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Winter Storm Draco

by Ryan Veeder profile


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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Baffling (but in a good way), December 15, 2016
by TLeather (London, UK)
Winter Storm Draco is a perverse game. It defies the player to grasp what kind of game it is by constantly changing tack in both its gameplay and its story, beginning with exploration and a light puzzle, followed by combat, then an otherworldly dialogue before the much more worldly ending.

The narrator also delights in baffling expectations by occasionally breaking the fourth wall to remind the player that this is a game, mentioning the “author” and at one point explicitly referring to the combat as a “minigame”. Even the game’s subtitle seems to mislead: it’s billed as “an interactive documentary”, but it’s not what most people think of as a documentary. At the end of the game, if the player chooses to view a list of amusing commands, they’re scolded and told that “This interactive documentary is for educational purposes only. It is not intended to amuse.”

Why the game does this isn’t clear. Are the supernatural elements figments of the protagonist’s imagination? Are they hypothermia-induced hallucinations? Does breaking the fourth wall remind the player that what’s happening may not in fact be happening? There's no answer to these questions, but the fact that I was left wondering them at all tells me that the game captured my attention more than I had expected it to, given its short length and seemingly banal premise (the game begins with the player carrying hot dogs and wine home from the supermarket).

Remove the postmodern expectation-breaking, and the game is relatively straightforward. It’s atmospheric, it’s amusing, and it’s varied (you may not quite know what’s going on, but you won’t get bored of trying to work it out). On the other hand, there’s not much to it: there’s only one possible path, there’s very little to do or explore that’s not part of that path, the puzzles are light and not all that satisfying, and the story is interesting but not particularly moving.

The game is well worth playing - it’s short and intriguing - but you shouldn’t expect too much from it. In fact, try not to expect anything in particular: Winter Storm Draco likes nothing more than confounding expectations.

Comments on this review

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Ryan Veeder, December 19, 2016 - Reply
I'm not sure how correct it is for an author to respond to a review in this way, but I am in hour 36 of a long plane trip and extremely bored. I am sure no jury would convict me if I were charged with answering some of your questions:

Nobody in the game is hallucinating. The in-universe realness of the supernatural events has no bearing on what the story is or what it means—that I know of, anyway.

I don't think I address players directly for purposes of reminding them about what is or isn't real. I never expect anybody to lose themselves in the story so much that they forget they're playing a game. Often I address the player just to be funny, but in a couple places in this game I did so because breaking the fourth wall was the most elegant solution I could figure out for certain game design problems.

The propsition that "[this game] is not intended to amuse" is an obvious lie.
TLeather, December 21, 2016 - Reply
Whether it's 'correct' or not (I don't think Emily Post ever wrote about the etiquette of IF writers responding to reviews), I certainly appreciate hearing from the author! That said, I'm also a huge proponent of Death of the Author, so I'll take your answers as possibilities instead of the immutable Word of God.

Reading back on my review, I might need to make it more obvious that the fourth-wall-breaking was funny and that humour was its most obvious purpose (the 'minigame' and 'not intended to amuse' jokes were some of my favourite moments of the game). I was interested in thinking about (or at least raising the question of) what other effect they have on the game. Individually, each is just a joke, but I felt that taken together in a short game they certainly set a certain tone.

I'm intrigued about which instances of breaking the fourth wall were there to solve design problems. What sort of thing did you mean?

(p.s. I hope the plane trip wasn't too painful!)
Ryan Veeder, December 21, 2016 - Reply
The instance I was thinking of was in the crow "puzzle" near the beginning. Waving is a default Inform 7 action, but it's not one that gets used much at all, so I knew I had to be very generous with the hinting. That's fine, because "figuring out" this "puzzle" isn't the point of this part of the game—it's just a fun detail in the midst of more pertinent action. (When the same puzzle shows up later in the game, it's hinted less conspicuously, because the goal and stakes are different.)

The way to make a guess-the-verb puzzle painless is to put the verb in the text of the game. This setting is so sparse, though, that there isn't really a way to casually bring up the idea of waving at crows. There's nobody to talk to; there's no journal written by the last guy to get lost in these woods. To hint the solution "organically," you'd have to have an internal monologue where the PC thinks back to a time when you bothered some crows by waving at them. Maybe that would work, actually. I don't know if I thought of that at the time.

But the need to clue the verb so explicitly is already pushing up against mimesis, because we're engaging not with the part of the player's brain that's absorbed in this world, but with the part of the player's brain that's scanning the text for possible words to type. As I see it, communicating out-of-universe mechanical information while trying to pass the relevant sentences off as in-universe narration is less elegant, or maybe less honest, than turning away from the player character for a moment to address the player with some player-relevant information.

Maybe I should say that I don't think that much about these things while I'm writing. In this medium, players are constantly reading sentences like "If this is your first time playing, type ABOUT" and "That's not a verb I recognize," where "I" means "a talking computer program," usually without even brackets or italics to separate them from the sentences that come from the world of the game. I've always felt like I already have a direct line to the person doing the typing, so taking advantage of that isn't always a conscious decision.

Speaking of which: I'd like to tell anyone reading this comment that I wouldn't have indulged in nearly so much breathless self-analysis if I hadn't been asked a direct question!
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