IFComp 2010: East Grove Hills

Polaroid: Swinging

“East Grove Hills” by XYZ

No blurb was provided for this game.

Three games in one day. Hooray for Saturdays! I haven’t a clue what to expect from this game, so let’s dive in and find out what it’s all about. Commence spoilers in 3… 2… 1…

This game attempts to tell a slice-of-life story about coping with a senseless school bombing/shooting. It does so via a series of non-chronological cutscenes. The game is interactive at a very minimal level, and generates no sense of agency whatsoever. I’m simply picking a random action each turn in order to see the next bit of story or dialogue. This would have worked much better as a short story.

I can’t help but compare this to “Photopia,” Adam Cadre’s minimally interactive tragedy with a jumbled chronology. But where Photopia uses IF to make the player sympathetic, “East Grove Hills” repeatedly reminds the player that it is a game.

First of all, EGH is written in first-person instead of the traditional IF second. Photopia let the player establish a relationship with the key character, but in EGH the player is only an observer.

Second, the entire first scene seems designed to make me dislike the protagonist, the character whose sympathies I am supposed to share. Whatever happened to “save the cat?”

Third, the game makes numerous references to interactive fiction, most of them derogatory which is disconcerting in and of itself. (As a person playing IF, I feel insulted.) At one point, the game even mentions itself and describes the events of the game’s plot as the inspiration for the game. Unless this is nonfiction (and I don’t think it is) that’s a bizarre circular logic. In any case, it pulled me sharply out of the plot.

Fourth, for a game that relies so heavily on its writing, the craft leaves something to be desired. I suppose I should forgive this, as the game’s parser error reveals that the author is not a native English speaker…

>about
I'm sorry; English is not my first language. Try either a simpler phrase. Or a command with a verb. Because I love to be enslaved to hierarchical systems of command.

…but I’m not sure what to make of that. The writing is awkward throughout, with too many adjectives. Descriptions like “two practically socially isolated people and one very awkward person” are stumbling blocks for the eyes. This is not good when trying to convey a complex set of emotions.

Fifth (and finally), the order in which the game reveals details did not seem intentional or meaningful. Right off the bat, we’re told that the world is going to end, an emotional hyperbole that is soon reduced to “bombs will go off and a lot of people will die.” In the next scene, we’re making friends with someone whose life we apparently saved, and we learn that our sister died in the bombing. Scene three, suddenly it’s not just a bombing but a shooting too? There’s very little in the way of shock or revelation here, just bewilderment for the most part. In Photopia, the sequence of the scenes and the information revealed in each was key to the game’s success. This doesn’t feel so finely crafted.

I don’t wish to denigrate the content of the story. It sounds like this work is based on some tragic real-life experience. However, it is a very weak use of IF as a medium, and that’s what this competition is about.

Verdict: D

Edit 10/13/2010: This grade was originally a C, but I decided “Divis Mortis” (C-) was worse than “A Quiet Evening at Home” (C) and, not really being IF, I don’t think this measures up to either.

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