IF Comp 2019: Citizen of Nowhere

citizenCitizen of Nowhere (Luke A. Jones, Inform) is a light puzzle game set in a fictional kingdom.

It reads very much like children’s fantasy: there is an assortment of odd but friendly characters, an animal companion, and a pleasant if not very consistent-feeling world, but not a lot of threat, conflict or immediately pressing plot. On the other hand, I get told to fuck off by a bath-towel-clad giant, so I guess the audience is adults who like low-stakes fantasy.

The stakes are so low that I found it hard to get very motivated about anything – you’re invited to a party by the king, so you (presumably) have to reach the castle. It’s unclear where the castle is, so you sort of poke around for a while until the map gets gated. It’s pitched as an old-school puzzle game, but it took me a little while before I encountered anything that was clearly a puzzle. The puzzles which do exist are deeply unmotivated: you have no idea why you need to get inside the windmill or win the sandcastle-making contest or annoy the giant in the shower, they’re just things that are there so you should probably do them. In theory you have to get to the castle, but it doesn’t seem like that big a deal, and you’re not really given any idea about where the castle even is, and its location makes no real sense. (When Donella or the tinker or the sandcastle judging committee want to go to the capital city, do they have to defeat snakes and traverse mazes and interfere with a giant’s bathroom?)

So I think the particular kind of old-schoolery it wants is something like a Jacaranda Jim deal, of a world where you explore and grab stuff because you’re an adventurer, but basically nothing else needs to make all that much sense beyond its own immediate context. (The thing about that very old-school random-assortment-of-puzzles deal is that it kind of relies on a playtime of dozens of hours.) Why do you need to win a sandcastle contest? Because it’s there. Why do you attach a magnet to your fishing-rod and go fishing in random waters? Because that’s a puzzly kind of thing to do. And there’s no kind of regularity to the kinds of puzzles: one moment you’re constructing a musical instrument to charm a snake, the next a giant bat is asking you visual-pun riddles. Some puzzle-games, I bounce off but I can see how I could get into a groove on how their puzzles operate: here there’s no groove.

The setting is a lot of the immediate appeal of the piece: we’re aiming for a pastorale, an idyll of attractive countryside.  It has its moments, but, once again, it’s very inconsistent at the nuts-and-bolts level.

northern woods
You are on a path in the woods that runs from North to South. The trees are densely packed; shards of sunlight stab through the small gaps in the canopy. It is humid in here. The floor of the forest is thick with leaf litter from countless autumns.

You can see a twisted oak here.

There’s some decent imagery here, but there’s lots of little things off. The room title isn’t capitalised, but the directions in the description itself are. The twisted oak gets a default initial-appearance line that doesn’t relate it to the image we’ve already built up. And immediately adjacent we have a description almost devoid of imagery:

Southern Meadow
You are in the Southern Meadow on the edge of the Northern Woods.

You can see an old tree stump here.

There are lots of small errors and uneven elements like this, which add up to a sense of something that’s not quite finished.

The blurb mentions ‘dry humor.’ What you get is… puns.

The sea looks a weird shade of orange today, perhaps it’s a trick of the light, or is it just a fanta sea?

ALSO.

>x mushrooms
The mushrooms are small and brown, with spindly stalks and a large conical cap that obscures the gills. You recognise them as being of the psilocybin “hallucinogenic” genus. Dylan accidently ate some of these a few years a go and spent six hours staring at a dandelion.

>eat mushrooms
You decide that a six hour hallucinogenic mind bending trip would probably not be the best idea right now, and decline to eat them.

Buddy. I am in a pretty forest, close to the safety of home, and I have so little going on that I just sat around doing literally nothing for twenty hours awaiting the results of a sandcastle-making contest. It is never going to be a better time for a six-hour shroom trip.

This definitely has its moments; I could see it developing into a cosy fantasy along the lines of Eastshade. But right now it’s very uneven, and I can’t see anyone playing very far without heavy reliance on the walkthrough. This is scoring somewhere in the crowded 3-4 zone.

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