Eat Me

By Chandler Groover. (parser; IFDB; play here)

[Time to completion: 30-40 mins]

Chandler Groover’s work often mixes the decadent with the grotesque, the macabre with the picturesque. Think rotting roses; mouldering filigree.

Here, bound in a prison made of food, your only way out is by eating.

Who knew that eating could be so visceral? This is not just simple eating, it is consumption for consumption’s sake, for pleasure, for satiation. This is not going to be a game for everyone: the descriptions are so detailed as to be cloying, and there is heavy use of cutscenes to denote scene transitions.

This game is generous in allowing the player to backtrack and figure out what to do. As the name suggests, the range of actions available for the player are limited to eating, with the occasional exception clearly signalled – similar, then, to Arthur DiBianca’s games, such as Grandma Bethlinda’s Variety Box and Inside the Facility.

Eat Me resembles Groover’s Bring Me A Head, both in setting and in grotesquerie: both set in crumbling castles, each compartment holding just one singular occupant, doomed, it seems, to pursue their one occupation for the rest of time. Eat Me is not for the faint-hearted, definitely, but well worth playing, perhaps alongside other games with a similar setting.

For a lighter version of an eating-oriented game, try Jenni Polodna’s Dinner Bell; for more of the same, Bring Me a Head and Open That Vein by the same author.

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IFComp 2017: The Very Old Witch and the Turnip Girl

By Megan Stevens (Choice-based, IFDB, play here)

You play a very old witch who’s not quite at the end of her life… and she feels like something is missing.

Witchcraft, here, runs along the lines of Pratchett’s practical, world-wise witches. Our witch is fully equipped with hexes and curses, but also browses mail catalogues for entertainment. Her attempts at plugging the gap in her life are quite old-style witch, though, including seeking out motherhood. Women finding their fulfilment in motherhood is not a new story. This game subverts it – though I would have been delighted if this had been lampshaded with a bit more of the spunk that the witch PC herself shows.

The Very Old Witch eschews anything more than a veneer of branching narrative, making this mostly a work of dynamic fiction. Nonetheless, it’s not too tedious to click through this linear story – and indeed I think I would have enjoyed this as a short story. There are areas where I would have appreciated a more biting wit – the titular characters don’t quite take things lying down, yet this isn’t always conveyed so well in their dialogue. Overall, The Very Old Witch reads with the simplicity of a children’s story, with some uniquely urban/modern twists.

IFComp 2017: The Richard Mines

By Evan Wright [Parser; IFDB link here; IFComp link here]

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Cover art: monochrome picture of a mine entrance; in the bottom right corner, “Eintritt Verboten!” in gothic letters

The blurb tells us that this is ostensibly about one or more abandoned German mines in Czechoslovakia, circa 1949. If I had been playing without that knowledge, I would never have known that.

Despite it being about discovery and exploration, the narration is devoid of excitement. The PC betrays no emotion or indeed reaction to anything. Because of that, it was hard for me to find in-game motivation to keep exploring. Most of the context comes from the blurb, in fact.

While this game could do with a little proofreading and beta-testing for functionality expected of most parser games (the game doesn’t end properly, for instance), this game was not submitted without thought: relatively straightforward puzzles whose presentations suggest their solutions, and an object-based hint system. A decent entry, though using the exploration to frame a story would have given it more depth.

IFComp 2017: Haunted P

By Chad Rocketman. [Parser; IFDB link here; IFComp link here]

First impressions: this game has serious shades of Toiletworld, the infamous troll game from last year’s IFComp. The author’s name is similar; the… tone is likewise jocular; most tellingly, the game is underimplemented, with many of the pitfalls of the modern parser. And, of course, “Chad Rocketman” is not too far from “Chet Rocketfrak”.

While not as thematically… consistent as Toiletworld, Haunted P is not as actively hostile toward the player as Toiletworld was. There is actually some measure of progress. I’m not sure it’s actually possible to get to an ending, but perhaps that’s part of the attraction.

Assuming, again, that the author of Toiletworld was responsible for this work, Haunted P is perhaps not as much of a talking piece as Toiletworld, because it’s almost… too normal.

IFComp 2017: Measureless to Man

By Ivan R. [parser; IFDB link here; IFComp link here]

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Cover art: blurry, blue-tinted photo of underwater plane wreck

“Something is in you, longing to seek them out. And why not?

Either way, you’re doomed.”

Mmm, foreboding.

As you fly from Cairo to Boston, you carry a horrible secret inherited from your grandfather, one which defies the very laws of nature. So far, so Lovecraftian.

This game in general would benefit from a bit more polish, both in the implementation and in the framing of the story. The circumstances in which you unleash the deadly nature of the secret are strangely incongruous; there are spots which could have been smoothed over with close proofreading and more beta-testing – typos, unimplemented nouns mentioned in the scenery and so on. Some objects are introduced but never used.

Measureless To Man introduces what could have been a powerful story-telling/narrative device, but unfortunately could have made more of it. Lovecraft, in what I’ve read of his stories, builds up the tentacled, writhing horror slowly, usually making the implications of his monster or ritual or artefact quite clear. Measureless to Man had little of that – a pity, because that could have made it that bit more unsettling.

 

IFComp 2017: Swigian

By Rainbus North [parser; IFDB link here; IFComp link here]

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Cover art: photo of old leather helmet

Swigian is a text-sparse parser game. You are an outdoorsy person of no distinct description (“You look like me” is… suggestive) and… well, let’s start by building a fire.

The player’s only stated motivation is escaping an unnamed group: “them”. I would usually prefer more explanation, but here, in this style, that is enough. You are running from them. That is all I need to know.

Objects are barely described – “That is what it is” – encouraging the player to take the writer at face value. Object manipulation for puzzles is simplified, though most of the usual parser commands have been preserved.

Solving puzzles opens up new areas of the map. While the in-game map actually covers a large area, you only ever spend a short time in each area; often, there is exactly one thing you need to do there. The writing is evocative, but firmly rooted in reality – no metaphor for this, unlike baby tree, another text-sparse parser game.

Overall, a solid game which I enjoyed playing, set firmly in parser’s traditional penchant for object-oriented puzzles.

IFComp 2017: Off the Rails

By Katie Benson [Twine; IFDB link here; IFComp link here]

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Cover art: mockup of a baking magazine with a hand-drawn birthday cake in the centre

You’re on the train to meet your family for the weekend, and the thought fills you with dread.

The cover suggests a cutesy story aimed at younger readers. The blurb suggests something deeper, with a hint of unhappy family life. The actual game tells of a troubled family, but even that only forms the premise for the bulk of the action, which is set on the train.

Off the Rails treads the familiar ground of vague allusions to emotional baggage (at least in the branches that I played through) and a mundane beginning. Infrequent binary choices are sprinkled in the midst of linear text. The verbosity betrays the broad branching, and conciseness would have helped this game. The “good”, or interesting, option is often obvious, without rewarding the player for being meek, for choosing the safe option.

Off the Rails has some good ideas, but it was not developed as much as it could have been, and could be more compellingly presented.