Dynamic fiction

These two Twine works are short and linear, but use the gamut of effects available to them well. These are good examples of the value interactivity can add.


Compound Fracture by Jimmy Evans (Twine; IFDB; play here)

[Time to completion: 5 minutes]

The actual text in this game is scarce, as words would be when oxygen is scarce, yet it begins with a blasé This game embraces deceptively simple text effects, where links wriggle and shift out from your cursor. Fragments of thought flick by under a visibly lengthening bar, with the implicit understanding that when that bar runs out, so does your time. The thoughts that flicker past hint at past regrets, a family less than proud of you: the usual emotional baggage, but even there’s no time to pursue those thoughts. The writing, though sparse, has a stoic, matter of fact tone, from the first line: “you are going to die/okay”. In one of the endings, you can do nothing but watch the timer count down.

This is a shining example of real-time effects done right, adding as it does to something otherwise quite simple. (This might be easier played with a mouse.)


What to do When You’re Alone by Glass Rat Media (Twine; IFDB)

[May mention suicide, abusive relationships, self-loathing. Time to completion: 5 minutes]

What to Do describes a Google with sinister intentions – one which sees through the user’s seemingly innocuous searches to the doubt and fears behind it. Perhaps it is the intimacy of a search engine that fuels this idea, and the fact that we might address the search engine as we would a friend, and indeed, in the starting screen, the engine introduced itself by saying, “Don’t worry about keywords; just talk to us like we’re a friend.”. It’s the ultimate natural language processor, isn’t it? These games ask, “What if your ultimate reference, your personal librarian, was thinking, remembering, learning?”

While it may be superficially and mechanically similar to Josh Giesbrecht’s Awake, the intent of this game’s search engine is unambiguous. Awake’s search engine is wide-eyed with wonder. This is actively malicious – this was written for ECTOCOMP, after all.

The text effects are normally much maligned, but are used especially thoughtfully here, making What to Do work well as an interactive vignette of a sinister encounter.

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.

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.

The Northnorth Passage

by Caleb Wilson (writing as Snowball Ice) (Parser; IFDB)

The family curse has activated. If you do not go north, you will die.

viewgame.png

(Cover art: compass rose, with N in all four directions)

The Northnorth Passage plays around with restricted actions. Though the parser gives the impression of freedom, you can only really do one thing. Obeying the parser, though, brings you through a series of self-contained scenes, colourful and detailed; Wilson’s writing sparks with life, with the kind of evocativeness reminiscent of Sunless Sea.

Yet, in each scene, you must forever remain at arm’s length. In this sense, it is similar to dynamic fiction, the term coined to describe linear games which nevertheless require the player’s interaction and participation to reveal the story. The PC’s travel north also seems to reflect the passing of time (the movement over swathes of space and time reminded me of Victor Ojuel’s Pilgrimage).

There was a very, very clever move right at the end of the game – an invisible puzzle, if you’d like – which wrapped it up perfectly. If I were to mention a game with a similar move, it would be very spoilery, but there is one…

scarfmemory

By Michael Brough (Twine; IFDB; play here)

Cover art: small photo of a red and blue… scarf? I think? 

scarfmemory is a short game (about 10-15 minutes’ play for one play-through), in memory of a lost scarf – something beautiful, now forever gone. More accurately described as an interactive diary, it reads like a stream of tangentially connected thoughts and experiences, accompanied by occasional photos.

The game works with links which expand out, when you click on them, to a related chunk of text. How to explain? It’s like how Lime Ergot worked – you click on a link, it expands out to relate a related memory or experience. It muses on the fate of the scarf, and the musings of a creator: where are these bits of yourself, whose intimate history only you know? Is anyone using it? If they use it, would they know its story – how it came about? Would it matter?

I felt the reflection made it a little more than just a ‘day in life’ kind of game, simply because it was thoughtful, and it was born of something which other creators of things would probably have thought about.

scarfmemory is as simple as it sounds, and to say there was nothing else remarkable about this game would be to treat this little game unfairly.

The game also references IF conventions (the traditions, not the gatherings of writers and players) and Twine in particular – this is a foray into IF by one who usually makes more graphical games. I’m not sure why I’m compelled to add this, but there you go.

The Fixer

by Chikodili Emelumadu (play here)

Women come to her when their husbands stray. She accepts not crude cash, but things of beauty. She will fix them- for as long as they live.

Content warning: this game has sexual themes – it’s not erotic, but it’s not wholly implicit either.

The Fixer is linear, but I really enjoyed playing through it – it reminded me of Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor, in its portrayal of everyday mysticism. The beginning scene is reminiscent of noir mysteries – clients come to visit the jaded detective with an intractable problem and offer payment – and indeed the rough outline of the story follows that of a detective story, with the ‘detective’ main character formulating a plan, meeting the perpetrator, and finally fulfilling the contract made with the client. How she does it, though, is vastly, vastly different.

Emelumadu paints a city where spirits and humans mingle; where believing in mysticism is common sense and practicality. She merges the absurd with the filthy; the beautiful with the pragmatic. This quote for example:

A toothpick bobs about in his mouth. His lips are as thick and dark as a roll of roasted tripe.

Emelumadu’s writing is rich with local flavour, from the descriptions of food to the terms of address for different characters to each other, and beautifully detailed, even when she goes into sordid detail of a certain character. Her writing moves from being initially subtle – hinting at the narrator’s identity – to exulting in the narrator’s strange abilities.

The Fixer also uses graphics throughout the story, though I didn’t listen to the audio, and the story art is gorgeous and unobtrusive. A delight to read.