IF Comp 2011: How Suzy Got Her Powers

How Suzy Got Her Powers is a super-brief origin story for a super hero.

How Suzy Got Her Powers is very very short; there are really only two puzzles in the whole piece. I was slowed down a little bit by some alternate phrasings going unrecognized for the second solution (I had the right idea, but had to go to hints anyway because I was expressing it wrong), but even with that delay it still took less than fifteen minutes to get through.

I also felt that much of the game’s most interesting content happened in swathes of static cut text: conversation and action sequences that could have been more engaging pass without input from the player. While this does make it hard for those sequences to go wrong (and action is not an easy thing to do well in IF), I felt it diminished the impact quite a bit.

This piece is apparently meant to be a background for a further, much longer game by the author. It kind of makes sense viewed as a teaser for a full game rather than as a game in its own right — but even then I slightly wish it had done a little more narratively. More after the spoiler space.

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Your typical superhero origin story has a couple of important things to accomplish.

First, it needs to set up the psychological background. Who was this person before s/he received superheroic powers? What fears, anxieties, and motivations might carry over after the transformation? Does s/he have friends or family to protect? A past grief to live down? An old enemy? This material often provides some of the most interesting conflict in the body of the superhero narrative, because it’s rooted in the time when the character wasn’t all-powerful.

We learn a tiny bit of this about Suzy if we read a menu item in the game, but it’s not dramatized by the gameplay, and even so the answers we get aren’t tremendously compelling — she just comes off sounding like your basic mild loser. She has a starting inventory, but it’s a really uninformative collection of stuff: mints she doesn’t really like; a cell phone she doesn’t like to use and that isn’t working at the moment; a single crumpled tissue. And yeah, maybe that tells me something about her — but it’s more about what she isn’t than about what she is. Millions of women could have those same things in her purse. What makes Suzy herself? Why should I care about her?

Second, it needs to tell us what the superheroic powers do! What’s Suzy’s new capability? She’s got a magic pendant and a magic trident, but what are they for? So far we’ve only used the trident as a big lever.

So I come out of this scenario knowing that Suzy might want to avenge the dead woman… except the dead woman is someone she hardly knows, and parent to one of the most generic children the world has ever known; we don’t even find out whether the adorable tot is male or female. And I have no information about what else might fire Suzy’s passions, or what abilities are at her disposal. That strikes me as a sadly wasted opportunity, and it means I came away from this piece feeling fairly lukewarm about it.

6 thoughts on “IF Comp 2011: How Suzy Got Her Powers

  1. Pingback: IF Comp 2011: Overview | Emily Short's Interactive Storytelling

  2. I thought the tot was a psychic manifestation that the alien projected in order to lure Suzy into the burning building?

    Mostly I’m just commenting because I think “a superbrief origin story for a super hero” should be an explanation of why Superman wears his superbriefs outside his supertights.

    • I thought the tot was a psychic manifestation that the alien projected in order to lure Suzy into the burning building?

      Really? If so, I must have missed something; that’s certainly a more interesting answer than I thought. Not quite interesting enough to sketch in everything that’s missing from the story, but a little more interesting, anyhow.

      Your second point is well-founded and I have no rebuttal to offer.

      • This passage:

        “…i see my messenger found you… good…”
        “Messenger?”
        A sudden sharp pain, like an ice pick, strikes you in the head and you see the kid, then you see his/her features shifting and changing, becoming taller, older… bluer.
        “…my messenger… found you… brought you to me…”

        Which I guess suggests that the kid isn’t a psychic projection, but still, not a kid.

    • Got it in one. The kid isn’t an actual kid, just a means for the dying super hero of getting the player into the building. You’ll note if you look out of the window on the second floor that he/she’s now disappeared from the parking lot.

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