The Ritual

By Ed Turner (Twine/IFDB/play here)

The Ritual is a game about summoning a tentacled god with the blood of a pesky inspector and a bunch of loyal but none too bright followers.

Tone-wise, it feels similar to Hunger Daemon or Pratchett, with its irreverence for cult-like events and its matter-of-fact treatment of the eldritch. The Ritual is quite wordy, with paragraphs of text at each decision point, but it is redeemed by Turner’s strong and snappy writing. There is some ambiguity about the PC’s true feelings about this B’tek Mer character, and a smattering of typos, but otherwise it was solid enough. There are also hints of a more fleshed-out backstory.

In terms of structure, The Ritual has only one decision point, and then minimal clicking through. This made it easier to replay the game to tinker with the possible outcomes – and Turner is generous with each of these. 

So: play if you like parodies of Lovecraftian horror, tentacles and all, and if you want a mildly entertaining twenty minutes! 

IFComp 2015: In The Friend Zone

by Brendan Vance. (Twine, play here)

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This Twine game plays on the oft-repeated phrase ‘friend zone’, using it as a literal prison for Nice Guys. It brands itself as a horror-parody ‘in the tradition of Franz Kafka’, but I’m not sure Kafka could have topped this level of bizarre imagery.

What is by far the most distinctive thing about this game is its writing and mythos, really. There are apocalyptic scenes galore, and Lovecraft inches his way into each scene. It feels like the game Neka Psaria. It feels like a slimy version of Stross’s Rule 34. It feels like some kind of regional gothic, made interactive. This game reads like Porpentine… kind of, with more effigies and less cyberpunk.

The story appears to be set in an elaborate mythos with Priapus (in its original form, a Greek god of fertility and protector of male genitalia) worshipped as a kind of malevolent deity.

It’s no surprise that there’s sexual imagery throughout, though the imagery seems less erotic than violent. There is also quite a fair bit of violence, though at that point it felt more abstract than visceral. This was partly because the targets of the violence were nameless and, for all purposes, not distinct.

Apart from that, I found it hard to get my bearings. The way to progress through the game isn’t really clear – you start off naming a person you’re looking for, but exactly what has happened to that person is very unclear. It made it frustrating for me, half because I kept ‘walking’ in circles, half because I didn’t know how to advance the story.

Nevertheless, Vance’s writing is sound. It never veers into Lovecraftian purple prose, despite its influence, and putting aside my misgivings, this is an able piece of genre writing.

EDIT: linked to Vance’s (er, I presume) tumblr.

Dead Cities

As you can tell, I’m working through a very old and very big backlog of ‘Games I said I Would Play But Never Did’. This one is by Jon Ingold (Parser; IFDB).

The Arkwright mansion is before you, a solicitor who has been tasked to retrieve a handful of valuable books to rescue the elder Arkwright from financial ruin. When you enter, though, it’s clear something’s not right with Arkwright…

It’s all very Lovecraft, inspired as it is by Lovecraft’s Commonplace Book #67:

An impression—city in peril—dead city—equestrian statue—men in closed room—clattering of hooves heard from outside—marvel disclosed on looking out—doubtful ending. (Source)

Cosmic terrors, eldritch books, powerful magical artefacts: this game has it all. The writing is first-rate. It’s atmospheric, using tiny details in the surroundings to inspire unease and dread. There is plenty of flexibility in the commands that can be entered – a thoughtful move on Ingold’s part – as well as in the story. Although the interface suggests an appropriate command in the beginning half of the story, it’s possible to do something which would make sense in real life but does not progress the story.

The interface is also interesting, featuring multiple panels: one for inventory, one for suggested commands and one for story art. It’s an interesting feature which makes the game that much more player-friendly, especially for those new to IF.

Dead Cities may be short (about 20-30 minutes from start to finish), but it’s a treasure trove of interesting writing.

Fish bowl

This game was written for IFcomp 2012 by Ethan Rupp and Joshua Rupp. (Parser; IFDB)

You play Larry Wyndcombe, beachcomber, who wakes up in his hut with a fish bowl he’s never seen before.

Language: Rather minimal, though it was atmospheric.

Plot: Relatively straightforward, though there are definite ‘Lovecraftian’ moments (in quotation marks because I have an extremely limited experience with Lovecraft). I thought the resolution/ending was quite sublime, too.

Mechanics: Nothing remarkable.