That Dragon, Cancer (Numinous Games)

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Out today, That Dragon, Cancer is a game about the slow, painful, and confusing death of the author’s son by way of a rare cancer.

It tells its story through a series of vignette levels; in each, you have restricted navigational options to explore a 3D space, while audio and in-world manifestations of text fill in what is going on in the family at this point. Often you can hear the conversations of people whom you cannot see, which gives the sense of a ghostly dissociation.

The mechanics vary: sometimes you’re there only to look at a set number of things before triggering an advancement; elsewhere, you actually need to complete some small task, such as running a not-too-difficult platformer. Sometimes you need to spend a certain amount of time in a space with a screaming child in pain, and not be able to do anything about it. This is not a remotely pleasant or play-like experience, which of course is the point. But I often did feel that I was being offered an experience I haven’t seen anywhere else in games.

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IF Comp 2015 Guest Post: Liz Albl on Nowhere Near Single

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As part of the project to get new reviewers talking about IF Comp games, Liz Albl has written about Nowhere Near Single.

Liz Albl is a scriptwriter for Ubisoft and author of short stories.

Other posts written as part of this project can be found at this roundup post.

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What Fuwa Bansaku Found (Chandler Groover)

Screen Shot 2016-01-06 at 9.09.45 PMWhat Fuwa Bansaku Found is a new piece at Sub-Q by the astonishingly prolific Chandler Groover. In it, the eponymous samurai must investigate a haunted shrine: the emperor has sent him there, but the emperor was certainly spurred to do so by Bansaku’s enemies at court. The piece draws on translations of Japanese poetry, plots from kabuki, and images from woodblock prints.

It is a parser game, but a relatively accessible one. As with quite a bit of Groover’s other parser work, Fuwa Bansaku tightens the list of needed verbs to a simpler subset of the usual library. It also gets rid of the standard compass directions and acknowledges ADVANCE and RETREAT instead. This serves the piece well: it’s quite short, and not having to worry about a possible complicated map frees the player to concentrate on other concerns. (Gun Mute also does this, but it’s a comparatively rare feature in parser IF.)

Then, too, a number of the responses specifically prompt what the player should do next:

>x grass
These long grasses resemble hairs
growing from a courtesan’s skull.
They tower around Fuwa Bansaku.
He will search them.
>search grass
Fuwa Bansaku pushes the long grass
aside with one hand at his katana.

In a different context, this kind of guidance might be exasperating. But Bansaku is extremely focused and brief.

These hints also serve as a reminder that the character of Fuwa Bansaku is not the player. He is someone specific and skilled, a man of culture and intrigue and warfare. In fact, he is based on a historical figure, though with considerable embellishment. What’s more, everything he encounters in this haunted shrine receives a short but evocative description. Every item seems to point back to the details of the experience that sent him here.

Even though the piece is quite short, there is room enough in Groover’s story for several surprises. A lovely, eerie meditation on what is truly monstrous.

Interactive Film

 

The bump in FMV games in 2015 sent me down a bit of a rabbit hole investigating interactive film, and games with a large component of filmed content; and here is a bit of a round-up of what I found.

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Her Story, an interactive database game, about which I’ve written several times. It makes strong use of its exploration mechanic and has been positively received in a lot of places, though there have also been some vocal objections to what might be a misleading portrayal of mental illness.

The Last Hours of Laura K is another game (after a fashion) about exploring database footage. In this case, you have many, many hours of footage of Laura K during the last hours of her life, collected from cell phones and surveillance cameras and other sources – the sort of tapestry you might imagine law enforcement being able to pull together either now or in the very near future. There’s too much here to watch straight through, though, so you can also access different snippets associated with times when Laura was sending or receiving social media messages, since you also have access to her media accounts. I don’t feel I’ve yet solved anything, but it’s a curious and voyeuristic experience that captures some of the same exploratory play.

Contradiction, a murder mystery adventure, covered on Offworld and reviewed here (and an honorable mention for narrative in the IGF). Despite some moments of frustration, I generally liked the acting, the strong sense of pace, and the design, which stuck to the contradiction-spotting mechanic with just a few light lock and key/evidence-finding puzzles.

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IF Comp 2015 Guest Post: Duncan Stevens on Koustrea’s Contentment

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As part of the project to get more reviewers talking about IF Comp games, veteran IF reviewer Duncan Stevens has shared his thoughts on Koustrea’s Contentment. Duncan is one of the prolific reviewers of IF in the late-90s newsgroups, and has previously taken a look at Map for this series.

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IGF Narrative noms are out!

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The list of IGF nominees can be found here. That includes the games nominated in the narrative category, for which I was one of the jury members. I’m excited about this, and I also know that this is the point at which some people are sad, either that they didn’t place or that the IGF isn’t doing everything everyone would like from it.

I’m not sure this is possible to solve, and I do think the IGF is worth doing anyway. However, I also know that just telling people “oh, hey, if you weren’t nominated, that’s not necessarily a judgment on you!” isn’t as comforting as it could be.

Hence, this year I’m going to try to be as transparent as reasonably possible about my own judging process. (I have cleared this with the organization.) We are discouraged from discussing other people’s votes and reasoning: it should be pretty obvious why that is, I think, but in any case these conversations need to happen in confidence. I absolutely do not speak for the whole of the jury in what follows, and other people had other views. But I’m allowed to talk about my thinking.

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