Dynamic fiction

These two Twine works are short and linear, but use the gamut of effects available to them well. These are good examples of the value interactivity can add.


Compound Fracture by Jimmy Evans (Twine; IFDB; play here)

[Time to completion: 5 minutes]

The actual text in this game is scarce, as words would be when oxygen is scarce, yet it begins with a blasé This game embraces deceptively simple text effects, where links wriggle and shift out from your cursor. Fragments of thought flick by under a visibly lengthening bar, with the implicit understanding that when that bar runs out, so does your time. The thoughts that flicker past hint at past regrets, a family less than proud of you: the usual emotional baggage, but even there’s no time to pursue those thoughts. The writing, though sparse, has a stoic, matter of fact tone, from the first line: “you are going to die/okay”. In one of the endings, you can do nothing but watch the timer count down.

This is a shining example of real-time effects done right, adding as it does to something otherwise quite simple. (This might be easier played with a mouse.)


What to do When You’re Alone by Glass Rat Media (Twine; IFDB)

[May mention suicide, abusive relationships, self-loathing. Time to completion: 5 minutes]

What to Do describes a Google with sinister intentions – one which sees through the user’s seemingly innocuous searches to the doubt and fears behind it. Perhaps it is the intimacy of a search engine that fuels this idea, and the fact that we might address the search engine as we would a friend, and indeed, in the starting screen, the engine introduced itself by saying, “Don’t worry about keywords; just talk to us like we’re a friend.”. It’s the ultimate natural language processor, isn’t it? These games ask, “What if your ultimate reference, your personal librarian, was thinking, remembering, learning?”

While it may be superficially and mechanically similar to Josh Giesbrecht’s Awake, the intent of this game’s search engine is unambiguous. Awake’s search engine is wide-eyed with wonder. This is actively malicious – this was written for ECTOCOMP, after all.

The text effects are normally much maligned, but are used especially thoughtfully here, making What to Do work well as an interactive vignette of a sinister encounter.

Two tiny utopias

The TinyUtopias jam is a very informal game jam, first mooted by Emily Short in a Twitter conversation two weeks ago. Cat Manning writes about it here. It was envisioned as a jam for very short games which encapsulate a utopia – a world which was, if not perfect, then better. The existing games, if listed on IFDB, can be found here, and I will say here that I, too, submitted the morning after to the jam.


The Shape of Our Container is by Rocketnia. (Twine; IFDB; play here)

The Shape of Our Container is a peaceful, conversation-led game about lying in the grass with your loved one. Similar to the other tiny utopias, there is a broad sense of forgiveness and peace. Structure-wise, the game has a broadly branching time-cave structure, allowing large variations between play-throughs. This gives the impression of living many parallel lives, of the impression of time passing.

Container is definitely polished and has fairly high replay value. Short, tender and intimate.


Fridgetopia is by Mathbrush. (Parser; IFDB; play here)

Fridgetopia has been described by the author as “mechanically utopian”, in that it doesn’t necessarily sketch out a utopia per se: there is not much world-building here. But this is not a slight against the game. Rather than describe your interactions with a specific space or time, Fridgetopia instead gives you tools with which you can create your own world, to a certain extent.

Fridgetopia is very short, and perhaps not very polished. It reads as much as a coding exercise (albeit an interesting one) as a game, but it does hide at least one secret, which… let’s just say it deserves the label of ‘fridge horror’. Very clever.

mer

By hastapura (Twine; IFDB; play here)

Screen Shot 2016-02-16 at 10.22.57 PM.jpg

mer is a very short, broadly branching game about drowning your sorrows in lousy whiskey. You’ve been disillusioned. The tone is markedly different depending on which branch you go down, so I’ll stop here.

What deserves mention, I think, is the use of visuals in this game to set the mood. The background is a kind of muted mix of colours, perhaps evocative of the flashing lights in a club; the sidebar is set askew. The writing is good, as well – there are some striking images, some particularly attractive turns of phrase. mer is a small, pleasing confection which touches on some very relevant issues.

When acting as a particle/when acting as a wave

By David T. Marchand (Twine; IFDB; play here)

I can’t give much context on this piece, because every word in this Twine is a link. Without scenery text – text to set the scene – you see the game world solely through the decisions available to you. It’s like peeking through a pinhole. Even then, the author suggests a dream sequences and segments of real life, with eerie parallels. The same actions repeat themselves, but take on deeper meanings in different contexts.

The format really works for the story. Reading only the links keeps the rhythm of the writing going. Circuitous conversations are shown through cycling links; social interactions crescendo in a series of seemingly trivial choices.

When acting as a particle was created for the Fear of Twine exhibition, organised by Richard Goodness, a collation of Twine games featuring a broad variety of styles and ways of using words. It’s fairly short – reminiscent of the party game where you have to guess the story by asking the storyteller only yes/no questions – and well worth a look to consider how Twine can be used differently.

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.

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.

Wolfgirls in Love

by Kitty Horrorshow (Twine; IFDB; play here)

Two wolves go out for a night on the town. Neon. Cobblestones.

Written for Porpentine’s Twiny Jam, in which one creates a Twine game within 300 words, the author eschews spartan sentences, instead using single words, linked with timed appearances.

The combination of music, macros and the individual words makes Wolfgirls in Love incredibly evocative, and evokes loss and love and relief with the briefest of brushstrokes.

This game relies as much on graphics and music as it does on the text; the timed appearances give a rhythm to the text that the words alone do not. Wolfgirls in Love is a fascinating illustration of what 300 words in Twine can do, but equally also a gripping, bite-size story in itself.

Corvidia

by J A DeNiro (writing as Alan DeNiro) (Twine; IFDBplay here)
Playing time: ~1 minute

The pine tree in front of my house collects gray-blue jays.

Corvidia is a short, branching Twine game-poem. The prose is sparse; the content, abstract. There are references to a daughter and a missing mother, but I found it hard to grasp what the underlying story was about. Despite its brevity, there is, in fact, branching. Choosing different words in the passages yields different passages, and playing it feels like exploring a strange environment blindfolded.

It uses some visual effects, though to no special effect: it’s just fancy for the look of it. Nonetheless, it’s an intriguing work, atmospheric and quiet, and as it lasts about a minute from start to finish, it’s worth clicking through just to have a look.

baby tree

by lester galin. (Parser; IFDB)

baby tree feels like an origami model of a game.

This game’s main gimmick is its extremely sparse prose, as if it had a strict word limit (300 words, anyone?). This helps to set the mood,especially when this style extended to the default parser responses.

However, the scarcity of prose also means there’s barely any feedback on the player’s actions (i.e. was I doing the right thing? Can I examine thisthing?) grew frustrating after a while. I wouldn’t call it getting stuck,per se, since there’s so little to do that it’s pretty obvious how to get to the end of the story. But again it’s like those simple origami foxes or cats or whatever: it’s so stylised that it gives the idea of the thing,though it lacks many of the features that make the fox or cat or whatever it is.

Is it horror? Because of the prose, a lot of the content which would be considered horror is implicit, and depends on how you respond to certain situations.

As another reviewer has mentioned, the ‘epilogue’ feels rather rushed. The attempt to smoosh in some semblance of ‘story’ was a letdown, precisely because it felt so out of place. Still, it’s interesting for a one-time playthrough, as a writing experiment or a little piece of art.