This is Ludonarrative Scramble! Over the course of the week, I play a handful of (mostly) free, small, indie narrative games (visual novels, IF, text adventures, etc), and talk about them.
This week’s theme: More NaNoRenO 2020
Genre: Romance, Epistolary
My Playtime: ~40 minutes; endings 2/2?
Again, I started the week with a game I had high expectations for and was already planning on playing at some point, anyway. This was also the “other epistolary” game that I mentioned in my post from last week, so I was excited to try another version of the genre.
I very much love the story of this game. Devere? Love him. Love love love love him. It was a heart-warming little love story that I was very eager to watch unfold. Voice actors? AMAZING job! The collage cut-out approach to art was well-done and extremely charming. Very unique, very interesting, very lovely. Katy’s also got some really cool explanations of how she achieved some of it on her Twitter.
Now it did occasionally run into a problem that you just sort of see in epistolary works. Which is a few of the letters, in an effort to convey exposition, got a little clunky, but ya just kind of skim over and it doesn’t really terribly affect the overall presentation. My only major narrative qualm, really, is that I would have liked the framing device to be a little clearer a little earlier. I would have to puzzle out what I think a less oblique approach would be, but I have some inklings. Again, doesn’t really affect the overall presentation, and I’m only noting it because I’m nitpicky like that.
What’s funny, though, is I spent a lot of the runtime wondering if a visual novel was the most appropriate medium for the story. I put it on auto and just listened to it while I ate ice cream, and couldn’t help but think it wouldn’t have worked better as an audio drama. But then the letters and the images on the envelopes were such an bit of environmental story-telling. So maybe it should be a picture book? But then the voice actors! So, in a round-about way, I came back to thinking that a kinetic novel was the best approach, afterall. Especially since you did get a little bit of a choice in how the story ends. Overall, a very clever little game that takes an interesting approach to multimedia storytelling.
Genre: slice of life, urban fantasy; point and click
My Playtime: ~20 min; 1/? ending
This game is ADORABLE. I see games from this developer all the time and keep telling myself “oh, you need to play that, you goon.” So this time I made sure I slotted one in. I was NOT disappointed.
It’s short and it’s sweet, and I honestly cannot find a single big thing to find fault in. For me, it’s practically perfect.
The little mini-games were awesome, I love the conversations about consent in the context of vampires, and the included accessibility options were robust without being invasive. I’m going to take some hints from them in my future release.
I will say that it does have a very exploratory feel over a “story-driven” one, which some people might not like as much. I love it personally, but it’s a different narrative approach.
Now I need to play One Night, Hot Springs.
Cafe in the Clouds
Dev: Cafe Nemo
Genre: light fantasy; point-and-click
My Playtime: ~25 min; 1/? endings
This game frustrates me, and I hate that.
Because you start it up and it’s EXTREMELY polished looking. And it IS pretty polished. The art is lovely. The premise is cute. The writing is solid. They make good use of the engine. The team looks like they’re pretty comfortable in the project space and have experience.
But it falls apart, for me, in the way you have to interact with the game.
I know a lot of my irritations are very personal-to-me preferences that you would definitely see reflected in the games I make. I’m not a big fan of the way they decided to move their textboxes up and down between narration and dialogue in the early parts of the game. I turned off the vocal blips. The constantly moving little knife and fork right in the middle of the textbox kind of bugged me, and the sprites changed silhouette a little too often for my taste. These are all just preferences, of course, because I’m easily visually distracted and tend to prefer very minimalist, clean interfaces for text heavy games. That’s a “me thing,” but it sort of eats into my overall enjoyment of a game.
Then it actually gets to the puzzle part and I just…I really want to like it. But there’re a lot of tiny, frustrating flaws there in a very small amount of game.
As opposed to being a visual novel with game elements, the game is really structured more like a point-and-click adventure game with visual novel story-telling. That seems like a ninja-pirate vs pirate-ninja kind of distinction, but it’s important when discussing the mechanics of the game. You have to move through these puzzles to complete the game, and in my opinion, they’re a little too clunky and poorly vetted for something that controls the game flow so much. I feel like only about half of the clickable elements are effectively conveyed, and they change clickable state after certain event triggers without a visual change. So you don’t know you need to click on them again, later. Going through the bunny section I didn’t feel like I was actually solving anything, more like brute-forcing my way through to figure out what bunny needed to be talked to in what order. What logic was there didn’t quite flow. Using text for the final clock puzzle instead of imagery or symbology made that puzzle, for me, very difficult to parse, even before attempting to solve it. And not in a good, “aha moment” way. This kind of design paired with a lack of consistent interactive feedback almost led me to stop playing out of annoyance on more than one occasion.
Now, I just came off of working on It Had to Perish Twice which has a very heavy point-and-click influenced interface. I purposefully shied away from going too far into puzzle or adventure game territory specifically because I didn’t have time to design and field test it. I’ve also played A LOT of adventure games and point-and-clicks in my day, I know how difficult they are to get right, and I already have some pet peeves ready to be triggered. So I knew I might have some biases when working through this one that might be getting in the way of an objective critique. So I called in back-up and watched my husband who works specifically in game UI play the game and make the same decisions, actions, and assumptions I did.
So the puzzles need work.
Which is a bummer.
Because it looks like A LOT of work was put into this game, so the main gameplay mechanic falling apart for me so dramatically is kind of devastating. I really want to be in love with this game, and I just can’t in its current state.
And I can’t find a fifth ingredient for the dish. And I’ve played the game about five times looking for it. So. I don’t know what that’s about.
Genre: light horror, drama; sound novel
My Playtime: ~10 min
I saw “inspired by sound novels,” and that intrigued me. It also gave me a very quirky, experimental vibe. All these things were correct.
It was alright? I like a lot of the concepts and it reads well as flash fiction. Huge angsty Twine vibe which was, honestly, *chef’s kiss*, but there are a couple of specific recommendations I would have made were I editing it. It’s good, though! Moody and Aesthetic. I’m super critical of writing, especially when it comes to very prosaic, reflective pieces, and I’m trying not to do that to keep to the spirit of the jam.
I don’t know! Read it!
Spin Me Out
Genre: slice of lifey, dramedy
My Playtime: ~10 min; 2/ 3-6? (basing it on the way the conversations go)
This was a short one that didn’t have a lot of comments when I saw it, so I wanted to give it a play. This game is solid Mood™. I love its vibes and the amount of art in it considering the amount of time we had for this jam is extremely impressive. I love the rough watercolor approach, and the characters are fun and expressive.
The UI and some of the more programmy bits are a bit rough around the edges, but not to the point where it’s a distraction.
Where the game really needs a boost, though, is in the writing, both from a construction and a proofreading perspective. The grammatical errors can be dealt with. That’s whatever. Just need a good line editor. It would really benefit, though, from allowing you to spend more time with the characters you’re interacting with in the shed. You’re just kind of dropped into conversation with them.
But the conversations themselves are fun, and you still get an overall sense of the bigger story from all of them. A nice little game that I might come back to.