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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.