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.

Two small hypertext games

First up, Relic, by Caelyn Sandel (Twine; IFDB; play here)

Set in Sandel’s New Washington setting, Orianna, a hunter of antiques, chances upon a rare find – but Silas, her housemate and colleague, is sceptical. But soon, strange things start happening.

Relic is a fine psychological horror short story with a big twist at the end. Sandel’s writing is matter-of-fact, practical, but she has a great attention for detail and a fine grasp of pace. Although Relic is unrelentingly linear, its format as a Twine game instead of a piece of conventional linear writing allows each scene to be presented in isolation. It isn’t the perfect piece to demonstrate the advantages of dynamic fiction or a game format to deliver a linear story, but Relic is a fine example of Sandel’s writing prowess.

Next, A Gift for Mother by Natalie Zed (Texture; IFDB; play here)

This was made in the newly released platform Texture, created by Juhana Leinonen and Jim Munroe. This system enables players to drag and drop verbs, creating hypertext games which are uniquely suited for mobile devices. The system is still in alpha/beta, having been released late last year, but is available for tinkering (http://texturewriter.com/alpha/) (caution: the site stores stories within your browser’s local memory – there doesn’t yet seem to be a way to download the story format, only the resulting HTML.)

Here, Zed uses the different verbs as a means for creating story branches. You are a commissary of Mother, gathering data from within your host. You can sense your host’s vital signs, but, likewise, your every movement is detectible to your host. The more data you collect, the more you risk detection… and expulsion.

A Gift for Mother uses an elegant dichotomy to create branching, though I felt it didn’t quite bring out the full possibilities of Texture. It would have been great if the same verb could have applied to multiple objects, but as it stands, A Gift for Mother is a striking story written from a parasite’s point of view.

Chemistry and Physics

By Carolyn VanEseltine and Caelyn Sandel (writing as Colin Sandel) (Twine; IFDB)


(Cover art: pixellated meteor across a black sky)

When you agreed to meet him, you thought it would all end amicably. That you could go away and close this chapter of your life. Instead, you’re now running from him. Bad news: no cell phone reception. You can’t call for help. You’re stuck. Good news: this is familiar territory. This is your lab. Can you get out of this alive?

[This game contains mentions of abuse and violence.]

The game is simply done and technically well-thought-out, with an inventory system and a navigation system using a compass, a la The Axolotl Project. Item descriptions of things in the lab reveal a close attention to accuracy and detail; you can pick up a beaker of isopropyl and trust that the information you get will be like something you might find on an MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet).

The writing steers clear of florid detail or elaborate tricks with language, instead reminding the player of the urgency of the chase at every other turn (“He’s near”). Some might find it too technical or clinical; I found it struck a good balance.

Chemistry and Physics uses no fancy tricks, does nothing neat with multimedia, but instead relies on the strength of its writing to convey the animal fear of being chased.

It is Pitch Black

by Caelyn Sandel, playable here.

It started as a dare. Stay in this room, your friends said. Just fifteen minutes, they said. Then they shut the door, the door got stuck, and there’s a grue on your trail. You have six matches. Now you have to find enough illumination to keep off the grue until your friends come back to open the door.

This game is a time-limited exercise in inventory management, especially because you can’t take things along with you, but to define it in these terms would not do Pitch Black a disservice. Pitch Black is rich in backstory and description, and uses visual effects to its advantage. 

Plus it’s set in New Washington okay that is awesome.