This is Ludonarrative Scramble! Over the course of a 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: entries in the Game Maker’s Toolkit Jam
I’ve always been vaguely aware of this jam because I follow the Game Maker’s Toolkit. It’s a 48 hour jam typically focused on mechanics, but this year I ran across a few more narrative focused games. So I thought it would be fun to give them a shot!
Genre: romance, comedy; arcade
My Playtime: ~10 minutes
Okay, here’s the deal with this game. It’s really stupid, but also adorable. It’s the right kind of just silly, nonsense, let’s play bumpers cars in the kitchen kind of game. It’s not actually a narrative game, so it shouldn’t technically be here, but I PLAYED IT. And they bothered to put a story wrapped around arcade mechanics, so screw it. It’s cute.
Here’s the thing, though…when you’re actually doing the bumper car gameplay, there’s a major technical flaw. As you’re playing text boxes with fun dialogue pop for the characters, and it freezes the bumper car controls. And the textbox is constantly popping up. Like…every two seconds. I was having to constantly dismiss it. This is funny to me because if they fixed this flaw, tightened up the bumper car controls, and polished it up, this is the exact kind of bullshit game I would play all the way through on my phone. Something akin to this would be my next My Horse Prince easily.
Genre: sci-fi, slice-of-life; visual novel, conversation sim
My Playtime: ~5 min; 1/4? endings
This was really charming! I’m always interested to see how people handle a purely narrative game in such a small timeframe, and this was a really clever way of doing it. It also uses a scripting language/engine I’m not really familiar with, and I’m going to have to investigate it.
I was little chagrined, at first, that there wasn’t some sort of background, but I got over it. It’s rough around the edges, but it’s of the more uniform kind that reads as style and character rather than lack of skill. I also really enjoyed the approach of using just dialogue for the options with no narration-style description. It’s a fun challenge, and it gave the game something a little extra. It’s also got some really solid, fun alien design which I just love immensely.
Genre: slice of life; visual novel
My Playtime: ~15 min; 1/2? endings
I love this duck oh my god?!? While it’s about as polished as I would expect for a jam game, this is an incredibly asset-dense little visual novel for the time frame. There’s a lot of art and a lot of writing and it’s well-done. The art has got that homegrown appeal, and they do a great job at telling a very compact story that still meets all the narrative beats. And with discussions of school-related anxiety, I’m definitely keeping this on my list of “visual novels to show kids.” It’s really really cute.
Genre: various; text adventure
My Playtime: 5:11-5:20; 1/10? endings
Okay, this one’s tricky. I think this game actually does something really really cool in blending the meta interaction of games, in general, with the narrative. Kind of like a reverse text parser. You have all the options, now how do you make them affect the story?
I don’t think it’s implemented well, though, which kills it for me. The writing is…just…not good, both grammatically and structurally. And I try to be really chill with that because I don’t want to be mean to anyone who doesn’t speak English as a first language, but when your game is only text it makes it really hard to overlook that kind of thing. The game also doesn’t teach you how to play it. I literally only figured it out because I went into the options menu to see if there was a way to turn off the glitch effect and realized “Oh….okay…this is where the actual gameplay is.” It doesn’t even use the words “Options” (just “menu”) to give you a hint off the title.
When you’re doing something experimental that breaks the assumed rules of normal gameplay, you have to work in some slightly more robust hints, even if it feels like hand-holding.
So, overall, cool idea done eh, which is a shame.
Genre: drama; visual novel
My Playtime: ~7 min; 2/2 endings
Mmmmmmm I don’t know about this one. So at first, when I saw it was made in Ren’py, but it was about bomb defusal I was curious how they were going to manage it. When the choice was presented as “do this or that” I was like okay, cool, I can dig it. I got what they were going for, now let’s see how they twist it.
But then it just…didn’t seem to have a point. At first you’re following directions, and if you get it wrong, BAD END. Cool. Makes sense. But then, later, they just, turn off the “directed option” and you have to pick the other one, and I guess the implication is that I know better than the person giving me directions? I guess? But how do I know this? Maybe I’m a dumb-ass.
Overall it just felt pointless. My only options were follow directions or blow us up, except when I’m not given any choice. And I recognize that the theme of the jam was “Out of Control,” but it doesn’t do anything smart or interesting with the idea or “oh now, you can’t make a choice here.” It’s just taking a choice away for the sake of taking a choice away. I don’t man…I don’t know…
I feel like I could see the potential for a much more interesting game there where you actually have to decide whether to trust your training or trust the person talking to you, and this just wasn’t it.