IF Comp 2014: Enigma

enigmaEnigma, by Simon Deimel, is a parser-based Inform game about reconstructing memories in a frozen moment. Since figuring out where you are and what is going on comprises the majority of the game, any review will inevitably be spoilery as all get-out; consider yourself warned.

Also the plot involves girlfriend-murder.

This feels like something of a throwback: it fits in alongside Aisle or Galatea as games which are basically about thinking up something – a topic of conversation, a command-phrase – and seeing what that does to piece together a backstory. In this case, these are nouns picked out from the text, which can either be examined or thought about; other actions don’t become relevant until relatively late in play. Initially, you know nothing at all about either your environment or your past: as you piece together the past, your surroundings become clearer.

The long and short of it is that your best friend Tim was dating your sister Gina; she wanted to break up with him and he killed her, and now he’s proposing a murder-suicide. You wrestled a gun away from him, and now you’re pointing it at his head.

Mechanically, this is an approach that will never flow entirely smoothly, and the trick here is that whereas Galatea or Aisle or Pick Up The Phone Booth And Aisle are basically divergent plots, this is about uncovering a single plot in a relatively linear fashion. Fortunately there’s a HINT function to alert you to the next important element.

>think about remarks
Your sister had confided in you; she had told you about her thoughts and plans, so you were aware that the relationship could end. She had not told you much about her motives though; she had just mentioned that her feelings had changed. You sincerely hoped that it would not change anything about your friendship with Tim. You would not want to take sides against anyone.

Like a lot of the game, this feels like the outline for a piece of writing – a summary of plot-salient information, rather than the substance of it. The author’s notes explain that it’s intentionally sparse for mechanical reasons – since every noun can be considered, it makes sense to keep that set limited to avoid combinatorial explosion. Compelling writing within those limits is a tough challenge – almost a formal-poetry kind of constraint – and the author kind of withdraws from it. The main story-specific details that we get are about the Idaho setting – but even these are the kind of thing you’d gank from Wikipedia.

Anyway, this is a scenario which derives all its potency, as a story, from the extent to which we’re invested in the characters, but the characters are more storyboard outlines than characters, so ultimately it doesn’t really work. Which is a shame, because this A Mark On The Wall approach is pretty cool.

There are three possible outcomes at the end: abandon the gun (in which case Tim kills you), shoot Tim, or give Tim the gun (which leads to a murder-suicide). Calling the cops is not an option (or, I dunno, it’s a holiday cottage in Idaho so it may not have a landline and cell reception is probably a distant dream, but if so we can surely work something out with duct-tape or a car trunk). I suppose that is the least Angsty Drama option, but I prefer my teen drama to feature at least the possibility of forgoing Angsty Drama in favour of Growing The Fuck Up.

Explores a cool technique that doesn’t get used enough; shame about the actual content.

Score: 5

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