC, I found it hard to figure out what to do. (Maybe it’s just me.) (Okay, figured it out.) It took a little leap of logic for me, but once a certain step is done, things moved quickly.

This game was written for 24 Hours of Inform 2004, in which participants had to write an Inform game with 24 hours (no surprise there), and the game had to be set in a theatre, include a petticoat, an advertisement, something repainted and a trapdoor. The time limit probably explains why the environment was not as exhaustively implemented as it could have been, but at least the location descriptions are sufficiently interesting, and successfully convey the sense of dereliction and despair that now plagues the Orpheum.

The game is still buggy in places – indeed, the author admits that they are not terribly experienced – and the puzzle didn’t fully make sense, but it was still a respectable effort.

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creak, creak

By Chandler Groover (Twine; IFDB; play here)

In recent months Chandler Groover has produced quite a number of unusual works, with quite a few edging into horror territory. creak, creak is a Twine work written for Twiny Jam which bears some similarities to Tailypo, another of Groover’s works.

Something is creaking in the house. Your mother always said it’s just the wind. You can’t leave it at that. You have to look.

Groover uses timed appearance of text and various transitions to pace out the story, to great effect here. I found myself with a creeping sense of dread as I waited for the text to appear. The writing style is simple and some of the rhyming lines give the sense of a child’s nursery rhyme – making the monster a creature of a child’s nightmares, a la The Badabook.

This game may be a baby sibling of more full-fledged horror games, but creak, creak packs quite a punch and works well for such a constrained format.

Howwl

By Tipue. (Choice-based web interface;  IFDB; play here)

[Warning: this game contains sometimes unexpected descriptions of death and gore.]

You wake up in a North London flat, unable to remember how you got there. Tottenham is devoid of people. It’s time to go.

The game is initially a lot about exploration. There isn’t much of a clear goal, but as you explore, it’s clear that something very bad has happened. The game never makes it clear what you’re aiming for – perhaps a vague attempt at safety – even to the end.

Howwl is written with a vaguely Twine or Undum-like format, where you click links to progress.The links suggest what would be common actions in a typical parser game – taking inventory, inspecting objects and so on. The layout is attractive and neat, in which links add to a growing transcript which can be scrolled back. Header images mark changes in location. You can create an account to save your place in the story, but given that the scope of the game, as it stands (I played Beta 0.81), isn’t too long, you might not need this.

Howwl aims for the gritty urban apocalyptic atmosphere in its abandoned buildings and filthy interiors, and does it quite well. You never get to see the source of ominous (and sometimes uncomfortably human) noises. You stumble over unexpectedly gruesome sights. The writing style is detached – is it resignation on the PC’s part? Hopelessness?

I found the PC to be way too generic to give the reader a stake in how the story progressed- not that you get to make many significant choices, anyway; the author’s method of removing options if they’re not necessary makes it impossible, for example, to escape a certain place or to explore more buildings than the author intended you to.

Some mildly spoilery stuff below the cut.

Continue reading “Howwl”

Map of Fahlstaff

By Ian Hinck. (Twine; IFDB; play here)

viewgame.jpg

(Cover art: a blocky building silhouetted against a golden sunset)

Fahlstaff is a mysterious town, once a logging town, but now it boasts a vibrant arts scene and other natural attractions. Tour through this strange place with this map!

Map of Fahlstaff is written like a promotional leaflet, and has no real plot or goals. Instead, it is mostly about exploration. There are snippets alluding to the town’s history and references to rumours. The writing has a distinctively ‘Welcome to Night Vale’ air – the commonplace mixes with news of the mysterious and the subtly ominous – as below:

One account described the cabin as “really quite lovely despite the omnipresent feeling of dread.”

There is never really anything malevolent beyond that vague sense of dread, though, giving the game a general feeling of benign detachment. There are, however, some narrative events which are triggered by the one choice you make right at the beginning of the game, which made the game feel more like something living and active under your hands, rather than just something to be poked at.

The game is also prettily designed, with photographic backgrounds for each scene, though this sometimes made the text hard to read.

The tone fluctuates between sombre, PSA-style (again, like Night Vale) and conversational; I would have loved if the tone was a bit more consistent. Nevertheless, on the whole Fahlstaff is quite the charming town.