Introcomp 2014 – Mount Imperius

Mount Imperius is a Twine game about Mountaineering Going Wrong. After a disagreement over pay leaves them without a guide, a group of five mountaineers decides to press on anyway and almost immediately runs into trouble.

The writing style is straightforward and unembellished, and there is (as yet) not a great deal of interaction depth; the story thus far is pretty much a straight line with some optional details.

There’s a sense that the characters are meant to be at the heart of things. The intro spends most of its time on introducing them, but they’re only lightly sketched by the time the it concludes: Hartman is a pushy asshole, Blaine is cheerful and friendly. The writing focuses, sensibly, on offering us details about them, but on the whole they don’t work too well as telling details.

Emily blonde-hair-in-a-ponytail Blaine. She’d been wearing a purple v-neck sweater and a pair of jeans to the introductory meeting.

These are descriptive details, but they don’t add very much to character – blondeness, ponytails, v-neck sweaters and jeans aren’t really characteristics that suggest all that much about personality. I suppose that purple’s a fairly bold colour choice, which suggests she’s outgoing; and wearing jeans among outdoorsy types rather than the clan uniform of Arcteryx and Patagonia might be taken to mean a number of things – but if so, those are things that need to be drawn out a little more.

The drinks they chose at dinner described them well.

This is already a little too on-the-nose, a bit ‘hey, guys, I’ve got this rad characterisation device, you ready for it? Okay, here goes:’

Whiskey for Brad Hartman.

A sprite for Kent Riley.

Red wine for Larry Morinaga.

A fruity mixed drink for Emily Blaine.

And a seltzer for you.

I am absolutely in favour of booze as a character-suggestion tool, but this is too vague. What does ‘red wine drinker’ suggest? Mediterranean? Californian? Liberal? Academic? Middle-class? Peasant? Or are we meant to be comparing them to the drink itself, so that Morinaga is full-bodied and fruity with a hint of dryness? Is Kent Riley a recovering alcoholic, of an ascetic religion, just no fun? OK, probably we’re meant to gather that Hartman has an overpowering, rough personality and Blaine is cheerful and not afraid to be femme in a predominantly masculine environment, but that doesn’t add to what we already knew about Hartman.

The overall impression is kind of bland – these are all pretty generic drinks that most Westerners are likely to have consumed at one time or another. Details are good, but get more specific! Is Hartman knocking back artisanal single-barrel rye, or Rich & Rare? Blaine’s fruity mixed drink could be any number of girly cocktails, with very different connotations – a Cosmo does not send the same signals as a piña colada or a Zombie. Does Riley order Sprite with tired regret, boy-scout enthusiasm, an air of moral superiority?

The protagonist, Sanchez, is a bit stiff, self-conscious and stand-offish; she doesn’t seem to like any of her team-mates very much or (want to) have much interest in them, which makes her a tricky viewpoint from which to write a character-oriented piece. (Certain optional parts of the text hint at a backstory that accounts for some of her distance, so I suspect that dealing with her Issues is going to form a substantial thread of the story.) But this is one of the situations where you can legitimately call on suspension-of-disbelief: if being true to your viewpoint character makes your narrative bland, it’s OK to stretch plausibility a little.

The game also talks a little – but only a little – about mountaineering culture, and very little about the technical aspects of mountaineering. This is okay if that’s not the game’s focus, though I would be interested in seeing more about both of those.

Do I want to keep playing? I have not really been grabbed by this yet. It’s a subject that I haven’t really seen many games about and would be interested in seeing more of, but I think the prose and characterisation could stand to be a shade less sparse. In particular, I don’t really feel that I know Sanchez well enough yet to be invested in her; I’m cool with viewpoint characters who are closed-off because of Issues, but the audience still needs to be given reasons to warm to that kind of character.

Great Evil: As a straightforward choice-based game, there isn’t all that much to get wrong here. There aren’t any links left dangling, Javascript-gone-awry errors or typos.

Little Evil: Kind of bad. The game cuts out immediately after the Bad Stuff starts to happen – right after what feels like the first significant choice – so it’s not clear what the meat of the game will involve. It seems likely to more focused on social choices, about balancing or siding with different personalities under pressure, rather than the technical nuts and bolts of mountaineering; but that’s only based on the options I’ve seen thus far, and I don’t feel I have a strong handle on the story’s concerns yet. Is it a mostly-linear thing where the choices mostly propel you along the one story that the author wants to tell, a widely-branching story, or a branch-and-rejoin stat-based structure?

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