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Review: Andy Kelly’s Derelict

Review: Andy Kelly’s Derelict

Derelict Screenshot

Derelict
by Andy Kelly
2017
Hypertext / Twine Game


Derelict was written by Andy Kelly, @ultrabrilliant on Twitter, writer for PC Gamer, and contributor to Edge and The Guardian, amongst other places. It’s a short — I played in less than an hour — interactive horror science fiction story.

Like most people, I go through the story once on my own before reading what other people say about it, especially since this is a freely-provided online version. Go check it out on itch.io. I’ll wait for you to get back.

If you went off to experience the story for yourself, welcome HOME; and if you didn’t go off to explore the story yourself you’ll have missed the reference, so I recommend you do before going further.

One of the great things about Twine games is that I see a new format of story practically every time I see a new game. Twine is an accessible platform for writing interactive fiction, but it’s truly the ingenuity of the authors that brings the medium to life.

Derelict tells the story of the Orkney, a ship on an interstellar mission from the solar system to a colony 49 weeks’ travel away. All you know upon embarking on this interactive quest is that it’s your job to find out what happened to the missing crew of a vessel found drifting in space.

The conceit of the narrative is that you are examining the retrieved data from the black box found onboard the vessel, piecing together a narrative to inform your corporate superiors what happened to their investment.

Interactive narratives such as this one are interesting primarily because they often put you in the shoes of the implied reader of the story, instead of divorcing you the reader from the person the story is talking to. In this case, you have an in-story explanation of why you are trawling through reports, chat logs, and sensor sweeps: you’re the investigator figuring out the events as they occurred leading up to the discovery of a derelict ship.

I don’t know whether it’s the influence of Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, or the various military science-fiction novels I’ve read, but when a narrative delves into the daily lives and interactions between members of a crew aboard a space-faring vessel, I fall in love immediately.

This is a short piece, which is in some ways disappointing, and in others is perfect. What Kelly did with this story was give us just enough information, and the tantalising knowledge that there was more to read that we just didn’t recover, to know something important about these characters. We empathise with the pair who are clearly romantically interested in one another, we know that the corporate spy/representative is just doing his job as well he can when the rest of the crew think he’s on the ‘other side’, and we uncover just the briefest of rumour about the captain’s former partner.

These things all come together for us, the readers, to feel genuine horror when something happens to the crew. In typical horror science-fiction fashion, the crew falls apart roughly one member at a time until only a few are left. For a short time, we become embroiled in the lives of these men and women… only for that façade to crumble when we remember why we are reading the logs.

I said, “that we just didn’t recover” earlier and this is the other aspect I wanted to highlight. This narrative, short though it may be, gives you as the player/reader a direct role in the narrative through the interface of the webpage. You take on the role of the Sonmi employee who is trawling through recovered data. The highlighted hexadecimal ‘buttons’ are surrounded by those that cannot be clicked. What was in those files? How much more would we know if those had been recovered? What’s behind the screen!?

The interactive element adds a layer to the story that enriches the narrative, and the upside is that it’s easy for both the reader to imagine those extra pieces of story, and for the writer to imply that there are other parts to the story to see. Some may consider this a short cut, I suppose, but Kelly purposefully wrote a short piece, so we must forgive him.

We need more stories like this. Derelict is a fun, short romp through an easy-to-navigate system that gives you a sense of a wider world and more to discover that I find irresistible.

Review: Michael Lutz’s My Father’s Long, Long Legs

Review: Michael Lutz’s My Father’s Long, Long Legs

screenshot

My Father’s Long, Long Legs
by Michael Lutz
2013
Hypertext / Twine Game


Players of My Father’s Long, Long Legs will probably never find a piece of hypertext more aptly described by the phrase “digging yourself a hole”.

This twine game, from Michael Lutz’s site Correlated Contents, explores the topic of an absent father in a rather peculiar way. You play as the eldest child, nameless like the other characters, identified only by their relevant roles: Father, Mother, Brother, Brother’s Friend, etc. Then through clicking hyperlinks to reveal more text, you burrow deeper into how the family is affected once the protagonist’s father begins digging in the basement of their home.

As you play the game, you learn little about the protagonist but much about her family. The first ‘choice’ you’re presented with is an option to learn more about your brother, mother or yourself (although, the latter only provides extra insight on the protagonist’s family situation and gender, as she’s later referred to as “young lady”).

The choices themselves are less about what dialogue the player accesses and more about what order it’s accessed in. The previously mentioned “Brother”, “Mother” and “Yourself” options must all be viewed to advance, but you can view them in whatever order you like. Similarly, to progress through the game, the player must click the link in the current passage to reveal the next passage.

As each passage is revealed the webpage becomes longer, revealing a daunting wall of text to the player. It’s easy then to imagine that you’ve done some digging yourself, buried deep in this black background, going deeper the more you read. Towards the end of the game’s first phase, you’re asked to make a real choice in My Father’s Long, Long Legs, but even this only results in a small dialogue change.

Then in phase two things get a little more interesting.

I categorise phase two by the change in background and how you read the text. In phase one, all the text you’ve read so far is still visible. You can scroll up and return to the beginning of the story, although it’s impossible to make any changes to your choices without restarting the game. However, in phase two each choice you make takes you to a new screen. Some screens are even repeated depending on which options you pick.

Not to mention, everything is black besides a small circle you control via mouse. This allows you to read the text underneath the circle, simulating a torch held by the protagonist. There are also audio elements, the sound of digging, and the humming of Johnny Cash’s “You Are My Sunshine” right at the end.

The player is now faced with choices again, heading in certain directions or performing other actions, trying to navigate the protagonist through the basement. I’ve completed the game a few times yet I struggle to discern whether specific choices take you to the ending quicker or not.

At times, the unsettling sound of digging in the background seems to become more loud or quiet depending on the choices taken. Perhaps this signals the player to follow their ears to reach the end, much like The Forest Temple in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina Of Time. Alternatively, it could be a certain number of choices that lead the player to the end, as they wander lost through the same few sets of decisions.

Overall, My Father’s Long, Long Legs is an engaging – and towards the end, frightening – piece of hypertext, lacking only in the branching paths so familiar to hypertext fiction. But despite the game only having one path, it’s a path well worth walking if you have twenty minutes to take in the scenery.

Review: Michael Lutz’s the uncle who works for nintendo

Review: Michael Lutz’s the uncle who works for nintendo

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the uncle who works for nintendo
Michael Lutz
Interactive Fiction / Twine Game
October 2014


the uncle who works for nintendo (TUWWFN and capitalised in some uploads but not in his website) is exactly the kind of IF you’d expect from someone who also authored a game called the bones picked clean and the clean bones gone. The origin of Lutz’s problem with capitalisation is a mystery but he certainly knows how to write in Twine.

This game takes around 15-20 per play through and has five possible endings so if you’re the kind to want to find every possibility, I recommend setting a few hours aside to immerse yourself in this fiction.

In Lutz’s words, his piece “uses a horror framework to think about misogyny and emotional abuse and manipulation”. So even though the title references a company well known for brightly-coloured characters and kid-friendly universes, TUWWFN is a chilling story set in childhood. The misogyny in the piece, admittedly, seems a bit stuck-on for bonus points and is only really present if you go through a specific path but manipulation (of people and of facts) is as clear as day.

If you’re going to read this, I have two pieces of advice. Turn your sound on (hello sound effects), and question everything.

The first thing you do is pick the name of your best friend which is a refreshing change. Normally you’re picking who you are. From there, it matches your general Twine fiction: you’re given a few possible paths to take and you’ll be affecting your ending the whole way. The whole way through, you take the lead and the world around you is affected by your actions.

One interesting innovation used in the piece is Lutz’s use of coding language within the game itself. This gives an extra level of understanding to those who have also used Twine but also has the added benefit of formatting the text differently to the rest of the passage. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, just take a look.

Though Lutz seems to have a few issues with commas, it doesn’t detract too much from the story itself and though the piece does have some interesting innovations, some of the dialogue is reminiscent of everyone’s first two years writing awkward overly-polite conversations between their characters.

That said, the basic scene-setting isn’t too bad. If you’re in the habit of skim-reading IF, you might need to make the effort to read it through. Links to other passages are dotted throughout each passage and can change the reading and the ending you’re in store for. Even if you’re redirected back to the same passage, you’ll find differences in the text if you look closely enough.

Lutz has also cleverly made the game in such a way where you’re not sure if things are broken or if it’s just meant to back you into a corner. Not everything in this game is as it seems at first. Though that sentence could be taken as a motto for this piece.

Though, at the time of writing this review, I haven’t yet gotten all five endings, I would say this game has a high degree of re-playability. The desire to see what choices will lead us where and how you can avoid meeting the same sticky end you already found.

I wouldn’t put this game up there with AAA horror games, but it is a bit spooky and I’d recommend that you read it in a well-lit room with a warm drink if you’re not of a robust disposition.

To see more of Michael Kurtz’s works, visit his website here.

Review: Gone Home by The Fullbright Company/Unity

Review: Gone Home by The Fullbright Company/Unity

Gone Home Logo

Gone Home
by The Fullbright Company / Unity
Console Game
2016


Gone Home is a first person adventure exploration game, first made for PC but then later developed for consoles. You play the game as 21-year-old Katie Greenbriar who has just returned home from travelling abroad. But it isn’t the home she left; it’s unfamiliar and peculiar despite being filled with everything she has ever known and loved, apart from one thing. Her family.

You start the game standing in front of the house, the lights off and a note taped to the door. Nobody is home. Once inside it’s time to explore and discover where the family has gone. Within the house you can interact with every light switch, open every drawer and pick up every book. It is one of the most interactive ‘point and click’ games I have played and thus enjoyed.

During the gameplay you learn about Katie’s family: Sam Greenbriar (sister), Janice Greenbriar (mother), and Terrence Greenbriar (father). What the family home lacks in life, it makes up for in notes, diary entries and snippets of clues that elude to the reason behind the missing family. As the game moves on, the house’s sinister past is revealed. A storm batters the windows. The TV is stuck on static.

The true control however, is in your hands. As the player it’s your job to decide what is and what isn’t important in finding what’s happened to Katie’s family. Hints and narrative guide you towards the next point but ultimately you choose where to go, how long you want the journey to last and for how long you are willing to get lost in the mystery.

However, if you are someone who likes clear direction and a linear narrative then this probably isn’t the game for you. On more than one occasion I became frustrated, not knowing where to go or what to do. The confusion of which clues to follow and which to ignore coupled with the seemingly never ending sands of time, leads to a feeling of restlessness. At times, I felt overwhelmed by the sheer number of objects that I was able to interact with in the game, in some ways giving too much freedom. After a while, I listlessly threw some of the objects around the room before getting back on track with the narrative. The lure of the dark, brooding house brimming with secrets and bodiless voices is a failsafe way to draw you right back in.

What is so compelling about Gone Home is the way it pulls you slowly into the story. The narrative is fully immersive, created by handwritten notes, answer-phone messages and the unsettling sounds of an abandoned house. In addition, the storyline and characters have been well devised, from the sass of Sam to feeling sorry for Terrence all whilst turning corner after corner in the darkened house.

It’s messy, it’s complicated, and full of secrets. After all, what’s more intriguing than someone asking you not to go digging around for answers?

Gone Home is available for PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4.