ShuffleComp, 2015 edition

ShuffleComp is an interactive fiction comp in which participants send in lists of songs; the songs are shuffled and redistributed, and each participant writes a game based on one or more of the songs they received. (Last year’s competition yielded some 34 games and is responsible for not one but two games titled Fallout Shelter.)

Here are some favorites from this year’s comp:

Submerge is the story of a sunk boat and a damaged life; it’s told in three strands distinguished by different background colors, and it’s not immediately obvious how those strands relate, though they eventually come together. It’s inspired by the songs The Mary Ellen Carter and Jusqu’a La Mort.

I particularly liked how the game honors both the literal plot content of “The Mary Ellen Carter” and its message about returning from an apparently losing situation.

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To Spring Open is a surreal fantasy Twine story taking place in a land where the different seasons are struggling for dominance, where the citizens must wear the correct costumes to be allowed to travel in different areas, where a sinister crop is fertilized with what might be human remains. In this environment, the protagonist is sent on a series of delivery missions, inspired by the song Paper Planes, among setting details pulled from Tragic Kingdom (“They pay homage to a king / Whose dreams are buried / In their minds”, “cornfields of popcorn / Have yet to spring open”). As a transformation of the originals, this is surprising and virtuosic. Many specific lines from the lyrics, and its repeated BANG BANG BANG, have evident connections in the game, and yet the game is tonally and emotionally in a totally different realm from M.I.A. or No Doubt.

There are some neat CSS tricks as well; when you take the subway, words flit by and paragraphs bounce up and down in the motion of a train.

Meanwhile, the mechanics of moving around the game world and correctly costuming oneself provide just enough mechanical agency that I felt adequately grounded in the story even though so much of what happened was surreal and hard to understand. Even at the end, I’m not sure I could explain the world in which all this happens, but I was left with some strong impressions and images that sufficed to make it a good experience anyway.

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Ansible uses a CYOA structure to narrative effect: it keeps a cumulative scrollback, but in contrast with, say, the typical Undum piece where old links become inactive, Ansible leaves all of its old links available. This means you can back up any time and take a different branch, exploring the tree of possibilities to give advice to the protagonist you’re interacting with.

What you are and what you’re doing is part of the story, so I won’t spoil it here, but this is another one worth looking at for those interested in alternative images of what hypertext interactive storytelling could look like.

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Starry Seeksorrow is a puzzly parser game in which you are a magical doll who have been enchanted to protect a little girl; you come awake because she’s in trouble, and you must navigate a garden of magic plants, and wield their abilities, in order to resolve the situation.

I got a little stuck at one point because I’d failed to examine a piece of scenery — there’s some vital information that you need to get from thoroughly exploring object descriptions. And I felt that the situation I faced was urgent, which made me feel like I should be acting quickly rather than standing around looking at things, even after I realized there probably wasn’t a timer at work in this game. At one other point there was a clever solution that required a bit more lateral thinking than occurred to me; but that’s on me, and the solution was pretty satisfying once I’d read the relevant hints.

This is a fair, cheerful, and not over-difficult puzzle game which requires understanding the backstory in order to unlock the best ending.

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When the Land Goes Under the Water begins with an request to play exactly once. I can think of two other games that do this — Attack of the Yeti Robot Zombies and The Matter of the Great Red Dragon — and such a request makes me feel like I’m going in without some essential critical tools, as a player.

The gameplay itself involves exploring the ruins of Atlantis, finding elements that suggest a past civilization and past events. As far as I can tell — though, as I only played once, I can’t really be sure — certain areas of the game gradually go off-limits as you explore, as the tides rise, with the result that no one player will be able to find all the past evidence on their single playthrough. My protagonist had once been the priestess of one of these gods; I have no idea whether that’s static or something that also changes for each player.

What I found in my exploration was evidence of a decadent but heavily religious society, one that gave great physical sacrifices to their gods to atone for various sins. The worship of the gods is described in some detail. I liked the worldbuilding, while at the same time wishing that there were a little more of a present to this game.

But I think part of the point may also be to discuss one’s findings with others, so I’d be curious to hear whether other players had similar experiences to mine, or whether they found entirely different things.

6 thoughts on “ShuffleComp, 2015 edition

  1. I was surprised to read that Starry Seeksorrow was about protecting a girl, because I distinctly remembered it as being about protecting a boy. I fired it up and it was clearly about protecting Klara, and I wondered if I had just emerged from Universe E (http://woodbetweenworlds.blogspot.com/2014/06/commenting-on-berenstein-bears.html). But then I restarted it, and sure enough the name changed to Klaus. I guess it’s random which one you get…

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