Three-Card Trick

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

Cover art: the backs of three playing cards; the game title is in cursive above the cards

Groover’s works are dark and delicious, and this one especially so. You are Morgan the Magnificent, the esteemed magician. Last year, your two-card tricks granted you the favour and popularity from the most influential, wealthiest patrons.

Now, however, a rival has emerged: ostentatious, flashy Ivan, and his three-card trick. Now is your chance to regain your rightful title.

Despite a carnival-like setting – one often associated with summer and fun and play – there is an unsettling undertone (why would you need guards around a group of magicians?) which hints at higher stakes than are initially stated.

Highly polished both in style and substance, Three-Card Trick once again features several parser tricks which enhance its delivery. Text is doled out to control pacing; directions are highly simplified, similar to What Fuwa Bansaku Found.

It’s a delicate balancing act Three-Card Trick does. It remains one step ahead of the reader, through to the end; yet, the required actions are hinted with sufficient contextual clues – one is unlikely to get stuck for too long – to give the sense of player agency.

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Spring Thing 2016: Evita Sempai

By Florencia Rumpel Rodriguez (Twine; IFDB; play here)

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Cover art: sepia-tinted close-up of a smiling woman with coiffed hair, head on her hand

Evita Sempai centres around one woman’s adoration/love for Eva Perón, who was the first lady of Argentina from 1946 to 1952. It is told in a series of episodes from the narrator’s perspective, centred around encounters with Perón.

This game has social relationships at its core, but where other games allow us to manipulate our position in those relationships, the narrator of Evita Sempai already has a predefined position in her social circle. Dropping the player in all these relationships in medias res felt a little disorienting at first, but it also helped to flesh out a fully-formed protagonist who was not only in love with Eva Perón, but also a sister, daughter and breadwinner.

I went into this game without any knowledge of who Eva Perón was, but it’s not strictly necessary. Context will certainly explain the later events in this game, and perhaps explain other NPCs’ reactions to the titular first lady.

I found the narrator’s relationships with NPCs difficult to follow initially, but this is really a minor quibble. Evita Sempai is neatly styled, with changing backgrounds highlighting the transitions between sections.

I am a sucker for local detail and this game does a nicely subtle job of it, even though (to my memory) city and place names are almost never mentioned. Evita Sempai explores a real-life setting not often found in IF, which is definitely something I’d like to see more of.

Spring Thing 2016: Sisters of Claro Largo, Shipwrecked

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

Spring Thing (or Fall Fooferall) is upon us! This year boasts a dizzying diversity of styles and stories, with some reaching Imaginary Game Jam levels of imagination. You can find all the games here.


When you escaped, you were childless. Now, away from the City and its cells, you have two daughters, both special and peculiar in their own ways. Their stories will shape the future of Claro Largo, and who knows what else?

The narrator in this game is pretty much invisible, compared to what the titular sisters do (and end up doing). The story is grim, melancholic; the village setting suggests claustrophobia, despite its promise of freedom. To me, this called to mind stories such as The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas by Ursula Le Guin, or Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle. (Of course, these comparisons are far from perfect, though they share similar tones and atmospheres.)

This game uses telescopic text (similar to what this tool does) to slowly reveal the story. This gimmick is purely mechanical (technically, there’s nothing really to stop this being a linear story), but the order in which text is presented makes clear the conceptual links, the story’s chronological order. Sisters is very simple, but tells a good story. One playthrough took me about 15 minutes.


Shipwrecked is a very short game by Andrew G. Schneider (Twine; IFDB; play here), who also wrote Nocked! in this year’s Spring Thing.

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Cover art: desert background against a blue sky

The premise is that you’re annotating and shaping the journal of a sailor marooned in the Endless Desert. The story is quite broadly branching, with some branches longer than the others. The writing is more flowery than one might expect from a desert journal, but it allows for contrast with different writing styles, which is very much in line with the theme. I found the ending bit to balance out the floweriness of the earlier parts, which was a nice twist.

Ironically, the prose still bears traces of not having been edited, however, with sentences such as “A fetching the lady pirate…”. I’m… not sure if this was intentional. If it was, then that is pretty inspired.

I admit that I took a while to warm to Shipwrecked, especially with the writing style. I liked where it went with the editor, though, and actually found myself wanting a more substantial story, rather than the meandering storyline I found here.

Spring Thing 2016: Tangaroa Deep

By Astrid Dalmady. (IFDB; Twine; play here)

Some background: Spring Thing (or Fall Fooferall) is upon us! This year boasts a dizzying diversity of styles and stories, with some reaching Imaginary Game Jam levels of imagination. You can find all the games here.


We know more about space than we do about the ocean.
Isn’t it time to start changing that?

In Tangaroa Deep, you are a marine biologist going down to document creatures of the deep in SS Tangaroa. The deeper you go, the stranger these creatures become. After all, there is so much we don’t know about the deep sea.

The PC’s only link with the outside world is their connection with Jackie, their research partner, and their banter is a delightful foil to the creatures living down below, which get weirder and weirder. Like parser IF, the world model is location-based, which means story branching is dependent on where you move, meshing wonderfully with the overall story.

Several visual features illustrate atmospheric changes as the PC goes further and further down. The air meter ticks down. The background deepens from aqua to black. The description of creatures gets weirder and weirder. Where Dalmady’s writing shines, I think, is in the late game, if you choose to go as deep as you can.

Recommended.

Spring Thing 2016: Rough Draft

By Erica Kleinman (IFDB; Ren’Py)

Spring Thing (or Fall Fooferall) is upon us! This year boasts a dizzying diversity of styles and stories, with some reaching Imaginary Game Jam levels of imagination. You can find all the games here.


In Rough Draft, you’re helping Denise, a writer suffering from writer’s block, decide the course of her story, a fairly generic fantasy-type story. At some points, though, the narrator decides that the story can go no further; you, as invisible editor, can go back and get her to rewrite at a certain decision-making point. It takes the concept of the meta-writing game and really runs with it.

What makes this game unusual is being able to visualise the story structure (below). I liked how information from one rejected branch unlocked decisions in other branches – a reflection, perhaps, of how brainstorming sparks off ideas, even if the original ideas never do make it into the final product.

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Screenshot of node map in Rough Draft

Story branches are quickly pruned off, which means that players must do a bit of lawn-mowering (this is not necessarily meant as a harsh critique, goodness knows I’m guilty of that myself) to find the ‘right’ story branch that allows progress. It would have been great to be able to complete the story using a variety of ways – that, after all, is the power of the imagination.

It’s a pity that the meta-story (the fantasy story the player helps to write) is relatively bland. The fantasy story seems to follow stock tropes and template-like encounters; dialogue sometimes feels stilted. Nonetheless, it is evident that the author has spent much effort on this – the screens which show the story in progress are in reality separate images, as is the story map – and its implementation of this idea, which has so often been talked about, is laudable.