Lifeline: Silent Night (3 Minute Games)

Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 10.55.29 AMLifeline: Silent Night is a (very lightly) Christmas-themed sequel to the original Lifeline (though, mercifully, it has no important connection with the disappointing Lifeline 2). In it, Taylor, the gender-nonspecific protagonist of the original game, has gotten into trouble aboard the ship home after the events of Lifeline. (I have always thought of Taylor as female, so I refer to Taylor as she below, but your version of Taylor could well be “he” or “they” if you prefer.) There’s less mystery this time around, because we basically know the parameters of the kind of universe we’re inhabiting. Taylor still spouts pop culture references from Futurama and The Simpsons (and the conversation even lampshades this overtly). There are still long pauses where Taylor is “traveling” or “resting” – perhaps somewhat less plausibly now that she is not on a vast moon but are instead poking around what is described as a small spaceship, and during an emergency.

But Silent Night offers a couple of other tweaks on the formula of the original. There are fairly long stretches of non-interactive text in between choice points – sometimes a page or two of text messages on my iPad, more than I remember from the original Lifeline. This text-to-choice ratio wouldn’t seem that odd in, say, a Choice of Games piece, but it’s more noticeable when the text is formatted as text messages (where we’re used to a rapid back-and-forth) and when it’s printing on a delay.

There are structural changes, too. Taylor is no longer completely on her own. The ship is crewed, and Taylor’s connection renders their dialogue in contrasting colors so that you can see the conversation when we’re around them (which is not very often). These other characters are still out of the way for most of the duration of the game, perhaps because otherwise it’s hard to explain why Taylor would be taking our advice to the exclusion of theirs, and it’s also not quite obvious why we can hear them but they can’t hear or see the advice we’re giving back to Taylor. But we just have to accept that that’s how the communication link works.

Second, Silent Night comes with a schematic map of the ship, allowing you to pause during conversation and check out where Taylor is and what she’s doing. This is kind of cool, from a feelie perspective, and helps sell the idea of the ship as a particular place. I wouldn’t ever say that the map becomes necessary, though, and in fact it frequently felt to me as though it had been awkwardly appended to the game after the script was already complete.

For one thing, the game frequently has Taylor making long trips through solitary corridors. Empty corridors are a staple of television and movie spaceships, certainly; but they don’t appear anywhere on the schematic. On the schematic map, all the rooms are directly connected to one another, wasting no time with intervening space. (I couldn’t help thinking of Coloratura here, which also included feelies but felt like the ship had been rigorously researched and planned.)

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January Link Assortment

Upcoming events:

Thanks to a burst of focused planning, we have a bunch of forthcoming meetings scheduled for the Oxford/London Meetup. They are

London, February 16. We will be playing a variant of San Tilapian Studies, along with other short card and boardgames focused on storymaking with other people. I’m psyched about this – San Tilapian Studies takes a fair amount of prep to put together and I don’t run it frequently, so if you want to play, this is an unusual chance. We’re using a different setting and sticker set than in the original.

Oxford, April 3. Sunday afternoon pub meet-up; you may bring WIPs or other items to share if you like, though we’re not set up for actual projection or anything like that. Consider this one a really late March meeting, because SXSW/GDC/Easter weekend use up all of my actual March.

London, April 19. Exact activity TBD, though I have some interesting prospects I’m looking into.

London, June 14. Exact activity TBD, though I have some interesting prospects I’m looking into.

Thanks to Failbetter Games for their on-going willingness to co-host!

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If you are planning to be at GDC, here’s some IF-related content for you:

I will be talking in a short format about visualization and design, with many examples from interactive narrative contexts (as well as some from elsewhere).

inkle studios folks will be talking about their tool ink that is used for 80 Days and the Sorcery! series, and which they will be open-sourcing. (!)

Meg Jayanth is speaking twice, once about writing NPCs with agency and once about diversity.

ETA: Alexis Kennedy on Choice, Consequence, and Complicity.

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IF Comp 2015 Guest Post: Robb Sherwin on Pit of the Condemned

As part of the project to get more reviewers talking about IF Comp games, Robb Sherwin writes for us about Matthew Holland’s Pit of the Condemned. Robb is the author of Cryptozookeeper and Fallacy of Dawn, among other works.

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Read Only Memories (MidBoss)

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Read Only Memories is a point-and-click graphical adventure set in “Neo-San Francisco”, in a cyberpunk future full of personal assistant robots; implants that let you experience VR right through your own head-hardware; and massive amounts of genetic engineering. Both the increasingly intelligent robots and “hybrid” humans (those with significant amounts of non-human DNA) are struggling for their rights, while the corporations have largely taken over the responsibilities of government. You are investigating the disappearance of an old friend who is at the forefront of the robotic research.

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Narrative and Chance in Orion Trail

Orion Trail is a parodic space game in which you’re going on exploratory missions, trying to conserve your resources and keep your crew alive, and sending out the occasional away team: in other words, a number of structural concepts from Oregon Trail, redone with Star Trek tropes. It’s casually entertaining.

Though there is text associated with the various encounters in space, it feels more like it’s there to provide flavor and variety than like it’s contributing to any significant character arc. You have a few named crew members, but there’s also no major relationship development with them, so far as I saw. (If you want Social Life Simulator in Space, see Redshirt instead.) So in sum, Orion Trail is amusing, but not the kind of work that I would usually cover here – except that it has a probability mechanic that I really liked and found narratively expressive, and I wanted to talk about that here.

Game designers have long complained about the fact that players don’t understand probability very well. If you tell them that they have a 9/10 chance of winning an upcoming encounter, they tend to read that as you will win, and they get frustrated if they don’t. Giving them a fake die roll, so that they can actually see and have a tactile sense of something coming out wrong, may help with this.

Orion Trail goes a step further: it presents the probable outcomes of an interaction with an interface functionally similar to a roulette wheel. You can immediately see how many chances there are for critical or regular failures and successes (this varies depending on how hard the encounter is to start with), and also visualize how the stat bonuses are changing things.

Here’s the Probability Drive before it’s applied my stat bonus. It’s not entirely encouraging – one critical hit and two regular successes, but eight regular failures and one critical miss.

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IF Comp 2015 Guest Post: Duncan Stevens on Final Exam

final_examAs part of the project to get more reviewers talking about IF Comp games, Duncan Stevens has shared his thoughts on Final Exam, a dystopian science fiction parser piece by Jack Whitham.

Duncan has also written about Koustrea’s Contentment and Map for this project.

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