Open That Vein

By Chandler Groover. (Parser; IFDB)

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(Cover art: background image of vein; foreground: OPEN THAT VEIN/Chandler Groover)

This game was written for Ectocomp 2015.

It’s simple: you have to open that vein. But the vein is just the start of your troubles: you’re chasing… something.

[Warning: this game contains gore/body horror.]

Open That Vein worked impressively within its self-imposed constraints, since the PC could only interact with any noun in very limited ways. Even more impressive knowing that all this was coded in three hours.

The game is linear, with extensive use of cutscenes at important points, and this is what lets Groover’s descriptive, evocative writing shine. The details he gives home in on the visceral. He gives glimpses of images, gorgeous vignettes, though they didn’t immediately make sense to me. There’s a lot of mention about things ‘feeling right’, which I’m still trying to parse.

As with Midnight. Swordfight, this work also makes use of a limited verb list, but the game also supplies suggested verbs without prompting, so a player new to parser IF should not have a problem playing it. This design decision adds an example to the ongoing discussion of how to make parser IF more accessible to new players. Groover solves this by telling the player what to type, and by moulding the game environment around the constraints of the limited verb list. A limited simulation like this works well for short works, but one wonders if this couldn’t be extended to more open-format/sandboxy works – maybe with a gradually expanding verb list? Commands you can ‘discover’?

Mainframe

By Liz England and Jurie Horneman (Twine; IFDB; play here)

You wake up in an unfamiliar spaceship. Something is wrong with the ship’s mainframe and it needs help.

Developed for ProcJam 2015, this game features procedurally generated locations and objects, the writing of which nonetheless felt natural. Indeed, the writing is one of the high points of Mainframe. It went in a similar direction to Her Pound of Flesh, in that what was inanimate takes on life and flesh, and your treatment of it must change accordingly.

This game contains squicky body horror and gore.

(Side note: there was a discussion earlier on the IF Euphoria chat on to what extent procedurally generated writing is the work of the author, and that was interesting, because the author does need to put a lot of work into the writing to make it sound good, even if the end result is assembled by a computer.)

Mainframe progresses through a series of repeated scenes which often have wildly differing endings. Because of the structure of the game, it’s hard to avoid lawnmowering, but at least the locations are bizarre enough to make this varied.

Mainframe has a solid story at its backbone and excellent writing; it’s certainly a good look at the kinds of things procedural generation can produce.

Her Pound of Flesh

By Liz England (Twine; IFDB; play here)

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(Screenshot of game)

Here’s a game set in another cyberpunkish, dystopian world, where biotechnology is so advanced that all you need to clone an organism – and indeed a human being – is a bit of their tissue and a special reagent. This is what you’ve resorted to, in an attempt to bring back your fiancée.

But nothing’s ever as easy as that, and you may not always get what you expected…

Her Pound of Flesh had a theme familiar to that in many of this year’s IFComp games, with the theme of sacrificing something to get your heart’s desire, yet ending up with less than you started with. Because the author establishes the PC’s motivations and dreams so well, the PC’s helplessness in the face of events taking a rather squicky turn evokes sympathy: it’s clear that thoughts about her are consuming the PC’s life, even to the point of appearing in the PC’s dreams.

No matter how far you run, you can’t seem to escape her.

Maybe you don’t want to.

“Today will be different,” you tell yourself.

The game progresses in ‘days’, with each day comprising about three to four choices. In dealing with her, there’s often the choice to treat her as the human you remember her to be, or as something… less. Each day reveals new and terrifying things about what she has become.

In some ways, Her Pound of Flesh wonders what the limit of humanity is. Is it worth it, to have the physical form but nothing else? But more than that, this game is a story about longing. Despite there being less and less of her humanity day by day, the PC keeps turning back to what reminds him of her: things like her scent and her hair.

Overall, it may involve quite a lot of body horror and gore, but ultimately this game is heartfelt… and tugs at the heartstrings. Read that how you will.

Her Pound of Flesh was made for Asylum Jam, which challenged game devs to create horror games unrelated to mental illness or mental asylums.

 

The Urge

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by Paperblurt. (IFDB link; play here)

Content warnings for gore and violence.

I saw this in last year’s IFComp. It had a very disturbing blurb, which is why I wisely did not play it late last night…

You are a serial killer, with his (his? It’s not entirely clear) next ‘guest’.

The Urge is by turns gory and mundane, but largely linear. It is more a character study than an interactive story. It takes us through what the author imagines to be the everyday life of a serial killer, juxtaposing the PC’s uncontrollable bloodlust with mundane activities like cleaning up and going grocery shopping.

What graphics included in the game are well-rendered and attractive, but the formatting of the text had several slips, including missing punctuation marks and inconsistent line breaks.

The story could also have taken some interesting turns – letting the reader decide the PC’s motivation, for example, or the extent to which the PC will go. Instead, the linear storyline reads like lots of other serial-killer TV serials, with little nuance or, indeed, anything to invest the reader in the PC. Maybe this was a reflection of the unstoppable nature of the titular urge to kill. Maybe it was unintentional. But it felt like clicking through a story, and not a very engaging one, at that.

Overall, I felt the graphics looked good and were used thoughtfully, but the story was rather lacking.