IF Comp 2014: Origins

Origins (Vincent Zeng and Chris Martens) is a choice-based piece, a slice-of-life thing in which two characters act simultaeneously. It is very short – a single playthrough takes a minute or two.

Origins features two characters, a runner and a bike courier, traveling in close proximity and with the same destination. It’s a rainy day, and negotiating the city streets involves many small impediments. Depending on your actions, one or the other may miss the delivery window for the courier’s package. There is a lost dog in the area, which may interact with one or both of the characters. As far as I can work out, its form is a naively branching time cave, without rejoining branches.

In talking about A dark and stormy entry, I said this:

Rather, the time cave is the result of authorial interest in broad, open possibility.

Very often, the structure of a CYOA reflects its attitude towards freedom vs. constraint, escapism vs. trap. Time caves – heavily-branching structures without substantial rejoining and with many endings – typically reflect an excitement about open possibility, with stories flying off in crazy directions. Different branches often occupy wholly different realities. Here, however, it’s about the small knock-on effects of small decisions, and grounded in a single, mundane reality.


Games in which two or more characters are controlled at once by the same command input are a well-established concept. In platformers, 2D map games and the like, it’s often a purely mechanical element: the PCs act alike because they are alike, and the twist comes from the possibility opened up by their different positions. Another tack has been controlling analogous action of two very different PCs in different worlds, as exemplified by What Linus Bruckman Sees When His Eyes Are Closed; in IF, you’ve got JB Ferrant’s Works of Fiction and this comp’s Raik.


Works of Fiction, by JB Ferrant.

 Like Works of FictionOrigins displays its output in two parallel panes. The difference is that Works has only one set of input – trying to interact directly with the right-hand, fantastic reality doesn’t work, and you have to direct action in it by interacting with the left-hand world. In Origins, there’s no fantastic element, the two characters occupy the same world, and commands can be issued through either. There is very little difference between them, either stylistically or with respect to their situation and decisions.

Origins is not quite a tech demo, and its prose is quietly capable, but it does seem intentionally limited content-wise. It’s a decent representation of the cognitive tunnel vision of mid-distance cardio, of Being In The Zone, of having the world narrow down to a small set of simply-negotiated decisions. The flowy nature of hyperlink CYOA is a good match for that state, and I don’t think I’ve seen that highlighted in a game before. (It helps, I confess, that I played this on a gloomy autumn morning after a night of heavy rain, with legs itching for exercise.)

This aside, it’s very slight. The characters are boiled down to a very simple, immediate kind of agency, with the rest of their personalities and lives elided. Some of the choices involve weighing consideration for others against one’s own pressing needs and annoyance – the courier, in particular, has a number of chances to act like an asshole – but it’s all very lightly treated. The rain’s a none-too-subtle signifier for this: rain obscures and washes away, moments will be lost in time.

I approve of experiments, but the kind of experiment I approve of most is that which stands up on its own as more than a conceptual example – particularly if we already have closely-related examples. This is a general style of experiment which is pretty cool every time someone tries it, but I mostly want to see it treated as a baseline, a taken-for-granted approach to build something on.

Still, for a bagatelle it’s capably-executed and doesn’t outstay its welcome.


Score: 5-6

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