IF Competition: Everybody Dies

Another IF Comp review, following my format for this comp. There is a cut, then any spoiler-free comments I have, and then spoiler space, and then more detailed feedback that assumes the reader has tried the game.

But first, we have some obligatory filler to try to make sure that the RSS summary does not accidentally contain any review. Filler, filler, la la la…

Okay. Here we go.

I really like this. This is a tight game. The writing is snappy — I’m reminded of Sherwin here and there, as it shares a Sherwinesque interest in the lifestyles of the poor and not-that-glamorous. But it’s distinctly its own thing. The viewpoint characters have personality. The illustrations are stylish and good. High production values there. Puzzles are pretty easy but manage to be interesting anyway, because they mostly have to do with tense or personally-charged situations. And the implementation is excellent; perhaps it’s telling that this game boasts eighteen beta-testers. All in all, it’s a piece that feels assured about what it’s trying to achieve.

If I have any complaint to make, it’s about the brevity — I wouldn’t have minded playing more of it. But, that said, it doesn’t feel falsely truncated. The story is complete as it stands.

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I’m not usually crazy about scenes where the player character is unconscious or floating in a void or having some sort of symbolic experience (though I’ve written a few of these myself). It’s just so easy for them to fall way short of the profundity the author thinks he’s going for. Often they’re an excuse not to find a more plausible way to illustrate a character’s spiritual or emotional state.

The fish sequences in “Everybody Dies” worked for me, though, because they weren’t over-explained. The use of illustrations made them seem more mysterious and more effective than text describing the same events — “and then the blue fish swims out of the mouth of the larger fish” would not seem nearly so meaningful. It would just sound silly. (The ambiguity of the images helps, too, because in some places it’s not clear whether the smaller fish is just in the act of being swallowed or just in the act of swimming free, and that fits.)

The final set of images also helps give structure to the plot, because it makes clear that the main story line is about to reach a resolution. Having some sense of where the story is going, and that its shape is organic and natural, helps a lot in getting the player to perceive the narrative as a deliberate whole.

Anyway. A very strong entry, and also one of the best cases I’ve seen for the potential of illustrated IF not as a poor man’s version of a graphical game but as its own thing.

17 thoughts on “IF Competition: Everybody Dies

  1. Nice to see that you liked it this game too. I ranked it the highest of the games I’ve played so far. It’s interesting to note that it deals with death in a … well, I wouldn’t call it light-hearted, exactly, but it does have a very deft touch. Of course the last game I played dealt with such themes in a completely awful way, so that may have bolstered my opinion of Everybody Dies somewhat.

  2. I really enjoyed the last puzzle. It was complex enough that I spent several minutes thinking it over, but it was easy enough (few red-herrings) that I didn’t give up/look for a walkthrough.

    Quality illustrations, etc. The level of development on in-game objects was sufficient, though I was annoyed at the opening sequence when I was down by the river and I tried “examine water.”

    One of the best IF games I’ve played. 9 of 10 points.

  3. Without doubt the best game I have played so far. I was worried after the first scene that this would be a game that tried to be “cool” by talking slang and having lots of meaningless death and gore and violence–but luckily, that was not the case.

    If I have any complaint, it is that the motivation of the antagonist is… not so believable. Racists generally don’t go about shooting random coloured people.

  4. If I have any complaint, it is that the motivation of the antagonist is… not so believable.

    I didn’t think racism was his real motivation. There are, after all, a couple of ways to get shot, one of which might be attributed more to homophobia rather than racism. But really I took the sequence to mean that the antagonist was deeply, deeply angry and would have been provoked, sooner or later, by something or other, however unreasonable, and that he was channeling that anger through certain excuses because he had no way of articulating (and no real desire even to consider) the real sources of his rage.

  5. If I understood it correctly, there is one scene where the antagonist shoots the Indian boy because he has managed to find a certain number of carts.

    (At least, this seemed to be the case: the antagonist shoots the boy earlier than he did in the original reality, and the only difference–which therefore must have been the cause–was that the boy managed to find one more shopping cart.)

    I’m not sure how to understand that.

    Furthermore, if the antagonist is only motivated by blind rage, wouldn’t that rage increase by being fired?

  6. I’m not sure how to understand that.

    He’s angry about being out-done, about having his slacking made more difficult by someone else’s diligence; maybe even enraged by the fact that the boy is able to take seriously and work hard at a job that he himself finds an utter blinding waste of time.

    This is not to say that I thought out all these rationales while I was playing, but the character didn’t ring false to me. He seemed like a more extreme version of a kind of person I have occasionally (very rarely, thank goodness) met.

    Furthermore, if the antagonist is only motivated by blind rage, wouldn’t that rage increase by being fired?

    My assumption there was that he hasn’t yet brought the gun to work with him if you fire him early enough.

    I did find myself thinking that I’d done the world no favors by loosing this guy to get a job elsewhere (or be angry about his unemployment elsewhere, or whatever). He’s clearly too unstable to be left free in society. On the other hand, any more permanent solution is beyond the abilities of our protagonists, so I had to be content with that (and you can hardly have a guy locked up because of the crimes he committed in an alternate timeline…).

  7. Funny story about this one. I somehow couldn’t grasp that after dying in the river and going to the Void that the game was not over, so I typed RESTART, as a knee-jerk reaction, I guess. I did this several times before resorting to the walkthru, where I was surprised to find the same commands I had entered, followed by more.

    I ended up blaming myself for this and not the game, but I’d be interested to see if anyone else had the same problem. This could be the sort of thing that only happens when you’re playing 20 games in a row.

  8. At first I thought the same thing, and I bet the author had that issue in beta-testing. But there is is a bit that says “yet the game goes on” (or something to that effect) and a “more” prompt. I do think that the author anticipated that people would do exactly what you did, and at least tried to avoid it. :)

  9. Hm!

    I guess I’m so used to games that play through the protagonist’s death, or repeat in some way, that this gave me no trouble — it just seemed obvious that there was more, or else I would have gotten a restart/restore/quit prompt.

    But I bet this has a lot to do with what you’re expecting. It helped also that I had the strong impression from the writing and illustration style that this was going to be more story than puzzle, so I was more interested in where the narrative went than in whether I could avoid death-by-river.

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  11. In response to jepflast’s comment, I think what told me not to restart after dying in the river was that the game gave me a very clear sense that what I had just done was what it wanted me to do–even though it had told me explicitly that it was dangerous and a bad idea. That’s good writing.

    I agree with the good things people have said about this game, especially about the pictures and the way the story makes the puzzles, such as they are, more interesting. I did find a couple of things frustrating, though. There are slightly too many unimplemented or underdescribed bits of scenery for a story that’s otherwise so rich–for example, examining the log and the hole yields nothing interesting, and I can’t read today’s word on Lisa’s word-a-day calendar after the first time I look at it. And I found myself playing guess-the-verb a bit, especially with the last puzzle. (Trying to put a namecard on a locker should be recognized as an attempt to put the namecard in the metal cardholder on the locker, I think.)

    But those are relatively minor quibbles. This game is very well written and very well illustrated, has an interesting formal structure, and manages to present believable characters with great economy. I’m reminded a bit of the film Go, both by the setting and by some elements of the plot and structure.

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  14. Coming late to this, since I’ve only just played the game, so I don’t know if anybody will read this; but anyway, my perspective on Victor’s two points:

    In the scene where the antagonist shoots the boy after he collects all the shopping carts, the narration makes a point of mentioning that he’s noticed the boy’s knife, which is normally hidden in the boy’s clothes but at the moment the boy is changing his clothes because they got messed up collecting the final cart. Since there is another point in the game at which the shooting can be triggered by the antagonist discovering that the boy is carrying a knife, I think that’s the trigger here as well.

    About the antagonist’s future: Graham does remark, when they manage to pin an offense on the antagonist, that the offense is such that the consequences aren’t likely to stop at firing. (He says it more concisely than I just did, mind you, and perhaps you need to know the lingo.)

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