ThThis 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: Moms
Genre/Format: fairytale fusion; riddle puzzle
My Playtime: ~10 mins
This breaks from my usual mold of “game put out by a developer” and more like a “we made a fun thing, and we’re just gonna share it, lol.” And I’m very glad they did because it’s adorable. My own family used to do a present game, and I’ve tried getting more and more creative with it. I wish something like this would work with them. It’s super cute with fun drawings and I’m definitely going to keep it in my back pocket as something to point out to new visual novel developers and IF writers.
It’s also nice to experience something not overly produced and help all us remember that there’s charm in simplicity.
Were you Ever Free?
Genre/Format: sci-fi, philosophical; walking sim
My Playtime: ~10 min
It was wrapped up in the visual novel tag, and I’m willing to take it under the broader category I’m now playing with.
It’s got “made for a jam” vibes, but that’s not a bad thing. Just means they packed the story in tight. The controls are a little fiddly, but I’ve seen that before in GameMaker-constructed games. The constraints of any jam can make working those bugs out difficult.
They do slam into the faux-deep “what is the nature of choice?” meta-narrative, but it really is one of the more interesting ways I’ve seen it done. The dev actually spoiled it a little in the game description (a lesson in marketing), and I would have liked to experienced it a little more organically.
All that being said, an okay game with an interesting structure that does make me want to go back and fiddle around some more in some of the rooms I missed. It leaves the impression of there being more under the surface which is, in my opinion, a good place to have your game.
Did you eat yet?
Genre/Format: slice-of-life; conversation sim
My Playtime: ~5 min
I can’t…gosh…I can’t really quite describe this one. Really, I’m just going to have to tell you to go play it. It’s a very visceral experience. It’s very short, but it really does what it’s trying to do so well that any longer would just destroy it.
It’s a wonderful example of how evocative you can be with something so simple and how to pack a lot of story into a single interaction. Another, more polished example of the power of simplicity.
Really. Go give it a read. Have a five minute heartache.
Once Upon a Winter Night the Ragman Came Singing Under Your Window
Dev: Expio, translation to English by Ruber Eaglenest
Genre/Format: horror; text parser
My Playtime: ~1 hr…or…you know…an eternity
I’m going to break down exactly how I experienced playing this bit of IF top to bottom.
It’s a text parser style game. Cool. I used to play A LOT of those as a kid. Didn’t finish nearly as many as I started, but I know how the games work. I also know, generally, how to brute force them if I get stuck on a logical leap. This is not a piece you can do that with because you have basically five chances to get it right, and there’s a specific order. If you get it wrong, you break the contract of The Ragman and have to restart.
Okay. Cool. I can figure this out. After thirty minutes of slamming every single verb at the game I could think of, however, I did NOT figure it out. I gave up.
But it haunted me. I had to know what the answer was. What did I need to give The Ragman?
So I called in backup in the form of my husband. Two heads are better than one, right?
Guess who also couldn’t crack it after about ten minutes.
So we downloaded the zblorb file and broke into the source code. And let me tell you! The answer? Bullshit! And kind of totally gross. And I never ever would have thought of it.
So what do we learn from this experience? Concept? Really interesting. I actually really like the idea of having limited chances to get it right. It forced me to properly think about the actions I was trying to take and not just “spray and pray.” But that did lead to frustration.
It’s important when building out puzzles to remember that that logic isn’t necessarily as objective as it seems. Part of presenting puzzles and obstacles is teaching players not only how to play the game but how to think like the game. Legend of Zelda games are a perfect example of this. They have a very unique internal logic. Once you learn it, you basically know how to play every Zelda game in existence, and may even have trouble with the games in the series that slightly break that mold. And yes! That’s extremely difficult! It’s also where having a second reader and some kind of QA will help you see the game from an outside perspective. So your players won’t get frustrated, and I won’t have to dig into your source code just to get to the answer.
Or at least provide a walkthrough. Walkthroughs are cool.
Mommy Waits for Us at Home
Genre/Format: slice-of-life, poetry; IF
My Playtime: ~5min
This is another shot-in-the-dark-let’s-see-what-this-thing-is kind of clickable. And yet another great example of what you can do with a simple narrative approach. It’s also an interesting experiment in the way the consumption of poetry and other linear writing can be affected by different multimedia approaches. Were I to read this in, say, a book or anthology it wouldn’t particularly stand out. Not that it’s bad, just…you know? Melancholy music and physical interaction, however, really changes the umami of the poetry.
And I love that. I love that we can do that, now.
So give it a play, see how it strikes you, and think about what new ways you can remix your own approach to writing.