Honeysuckle

By Cat Manning. (Texture; IFDB)

[Mentions abusive relationships.]

Being the wife of an august wizard brings its own dangers. Something is off in the house, and in your husband’s absence, you must investigate.

The PC is wife to the wizard who is now her husband. They were, if not colleagues, then teacher and student, yet he dismisses her own “unruly” research, allowing her to continue only because “it seems to please her”. This echoes sexist assumptions of skill common to numerous other fields – from game development to medicine – which often casts women as the amateurs, forever the apprentice to their male counterparts. And, most notably, she plays into this as well, describing herself as an amateur.

The use of the verb ‘consider’ turns an invasion of privacy into something more like observing, but it quickly becomes clear that the PC’s husband is not who he says he is, that the PC is not safe, that prying is the only way to survival. Unusually for Texture games, Honeysuckle is strongly location-based.

What I most enjoyed – if one may call it ‘enjoyed’ – was the subversion of the traditional player as the chosen one, the powerful one, the one with the gifts. In Honeysuckle, the PC is, initially, utterly disempowered. She is the apprentice, the junior one, the amateur. She is the humble one – the humbled one – who does not speak up because she knows few will listen.

Honeysuckle stands up as a modern retelling of Blackbeard: a predatory husband; the PC just one in a line of victims. The difference, of course, being the outcome. In the same way, this game has similar themes to Sara Dee’s Tough Beans. Both have female PCs who are babied by their male partners, and both find their salvation in his destruction. But where Tough Beans is unambiguous in its outcome, Honeysuckle is a little more ominous: each of its ending branches is wracked with uncertainty.

Honeysuckle is a game about alchemy and escaping domestic peril, and it is straightforward in that front. Several aspects of the story, however, are far from fantasy for a significant part of the population. Although its ending is ambiguous, Honeysuckle envisions the possibility – with both means and opportunity intact – of escape.

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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.

Spring Thing 2017: Niney

I’ve missed the entire Spring Thing season for examinations, so I now belatedly arrive at some reviews.


Niney by Daniel Spitz (Parser; IFDB; play here)

Niney’s main mechanic is simple: you are a passenger on this mysterious train, destination unknown, and you must assume different roles for the sake of your fellow passengers. You are all things and none of them.

I found Niney’s language intriguing; the identities that the PC assumes are frequently phrased in terms of postures – “the one who gazes ahead”, say – or attitudes – “the one who is weak”. Assuming these postures doesn’t just change how NPCs respond to the PC, but even the PC’s internal state.

The characters in this game are loosely sketched, like a quick and dirty pencil drawing, as is the PC. The PC is truly a blank slate, ignored by NPCs unless they are somehow relevant, having barely any persistent character traits. This works if you view the game as an allegory, which ties in with the dream sequences.

I felt that parser worked well here, allowing the author to hide how the player’s abilities change with scenes.

However, what is demanded of you is not always clear; I found myself force-fitting identities more than once. The language also tends toward the flowery, especially in its descriptions of emotions. Greater succinctness and more distinctive imagery could make Niney really stand out.

If you enjoyed the metaphor-wrangling here, you might like Simon Christiansen’s Patanoir (IFDB; Steam), which likewise takes metaphors literally, but with a stronger framing story.

Everyday Misanthrope

by Liz England. (itch.io page)

Go forth and make people miserable! Armed with ‘misery tokens’, make choices and ruin people’s lives! 

Sarcastic and witty, Misanthrope twists the initial encouragement for your life-ruining into a subtle guilt-trip. In the beginning/middle, the game gives sometimes cruel options – options that people in real life clearly opt for, but at that level of casual cruelty. At first, it’s weirdly satisfying to wreak havoc, but towards the end, the author turns this around by humanising all the people whose lives you have ‘ruined’. Despite the title, Misanthrope is, in truth, surprisingly compassionate. 

A fairly short game – about 10-15 minutes if you read as fast as I do, with plenty of branching and some replay value.

Resources for writing IF: creating story/narrative

This is an incomplete list. Will try and keep it updated.

Emily Short’s articles:

On geography, conversation (here’s more detail), creating multilinear stories, and action and interaction.

failbettergames​ articles:

This compilation contains some advice which is specific to being an indie game dev and their context is based mainly on Fallen London. Posts tagged ‘Things We Like’ makes for interesting reading.

Kurt Vonnegut:

Simple Shapes of Stories – his lecture. I haven’t watched this in detail.

Mu Complex: Episode One

by Studio Cime.

*Welcome to Mu Complex, Bruce Dayton.*

Except you’re not Bruce Dayton. You’re a hacker in the government-owned Mu
Complex, and your aim is to infiltrate the heart of this facility.

This game is not entirely a text-based game. Though commands are entered
command-line-style, some of the puzzles require looking at images.
Nevertheless, it can get pretty immersive, thanks to the background music,
but also to the custom commands which soon become second nature.

My only gripe is that some of the puzzles were way too easy, even for a
puzzle noob like me. Easy to the point of facile. Interesting concept, and
rather entertaining for a short little puzzlefest.

Lime Ergot

By Rust Blight, aka Caleb Wilson. Written for Ectocomp 2014.

You and the general are the last ones left on the island of St Stellio, and she wants adrink. You’re the lower-ranking officer, so it’s up to you to get the drinkdone.

The game
consists of find-the-object puzzles through descriptions which act like nested
dolls (‘telescopic’ descriptions?). Examining one object reveals another, which
reveals another, which reveals another… This device was ingenious, keeping the
game’s scope small without feeling contrived. The writing is lush and
evocative, and suited the mildly hallucinatory state of the PC. Lime Ergot is a
well-thought-out, tidy piece for one written in three hours.

Similar to Castle of the Red Prince.

Approx
playing time: 30 mins

Magic Makeover

by S. Woodson.

tl;dr: entertaining, if wordy, parody.

Magical Makeover is a self-styled parody of over-the-top Flash games ‘for girls’, namely those whose interactivity consists wholly of choosing outfits. It starts with floridly described makeup products and a rhyming, snarky mirror but delves into a touch of body horror, and into riffs off fairy tales.

It eschews any fancy Twine effects, relying wholly on the text. Although the background was very likely a nod towards the games it parodies.

This game is generous, in various senses of the word. The writer revels indescription, evoking sparkly, colourful images. While the passages got lengthy at times, this was made up for by the wit: the game lampshades tropes from fairy tales and adventure stories. In fact, ‘lampshades’ doesn’t even begin to describe it – much of the game felt more like an exuberant riff.

The level of story branching was certainly generous as well. As the author says, there are seven possible endings, but I was impressed by how distinct and well-developed each of them were, with their own backstories.