IFComp 2010: The Blind House

Broken Mirror, 2006

“The Blind House” by Maude Overton

I scarcely know the woman at my side. I don’t even know why she was the one I turned to. I can only hope that we haven’t been followed, that she won’t ask too many questions. The only choice left to me now is to trust her.

Back to comp games, after a break to get settled into a new living space myself. So is this about a house belonging to a blind person? Or a house with no windows? Or a house that’s just a house, and has no memory of the people who have lived inside? Discover this and more in the spoilers beyond!

The game’s introduction tells me that it’s more “interactive fiction” than “text adventure,” and that puzzles are not the main point of this work. Great! It sounds ambitious. I have high hopes.

First, this game does a lot of technical things right. I have no technical complaints, and a number of praises. Whoever this author is, she has mastered her toolkit. Bravo!

  • The cutscenes revealed one paragraph at a time scan well.
  • The prose inventory listing fits the style of the work.
  • The way the protagonist sensibly leaves certain objects in certain rooms (“There’s no need to carry that brick/blouse around…”) is a clean solution to inventory overload, and a technique I will probably steal at some point in the future.
  • The in-game map really did help me orient myself while playing.
  • The current thought/motivation in the status bar becomes a key part of play.
  • Opening/unlocking doors is automatically handled after the first time you do it.
  • I did approximately zero verb- or synonym-guessing.
  • The writing is good, without distracting grammar or punctuation problems.

All of the little things that reviewers love to complain about are taken care of. And yet, I didn’t like this game.

I think I dislike it because after playing to the end and UNDOing to read two other endings, the only emotion I’m left with is “what just happened?” I mean, I really can’t tell you want this story is about. I know that I played as a terrified woman, coming to live with another terrified woman in a dreary house. I know that I always carry a knife, that I was mysteriously injured in the middle of the night, and somebody is producing sinister paintings (and they look like I painted them). I know that I can’t see my reflection in the mirror. So I spent most of the game trying to figure out if I was schizophrenic, or if the other woman was, or if we were both part of one person.

Then I read three different endings, and they led me to believe that I’m either a serial killer, a lesbian, or just depressed and cutting myself. No schizophrenia involved. I’m unhappy. There’s no explanation for the mysterious paintings, no purpose for the hole in the brick wall, no clue who bloodied me in the night. I feel like we’ve just blown past Donnie Darko levels of vagueness into the great mysterious un-story. We have all the ingredients of conflict and we got as far as plot batter, but somebody forgot to install an oven. There’s loads of atmosphere, but a lack of resolution.

I don’t like it. That doesn’t make it bad; maybe it’s just too avant-garde for my taste. It’s possible a good afterword by the author could reverse my opinion. However, I think there’s also a design issue here.

For a game that’s more focused on plot and atmosphere than puzzle-solving, I turned to the walkthrough waaay too often. Looking back, I’ve figured out why: The plot is frequently advanced by the THINK ABOUT action. There’s nothing wrong with this by itself. Though THINK ABOUT is not a standard action, it’s pretty common in IF and it’s mentioned in the game’s introduction that it’s important. The problem is that I don’t trust the THINK ABOUT command here. While the game is well-implemented in most other respects, thinking about most objects (even apparently important ones) gives a default response. After a while, I forget to THINK ABOUT anything that seems slightly mundane. It didn’t occur to me to THINK ABOUT THE NOTE. It certainly didn’t occur to me to THINK ABOUT THE CALENDAR, and I was doubly miffed when thinking about the calendar (not examining it, mind you) was the only clue to the location of the study key. I didn’t realize that I needed to think about the email after reading it… I figured reading involved thinking, I guess. Over and over, I managed to THINK ABOUT all the wrong things. This could have been remedied by some out-of-character clues to think about things after examining them, or a generic THINK command that would provide a list of currently available thinking topics.

In the end, this is an extremely polished work that I couldn’t comprehend, with a small design problem that interfered with its storytelling.

Verdict: B+

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