QUIMER-B

By David T. Marchand (Twine; IFDB; play here)

From the creator of When acting as a particle / when acting as a wave comes a polished work of linear fiction about the creator of QUIMER-B, a virtual consciousness so powerful it could take over the running of a city, and, ever since its conception, a source of moral outrage. To prove QUIMER is capable of running a city, you’re going to put your whole facility under its control for one day. If you can prove that, then maybe it can handle the pressure from everyone else.

Except it never really goes to plan, does it?

QUIMER-B is part epistolary, part first-person narration of an apocalypse in action. This game has a good grasp of pacing, creating tension through static and dynamic text. It sometimes uses the mechanic of clicking to draw out a scene, or to contrast it with the timed appearance of a piece of text.

Compellingly written and story-driven, this game’s strength is in sketching out the story – and the relationships between the PC and NPCs – and in letting the reader draw their own conclusions from these snippets. It’s a bit like watching an opera with minimal backdrops, where it just takes a few props to suggest a palace, or a battlefield.

It’s worth having a click through this short, polished game.

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Tough Beans

By Sara Dee (parser; IFDB)

In this mid-length work, you play as Wendy Little, secretary in Pickleby, Otis and Meyer, a position your father got you. You’re engaged to Derek, and, well, everything… is peachy.

Tough Beans is, on the surface, a going-to-work simulator – go to work, perform menial errands and so forth – but the story stands out. It highlights how women – especially those who fit the archetypes of femininity – are so often belittled and infantilised. The game opens with an extended musing on the names that people call you – in fact, barely anyone apart from the PC herself calls her by her given name:

Baby. Babe? Babe?

For as long as you can remember, you’ve never really had a name–never needed one. For 22 years people have swaddled you in epithets, letting you know that even though you’re not quite on the right track, the world is there to hold your hand. Your father, your friends, your boyfriend. Gas station attendants.

This game is heavily reliant on cutscenes (do I hear accusations of “not interactive enough!”?) to tell the PC’s account of a lifetime of being put down. Given that the game focuses on the story of an established character, I’d argue that it works, just that it looks a daunting sometimes.

What would have made the game better would be work on the technical aspects and hinting actions that I needed to do to progress were not always obvious. The choice of verbs is not always intuitive (for me, anyway). If it were not for the walkthrough, I would have missed a puzzle altogether. Changes in location were not always clearly indicated in the text.

The story arc reminded me of Hedda Gabler’s play A Doll’s House, with the PC’s progress palpable through the story and contrasted clearly at the end. And an aside, ROT13’d for your convenience: Gur nfvqrf, gbb, ner jevggra va n jnl gung sberfunqbj gebhoyrf va gur CP’f eryngvbafuvc (va erfcbafr gb rknzvavat gur CP’f oblsevraq’f obbxf, lbh trg “Lbh’er gelvat gb trg zbivat, abg chg lbhefrys gb fyrrc.”)

 

Her Majesty’s Trolley Problem

By Buster Hudson (Parser; IFDB)

This game was one of the games submitted for the Neinth Annual New Year’s Minicomp.

You are the first mate on HMT The Problem, ferrying your prisoner back to the Queen.

Her Majesty’s Trolley Problem has a richly built setting, reminiscent of China Miéville’s Railsea. Like Railsea, trains replace ships, and the land uncovered by rails holds deadly monsters. This game has the same feel of exploration and the same assortment of fancy lingo, which are here significant plot points.

What struck me was the way HMT Problem used the setting on a train, coupled with timed events, to provide the pacing very naturally. HMT Problem also uses locations as scenes, making the game much more story-based rather than location-based.

The game’s core decision-making points allude to the thought experiment the trolley problem, with complications added in each time the problem re-iterates. The parser format, working as it is in a constrained story universe, works to drive in a sense of ownership for the awful choices the player must make. The game tempers its otherwise grim tone with comedic moments – when you accidentally jettison equipment off the trolley, for instance, though it gets unexpectedly gruesome toward the later half.

HMT Problem is a wonderfully well-built game, with gorgeous, evocative writing and a solid story.

 

Allison and the Cool New Spaceship Body

By Tempe O’ Kun, art by Samuel Pipes (Twine; IFDB; play here)

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(Screenshot of starting screen: illustration of a small, hovering yellow and black spaceship with a black screen on the front showing cheerful eyes; the spaceship has two little arms holding a purple backpack)

You are 10-year-old Allison. When you were very young you were in a horrible accident, and since then you’ve used a cyborg body. But today, your parents have prepared a surprise for you… your own spaceship body!

The game is set in a space colony, in which AIs make up a major part of society. Despite that, there is still a distinct division between AIs and ‘true’ humans, leaving cyborgs like Allison in a grey area. The author takes full advantage of the world building by focusing more on exploration rather than plot – its approach felt a little like some of the moon scenes in Creatures Such as We. The writing is rightly described as charming.

Allison is, on the surface, about a girl’s adventures, but the story world has enough detail to allow it to touch on more contentious subjects like discrimination, about identity, about growing up. It feels like a gentler version of Birdland, with its focus on relationships at school (even if, unlike Birdland, those in Allison are entirely platonic), its child protagonist and its themes. Allison is a thoughtful, charming game with a nicely fleshed-out world – recommended.

mer

By hastapura (Twine; IFDB; play here)

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mer is a very short, broadly branching game about drowning your sorrows in lousy whiskey. You’ve been disillusioned. The tone is markedly different depending on which branch you go down, so I’ll stop here.

What deserves mention, I think, is the use of visuals in this game to set the mood. The background is a kind of muted mix of colours, perhaps evocative of the flashing lights in a club; the sidebar is set askew. The writing is good, as well – there are some striking images, some particularly attractive turns of phrase. mer is a small, pleasing confection which touches on some very relevant issues.

A Courier’s Tale

By SJ Griffin (Twine; IFDB; play here)

Based on the Vanguard Trilogy by the same author, you play a newbie bike messenger working as one of the cogs in the premier courier company, Packet. One of the perks of working here is meeting the legendary Sorcha Blades… which, of course, is what happens when she needs a decoy messenger.

This game is a moderately branching story which takes the PC through an expansive setting, reminiscent of China Miéville or Emily Short’s City of Secrets, and gives the sense of an extensively mapped-out city. Neighbourhoods are given characters of their own; distinct communities live in different parts of the city. The story attempts to illustrate a dangerous city running amok with criminals and secret dangers, in a city so starved of resources that fresh fruit is a minor luxury, but nothing really affects the PC directly. The story structure is simple; clearly the focus is on the writing itself.

The writing itself, however, is not terribly polished; there are typos and missing punctuation marks, there are missing words, there could be more paragraph breaks to let the text breathe. As a spinoff from the source material, I guess it’s no surprise that it ended just as it was getting interesting! If it was expanded to elaborate on the hook mentioned in the last part of the game, and polished a lot more, I think it would make for very interesting reading.

Hypertext explorations

Once again, two small hypertext games.

The first is vale of singing metals by foresthexes (Twine; IFDB; play here)

Written for Porpentine’s Twiny Jam, vale of singing metals presents a dream-like maze in a strange landscape. Landmarks like boiling streams and oil lakes give the impression of a volcanic landscape, life creeping in fields of  grass and flowers. And, yes, it is that now-rare thing in IF, a maze. Yet, it feels less of a hassle than an exploration through an empty space.

vale of singing metals is a lovely little piece, scenic in the way that Kitty Horrorshow’s work is, and an interesting take on how mazes can be implemented in very little space.


The second is Traveler by Caelyn Sandel (Twine; IFDB; play here).

This is part of The Yearbook Office, a collection of writings published by Alice Lee.

You wake in your spaceship, sluggish. What are you here for? You can’t remember. Your ship’s not in the best shape; you’ve got to explore the stars. You may not have enough power in your engines to blast off once you land…

Traveler is a small, procedurally generated exploration game, with randomly generated descriptions of the stars. The individual planets are sometimes quite shallowly implemented, but Sandel uses each star as a pacing device. As you travel through the stars, your ship’s stats decline, giving a tension to Traveler. Sandel’s writing is strongest, I think, as she describes what you, in your travels, have missed; thoughts of home occur at the strangest times.

Overall, Traveler feels like a much more sensible version of Porpentine’s Ruiness – both are about travellers who never make meaningful connections in any one place, for whom travel is work, whose constant moving around alienates them from everyone around them. A melancholic work which nonetheless ends on a hopeful note.

SKATE OUT!

By Paperblurt. (Twine; IFDB; play here)

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(Cover art: skateboard on a subdued green and pink background underneath the game’s title)

The best way I can describe SKATE OUT! is as a skate sim with a dark twist. You showcase your sick (or slick) skateboarding moves to an adoring audience, but all the time half your mind is occupied thinking about other, more pressing issues at home.

The use of language in this game makes an interesting study: the skateboarding tricks are described with generic hyperbole, which alienates the reader from the narrator’s external face, even though the terminology seems legitimate. The PC’s monologue, on the other hand, is described more naturally, even if it occasionally verges on the melodramatic. The clash between the internal and the external formed an interesting contrast, highlighted by the visual aspects of SKATE OUT!. 

This is probably one of Paperblurt’s more introspective works. It works quite well as a ‘concept game’, as it uses a deliberate contrast in tones and styles to illustrate the divide (a divide is particularly nebulous here, compared to other works which have done this). As always, the writing could push the story further and there could be a clearer story arc for the ‘internal’ side of the story, but it’s an interesting little game all the same.

Snowquest

By Eric Eve (Parser; IFDB)

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(Cover art: snowy landscape with mountains in the distance)

You’ve been on this quest for so long, you can hardly figure out what’s going on. All you know is that if you remain in this snow any longer, you’ll die.

I enjoyed playing this game, mainly because it is more than it seems. The writing is descriptive and clear; the sense of pacing faultless. Snowquest is very much a story-based game, rather than character-based or even puzzle-based; establishing a distinctive PC voice isn’t an emphasis here.

My playthrough was almost entirely free of mechanical issues, by which I mean problems with guessing verbs, not knowing what to do and so on. The puzzles are largely well-designed, with what you need to solve them usually pretty clear. I found navigation a bit of a chore sometimes, especially in the larger initial world, because the exit lister seemed to disappear without explanation – I suspect this is a technical/interpreter issue, but it disrupted the flow of the game. There is also a guess-the-verb puzzle, through which I bulldozed with the hints.

Overall, Snowquest is a linear, mildly puzzle-y game, making up a little less than an hour’s play.

Toby’s Nose

By Chandler Groover (Parser; IFDB; play here)

A murder most foul has been committed and Sherlock Holmes is on the case. You are his dog.

– IFDB blurb

Groover presents a game in the best tradition of the locked-room murder mystery, featuring a canine protagonist. As with other games featuring canine protagonists, the sense of smell is tremendously important. In fact, in Toby’s Nose, >SMELL acts like how >EXAMINE does in Lime Ergot. In fact, the author’s note acknowledges the contribution of Lime Ergot and Pacian’s Castle of the Red Prince in his coming up with the game’s core mechanic.

Toby’s Nose is generously and lavishly written; almost everything is implemented and written in vivid, eye-catching detail. As with other games using ‘telescopic’ observations, the parser remains a uniquely flexible tool to shift the PC’s focus from objects distant both geographically and conceptually.

There are generous hints provided, but the writing gave clear enough hints to allow the reader to figure out what’s going on. That brings us to another thing unique about this game: the reader has the responsibility to make the observations and deductions. Unlike many other mystery games, the game reveals nothing of the correct answer (i.e. whodunit), not in the form of a notebook, not in the form of a list of clues, leaving any explanation of the crime to the end. Shifting the responsibility to the reader to figure out what’s going on invests the reader much more in the game.

As with other dog-PC games, this game remains lighthearted, even when the PC is recalling other characters’ sordid details, and maintains a gentle sense of humour throughout. A comment about the ending is below, but overall, I found Toby’s Nose a very charming and highly polished game, featuring excellent writing and a good use of the core mechanic.

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