IFComp 2017: Off the Rails

By Katie Benson [Twine; IFDB link here; IFComp link here]

cover.jpg
Cover art: mockup of a baking magazine with a hand-drawn birthday cake in the centre

You’re on the train to meet your family for the weekend, and the thought fills you with dread.

The cover suggests a cutesy story aimed at younger readers. The blurb suggests something deeper, with a hint of unhappy family life. The actual game tells of a troubled family, but even that only forms the premise for the bulk of the action, which is set on the train.

Off the Rails treads the familiar ground of vague allusions to emotional baggage (at least in the branches that I played through) and a mundane beginning. Infrequent binary choices are sprinkled in the midst of linear text. The verbosity betrays the broad branching, and conciseness would have helped this game. The “good”, or interesting, option is often obvious, without rewarding the player for being meek, for choosing the safe option.

Off the Rails has some good ideas, but it was not developed as much as it could have been, and could be more compellingly presented.

Advertisements

Even Cowgirls Bleed

By Christine Love. (Twine; IFDB; play here)

Time to completion: 5-10 minutes

It's the usual story. You're a big city girl with a closet full of fancy dresses but not a whole lot of sense, and lately all you've wanted to do is trade in your lonely winters for some real adventure. Well, consarn just wanting, you say!
Screenshot of first screen

You are a city girl, seeking thrills and spills out West. You gather your petticoats, get yourself a gun, and get on the next coach.

Turns out, though, that being out West isn’t quite what you imagined…

This game makes extensive use of mouseover effects (this is replaced by the normal touch on mobile), which makes moving through the story very fast. Your only interaction with NPCs and objects is to shoot them, and (on PC at least) having mouseover replace clicks means that when you, the player, interact with anything by touching it, you destroy or maim it. There’s a moment where this is especially brilliantly handled, where you can only ever destroy, regardless of your best intentions.

The writing is witty and self-aware. The PC swaggers into a bar, only to be snubbed by the bartender for ordering a bourbon on the rocks; the PC’s bravado has her shooting everything in sight, but this gets her told off by the woman she’s fixed her eyes on.

The story’s surreal overtones are buoyed by the PC’s initial idealism – there’s something in shooting everything in sight which doesn’t strike true for me – so your mileage may vary. I’m sure there’s something deeper to it, but, for now, I really just see it as a strange riff on tropes in Westerns.

You’re Tiny People. Can You Open The Fridge And Get The Lemon?

By Clickhole. (Custom CYOA; IFDB; play here)

viewgame.jpg
Cover art: a tiny hand sticking out from a white grating

Clickhole has built a reputation for prolificacy, having released 20 games in 2015 alone. Their games are usually absurd and light-hearted. Their games usually have long titles which presents its central premise. Then again, I have not played many of Clickhole’s games, so I shouldn’t really generalise like that…

In Tiny People, you play a… group (swarm?) of tiny people, navigating someone’s apartment. At your size, everything is huge. How will you get to the lemon? And what’s Music Duck doing there?

Tiny People favours photos over textual room descriptions to illustrate the environment, which was really a welcome change to the usual Clickhole house style of generic stock images. It also features an especially location-based world model, even if it mixed cardinal directions with relative directions (you can go leftward and east in this game).

The perspective brings to mind other games with smaller-than-human PCs – A Day for Soft Food and Snack Time in particular. The close-up photos of everyday objects from a non-human perspective remind me of Mateusz Skutnik’s 10 Gnomes series.

The central premise (i.e. the fact that you, the PC, appear to be a swarm of tiny people) is already surreal enough, but the ending is even more so, almost to the point of incoherence. Your mileage may vary, here: fans of Clickhole’s writing will probably enjoy this, but those who are not may find it over the top. Still, I found this a reasonably enjoyable, short, slightly absurd piece.

Kotodama

By Aidan Doyle. (Twine; IFDB; play here)

showimage
Cover art: the kanji characters for ‘kotodama’

Tokyo has been hit by a poetry outbreak. You, a robot, have been sent to deal with it.

Kotodama is set in a world in which poetry is akin to a contagious disease, and that shapes much of the world-building. This much is evident from the first line:

The lobby of the Tokyo Skypoem is filled with panicked humans, their faces scarred by unbridled metaphor. Paramedics carry stretchers bearing limerick-riddled corpses and haiku-exposed skeletons.

The writing sparkles with wit, and the game’s use of metaphor (that is, making it have literal consequences) called to mind Patanoir. Kotodama also gives a welcome depth to the world-building by giving a nod to familiar narratives such as racism or the role of immigrants. This seems to have some link to the title: according to the Oxford Dictionaries blog, which the game quotes, the concept of ‘kotodama’ applies especially to Japanese in its ‘purest’ form – that is, the language without any loan words – yet, definitions of what counted as ‘pure’ varied over the years.

Kotodama is relatively short, but is highly polished (I found the Poetry Dojo to be a stroke of genius) and very cleverly written. Highly recommended.

IFComp 2015: Recorded

By Nick Junius (parser; IFDB; play here)

 

An escape game – well, in a loose sense of the word – where you have to get out from a series of surreal, weird rooms. The overall feel of the game reminded me of Mateusz Skutnik’s Submachine games, especially the more abstract ones. Unlike Skutnik’s Submachine, though, the rooms in Recorded lacked an overarching theme, or a repeating motif – something stylistic which would have made it clearer that this was the work of one entity/being/person, and ultimately created a stronger storyline.

One problem is that there’s not much in the way of story, or puzzle. What story there is is delivered through cryptic messages, though they often felt more like flavour text – purposeless, and not hinting much at what the story was. I felt like this opportunity to build a distinct NPC had been wasted, and it’s a pity.

As far as I can tell, there was one puzzle, and it was of the ‘pick up this object and put it there’ variety. Not exactly the most inspired of puzzles, unfortunately, and it was not very clear to me how to trigger the appearance of the object that I needed to solve the one puzzle (I used the walkthrough).

Recorded has the beginning of what might have been a very interesting concept in the game, but it might have gone way over my head, or it was never developed.

Hello Wordd

by B Minus Seven. Playable here

You are a component of the revolutionary new spellchecking programme, SpelRite. All you need to do is to suggest a correct spelling for the wrongly spelled word in the given sentence.

KIND OF SPOILERS BELOW

The direction where the game goes reminds me of Inward Narrow Crooked Lanes (yay, I remembered the title correctly!) – it has the same surreal, nonsense-language feel. Sadly, as with INCL, I also didn’t quite catch the finer points and didn’t get where it was going.

Happily, though, Hello Wordd goes a little further than INCL in creating a little verisimilitude, and the endings make sense in-universe.