Three-Card Trick

By Chandler Groover. (Parser; IFDB; play here)

Cover art: the backs of three playing cards; the game title is in cursive above the cards

Groover’s works are dark and delicious, and this one especially so. You are Morgan the Magnificent, the esteemed magician. Last year, your two-card tricks granted you the favour and popularity from the most influential, wealthiest patrons.

Now, however, a rival has emerged: ostentatious, flashy Ivan, and his three-card trick. Now is your chance to regain your rightful title.

Despite a carnival-like setting – one often associated with summer and fun and play – there is an unsettling undertone (why would you need guards around a group of magicians?) which hints at higher stakes than are initially stated.

Highly polished both in style and substance, Three-Card Trick once again features several parser tricks which enhance its delivery. Text is doled out to control pacing; directions are highly simplified, similar to What Fuwa Bansaku Found.

It’s a delicate balancing act Three-Card Trick does. It remains one step ahead of the reader, through to the end; yet, the required actions are hinted with sufficient contextual clues – one is unlikely to get stuck for too long – to give the sense of player agency.

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.

Continue reading “Toby’s Nose”

Tailypo

By Chandler Groover (Twine; IFDB; play here)

It’s winter, and he’s run out of food. He’s hungry, he’s cold, and if he doesn’t go hunting, he’ll freeze soon. But something wanders into his house. If he doesn’t eat it, he will starve.

[This game contains sound effects.]

Tailypo belongs solidly in the desperation-horror genre: the horror that comes from doing something loathsome, even though it is a choice between that and dying. Groover makes judicious use of timed effects in Twine and repetition, building tension as creak, creak did.

Like Taghairm, Tailypo derives its premise from a creature from Appalachian folklore. While it might be easily repurposed as a story for campfires, or otherwise sanitised, I think Groover’s take on this creature captures some of the desperation and terror – a terror from knowing that you are the only human in a mile’s radius, and that no matter what, you have to do something  – that probably inspired the original folk tale.

A short-ish Twine, published on Sub-Q, well worth playing.

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’?

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.

IFComp 2015: Taghairm

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By Chandler Groover. (Twine, play here)

Before I say anything else, I would like to give a warning that this game depicts violence (specifically, animal abuse) in a way that you may find disturbing. Please, be warned and really do avoid it if that upsets you in any way.

Taghairm is a dark Twine game with a brutal, sparse way of words (see quote). The writing is purposeful and builds atmosphere well – it implies a lot from very little. It suggests the ghost of a storyline: something (or somebody) has been lost, and this… this that you go to your cousin’s field to do, is the only way.

You can see them moving in the firelight
although they’ve long since stopped crying.

It took months to gather them all.

What moved this game from linguistic beauty to visceral horror, though, was the emotional stake. The game punishes the player at first for wanting to disagree with what the NPC is doing by not allowing the story to progress, and by having an NPC who dismisses your misgivings. 

There is a key decision-making point at a certain repeating routine which essentially allows you to choose what outcome you want. The more brutal path ends up showing the toll of the ritual on the PC and the NPC. It never returns to the context in the beginning, the reason why the PC did this in the first place: perhaps, in the search for something – your heart’s desire – you lose everything else, and you lose everything that made that desire so worthwhile in the first place.

Is a game ‘bad’ because there’s no good ending?