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PostPosted: Sat Nov 04, 2017 1:02 pm 
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As I've done the past two years, I'm going to jot down my EctoComp impressions. I may not get to all the games. I may get to some but have nothing to say. These won't be proper reviews, and they'll almost certainly have spoilers, so beware!

First, I want to talk about two games together.

Do It by Santiago Eximeno and Corrupter of Dreams by Robert Patten

Spoiler: show
Both these games present you with an apparently evil task. You can either perform it or back out.

In Do It, you enter a dark basement, approach a woman tied to a chair, and grab a knife. Then you can "do it" or not.

In Corrupter of Dreams, you're a nightmare in a dream. You have the chance to touch and thereby corrupt elements in the dream, or you can leave and let the dreamer sleep peacefully.

What both games have in common is that they assume the player will pick the "nice" choices: to leave the woman undisturbed; to leave the dream uncorrupted. But the "nice" choices are actually the evil ones. In Do It, you're a cop coming to save the woman, and if you don't "do it" and cut her bondage, the real murderer arrives and kills you. In Corrupter of Dreams, the dreamer is sleeping in a bunker, dreaming about a garden; leaving the dream uncorrupted encourages the dreamer to go outside to find the real garden upon awakening, abandoning the bunker and dying in an irradiated world.

So you have to perform the evil actions to win. But don't worry, because you're still a good guy. No need to fret over moral dilemmas. You can rot the dreamworld without having to feel guilty about deriving pleasure from its destruction. You can pick the violent "do it" option with the knife, get that subversive little thrill, without actually hurting anyone.

I find this quite interesting. These games want to have their cake and eat it too, and they rather manage it. In games in general, players want to rip environments apart, steal everything, murder NPCs, because it's entertaining. But we have to keep it entertaining. Don't make them think about it. They won't like to think about it. Move consequences offstage. Arrange the narrative so that the resolution provides a Get Out Of Jail Free card for their previous misbehavior.

If the most dramatic path through a game appears to be the least moral, this is also a way to dangle a carrot for players who might otherwise protest on moral grounds.

Well, I picked the evil options first. With horror games, I'm willing to act horrible. But both games let me off the hook. I would've preferred if they hadn't.

Although I have some issues with them, I find these games very neat to think about. They expand past themselves. They belong to a larger discussion. And they have compact conceptual cores, just right for their lengths. I also really like the mechanics in Corrupter of Dreams, but then, it's a one-room limited parser game that exploits the TOUCH command. I admit my biases.


Last edited by CMG on Tue Nov 07, 2017 12:27 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Sat Nov 04, 2017 4:06 pm 
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DO IT spoilers.
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I get the trick with subverting expectations, but in such a brief game it almost feels like the player is being trolled; the game lies by omission. "Ha ha! You did the wrong thing because the author deliberately omitted context!" The unreliable narrator is cool, but in this situation, there's very little reason the protagonist wouldn't know who they are and what they were doing. In a longer game, you'd never get away with this without being clever as 9:05.

Since the command "do it" doesn't explain what "it" is, the result is basically a coin flip, which isn't really as scary as it could be. I think this could have worked if it were stretched just a bit longer. If you had woken up in a room surrounded by the accouterments and home-decor of a serial killer (a knife in your hand, a bloody victim in the corner and drugs on the table that you obviously took, providing an amnesia veil...) and been given a little more time to decide what was your role (when actually you were just waking up as another victim)...I think this might have worked a little better.

I know, I'm overthinking. Speed-IF and expectations aren't as deep as a normal game. I suppose it can be the equivalent, as I've said before, of a claptrap haunted house made of 2x4 and black plastic whose only goal is to get a reaction out of you, and in that sense, it is a success.

Plus, this game inspired me to look up "The Hustle" and play it 47 times on loop which made me very happy!
https://youtu.be/Y0xVLGssnwU

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PostPosted: Sat Nov 04, 2017 4:38 pm 
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I was actually going to mention that too, but I cut myself short!

More spoilers for both games.

Spoiler: show
You never know what "doing it" will mean in Do It until you "do it," but you can tell what choices the game expects the player to make by looking at the "don't do it" path. It's much more drawn out, with multiple points to bail or "do it" anyway, and it only works if the player doesn't know what "doing it" will entail. If the player just clicks "do it" right away, the twist gets revealed. Replaying and choosing "don't do it" doesn't have any tension after that.

Corrupter of Dreams handles it better, because your actions are clear from the start. You are indeed corrupting dreams. The game's not coy about that. Yet it still manages to incorporate a reversal. At the same time, this also makes it somewhat more toothless, because its ending lets the player rest easy after they've done legitimate damage.


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PostPosted: Sat Nov 04, 2017 8:29 pm 
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I was inspired by your [CMG] comments to try Corrupter of Dreams next...
Spoiler: show
I agree with you, I liked this a lot more. I enjoyed the writing. Despite you telling me there was a "twist" I was still surprised.

I think parser has a distinct advantage for horror because there isn't a button with "crank the scary jack-in-the-box" printed on it. Choice narrative can be scary, but the author has to work against the inherent lack of subtlety in specific commands. Parser gains the natural suspense of "is this going to work? Did the author think of the same thing I did?"

This is a great example of a bite-sized horror game. Despite its brief length, there was prose to enjoy and discoveries to be made.

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PostPosted: Sat Nov 04, 2017 9:39 pm 
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I agree, parser does have a natural edge there. But some choice games in this very competition show how to do it right. I'll get to them later. Right now it's time for...

Uxmulbrufyuz by Andrew Schultz

Spoiler: show
This was a weird one. Also a rather neat one!

At first, I wasn't sure what to do. I bumbled around, and I had to both look at the walkthrough and use hints before I started to grasp the game's main mechanic. So the intro text could've been written better, I'd say. With more clarity upfront. It was this game's biggest weakness.

After I did get it, though, it was addictive! Finding words with the right vowels. Plugging them in to move around the map's different routes. I got 24 in the end, which I think is everything, unless there are secrets.

The writing reminded me of Powers of Two by B Minus Seven, which is a game I put in the company of Edward Gorey's alphabet and list books. There's a delight in simply stringing words together, tapping into a rhythm. Sometimes it's unsettling in quite a curious way. Uxmulbrufyuz is unsettling in that curious way too. It's not horror, but it's weird. It kind of crackles. And then it collapses room by room as you solve it.

I'm also impressed that a game with this much trickery (trickery in a good way) was coded in three hours. It could've been horribly broken, but it played very well.


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PostPosted: Sun Nov 05, 2017 9:10 pm 
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Who to Haunt? by Katie Benson

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You're an old lady. You just died. But it's Halloween, so you get to haunt somebody. You can pick your "victim" from three options. Humor's on the menu, not horror, and your hauntings tend to go sideways.

Two haunting victims are clearly the "wrong" options. If you choose incorrectly, you reach an anticlimactic ending and have to play again. Because interactivity is minimal, it feels like reading three distinct short stories with the same poltergeist protagonist. Rather than encouraging you to make a choice and commit to the result, the game prompts you to replay.

This is an issue I have with choice-based games that rely too heavily (sometimes solely) on branching for gameplay. If the game wants you to experience all the branches, and there's not much fine-grained interaction along the way, it's kinda like a book wanting you to read all the chapters. Your choices are nullified when your ultimate choice is "I choose everything."

I would've preferred if the game had focused exclusively on the "right" path, which involves reconciling with your estranged daughter. In a three-hour comp, the author would've had more time to flesh this out.


YOUR PARTY IS DEAD by Naomi Norbez

Spoiler: show
This game bills itself as a "kinetic novel." I wouldn't really say that's accurate. Kinetic/dynamic fiction often lacks any choices whatsoever, but it still structures itself in ways that only work with hypertext mechanics.

YOUR PARTY IS DEAD could quite easily be printed as static fiction. There's one choice that exists for flavor, which could be trimmed without losing much. Everything else is a "next page" link.

EctoComp's three-hour limit is to blame here. The game's page mentions different paths and endings that had to be cut to meet the deadline. This game has a lot of text, so that's understandable. Choosing a concept that you can execute within the time-frame is a big part of the challenge.

That said, this story is screaming to be expanded into a full-fledged game. A ghost trapped in a treasure cave, forced to possess living creatures to interact with physical objects? Yes, please! By the Lake from ShuffleComp had a similar premise. Lots could be done with this.

Or what about haunting the cave for eons? I can imagine a parser game where every time you WAIT, one hundred years pass.

Also, a dragon with flesh-eating bats nesting under its wings? Amazing.

This particular game might not have hit the mark, but it's got ideas bursting at the seams. Sometimes EctoComp provides a starting point rather than a finish line, and there's plenty here to keep running with.


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PostPosted: Mon Nov 06, 2017 9:06 am 
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I also played Who to Haunt?
Spoiler: show
It was a cute story. If there are "cozy-mysteries" then this might be "cozy-horror" (which now that I say it isn't 'horror' per se but I guess "supernatural"?). I pretty much guessed the optimal path the first time through and had no reason to replay. The structure essentially seemed to be "pick one of four branches" after receiving a short biography of the possibilities. My only suggestion would be to let the player "haunt" some more and hang around these people observing their behaviors before having to choose. It seems a little odd that the player makes this choice from a position of being somewhat unaware when the PC has lived with these people all her life and wouldn't be in the dark so much about their motivations and personalities.

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PostPosted: Mon Nov 06, 2017 2:01 pm 
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I also guessed the optimal path right away (it seems like it's meant to be obvious), but I didn't pick it at first. I do this thing, perhaps more often than I should, where I'll choose the wrong or "boring" path on purpose to see how the game handles it.

By the way, anyone else who wants to jump into this thread too, feel free! I'm fine with people using it for general EctoComp discussion.

Civil Mimic by Andrew Schultz

Spoiler: show
This one wasn't as successful as Uxmulbrufyuz for me. I wouldn't have solved it without the walkthrough.

Well, I needed the walkthrough for Uxmulbrufyuz too, but only as a starting point. I mainly did solve that game on my own. With Civil Mimic, I'm not sure how I would've ever figured that the friend's name is Viv. I kept trying to convert Liv or Mimi or even Mimic into Roman numerals, somehow, by rearranging them to match the clock. No dice. It didn't make sense to really focus on those words, but I didn't know what else to try. And even if I had discovered Viv, I doubt I would've thought to turn it into Viiiiv.

I did like that the Mimic was this amalgamation of people in the end. Since the game was pretty much just the puzzle, though, and the puzzle 100% stumped me, I can't say much more about it.


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PostPosted: Mon Nov 06, 2017 2:20 pm 
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CMG wrote:
I also guessed the optimal path right away (it seems like it's meant to be obvious), but I didn't pick it at first. I do this thing, perhaps more often than I should, where I'll choose the wrong or "boring" path on purpose to see how the game handles it.

By the way, anyone else who wants to jump into this thread too, feel free! I'm fine with people using it for general EctoComp discussion.

Civil Mimic by Andrew Schultz

Spoiler: show
This one wasn't as successful as Uxmulbrufyuz for me. I wouldn't have solved it without the walkthrough.

Well, I needed the walkthrough for Uxmulbrufyuz too, but only as a starting point. I mainly did solve that game on my own. With Civil Mimic, I'm not sure how I would've ever figured that the friend's name is Viv. I kept trying to convert Liv or Mimi or even Mimic into Roman numerals, somehow, by rearranging them to match the clock. No dice. It didn't make sense to really focus on those words, but I didn't know what else to try. And even if I had discovered Viv, I doubt I would've thought to turn it into Viiiiv.

I did like that the Mimic was this amalgamation of people in the end. Since the game was pretty much just the puzzle, though, and the puzzle 100% stumped me, I can't say much more about it.


I was stumped by this one too. But I really like the title!


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PostPosted: Mon Nov 06, 2017 2:34 pm 
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I really liked Corrupter of Dreams and Bloody Raoul of the petite mort games. They both had a lot of vivid imagery, and didn't feel under implemented, since they had strong cluing and small settings.

Bloody Raoul is so bizarre, but somehow appealing. It reminded me of Buckaroo Bonzai in a way, something just so over the opt and out-of-this-world but with method in its madness.

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