Pale

By Ally Vordan (Twine; IFDB; play here)

Pale starts with what was, for me, an off-putting technical note. Okay, I can choose to play from Tobias’s (whoever that is) point of view… and I can’t play from Klaudia’s (whoever that is)? Perhaps this is/was a work in progress.

Anyway.

You’re Tobias, the handyman around these parts. These parts, for you, is a small town in Germany, called Bree. Things are quiet; the people are a peaceable sort… until you find Stefan dead and don’t tell anyone. As you try and deflect suspicion, you can only mire yourself deeper into trouble.

The writing is a little dry, but I’m not sure how to explain this, because it’s not for lack of details. The author has made the effort to include things which would be part of the daily landscape for a person living in a small community, things like grouses and small jealousies. The writing feels like it lacks emotion, though. Tobias speaks rather formally, which comes across as being emotionally flat about what would usually be emotive subjects.

I also had a grouse with the pacing, somewhat. Pale started with a halfway-promising hook – that you, the PC, had been accused to murder – but, in one branch, built up the setup rather slowly, and in another, never gave any payoff. That made one branch feel very unbalanced. The other lacked the suspense that one might find in similar ‘suspicion in a small town’ storylines such as in Broadchurch or Jagten.

As a side note: unless I am mistaken, the author was a little careless in releasing this… did you really leave a blank passage there?

My Name is Tara Sue

by Maki Yamazaki (Twine; IFDB; play here)

tara

(Cover art: The text ‘My Name is Tara Sue’, with ‘TARA’ made out of Twine passages)

You are Tara Sue and, simply put, you lead a pretty boring life. However, things are about to get more interesting…

MNiTS follows a kind of time cave structure, which allows it to be highly branching despite it being so short; of course, the length of the story and early branching allows for easy replay. The scenarios are slightly outlandish, especially towards the end – a whim of the author’s? – but veer towards the grim.

The joy in such ‘boring work life’ games is discovering the secret whims and fancies of the PC which lie behind their urbane exterior, but MNiTS didn’t establish much specifics.

Worth mentioning is the rather attractive layout and scrollback formatting, which made the final story readable as a conventional short story.

Ultimately, MNiTS made use of a mundane concept which, ironically, could stand to be more interesting.

scarfmemory

By Michael Brough (Twine; IFDB; play here)

Cover art: small photo of a red and blue… scarf? I think? 

scarfmemory is a short game (about 10-15 minutes’ play for one play-through), in memory of a lost scarf – something beautiful, now forever gone. More accurately described as an interactive diary, it reads like a stream of tangentially connected thoughts and experiences, accompanied by occasional photos.

The game works with links which expand out, when you click on them, to a related chunk of text. How to explain? It’s like how Lime Ergot worked – you click on a link, it expands out to relate a related memory or experience. It muses on the fate of the scarf, and the musings of a creator: where are these bits of yourself, whose intimate history only you know? Is anyone using it? If they use it, would they know its story – how it came about? Would it matter?

I felt the reflection made it a little more than just a ‘day in life’ kind of game, simply because it was thoughtful, and it was born of something which other creators of things would probably have thought about.

scarfmemory is as simple as it sounds, and to say there was nothing else remarkable about this game would be to treat this little game unfairly.

The game also references IF conventions (the traditions, not the gatherings of writers and players) and Twine in particular – this is a foray into IF by one who usually makes more graphical games. I’m not sure why I’m compelled to add this, but there you go.

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.

That Sinister Self

By Astrid Dalmady (author website, IFDB site)

[This game contains mentions of self-hate and anxiety.]

You’re a girl on her first day of high school, but you’ve got a problem greater than friends or horrible teachers on your hands: your reflection in the mirror is threatening mutiny.

The first thing that strikes me is that it’s a very aesthetically pleasing game. Visual elements are used to great effect. The evil mirror-self is shown in the reflected text which changes, not very subtly, to insert negative thoughts about a situation; the text changes when you click through links to reflect what is presumably the PC’s insecurity and anxiety about her new situation. There’s a whole lot of clicking through, though, not all of which I thought was strictly necessary.

The content – family life, high-school social minefields – is very much the stuff of many teen fiction novels, and what should have made it impactful would be the presentation of the evil mirror-self, but the goal of the game was probably nothing overtly spooky. Rather, it was more about the internal emotional conflict of the PC.

Spoilers below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So far I’ve found one ending, the triumphant one. I found the confrontation well-written and personally it struck a chord with me, though there was little to build up to this. The endgame could have been much stronger if the PC had been less generic. If we understood a bit more about her fears and personality, then it might have made the triumph feel more like one. That said, I enjoyed the sly ending (though really nothing surprising to one who reads horror fiction so often).

Alter Ego

by Peter J. Favaro, Ph.D.

Yes, I’ll admit the “Ph.D” was rather offputting. Surely anyone who feels the compulsion to put their academic qualifications in a piece of interactive fiction is writing this as part of some paper, or just really anxious to let people know that “Hey! I’ve got a PhD!!!”

Anyway.

It’s a life simulation game, basically. Where your actions and attitudes affect how you turn out in the end. What makes it interesting is probably that it’s a Choicescript adaptation of a 

Much spoilers below.

Things I liked:

  • I liked the sandbox nature of the game – it felt like an RPG, albeit a superficially WASPish one (i.e. white Anglo-Saxon Protestant) set in a generic ‘Murica.
  • The platform suits the game, and the customisation of the interface was well done. 
  • Well done, too. I got emotionally involved.
  • The author(s) are aware of requests for features, and I realise that adding those in would be a Herculean task.

Things I didn’t like:

  • vagueness of NPCs – any details about ‘your best friend’ or ‘your mother’ are kept very, very vague. Just names, like Cindy or Mrs Hendrick, which tell me nothing
  • vagueness of details in general – As above, the whole game is set in some white-bread, generic, one-size-doesn’t-quite-fit-all ‘Murica. 
  • sections on the Intellectual Sphere use trivia questions to gauge your intellectual ability. This feels lazy. Google is your brain. (*note: the authors are aware of this)
  • So when I say ‘life simulation game’, I mean ‘simulation of life as a white cis male/female in a generic American setting’. 
  • attitude + action combinations which aren’t compatible… well, these don’t make too much sense. As a sandbox game, I’d like to have as much flexibility as possible. And then, according to the authors, it’s a game which clocks in at 220, 000 words, so. 
  • some of the conclusions drawn by the narrator were trying to assume a lot. Being excited for a sleepover means you don’t appreciate the security your parents provide??

I liked the direction of the game, though, and the variety of options already present are quite generous.