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Reviews by verityvirtue

melancholic

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View this member's reviews by tag: choleric ECTOCOMP ECTOCOMP 2016 IFComp 2015 IFComp 2016 Introcomp Ludum Dare melancholic melancholy parser phlegmatic Ren'Py sanguine Shufflecomp Spring Thing 2015 Spring Thing 2016 sub-Q Tiny Utopias
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Four Sittings in a Sinking House, by Bruno Dias

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A barroom back fable about a haunted house, May 17, 2017
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: melancholic
[Time to completion: 15-20 minutes; this game doesn't work in Google Chrome]

Right. Yeah. The whole island was sinking, really. I say island because that's the official term, but if we're being honest it was more like a pretentious sandbar.


On a house on this sinking island, you perform sittings to uncover memories and, by so doing, figure out what went on in the house. Four candles flicker in the background of your choices, each one going out as you perform a sitting.

In this self-described "barroom back fable", the narrator is cynical, jaded. I got the sense that they, like the titular house, has put their glory days behind them, though having never played into cheap dreams peddled by cons,

You can perform tasks in roughly any order, but you have to uncover all available bits of memory to really figure out what's at the heart of this house. Not to give away the plot, but what's happening in the sinking house reflects the island itself: a place that free market forces took over, yet was chewed up and discarded when it lost its value.

Bruno's writing belies a keen eye for detail. The house's fallen state shows through its faded, garish fittings; the hypocrisy of the promises that were sold along with the house, in its sterility. Four Sittings is a satisfying, polished tale of urban magic, with the same sort of seriousness as, say, American Gods.

The Skeleton Key of Ambady, by Caelyn Sandel (as Adalai Trammels)

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A folk tale-esque game of uncommon depth, May 17, 2017
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: melancholic
[Time to completion: 15-20 minutes; full content warnings given at the start of the game]

You are Adalai Trammels, Skeleton Key, and that means that you can unlock any safe, open any door... even intangible ones. It's a surprisingly nomadic job, and you carry naught but your key and the money you earn in exchange for your gift.

There is a surprising depth and breadth as to what you can do here. Sandel deftly creates a web of conflicts in the town that has no easy conclusion, no single villain. Every decision - including the decision to action or inaction - has consequences on the townsfolk: just because you can open any lock, doesn't mean you have to open all of them.

The Skeleton Key finds strength in its structure, borrowing the cadence of a folk tale or fairy tale. Like many fairy tales, the onus is on the hero to pass moral judgement on the villain, and the power of the interactive format is that we, the player, get to decide who we condemn and who we save.

This is a particularly strong example of Sandel's work, featuring distinctive settings and nuanced, sensitive characters; further examples of her work may be found here http://inurashii.xyz/games/.

Readers interested in the folk tale style but with a taste for horror may also enjoy A Good Wick, in which you play a lamp in a town shrouded in eternal night.

A Good Wick, by Little Foolery

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Visually attractive horror game about a doomed town, January 24, 2017
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: melancholic
[Mentions violence and mutilation. Full content warnings are given on the first screen. Time to completion: 30-45 minutes]

Pyre on the Water is a doomed town, and you are one of its lamps. You've burned for three years, and that is no mean feat in a town with no more sun, in a town whose lamps must be relit by travelling knights. But it is in one of these knights who holds the town's destruction.

A Good Wick has strong writing, with the cadence of a folk tale. It makes deliberate, thoughtful use of repetition and chapter headings as transition. Characters are defined largely by their roles in the community - and the horror derived from their deviation from these roles.

This game makes heavy use of multimedia and text effects. The background flickers and writhes. Links glow like a lamp in the dark. It works well on mobile.

Sometimes, the effects that make it so visually distinct make it less than reader-friendly. The atmospheric backgrounds were occasionally distracting, and some of the links were hard to find - although that may well have been the intent. There seemed, sometimes, to be so many transition headings that it broke up the flow of the story.

Nonetheless, A Good Wick is a visually rich, haunting folk tale - without the immediacy of games like 1181, but with a song-like cadence.

Ash, by Lee Grey

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A midlength meditation on a parent's dying, January 8, 2017
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: melancholic, IFComp 2016
[Time to completion: 20-25 minutes]

Ash is about watching someone die. The PC, here, is getting to grips with their mother's proximity to death; the prevailing mood is deep weariness. The writing is stark, the descriptions minimal. The links mostly appear in conversation, and their brevity suggests that both the PC and their mother have long since exhausted most conventional conversational topics.

Institutional healthcare looms large in this story. Healthcare professionals appear mostly as faceless, nameless, taciturn individuals, delivering bad news bluntly and awkwardly, referred to in aggregate, making the hospital seem not even like a prison, but a mechanised facility. Ash emphasises how no one knows what is going on, how no one cares enough to look up from the charts and see how patients are doing, how bureaucracy strangles good medicine. The result is claustrophobia, a sense of being trapped.

Ash illuminates an aspect of illness not often touched on in games, and despite everything, despite everything, remains hopeful.

Hana Feels, by Gavin Inglis

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
We can only reach but never touch, December 27, 2016
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: melancholic
[This game contains discussions of self-harm/self-mutilation. Please exercise discretion. Time to completion: 15-25 minutes]

Hana has been acting unlike herself lately. Can you find out why?

We, the player, see Hana's feelings through the eyes of four different people. Each is meant to play a supportive role in her life, but their different personalities means that their support can express itself in very different ways. The catch: the only thing you can control is what other people say to Hana. Some of the NPCs would have been self-centred had we only been able to see from Hana's point of view, but being able to play through their perspectives - and seeing their doubts and awkwardness - made them much more sympathetic, even when they say things which would be frankly hurtful.

Hana's journal entries provide immediate feedback about your conversational choices. I found myself wondering how I could optimise outcomes for Hana - or, indeed, if it was even possible. But there's something to this, isn't there? No matter our intentions, our words of comfort can so easily be interpreted in the exact opposite of what we mean.

Depending on the branch you end up getting, the overall tone of Hana Feels could be either cautiously optimistic or achingly sad. Despite occasionally getting to experience Hana's perspective, she remains distant; we can only ever reach her indirectly, through the filter of other people.

Hana has been nominated for Best NPC in the XYZZY awards, a fact which delights me, even if I'm never really sure what makes an NPC 'good'. The most I can say, though, is that the emotional investment the PCs pay into their interactions with Hana pays off. Each character reacts believably and sensitively to what the other says. A comparable game would be Hannah Powell-Smith's Thanksgiving or Aquarium, in which conversation is fraught and intricate as a dance.

Hana Feels ultimately deals with some weighty stuff - Hana, after all, has to deal with a lot and she doesn't always do this in a healthy way - but there are areas of levity, and perhaps even hope.

I THINK I'LL STOP OFF ON THE WAY, by piratescarfy

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Short, surreal Twine about a strange service station, December 27, 2016
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: melancholic
[Time to completion: 5-10 minutes]

You have been driving on a nameless road, for more hours than you can remember, for more hours that you should be. It's time to take a break, so good thing there just happens to be a service station coming up. It's deserted. The bathrooms are all boarded up.

The setting and premise has rich pickings for a horror story: one might find anything in an unfamiliar, deserted town - monsters, abysses, pure evil... The wee hours of the morning and tired narrator mean disorientation even in the best of circumstances, mean isolation and loneliness.

This Twine contains an inventory and location-based system, using the PC's need to use the toilet as impetus for exploring the locations. The objects in the inventory make up parts of an implement. The choice format removes the need to fiddle with verbs like one might in a parser IF (e.g. USE X ON Y), but, at the same time, wrenches control of the environment from the reader. This adds to the somnambulant atmosphere, like a malignant muscle memory: your limbs following the orders of something other than your conscious mind.

The cadence of the writing is staccato; terse - in moderate amounts, it underlines the starkness and desolation of the setting.

The LEDs flash pink and green. The buzzing gets louder. The buzzing gets louder. The crying stops.

There is sometimes too much of it, presented in uninterrupted chunks. Pacing is not always the strongest point.

This game strikes some of the same notes as Kinsale Horror: in both, the PCis a traveller stranded in a strange town which just becomes stranger and stranger. This game has much more ambiguous ending - benign, almost, as if you were recounting this as an anecdote in a social gathering - while Kinsale Horror carries through with the threats the setting makes.

As has been mentioned, this game has many parallels with a typical creepypasta - an almost real-world setting, amnesia, mutable settings - though I THINK I'LL STOP OFF ON THE WAY does make use of its format, by giving and removing player agency to drive in the creepiness.

Compound Fracture, by Jimmy Evans
A timed Twine game about dying in a car crash, December 17, 2016
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: melancholic
The actual text in this game is scarce, as words would be when oxygen is scarce, yet it begins with a blasť This game embraces deceptively simple text effects, where links wriggle and shift out from your cursor. Fragments of thought flick by under a visibly lengthening bar, with the implicit understanding that when that bar runs out, so does your time. The thoughts that flicker past hint at past regrets, a family less than proud of you: the usual emotional baggage, but even there's no time to pursue those thoughts. The writing, though sparse, has a stoic, matter of fact tone, from the first line: "you are going to die/okay". In one of the endings, you can do nothing but watch the timer count down.

This is a shining example of real-time effects done right, adding as it does to something otherwise quite simple. (This might be easier played with a mouse.)

Light into Darkness, by Christina Nordlander

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Short, disturbing parser game jumping between planes of reality, December 14, 2016
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: melancholic
[Depicts murder/violence, gore. Time to completion: 10-15 minutes]

This short parser game does not make for light reading, but it's so short that to explain more about its premise would spoil it. Suffice to say that the initial setup reminded me of Ecdysis (down to the mental images it conjured) and The Baron.

The PC switches between planes of reality within a few moves, constantly keeping the player off kilter. I found this pacing just right for the size of the game. The writing is tight, too, wasting no time on extraneous details.

The game was built on a small enough scale that I couldn't get lost, and of note is one scene in which the actions you have to do to move the story on is indirectly shown to the player. For its size, though, it still let the player decide on the ultimate interpretation of the PC's actions.

Discretion is recommended for player murder and violence.

All I Do is Dream, by Megan Stevens
A short game about the inertia born of depression. , November 24, 2016
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: melancholic
[Time to completion: 5-10 minutes]

This is a game about inertia. Every action you, the player, try to do is met with a refusal to do it: it's too daunting, it's too meaningless, it's too disgusting...

Conceptually, it's similar to Depression Quest, except that this game frames the PC's life in relation to Evie, their - I can't remember if it was explicitly said, but implicitly - the PC's partner, or at least girlfriend. However, it's very short, and it doesn't give a huge amount to judge it by. I can see it being expanded out, though. Even if some readers might tire of inhabiting the body of a PC who's tired all the time, the game as it stands makes me interested about, for instance, Evie.

I particularly liked this line: "You're good at pushing things, mostly because you have to push yourself to do anything, whether it's brushing your hair or getting a drink of water or going swimming with Evie. For that reason you're good at pushing everything back in the closet."

What really redeems it and lightens the tone of the game is how it ends on a hopeful note, which counterbalances the mood so far.

A Time of Tungsten, by Devin Raposo
A long Twine game about looking through another's eyes, November 22, 2016
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: melancholic
You are looking through the memories of an Agent aboard some kind of space outpost or spaceship. Your job is to figure out what was behind some unnamed disaster.

Characterisation is one of the stronger points of this game. As the PC switches between their own memories and those of the Agent's, the viewpoint characters' affection for their colleagues becomes clear.

I liked the switches between narration styles as well, to distinguish between the two timelines. The banter between the PC and the operator is casual, riddled with jibes at each other; the crew member's narration, in contrast, is stilted, almost, but contributes to a sense of distance - and, if I may say so, alienation. Dimensions are given to the nearest 0.1m; descriptions of dialogue and people are conveyed through lists of adjectives; body parts and bodily functions described as if the narrator wasn't used to them.

It's a slow burn, and I can see where readers might be put off early. The story slips between different timelines. Tenses change, not always consistently. Sometimes there's a wall of text, carrying information that the reader doesn't necessarily need to know. This, at least, is not necessarily bad. It suggests the author has thought about the game universe in depth. But what made me finish playing A Time of Tungsten wasn't the meticulous world building or the thought given to the technology in the world - it was seeing the characters gradually grow and warm to each other.


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