A Courier’s Tale

By SJ Griffin (Twine; IFDB; play here)

Based on the Vanguard Trilogy by the same author, you play a newbie bike messenger working as one of the cogs in the premier courier company, Packet. One of the perks of working here is meeting the legendary Sorcha Blades… which, of course, is what happens when she needs a decoy messenger.

This game is a moderately branching story which takes the PC through an expansive setting, reminiscent of China Miéville or Emily Short’s City of Secrets, and gives the sense of an extensively mapped-out city. Neighbourhoods are given characters of their own; distinct communities live in different parts of the city. The story attempts to illustrate a dangerous city running amok with criminals and secret dangers, in a city so starved of resources that fresh fruit is a minor luxury, but nothing really affects the PC directly. The story structure is simple; clearly the focus is on the writing itself.

The writing itself, however, is not terribly polished; there are typos and missing punctuation marks, there are missing words, there could be more paragraph breaks to let the text breathe. As a spinoff from the source material, I guess it’s no surprise that it ended just as it was getting interesting! If it was expanded to elaborate on the hook mentioned in the last part of the game, and polished a lot more, I think it would make for very interesting reading.

Howwl

By Tipue. (Choice-based web interface;  IFDB; play here)

[Warning: this game contains sometimes unexpected descriptions of death and gore.]

You wake up in a North London flat, unable to remember how you got there. Tottenham is devoid of people. It’s time to go.

The game is initially a lot about exploration. There isn’t much of a clear goal, but as you explore, it’s clear that something very bad has happened. The game never makes it clear what you’re aiming for – perhaps a vague attempt at safety – even to the end.

Howwl is written with a vaguely Twine or Undum-like format, where you click links to progress.The links suggest what would be common actions in a typical parser game – taking inventory, inspecting objects and so on. The layout is attractive and neat, in which links add to a growing transcript which can be scrolled back. Header images mark changes in location. You can create an account to save your place in the story, but given that the scope of the game, as it stands (I played Beta 0.81), isn’t too long, you might not need this.

Howwl aims for the gritty urban apocalyptic atmosphere in its abandoned buildings and filthy interiors, and does it quite well. You never get to see the source of ominous (and sometimes uncomfortably human) noises. You stumble over unexpectedly gruesome sights. The writing style is detached – is it resignation on the PC’s part? Hopelessness?

I found the PC to be way too generic to give the reader a stake in how the story progressed- not that you get to make many significant choices, anyway; the author’s method of removing options if they’re not necessary makes it impossible, for example, to escape a certain place or to explore more buildings than the author intended you to.

Some mildly spoilery stuff below the cut.

Continue reading “Howwl”

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.

New Cat

by Poster. (gblorb, IFDB page)

You are a cat, and you have no name. Maybe if you explore a bit, you’ll find your name. 

Cover image of game - grey rectangle with 'New Cat' written in cursive font above a stylised sketch of a kitten

Cover image of game – grey rectangle with ‘New Cat’ written in cursive font above a stylised sketch of a kitten

This game is a li’l bit similar to Snack Time, wherein you view a typical human environment through an animal’s eyes. This kind of game works when there is charm and puzzles/actions which hinge on understanding the perspective and making use of it. 

I can’t say a whole lot without spoilers, so spoiler space—

One big problem is that ‘look’ doesn’t produce a description of the room you’re in. In an exploration game, this is a very strange omission. Also, for an exploration game, a lot of things aren’t really implemented. I don’t understand how examining a object lets you know its name. 

The limits of your understanding also seem arbitrary: you don’t know what walls and doors are, calling them ‘ows’ and ‘mows’, yet you know what ‘metal’ is, even ‘bathroom’, even though a moment ago you were calling it a dark room smelling of water. 

The inconsistencies make immersion into the game difficult. Even if the premise is very cute, I found it hard to get into the flow of the thing, because a lot of objects were described in rather generic, sterile ways… unlike a kitten.

Dwelling: Insomnia

By George Mylonas. Playable here.

In the typical beginning to home-invasion horror stories, there is a strange sound at your door. What do you do?

It’s a simple premise, and the author could have done so much with it. However, the game loops through the days, endlessly, without any context or character development, making the PC a blank slate on which nothing happens but the sounds at the door. Is that good? It’s a tough call. It could have gone either way.

In any case, as with all horror stories, I was infinitesimally disappointed when I realised you could only make the story progress by investigating the mysterious sound. 

The development wasn’t too bad, though, even if it did feel disjointed – like in The Shining, Dwelling felt, at places, like it was drawing on numerous disparate sources. While each of these bits were, in themselves, unsettling, together they just felt… separate.

So… yes, this game is technically sound. There were no crashes, nor any typos that I could spot. But it’s not really scary. It has the semblance of scariness, but doesn’t quite deliver.