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About the StoryYou play Tony, a fourteen-year old thief who needs some help looting the legendary Oakville Manor. Luckily it's the 1980s and finding fellow adventurers is just a modem squeal away...
3rd Place overall; 1st Place, Miss Congeniality Award - 18th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2012)
Winner, Best NPCs; Nominee, Best Use of Innovation - 2012 XYZZY Awards
Rock Paper Shotgun
The Sound Of One Modem Dialling
The common complaint about IF is that those new to the form struggle to make games limited to text commands grasp what it wants you to do. As more an illustrated, interactive story than a game, Guilded Youth understands and uses so few actions that it’s navigable by basically anyone who’s ever used a computer before, and its limitations feel intentional, even charming in the context of its visual interface, which lends itself to thinking in the language of a clumsier age.
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Related reviews: teenage, young adult, nostalgia, treasure hunt, NPCs, Vorple, graphics, epilogue, romance
Once you get to grips with it, though, it's not quite there. Gameplay is restricted to a narrow set of verbs and interactions. This makes play easier, but has the side-effect of making Tony's engagement with his world and peers seem very impoverished: going on a great adventure doesn't change the fact that he's an awkward kid. Some games parlay limited verb sets into rich and engaging gameplay: Guilded Youth very much doesn't. Interaction rolls along smoothly enough, but it always feels constrained.
The narrative, too, is clipped, narrow, to-the-point; we see nothing at all about Tony's mundane life, or very much of what matters about alternative world of the BBS. The story offers subplots, suggestions of character arcs, then prunes them away after barely a plot beat. The story has been much-compared to 80s children's adventure movies, particularly The Goonies, but to me it felt more like YA novels of the same approximate era: willing to touch on big, thorny, uncomfortable issues, brave enough to avoid neatly resolving them. There's perhaps something to be said here about the experience of being a teenager, of being in a place where everything is done for a future that's taking its time in arriving; of feeling that everything important, everything fulfilling, has been indefinitely put off; but this explanation has the feeling of an excuse. Rather than a conscious design decision, it's probably the result of the game being written hurriedly as a tech demo for Vorple. Jim Munroe:
"I just kind of dropped it when I was done. Me and Matt considered it a lark, a nostalgic trifle, so much so that we didn’t anticipate people would care what happened to the quickly sketched characters."
(Post-comp, an epilogue was added, allowing the player to focus a little more on one of the characters. These sections add a small but important sliver of character development, player choice and much-needed narrative closure; they make the thing feel more like a complete piece, even if they don't entirely fix all its weaknesses.)
Nonetheless, it's a pretty damn good tech demo; the importance of launching a new IF tool with a first-class demo game can't really be understated.
Guilded Youth is a smooth playing and charmingly presented story about the suburban adventures of teenaged Tony. Tony is preoccupied with the cool local manor which is soon to be demolished, and he sneaks in there each night in search of treasure. The game is set in the 1980s and delivered through the prism of the imaginative life shared by Tony and his friends on their local Dungeons & Dragons BBS game, where he's Tony the Thief.
Guilded Youth is linear, but not "I don't feel like I'm doing anything" linear, and its production values, including some graphics and sounds, are impeccable. Its atmosphere works on a couple of levels, that of the world of teenagers in general, and also with a degree of specific nostalgia or period feel for folks who grew up in the 80s or like 80s things, and for the entertainment from that time. The original IFComp version of the game had a disappointing ending (I wasn't the only person to say so) but Jim Munroe revised the tail completely in response, and it's now as good as everything else.
The BBS world is presented in pretty green monochrome which makes way for a contemporary online style when you take Tony out on one of his nightly jaunts. Character portraits of your friends and inventory images surround the screen, and there are cool discrete sound effects if you play with the Chrome web browser. The game is also very simple to control, letting you know that there are only a handful of commands which are actually required for play, though others will work. On each of your trips to the manor at night you are accompanied by different friends from the BBS whom you attract to your party with loot from the previous night. I should make it clear that there is no actual RPG engine in play. Each object only persuades a certain friend to come with you, and only on a particular night, so the linearity extends to all areas of the game.
Guilded Youth recalled for me the atmosphere of many 1980s movies about gangs of adventurous teenagers. The characters in the game are excited that they're getting to have such adventures, and hope to enjoy and prolong this feeling as much as they can before the manor is torn down, symbolically ending the fun and ushering them further towards adulthood. The characters are only as open to us as Tony's point of view allows, and à la their BBS characters (or the cast of The Goonies) each teen demonstrates a knack for a particular skill or way of doing things that fits neatly with the structure of going out with a different one or two of them each night. Tony even gets to (Spoiler - click to show)smooch the cool girl, which was the romance every boy liked to imagine himself in when he watched something like The Goonies. At least I assume the other boys were thinking the same things as me but that we all just never spoke about it. What's funny about the NPCs in the game (or just jealous-making) is that even though they don't say a tremendous amount of stuff or stay onscreen long enough to do a tremendous amount of stuff, they manage to leave a great impression of their liveliness, individual foibles and relationships in a way that's both fun and realistic.
At first I was drawn in by the story (which I could relate to) and the thrill of exploration. However, the repetition and somewhat jarring moments of returning to "reality" interrupted this otherwise quite pleasant nostalgic experience.
I never felt much connection with the characters so the more emotional scenes had little impact. Repetition of the main scene quickly became tedious and the puzzles, while not difficult, were frustrating to execute. Ultimately I would not have pressed on with the game were it not for the charming interface.
This game is nice to look at but not as nice to actually play. In some ways maybe the 80s were really like that, but I wanted to re-experience my memories of that time period, not to be reminded of the dissonance.
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