The Periwink

by Jedediah Berry (Twine; IFDB; play here)

[Time to completion: 15-20 minutes]

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Caption: line drawing of a flower

You are a groundskeeper on the last day on the job. The majordomo demands it be so. But you have one last task…

The Periwink brings the player through surreal, toothy, quietly alive landscapes, somewhat like a pastel-hued Porpentine work. The monuments in The Periwink are not neutral or even benign, but if you treat them right, they will return the favour.

As groundskeeper, the viewpoint character knows much more about the perils of each monument than the majordomo, which forms a foil to his casual arrogance. But the groundskeeper also knows a lot more than the player – hence, while the player may have control over the PC’s actions, the first-time player cannot guess at the motive or implications of those actions.

The horror here is understated; the writing, a pleasure to read. For someone who loves rambling around alien landscapes, this was a delectable treat. A similar, albeit shorter, game would be vale of singing metals.

Ruiness

By Porpentine. (Twine; IFDB; play here)

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Cover art: a nebula in shades of purple and blue

You are a traveller – whether you be scavenger or dustrunner – and, on your steed, you traverse the hostile lands.

Ruiness is set in what I term ‘dystopian wilderness’: not quite post-apocalyptic, but barren, harsh, downright caustic environments. The prose is purple and abstract; the story typically abstruse. The florid prose thrums with purpose, though: each place has a distinct climate and role, and the different races or roles you can assume remain thematically consistent.

This game has all the hallmarks of a Porpentine game, but what I found the most interesting was the map/travel system. You travel by typing in your destination in a text field. Whilst in new locations, you discover new names, and the cities you have discovered are mapped out on a chart you carry. This allows for Easter eggs, for openness, for a sense of discovery.

Ruiness is a mid-length confection of a game which affords slightly different perspectives with different characters. The travel system is definitely worth having a look at.

Spring Thing 2016: Tangaroa Deep

By Astrid Dalmady. (IFDB; Twine; play here)

Some background: Spring Thing (or Fall Fooferall) is upon us! This year boasts a dizzying diversity of styles and stories, with some reaching Imaginary Game Jam levels of imagination. You can find all the games here.


We know more about space than we do about the ocean.
Isn’t it time to start changing that?

In Tangaroa Deep, you are a marine biologist going down to document creatures of the deep in SS Tangaroa. The deeper you go, the stranger these creatures become. After all, there is so much we don’t know about the deep sea.

The PC’s only link with the outside world is their connection with Jackie, their research partner, and their banter is a delightful foil to the creatures living down below, which get weirder and weirder. Like parser IF, the world model is location-based, which means story branching is dependent on where you move, meshing wonderfully with the overall story.

Several visual features illustrate atmospheric changes as the PC goes further and further down. The air meter ticks down. The background deepens from aqua to black. The description of creatures gets weirder and weirder. Where Dalmady’s writing shines, I think, is in the late game, if you choose to go as deep as you can.

Recommended.

Map of Fahlstaff

By Ian Hinck. (Twine; IFDB; play here)

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(Cover art: a blocky building silhouetted against a golden sunset)

Fahlstaff is a mysterious town, once a logging town, but now it boasts a vibrant arts scene and other natural attractions. Tour through this strange place with this map!

Map of Fahlstaff is written like a promotional leaflet, and has no real plot or goals. Instead, it is mostly about exploration. There are snippets alluding to the town’s history and references to rumours. The writing has a distinctively ‘Welcome to Night Vale’ air – the commonplace mixes with news of the mysterious and the subtly ominous – as below:

One account described the cabin as “really quite lovely despite the omnipresent feeling of dread.”

There is never really anything malevolent beyond that vague sense of dread, though, giving the game a general feeling of benign detachment. There are, however, some narrative events which are triggered by the one choice you make right at the beginning of the game, which made the game feel more like something living and active under your hands, rather than just something to be poked at.

The game is also prettily designed, with photographic backgrounds for each scene, though this sometimes made the text hard to read.

The tone fluctuates between sombre, PSA-style (again, like Night Vale) and conversational; I would have loved if the tone was a bit more consistent. Nevertheless, on the whole Fahlstaff is quite the charming town.

Beautiful Dreamer

By S. Woodson. (Twine; IFDB; play here)

(Cover art: black and white ink? drawing of a pagoda-like building to the right and lots of pigeon-looking birds)

It’s a sleepless night for you, and instead of laying in bed trying to go to sleep, you’ve started exploring the house. You can read books, listen to the radio, or do a million other little things; like Magical Makeover, there is a bit of combinatorial explosion, which lends a surprising but welcome depth to the game.

The breadth of the writing makes for entertaining reading. You can listen to a radio discussion between what we would probably call aliens, disputing the existence of parallel universes. You can catch the lunar moth which has been eating your books. Thankfully, the seemingly arbitrary worlds are unified with a few common themes, and things referred to in the beginning are remain consistent to the end, which stopped Beautiful Dreamer from being bogged down with beautiful but pointless detail.

It is stated in the ending text that this game was meant to be chiefly an exploration game. The order in which you explore partially determines what you experience, but otherwise there is a single ending. This is not meant as a criticism. Woodson creates gorgeously detailed worlds, awash with colour and light, as befits a world meant to belong in a dream – not your dream, but someone’s dream.

New Cat

by Poster. (gblorb, IFDB page)

You are a cat, and you have no name. Maybe if you explore a bit, you’ll find your name. 

Cover image of game - grey rectangle with 'New Cat' written in cursive font above a stylised sketch of a kitten

Cover image of game – grey rectangle with ‘New Cat’ written in cursive font above a stylised sketch of a kitten

This game is a li’l bit similar to Snack Time, wherein you view a typical human environment through an animal’s eyes. This kind of game works when there is charm and puzzles/actions which hinge on understanding the perspective and making use of it. 

I can’t say a whole lot without spoilers, so spoiler space—

One big problem is that ‘look’ doesn’t produce a description of the room you’re in. In an exploration game, this is a very strange omission. Also, for an exploration game, a lot of things aren’t really implemented. I don’t understand how examining a object lets you know its name. 

The limits of your understanding also seem arbitrary: you don’t know what walls and doors are, calling them ‘ows’ and ‘mows’, yet you know what ‘metal’ is, even ‘bathroom’, even though a moment ago you were calling it a dark room smelling of water. 

The inconsistencies make immersion into the game difficult. Even if the premise is very cute, I found it hard to get into the flow of the thing, because a lot of objects were described in rather generic, sterile ways… unlike a kitten.