IF Comp 2014: Caroline

carolineCaroline (Kristian Kronstrand) is from the outset presented with professional slickness. The cover art is a designer’s piece more than a graphic artist’s – deftly handled colour palette, nicely integrated text, strong layout.

The actual game is a hand-rolled choice-based piece controlled by text input (not a parser, since it’s just matching strings). Very brief snippets of text describe a series of dates with the titular Caroline; at fairly regular intervals, you’re offered two different commands and type one of them in.

I found it interesting as a meditation on the difference between typing and clicking links or buttons. By and large, in the text-driven worlds we inhabit, typing is what we do when we’re creating or contributing, and clicking is what we do when we’re passively consuming; even perfunctory typing requires a level of attention and engagement that clicking may not. If this story – which does contain some significant choices, but in general contains a lot of choices which are denied – had been hyperlink-driven, I think I would have become disengaged from the decisions rather more quickly.

subjectivityOn the second date, the relationship moves into distinctly creepy territory when Caroline tries to draw you into a religious group with a definite cultish air about it. At this point the positive assent of the typed commands begins to feel creepy. This creepy sense is confirmed when the group delivers an ultimatum: if you want to keep seeing Caroline you have to join the group. If you insist on refusing them, you’re allowed to leave but lose Caroline in the process. If you accept, you’re baptised into the church and, shortly thereafter, told that you and Caroline are to conceive the second Son of God. You have sex; at climax, Caroline appears to grow glowing angel wings, and then… the text fades out.

‘It’s pretty damn creepy to be shepherded by the game into stuff you don’t really want to do’ is a venerable old theme in IF, about which I don’t know that a great deal remains to be said; it is a decent match for the text-input UI and the flirt-to-convert plot, nonetheless.

Rather like the cover art, the writing is deployed to maximally strong effect – delivered in small snippets, in an attractively simple layout – but as writing is not all that great. At the small scale, the diction is a little stilted and there are lots of small grammar and punctuation errors; at one point Caroline reads you a poem, which is pretty bad – but I didn’t feel enough confidence in the prose at large to be sure that it was meant to be pretty bad. At the larger scale, the characterisation isn’t capable of supporting the weight that’s placed on it: I didn’t feel invested enough in Caroline by the the time the ultimatum was delivered for it to even slightly outweigh the inherent creepiness, nor was the cult specified in enough detail to make it feel interesting.

(Also, not really related to anything, but there is a bit where, perusing Caroline’s bookshelf, your eye lights on the New Testament and you have the option to make conversation about it. I think this is meant as foreshadowing, but… c’mon, dude, there is basically no book whose presence on a bookshelf signifies less about its owner than than the Bible. Not even Harry Potter.)

I managed to make the game freeze at one point, on my third playthrough. Otherwise this all appears to run precisely as intended.

An excellent example of how much presentation and terseness can do to make text more engaging, and a worthwhile exploration of the effects of interactive fiction UI; but the content leaves something to be desired. Presentation only gets you so far.

Score: 5

(edit: probably revising this score downwards; I was uncharacteristically focusing on form over content)

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6 Responses to IF Comp 2014: Caroline

  1. Dannii says:

    Looking at the source code there are a few more endings. It looks like you got two of them. One of the others is that you can reject the church but convince Caroline to leave them too/save her from them. I’m not sure on which choices you have to take for that. The other alternative is at the end, when if you try to get out of the encounter she rapes you.

  2. Molly G. says:

    Oh hey, you got a freeze, too? I thought that might just be me and my janky machine. Nice to know it’s not THAT janky and old.

  3. Pingback: IF Comp 2014: Caroline (Kristian Kronstrand) | Emily Short's Interactive Storytelling

  4. Tom H. says:

    No, not just janky and old; there was an error in the source code. Author already knows about it and says he’s submitted a corrected version to the comp but doesn’t know whether/when they’ll make it available.

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