Conversations with my mother

Screen Shot 2013-06-30 at 4.16.15 PM

Playable at http://aliendovecote.com/uploads/twine/others/conversations%20with%20my%20mother/conversations.html

By Merritt Kopas.

Hypertext! This Twine… game… is short and sweet. The player can replace words in a conversation to alter its direction. As plot goes, it is minimally branched, featuring about three major choices, but perhaps thought-provoking all the same, since it works on the commonest, almost meaningless phrases we use in conversation.

The Privacy Game

Playable here. Hosted on philome.la, a free host which only requires the author to have a Twitter account for publicity purposes.

This Twine creation is best described not as a game, but as a minimally interactive public service announcement. In it, you play… yourself, probably, during an average day at work. Almost all decision-making points present you a choice of a variety of named online services- GrubHub, Uber and Buzzfeed being some of the names mentioned- to get through the day. After making the choice, it mentions, almost smugly, how much information that choice reveals about you.

Some might say this game was deliberately made generic so that the average player could relate to the events described. However, the game is so non-specific, it seems more like a widget than a true telling of a story. Even if it intended to reveal the true extent to which we reveal our personal details to faceless corporations, then the one-size-fits-all ending surely defeated it. The result is a somewhat starchy moralistic illustration- not even a tale- of privacy wrested from us.

This game could have been made into something with a clear call to action, or even an exploration of the pros and cons of giving up your privacy to conglomerates. Its scope could have been broadened to the privacy we do not voluntarily relinquish. It could even have been made into a government conspiracy thriller, because those seem to be in the rage nowadays. This game could have been much more, but the authors seemed content to stop at the moral of the story without actually telling much of one.

Horse Master

horse master_icon

By Tom McHenry. 

Playable at: http://noncanon.com/HorseMaster.html

As the game itself states: you have trained your whole life for this moment: you will be a Horse Master. And so your journey starts, through buying a horse and training it and, yes, even naming it.

The game starts out light-hearted, but things quickly turn dark. The PC’s commentary swings between mad hope and sheer depression. At one point, I was unsure whether I should actually hope for the best for the PC, or whether it would all come to nought.

It’s an emotionally taxing and compelling game. (SPOILERS BELOW)

It conveys the desperate, wild hope of once unattainable success, which was enhanced by not letting the PC know the horse’s stats. There are painful descriptions and details- a loose tooth; having to scavenge food- and below it all, a haunting lesson on success. What price would you pay? What would you sacrifice?

The power of this game is in that despite everything seeming to lead up to the Horse Master Championships- even though, in a simple world, that would be the ultimate reward for the PC’s sacrifice and pain so far- the eventual outcome of the Championships is not the final reward. The PC’s response to what would seem to be a ‘successful’ ending gives cause for thought: at what price success? What are our dreams, and will we really be happy achieving them?

An excellent, dark, brooding game.

The Axolotl Project

By Samantha Vicks. Playable here.

You are Casey Cama, an intern in the moon base of Sadler Labs. You just realise that one of your test subjects- a moon salamander- has escaped and if you’re fast, you can get it back before your egomaniac of a boss, Bill Gallo, catches it. But the computer system is behaving strangely, and as you go on the trail of your salamander, you discover evidence of a devastating cover-up.

Despite some slight inaccuracies and misspellings here and there, the story was engaging and well-written. The puzzles were mostly straightforward, with clear textual and contextual hints; this kept the story going at a brisk clip. The heart of the story, however, emerged fully only in the later half, and especially in the endgame.

This Twine game was smoothly and cleanly implementated, with only a few bugs and boasts a navigation system more often seen in parser-based games. The Axolotl Project is moderately long and fully enjoyable, but with enough emotional content to veer the game away from frivolity.  

Moon-shaped

By Jason Ermer.

In this retelling of Little Red Riding Hood. You are Rosalind, the girl with the red cape, tasked to deliver food to your grandmother, who has been ill of late.

All is really not as it seems, though, and this is no walk in the, well, woods. What I liked about this were the refreshing twists on the story we’re so used to. The idea behind the game was creative enough, and, after playing, still remains ingenious. The story is mostly linear, though it contains several alternative endings, all determined by the endgame.

However, several things detracted from enjoyment of the game. There are alarmingly long stretches of text in the form of ‘visions’, which seems, above all, to be a rather lame attempt to force a lot of backstory into a few actions. This, unfortunately, occurred several times, especially toward the end of the story. Part of the moral of the story feels very heavily laid on in the beginning of the game, to the effect that it sounded very artificial. Yet nothing was said about this moral in the endgame.

The game also felt slightly glitchy at times. Some descriptions did not change even after performing actions which should have changed the object; some actions must be performed at specific locations to be able to progress with the game. The game could have been more robust if it were more flexible for the player, but this is really a small matter.

Don’t get me wrong: Moon-shaped is enjoyable in parts and does have an interesting story, but it was let down by the textwalls of backstory.

Although one of the themes in this game is family, I felt little emotion for any of the main characters- even the grandmother, who in some ways is the lynchpin of the story. There wasn’t much in the way of personal involvement for the PC, who seems to have stumbled on this whole story purely by accident. I mean- what’s stopping her from just going home and not bothering?

Progenitor’s Folly: Killing Orders

By Clinton Ma.

Set in New Caldonis, an overindustrialised city along the lines of China Mieville’s New Crobuzon, you play Miranda, a young scientist, who wakes up in a boardroom with an assassin on her heels.

The game immediately launches into action sequences which would not feel out of place in a movie, though the density of text in some scenes broke the rhythm somewhat. Still, for a game which advertises itself as a fast-paced, adventure thriller, which initially seems a tad much for a debut game, it is technically excellent and very well implemented.

Progenitor’s Folly could be considered almost a genrebreaker for Choicescript games. For one, it eschews the ‘personality questions’ which are commonly used to establish the character’s stats. Instead, it plays more like so-called ‘traditional’ IF. As short as this game is, it is heavily story-based. There is not too much in the way of characterisation, nor in setting the scene. Is this a weakness? Maybe. One must get one’s expectations right.

Despite some tiny spelling/language mistakes here and there, Progenitor’s Folly is a promising start for what the author says is a planned trilogy.

Glowgrass

By Nate Cull (1997).

You are a world-renown xenohistorian, and this is the largest intact Ancient structure you’ve been in so far. From your studies, you understand that this is a place of residence, complete with things you’ve only ever seen in papers and in the abstract! The only trouble is that your ride home- your dropship- has crashed, so you’ve got to make do with Ancient technology to get home.

This is a short futuristic puzzler with a tiny hint of romance. The images invoked are simple and colour-coded; navigation and puzzle-solving is straightforward, except for a tiny spot of occasional verb-guessing. Not knowing the names of things- which is puzzling, since you’re supposed to be an authority in this field, after all- made gameplay clumsy, though.

Worth a play, though. It’s well-written, engaging and emotive, with an intriguing ending.

Sand-Dancer

by Aaron Reed and Alexei Othenin-Girard

You are Nakaibito Morales, otherwise known as Knock, and your pickup truck has just gone kaput in the middle of the desert. What follows is an adventure of self-discovery (!) and mysticism.

Most of Sand-Dancer’s plot revolves around…

the belief in spirit animals. While the descriptions, backstory and prose are steeped in American cultural beliefs, I thought these ideas fuelled the plot, but didn’t add much to the atmosphere. Perhaps appropriate, since the player character (PC) lives a somewhat rootless life. And it is refreshing for once to have a non-WASPy PC!

As another reviewer commented, this game seems to aspire towards Andrew Plotkin’s Shade. We see this in the desert setting, the surreal-ness which leaks into the endgame, the introspective moments. And yes, this is a game with moments of loveliness. However, the game’s plot is mostly linear and leaves you with nothing but the illusion of choice. Important plot information is also presented as a infodump, and this gave the feeling of a lack of agency.

A major gripe I had was the under-implementation of almost everything. The help text suggests you take a closer look at surroundings with EXAMINE, but most of the time this only gets you a very unhelpful ‘looks normal’ or ‘about what you’d expect’. I also had to guess the verb a few times, most notably with the infamous can opener. Now that, that was a true puzzler. No, you can’t OPEN CAN WITH CAN OPENER. You can try USE CAN OPENER ON CAN, even DOWN CAN OPENER, but put the RUSTY TIN CAN in and nothing happens! These oversights made the game more frustrating than atmospheric, and a pity, too, because it could have been something like Ecdysis.

A caveat:  I read the source code halfway through. I was stuck, I swear!

My Father’s long, long legs

by Michael Lutz. Playable here: http://correlatedcontents.com/misc/Father.html

my father's long, long legs | michael lutz

When you were young, your father started digging in the basement. His explanations for this were always flippant and you knew he couldn’t be telling the truth.

Now you and your brother have grown up and as far as you know your father is still digging in the basement.

There’s only one way to find out…

The greatest strength of this Twine creation is the pacing and the growing sense of dread and creepiness often associated with Edgar Allen Poe or that great master H. P. Lovecraft.

The visual aspect of this game adds as much to the gameplay experience as much as the text, as the author uses several visual effects which enhances the atmosphere of the game. Hence, credit must go to the Twine storytelling platform, as the writing itself does not fully inspire fear.

There is, however, little interactivity per se, as the storyline is completely linear, apart from a twisty bit near the end. Play if you like atmospheric, creepy games which will make you turn up the lights.

Threediopolis

by Andrew Schultz.

Threediopolis is an amusing puzzler containing pure wordplay. Figuring out how to work the game is a puzzle in itself. From there on, the puzzle-solving approach is similar to solving cryptic crosswords.

It’s a straightforward game, with slightly silly room descriptions and an interesting mechanic. Very, very gentle hints and prompts are built-in, which makes gameplay less frustrating, especially since a few of the answers were very obscure. I still had to rely on the walkthrough to finish the game, though.

But if you prefer, there are hints available on the ifdb/ifarchive site (along with download links of the zblorb file). It’s a polished game, great for a half-hour or so of word-guessing with some really clever puzzles.