IF Comp 2014: Sigmund’s Quest (Gregor Holtz)

Sigmund

Sigmund’s Quest is a game based on classic Norse stories, with retro-styled art and a hybrid choice engine. I played through what was there, but the game is not finished as it stands.

The web based games this comp are coming in a really wide variety, and Sigmund’s Quest is yet another outlier, based on an engine called Dedalus (more about that in a moment). On each turn the player is presented with an image first, and then must choose to slide the diary up into view. The diary contains inventory information on one side, and narration and choices on the facing page:

Screen Shot 2014-10-07 at 3.06.36 PM

I think the idea of these interspersed images is to give you a strong immediate impression of an iconic event (someone pulling a sword out of a tree, for instance) and then follow up with the words describing it. That makes sense, but the actual implementation of that concept left me feeling like I was having a tug of war with the interface:

  1. I make a choice
  2. New text appears on the diary and a new image appears behind it
  3. The diary then slides down while I am reading
  4. I belatedly register the new image
  5. I have to click to bring the text back

And in any case, why should the text slide away? Usually you have elements that slide away out of sight when those elements are meant to be secondary to the main experience, but the text is not auxiliary here at all. If anything the image should slide away.

The choice structure in Sigmund’s Quest relies a fair amount on noun menus. While there are some options in the main flow of text, you also have an inventory with clickable objects, and sometimes objects in the text can be moused over to produce related actions. Noun menus have shown up a few times before, often as a way to try to bridge the parser/CYOA divide by presenting an organization that ties into the object-orientation of a parsery world model.

Screen Shot 2014-10-07 at 4.07.06 PM

What I like about noun menus is that, at their best, they can mimic some of the sense of exploration you get with parser IF, or create a sense that you’re drilling down into the text in some way. They largely worked for me here, though there were a few times when the ability to examine an object in the middle of a high-tension scene felt a bit strange. Arguably that can feel pretty strange in a parser game too — but I think that it sticks out more in a choice-based game precisely because the flow of text and events is mostly so controlled.

It appears that the underlying Dedalus engine is designed to support this noun-menu approach out of the box, and also to encourage extensive CSS retheming. So people who are interested in those approaches might well want to have a look.

As for the narrative, I’m all in favor of mining some of the less-used sagas and epics for content. There’s some strong stuff in there, and if you like your bloody Game of Thrones weddings, you’ll love a good saga.

But I’m not sure that the translation into interactive fiction quite works yet. The author gives the player a couple of opportunities to do things that would completely throw the story off its usual trajectory, so I replayed to see what would happen. Answer: doing the “wrong” thing in the first case led to my getting killed immediately; in the second case, it gave me a “you don’t actually want to do that” sort of response, which is a lot more galling in a choice-based game when you’ve only got two options to start with than in a parser-based one where there are potentially hundreds of things you might be trying. On the other hand, there also wasn’t really much that I would say resembled a puzzle in the introduction.

Consequently it’s very linear, and linear in a way that makes me think that perhaps the author hasn’t quite figured out what he wants to accomplish with the interactivity in the game. The presence of the inventory made me expect that there would be light object-use puzzles. Perhaps that’s what’s planned for a later, more exploratory portion of the game, but it’s hard to tell from here.

And finally, what’s here is really brief — more of a teaser than even a first episode.

But look, that’s been a lot of critique and perhaps it comes off as more harsh than my feelings about the game actually were. I wanted to explain all the issues I had because I hope for them to be fixed in the final version, but I did not hate this at all. The author is clearly talented in several directions, and it obviously took a lot of work to put this together. The result is fairly eye-catching and pretty different from most other IF I’ve tried, and it’s exciting to see that variety. As a stand-alone piece, I don’t think it’s quite there yet. But the author could revisit the issue of reading flow, and also consider how to make the interaction richer, and wind up with something rather cool. I suspect this would have placed pretty decently in IntroComp.

Other reviews: Wade Clark, Healy, PaulS, Jenni Polodna, Sam Kabo Ashwell.

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