Eclosion

By Buster Hudson. (Twine; IFDB; download to play)

Time to completion: 10-15 minutes (your mileage may vary)

Three cycles since fecundation. The pharates can taste our thoughts. Their pupal minds yearn for mothers’ milk.

You are sending commands to a parasitic, insectile entity, and there are a number of steps it must complete before it can successfully parasitise the host. Your task, then, is to figure out the correct order for the steps. By turns icky and sinister, Eclosion fits well in the Ectocomp

The puzzle is aided by informative failure messages, but even then, I took many turns to figure out a vaguely correct sequence. There is no question of error.

The writing in this game is deliberately wielded as well: the language is florid, like that favoured by Lovecraft, but terse; a tally of the casualties (or the pharates you fail to guide to eclosion) reminds you of the consequences of your clumsiness. This is body horror the way I like it.

Open That Vein

By Chandler Groover. (Parser; IFDB)

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(Cover art: background image of vein; foreground: OPEN THAT VEIN/Chandler Groover)

This game was written for Ectocomp 2015.

It’s simple: you have to open that vein. But the vein is just the start of your troubles: you’re chasing… something.

[Warning: this game contains gore/body horror.]

Open That Vein worked impressively within its self-imposed constraints, since the PC could only interact with any noun in very limited ways. Even more impressive knowing that all this was coded in three hours.

The game is linear, with extensive use of cutscenes at important points, and this is what lets Groover’s descriptive, evocative writing shine. The details he gives home in on the visceral. He gives glimpses of images, gorgeous vignettes, though they didn’t immediately make sense to me. There’s a lot of mention about things ‘feeling right’, which I’m still trying to parse.

As with Midnight. Swordfight, this work also makes use of a limited verb list, but the game also supplies suggested verbs without prompting, so a player new to parser IF should not have a problem playing it. This design decision adds an example to the ongoing discussion of how to make parser IF more accessible to new players. Groover solves this by telling the player what to type, and by moulding the game environment around the constraints of the limited verb list. A limited simulation like this works well for short works, but one wonders if this couldn’t be extended to more open-format/sandboxy works – maybe with a gradually expanding verb list? Commands you can ‘discover’?

itch

by Liz England (Twine; IFDB; play here)

England’s previous work (Mainframe, Her Pound of Flesh) has featured aesthetically slick Twine works about body horror, and itch certainly ticks those boxes. This game w2as written for Twiny Jam, one of a few very compact interactive horror game.

You have an itch. The story presents you with two choices: to scratch it, or ignore it. Vaguely reminiscent (to me, at least) of B Minus Seven’s Voice Box, the choices boil down to being either active or passive.

Body horror commonly involves self-harm, whether by your own volition or not. itch calls into question what makes something horrifying. Is it lack of autonomy, and knowing that something bad will come for you? Or is it being forced to do something horrific?

As body horror goes, most of it is implied, but do exercise discretion. itch is a short, slightly icky horror flash-IF, with an unexpected ending.

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.

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.