Hypnagogue

By Mitch Alexander. (Twine; IFDB; play here)

You wake up. Something in your room is different. You could sleep, yes, or you could try and find out what it is.

At once a riff on the theme of ‘sleepless in your bedroom’ and an exploration of dream-spaces, Hypnagogue presumably derives its name from ‘hypnagogic’ – the fugue state between sleep and wakefulness. The spaces you explore and look in on are likewise the spaces between sleep and wakefulness, as you catch glimpses of people’s bedrooms. The author provides tantalising details of these spaces, but these are only ever glimpses. The author delights in giving strange bits of story, but the writing overall felt unfocused. Hypnagogue felt like it was trying to make a point, but I couldn’t figure out what it might be referring to. Maybe there is no real-life analogue and I’m overthinking it.

That said, Hypnagogue is generally a well-written expedition through some very strange spaces. This is a game in which the setting is more of a character than the PC: you are merely the means to explore it.

SABBAT

By oh no problems/Eva. (Twine; IFDB; play here)

showimage.jpg

(Cover art: ink/line drawing of a creature with four goat heads and the body of a snake)

(There is also a commercial/paid version of SABBAT with art and a soundtrack. This was based on the free version, linked above.)

[Warning: this game contains mentions of sexual content and self-harm, also optional animal abuse.]

It’s hard to have a sabbat of one, but hopefully, once you get all the materials together, you’ll be able to gather power for yourself.

SABBAT’s narrator is friendly and encouraging. It was kind of like having a friend to guide and cheer you on, and in a game about making blood sacrifices to gain power, it was unexpected, but oddly cheering. I cannot hate a game which calls me witchdumpling. The mildly cynical humour here is refreshing. Instead of making trite remarks about how awful everything is, the humours slants toward the self-referential. You’ve made candles infused with centipede venom, and you muse how hard it was to get that venom in the first place and why did you buy a centipede again?

This game is quite the genre-breaker. It taps on the ‘Living Alone in My Sad Apartment’ genre, but uses this to highlight the contrast between your current state and the power that you eventually attain.

SABBAT draws from, amongst other things, the idea of power through sex. Part of the PC’s transformation involves a change in sexual organs, and one of the ways the transformed PC gets power from people is by having sex (or at least attempting to).

The game could be a bit of a mixed bag. The subject matter involves mixing with unknown forces, a theme usually given a more serious treatment in other fiction, but here it feels almost everyday. Yet the game remains self-aware as the PC acknowledges the strangeness of it all.

The branching reminded me of Magical Makeover, where combinations of items combine to produce different outcomes. Like MM, there are no ‘bad’ combinations in SABBAT (though there are some which are more amusing than others).

I wouldn’t usually have plumped for the storyline, but the narrator really made the game for me. It can be polarising, but, for me, it was a charming game about the powerless seeking power and the lonely seeking companionship.

Open That Vein

By Chandler Groover. (Parser; IFDB)

viewgame.jpg

(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’?

Patrick

by Michael Lutz (Twine; IFDB; play here)

viewgame.png

(Cover art: close-up of a person’s smile, with game title underneath)

Patrick is a short, mostly linear game about being mistaken for someone else. It’s not just about people calling you by the wrong name. It’s about strangers clapping you on the back and saying how glad they are to find someone from their frat; about waiters giving you ‘your usual’; about lovers whispering a familiar yet strange name in your ear.

While not as dark as my father’s long, long legs, Patrick once again showcases Lutz’s gift of making every day events subtly disturbing, bringing out the way in which a mistaken identity can be a violation of something intimate. Your alter ego seems to more a parasitic twin than a person. He is forever disrupting your life, even in your most private moments, and your life and his are pressed up against each other skin-close.

The events are uncanny, yet the narrator treats them as everyday (which, for him, probably is). In the end, it is the narrator’s tone which moves the story from surreal horror to the benignly surreal: it is matter of fact, self-aware, even joking.

Lutz does a great job of sketching vignettes of these scenes of mistaken identity, using a few details here and there to instil a sense of unease.

Play Nice

by Alice Thornburgh and Emily Breeze (Quest (?)/web-based CYOA; IFDB; play here)

viewgame.png

(Cover art: a green planet in space; game title in orange text in foreground)

You have the unenviable role of Ambassador to Emerpus, a highly intelligent race with complex social rules. If you can make it through the entire dinner, you should be fine. If not, then you better wave goodbye to your job and, possibly, entire career.

Play Nice is, simply put, a test of whether you know how to play by the rules, a la Tea Ceremony. The rules are given, and though they look complex, I found that not all came into play in the game itself – a bit of an unfired Chekhov’s gun. The NPC’s responses to various social faux pas also did not quite resonate with what had been laid out in the rules.

The game presents three choices at each turn to test your memory of the in-game rules, and at each decision-making node, there is only one correct answer; selecting the wrong answer leads to instadeath. Replaying it, therefore, is like re-taking a school quiz where you already know the answers. While such linearity was not unexpected for this game, I still would have appreciated some subtlety, where you could build up or break down relations between you and any of the NPCs separately.

Still, the writing is conversational and light-hearted; the observations of the aliens feel like that which a child would make. The game would have benefited from taking itself a bit less seriously, though.

Play Nice is a bit of a mixed bag, unfortunately. On the one hand, it does have a less than serious space-age feel to it; on the other, the story structure is punishingly linear, where it could have done with a sense of playfulness.

Old Fogey

by Simon Deimel (Parser, IFDB)

viewgame.jpg

(Cover art: map of Salmon River and environs in Idaho)

The strange painting on the wall has always bothered you. It’s your ancestor, apparently, and no matter how much you complain, your parents won’t take the painting down. So it’s up to you.

The first thing that struck me was the writing- it was a little jerky and repetitive, and it felt like the writing of someone for whom English isn’t their first language. Case in point:

There is a chair placed next to a table. You can see a book on the table. The cover of the book shows a horse.

In the ‘about’ text, the author had a vision of this being a window onto the bigger, fictional world of Talliston, Idaho. Perhaps because of the setting of the story (where the PC literally cannot move out of the starting room), this did not come across very strongly, since I never got a feel of what the wider community beyond the PC’s family was like.

As a side note, this game used two sound effects – I’m not quite sure what they represent, though, because there wasn’t a clear indication what types of actions produced the different sound effects.

The puzzle is classified as being ‘Tough’ on the forgiveness scale, but this is really because the single puzzle is on quite a tight timer. The game makes it additionally frustrating if you try the most straightforward action because there’s some kind built-in delay to stop you succeeding on the first try. On subsequent replays I realised there was probably an in-universe explanation for your reluctance, but this was not clearly indicated in the text.

I found it hard to enjoy playing this game, really, because the writing was too minimal to make up for the bare-bones implementation and the timed puzzle.

itch

by Liz England (Twine; IFDB; play here)

England’s previous work (Mainframe, Her Pound of Flesh) has featured aesthetically slick Twine works about body horror, and itch certainly ticks those boxes. This game w2as written for Twiny Jam, one of a few very compact interactive horror game.

You have an itch. The story presents you with two choices: to scratch it, or ignore it. Vaguely reminiscent (to me, at least) of B Minus Seven’s Voice Box, the choices boil down to being either active or passive.

Body horror commonly involves self-harm, whether by your own volition or not. itch calls into question what makes something horrifying. Is it lack of autonomy, and knowing that something bad will come for you? Or is it being forced to do something horrific?

As body horror goes, most of it is implied, but do exercise discretion. itch is a short, slightly icky horror flash-IF, with an unexpected ending.

Dastardly

by Andy Chase (Parser; IFDB)

When you and James first set up the Orpheum, oh, what dreams you had! But now, burlesque is the only thing which brings people to the crumbling theatre.

The ‘about’ section promises just one puzzle, but without a clearly indicated goal for the PC, I found it hard to figure out what to do. (Maybe it’s just me.) (Okay, figured it out.) It took a little leap of logic for me, but once a certain step is done, things moved quickly.

This game was written for 24 Hours of Inform 2004, in which participants had to write an Inform game with 24 hours (no surprise there), and the game had to be set in a theatre, include a petticoat, an advertisement, something repainted and a trapdoor. The time limit probably explains why the environment was not as exhaustively implemented as it could have been, but at least the location descriptions are sufficiently interesting, and successfully convey the sense of dereliction and despair that now plagues the Orpheum.

The game is still buggy in places – indeed, the author admits that they are not terribly experienced – and the puzzle didn’t fully make sense, but it was still a respectable effort.

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.

Howwl

By Tipue. (Choice-based web interface;  IFDB; play here)

[Warning: this game contains sometimes unexpected descriptions of death and gore.]

You wake up in a North London flat, unable to remember how you got there. Tottenham is devoid of people. It’s time to go.

The game is initially a lot about exploration. There isn’t much of a clear goal, but as you explore, it’s clear that something very bad has happened. The game never makes it clear what you’re aiming for – perhaps a vague attempt at safety – even to the end.

Howwl is written with a vaguely Twine or Undum-like format, where you click links to progress.The links suggest what would be common actions in a typical parser game – taking inventory, inspecting objects and so on. The layout is attractive and neat, in which links add to a growing transcript which can be scrolled back. Header images mark changes in location. You can create an account to save your place in the story, but given that the scope of the game, as it stands (I played Beta 0.81), isn’t too long, you might not need this.

Howwl aims for the gritty urban apocalyptic atmosphere in its abandoned buildings and filthy interiors, and does it quite well. You never get to see the source of ominous (and sometimes uncomfortably human) noises. You stumble over unexpectedly gruesome sights. The writing style is detached – is it resignation on the PC’s part? Hopelessness?

I found the PC to be way too generic to give the reader a stake in how the story progressed- not that you get to make many significant choices, anyway; the author’s method of removing options if they’re not necessary makes it impossible, for example, to escape a certain place or to explore more buildings than the author intended you to.

Some mildly spoilery stuff below the cut.

Continue reading “Howwl”