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’?

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Ashes

By Glass Rat Media (Twine; IFDB; download from here)

(Cover art: looming wood cabin; ASHES in bright red on the top left; ECTOCOMP 2015/ENTRY BY GLASS RAT MEDIA in the bottom right)

Content warning for explicit violence.

In this Ectocomp 2015 entry, you and the people you once called friends drive out into a cabin in the woods to fulfil the last wishes of Laurel, once part of your circle. What changed? How did you all drift apart like that? How did you know Laurel?

Ashes is particularly effective in delivering backstory, without ever being too wordy. Rather, Ashes uses gestures and off-hand remarks, succinct enough to give a sense of each friend’s personality, and of the ever-present spectre of Laurel.

The characters in Ashes have a storied past with each other, rich with regrets and unspoken wrongs. The author cranks up the tension quickly, using both external events and conversation to create a risky space where each comment could spark off fury, and fury could so easily result in tragedy. As an Ectocomp entry – an entry in a competition for horror-themed games – this falls firmly in the ‘man is the worst monster’ genre of horror.

Play this if you like the kind of harrowing drama that hinges on dramatic tension and friction between friends. Play this if you want to read about friendships breaking apart, because this doesn’t end well for anyone.