In its initial development, before I showed it to anybody at all, Scents & Semiosis was really just a pretty text-generating toy. I make a lot of cool text-gen toys, and I wanted this to be a bit more than that, something that was played rather than passively absorbed. I completely don’t remember how I got to the idea of selecting scent-notes to associate with meaning; it was part of that initial rush of design ideas that comes all a-tumble in the early life of a really exciting idea. But it was basically the last thing I put in place before I started reaching out to contributors. Continue reading
I made a game. It’s called Scents & Semiosis.
It’s a piece of interactive fiction about perfume, memory, and the process of assigning or re-evaluating personal symbolic associations with things: semiosis, the creation of meaning. I’ve been working on it for far too long, and – as is the wont of procgen pieces – it’s never going to be fully done, but it’s ready for public consumption.
A perfumer – someone fairly advanced in her field, with a peripatetic past – collects perfumes of particular significance, associated with specific memories. Periodically, she goes through the collection, remembering, throwing out no-longer-important ones, re-assessing what others mean. You get to see her past only as fragments; it’s not a methodical biography. It’s a reflective, relaxing kind of piece – not strictly reflective in the mechanical sense, but not a piece where challenge is important.
The good people (Pseudavid, Twine) is a piece of horror, or of horrific magic realism. A couple, Alice and Daniel, take their first holiday together; they are from different cultures, and the relationship is coming under its first real strain. They are visiting a ruin, a village once inhabited by Daniel’s ancestors, that was flooded by the construction of a reservoir and newly revealed by global warming-induced drought – and this has awoken a supernatural horror. Continue reading
Black Sheep (Nic Barkdull and Matt Borgard, Twine) is a cyberpunk mystery. Your father – head of a Singularity-focused corporation with a cult following – has died, and your sister has been kidnapped. The protagonist, Irene, is (despite a fake-out opening) not a PI, but is obliged to act like one.
Structurally, it’s a mystery plot on a timer: you can travel between different areas, but doing so advances your limited time, so the puzzle is not just about uncovering the clues, but doing so efficiently. In theory this is a nice compromise between making time pressure part of the plot and allowing the player time to explore – Heaven’s Vault does something similar – but it’s still set up to be challenging.
Flight of the CodeMonkeys (Mark C. Marino) is a cyberpunk-resistance story rendered in the Jupyter Notebook platform for Python coding. You’re a codemonkey, a peon making edits to obfuscated code that, apparently, runs your dystopian society. You interact by editing snippets of that code.
This is not really a novel idea, but it’s a challenging one to make work, and it’s something of an accomplishment that this is playable by people not fluent in Python and still works as a story. Continue reading
Pas de Deux (Linus Åkesson, Dialog) is a puzzle about correctly conducting an orchestra. You are the musical director of a community music group in the town of Bournebrook Rill, performing Tchiakovsky’s Pas de deux from the Nutcracker; the orchestra and score are implemented in fine detail, and solving this will take attention and precision.
Rio Alto: forgotten memories (Ambrosio, Unity) is an illustrated adventure game; a disappointed artist retreats to a rural town, where he finds himself entangled in mysteries, secrets and long-harboured resentments.
The game opens with a really welcoming piece of UI design: the epigram comes with sliders that let you choose font, font size and line spacing. If I’m being honest, though, on a mid-sized laptop some of the fonts were awkwardly small even at the largest size, and the font I did choose ended up awkwardly overlapping the edges of cards. Continue reading
Saint City Sinners (dgallagher, Twine) is a hardboiled-detective parody, explicitly after the style of Clickhole’s Clickventures series.
I know some real good writers who just goddamn love Clickventures. I always felt as though they were fine, but the ratio of wackiness to wittiness didn’t always work for me. For me, when you go very high-key wacky, you just need to land a whole lot more jokes – it gives you more ways to land a joke, yes, but you’ve got to keep them coming at a rate fast enough to stave off groans.
That’s how I feel about this, too: there’s a lot of wackiness, and some of it’s funny, but the overall effect wore a little thin for me.
The Shadow Witch (Healy, RPGMaker) is a short game in which you’re a mean witch and go around being a jerk.
I really don’t like RPGMaker. I realise, as an appreciator of parser-based IF, that I don’t have too much ground to hate on a platform designed around a horrible legacy UI, and which hobbyists frequently use for ill-matching ideas for lack of a more suitable platform. But I never imprinted on pixel-arty JPRGs in the first place, and I pretty much never want to deal with them. The Shadow Witch further bothered me by forcing full-screen, making everything huge and blurry and screwing all my windows up and not letting me tab out.
This is a piece of much more focused design than you usually see in RPGMaker, though: there are a small set of rooms, pretty much everything that looks like it should have descriptive text does, and the puzzle arc is simple and compact. You don’t spend any time running across huge areas or engaging in repetitive, grindy combat just because that’s what the platform supports. The character art’s pretty crude, but it’s applied consistently and it isn’t just RPGMaker defaults. Continue reading
A Blue Like No Other (Dan Cox, web) is a short piece told through an education game. The idea is that you’re doing digital archaeology on an old piece of unpublished language-teaching software, but All Is Not As It Seems. Continue reading