IF Comp 2012: Guilded Youth (Jim Munroe)

Guilded Youth is an Inform 7 game with a Vorple front end, concerning a teenager interacting with his MUD guild-mates both online and off. Per tradition, I will have some non-spoilery content after the jump; then if there’s anything spoilery I wish to discuss, it will be separated from the rest of the review with spoiler space. The fact that I am covering Guilded Youth at all means that it does feature listed beta-testers.

Guilded Youth is to the best of my knowledge the first released non-demo game using Inform 7 with Vorple, the gorgeous front-end system developed by Juhana Leinonen. It uses Vorple to create a classy presentation both of the world seen by the protagonist online (all blocky green graphics) and the more indie-comics look of his experiences whenever he logs out:

There’s just a touch of animation: character portraits blink periodically, and the flags on the castle battlements wave cheerfully. There’s also an inventory along the left side of the screen, each object having two visual forms — the way it looks in the real world and the ASCII representation it gets when logged in. The entirely thing looks gorgeous, flows attractively when the screen is resized, and plays smoothly. And a few Vorple text features are in play as well: most notably, any command leading to a parser error has that error text folded away and hidden.

I ran into very few parser errors when playing, however, because Guilded Youth takes another step towards accessibility by requiring only a very limited verb set: the entire game can be won using just three verbs, GO, TAKE, and SHOW (something) TO. Outside that set of verbs, implementation is pretty sparse; this is more or less the opposite strategy to the method seen in Blue Lacuna and Aaron Reed’s other work, which tries to accommodate the parser to a novice player by considerably expanding what the game will respond to; instead, Guilded Youth reduces what it will respond to to a very narrow list and then gives that list to the player explicitly. One could argue that at that point the game doesn’t really need a parser at all, but the typing does befit Guilded Youth‘s interest in a bygone age of computing.

These features would suffice to make for a strong tech demo, but that’s hardly all that Guilded Youth has to offer: the writing is strong and the characters are distinctive, as one would expect from Jim Munroe, and once again he has collaborated with a skilled artist to ensure that the images used are attractive and effective for the intended genre.

The story of Guilded Youth is mostly a format on which to hang small vignettes about the protagonist and the other kids in his online guild. Nominally, he’s scavenging “loot” (that is to say, stealing) from an old building at the outskirts of town intended for demolition. There are parts of the building he can’t easily get into, so periodically he has to go online, show the other characters what he’s already succeeded in looting, and convince them to come with him to help with the remaining barriers. This structure is presented in a very linear fashion; you can’t bring other kids to the mansion out of sequence, and there’s not really a lot of puzzle-solving involved: you just go to the mansion, collect everything you can, then go back online and show everything to everyone until you find the combination that will have some effect.

So the interactive aspects, and everything we might call a plot, is more or less a skeleton for small and mostly uninteractive character vignettes. The kids you bring along to the mansion react to the situation in different ways, revealing who they truly are behind the layers of disguise and anonymity that online gaming and real-world posing offer.

Because Munroe is an observant writer, many of these little scenes ring true. But there’s so little opportunity for the protagonist to react to what he discovers that the experience can be a bit frustrating for an interactive medium; then again, I didn’t feel that the protagonist’s passivity and inability to act were the point, either.

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There’s a girl to kiss, but one can’t pursue the romance any further than the brief cut scene the game provides. There are other characters one might want to talk to about their implied backstories, but the conversation implementation is extremely bare, and most characters will not answer to questioning on very many things.

The story ends, surprisingly and abruptly, when the player brings one of his guild-mates named Paula to the mansion and she encounters some ex-friends of hers having a “freak club” party there. The protagonist has stumbled into a dynamic he doesn’t particularly understand, so there’s not a lot to do but stand off to the side while Paula yells at her former friends for not including her in this event, then (probably accidentally) knocks a candelabra over and sets the whole place ablaze. It is implied that Paula is transgendered and that this fact may be at the root of the disagreement with her old friends, who still address her as Paul.

It’s not a terrible place for the sequence of vignettes to end, with the character whose identity is apparently causing her the greatest struggle. But it does come as a surprise because it’s a conclusion that has very little to do with the protagonist, and on the other hand you had very little interaction with Paula up to this point. It’s not really her story, but it’s not really your story either.

In that respect, Munroe’s previous Everybody Dies handled its exposure of multiple characters much more tightly. Guilded Youth ends up not in quite the same league, though it looks and feels fabulous and was a lot of fun to read.

7 thoughts on “IF Comp 2012: Guilded Youth (Jim Munroe)

  1. What I really liked about this was that it captured the locality and intimacy of old-style BBSes. Part of what made them neat was that you were generally interacting with people that lived in the same towns and neighbourhoods as you did. It wasn’t over a whole wide Internet, is was a computer in some guy’s house a few streets over. Munroe did a great job of explicitly blurring the line that was already implicitly blurred.

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  3. Hi Emily, I’ve just released a new version of GY, pretty much entirely based on positive-yet-critical feedback like yours:

    http://nomediakings.org/games/undoing-the-ending-and-looting-the-data.html

    …where I totally revamped the ending, adding two scenes and some other stuff.

    If you’d like to check it out type in “skipthru” as your first move to jump to the dining room scene at the end.

    The linearity kind of bugged me too — to be honest, more so than the unsatisfying ending, because I like those — but couldn’t figure a way to make it modular without busting up the arc towards the fire.

    • Thanks, Jim — I do think that’s a substantial improvement, now I’ve had a chance to play. I didn’t manage to involve Harry, but I got the impression that was intentional.

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