ShuffleComp: Truth, Sparkle, Invisible Parties

A few more items from ShuffleComp:

Truth is a goofy, very mildly satirical puzzle game, with one (fairly easy) main puzzle and some additional challenges that you can collect to increase your score.

It belongs to a category I think of as “stick figure IF”: the implementation is clean and I noticed no obvious bugs, but there are very few objects per room and very little you can do with each object. This kind of thing feels less immersive and takes less work to put together than IF with deeper environments, but it can still communicate effectively in an iconic way, and I wouldn’t say it’s badly crafted — it’s just aiming at something different from other, more lushly implemented works.

Truth also sticks closer than most of these games to the lyrics and concept of the original song.

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Sparkle has an odd little item-transformation mechanic. I am somewhat partial to item-transformation mechanics, I confess. In Sparkle, the deal is that, with meditation and deep study, each thing can be turned into one other, utterly unrelated thing. Learning which transformations are possible constitutes a strong hint about what you’ll need to do to solve the various puzzles.

There were a handful of these puzzles, especially one about the deployment of the dog, that I found difficult to guess and a bit dark (is there any way to rescue the pet after he’s been used that way? I couldn’t see one). But for the most part they seemed fair, and the game went out of its way to give achievements for some of the more interesting deployments.

I’ve seen other reviews suggesting that some players felt the ending was annoying. I quite liked it: it acknowledged how goofy all the object transformations had been, and suggested a transcendent explanation for the whole thing.

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Invisible Parties is about a being who walks between worlds, who has been brought to a “tangle”, a place where parts of many worlds are accessible at once, from the hot brilliance of Africa to the rich green of an idealized English summer to the banality of a hotel meeting space. These are more than locations. They are also moods, cultures, world-views, ways of thinking, each familiar and distinct, each subject to its own form of apocalyptic destruction. But the tangle is also a sort of trap, and the player must destabilize it enough to get away, and, ideally, rescue their lover Jave. The game never stops to explain to the player in so many words how the world works, so you have to learn as you go along. The effect reminded me of some of Diana Wynne Jones’s stuff, in a good way.

Both the protagonist and Jave have an assortment of gifts, abilities that can be used in surprising circumstances, and it’s possible to trigger Jave’s gifts as well as one’s own. Jave’s gifts are very different from the protagonist’s, and this is an excellent mechanic for a) making the protagonist appreciate Jave (she’s extremely useful) and b) rapidly sketching her character, even in a context where it’s impossible to hold a conversation with her.

In its current form, Invisible Parties is kind of broken. There are NPCs you can talk to who won’t necessarily respond at all, there are under-clued bits, there are things that look like they’re going to be puzzles but then seem like there wasn’t time to finish implementing them. There are gifts that don’t ever get deployed. The first time I played, I got totally stuck, and it took another run through from the beginning, mapping on paper, for me to complete the game. (I almost never have to map on paper! But in IP the layout of rooms is subtly changing, and it’s hard to track even if you have a decent mind for IF layouts.) Anyway, it’s not currently putting its best foot forward.

Even despite those issues, though, Invisible Parties is my favorite ShuffleComp game so far, because it also has so very much going for it. It’s well-written, vivid, quite pleasing when the puzzle solutions do work, and primarily about people and mindsets rather than things and physical mechanics. There is a masterful ending where it’s possible to save yourself by leaving Jave behind. The text for this acknowledges that the protagonist will move forward, is too mature and sensible for Romeo-and-Juliet posings, but nonetheless recognizes the painful impact of the loss. The happier ending, where the player and Jave manage to leave together, is also rather satisfyingly constructed.

I really hope that the author will give this another pass, because I think with polish it could be a strong XYZZY contender come next awards cycle.

6 thoughts on “ShuffleComp: Truth, Sparkle, Invisible Parties

  1. Re “is there any way to rescue the pet after he’s been used that way? I couldn’t see one”: Yes, there is. There’s even an Achievement for doing it.

  2. Pingback: Invisible Parties | These Heterogenous Tasks

  3. Pingback: 2014 Retrospective | Emily Short's Interactive Storytelling

  4. Pingback: IntroComp 2015 | Emily Short's Interactive Storytelling

  5. Pingback: Short, Friendly Parser Puzzle Games | Emily Short's Interactive Storytelling

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