IF Comp 2016: 16 Ways to Kill a Vampire at McDonalds

16ways16 Ways to Kill a Vampire at McDonalds (Abigail Corfman, Twine) is choice-based but designed in a very parser / adventure-game style: it’s heavily concerned with the acquisition and usage of medium size dry goods, it’s set in a consistent map of a handful of rooms, and actions make a timer tick down steadily, encouraging you to slow down and consider your moves.

As the title suggests, it’s not about figuring one single solution; it’s about trying lots of different stuff in the knowledge that there are a lot of ways to succeed. That said, success isn’t trivial; you can think you’re pretty close to a solution but still get killed because you weren’t quite there. So, for a game which is over pretty quickly, there’s quite a lot in here – and it’s also got an achievement system to help you keep track of the vampire-killing methods you’ve found, and hint at the undiscovered ones.

(Also: in a parser game you’d need to describe all this stuff, and because we’re in a generic McDonalds late at night, most of the stuff would be pretty boring – unless the author  found a way to crack wise about the counter and the windows and so on. Parser becomes less valuable if you’re not very focused on setting.)

An often-tedious thing about vampire fiction is that everybody needs to have (and explain) their own iteration of Our Vampires are Different16 Ways just works on the principle that basically every story about vampires is true, and any way of killing them you’ve heard of will probably work. The game’s general vibe is that you’ve seen Buffy and Supernatural so you pretty much know the score; it suggests enough about the characters that they seem like real people, but it doesn’t expect you to be interested in extended backstories.

It’s witty, in a pretty specific register – a sort of Allie Brosh / Jenni Polodna girl-on-the-internet-being-perky-about-how-her-life-is-a-trash-fire voice. Even though its setting is objectively pretty grim, the tone feels enthusiastic and lively throughout. And there is, generally, a pretty optimism-among-garbage tone here. If you try to lure the vampire, it turns out that vampire seduction is really just hypnotic gaze plus shitty PUA techniques. On the other hand, the homeless woman who can be recruited to fight the vampire with the force of her faith does so not with the kind of fire-and-brimstone verses or Catholic-exorcism lines you’d expect, but Song of Songs. Song of Songs, apart from fitting very oddly in with the rest of the Tanakh, is basically an erotic poem about intense, reciprocal, probably spiritual and definitely physical love.

So, OK, one of the most common roles that vampires play is The Sinister Side of Sex. Which covers a bunch of things that are difficult to individuate when they appear in fiction; it can be tough to keep ‘this is my kink and that’s fine’ distinct from ‘I idealise abusive relationship dynamics’. 16 Ways handles this by showing the vampire’s seductiveness in a pretty functional way: the protagonist is someone who’s very used to dealing with vampire seduction, and manages by treating it as a completely physical reaction, to be handled as such. She doesn’t get enraptured by the dark compulsion of forbidden ecstasies, she gets high on vampire spit. The vampire himself is a pathetic creep; the danger he poses is real but not romantic, a problem that should be calmly and systematically addressed.

And on the other hand, there’s a lot of warmth between all the human characters, despite the setting being this basically alienating space. The protagonist’s team-mates are fondly described; the cashier you’re trying to save is ‘adorable’; the homeless woman takes some getting through to, but if you approach her sincerely then she’ll pitch in. So while the game doesn’t push on this all that hard, it’s got an underlying thesis about healthy relationships and the kindness of strangers driving out predatory shit. Which is not the most surprising theme in the world, and it’s not grappling with this stuff super-deeply, but it’s consistently articulated.

I think this is a pretty straightforward 7: it’s solid work, doesn’t have any glaring problems, and it’s a fun time.

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