Design and documentation journal for my interactive fiction (text games); also reviews and other miscellaneous stuff.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

IF Comp 2010: Gigantomania

More spoilers to follow, and non-reviews - just initial impressions/notes.  I seem to recall a David Sedaris piece about men who read stories about giant women.  Well, not just stories.  Porn.  (There.  That should increase the number of hits this blog gets.)  I am hoping this is not porn, but as far as I can tell there's no explicit rule against it.  Still, that story left such a clear impression on me that I'm kind of afraid to hope for anything in particular from this title.  Although I am reminded that the deli down the street sells really good cookies.  Usually large cookies are kind of gross, because it's hard to get the moisture right.  But these are really good.

--- Gigantomania ---

I'm playing the online version of this, too, and I just have to say: Kudos for design attempts.  The peach does nothing for me, but I am heartened people are playing with the options.  Bonus: I've never read any porn with quotes from people with names like dze Jughashvili, so that makes me feel good, too.

Oh.  So, a story about Russia, huh?  Not one of the upbeat periods in Russian history, either.  I can't think of any upbeat periods in Russian history, but things must have taken a swing for the better at some point.  I feel kind of bad about the porn references now.  Maybe I should start reading blurbs before playing.  I'm afraid if I did that, I'd be unnecessarily prejudiced against certain games and I'd never get all the games played. 

Wow.  So I played through the whole thing without feeling a single bubble of vitriol.  That space above is me having nothing vitriolic to say.  Then I had to spend a day thinking about the game, because I couldn't figure out how I felt about the end.  So all the next part is written in retrospective.  (This blog post is like traveling through time!)

My first playthrough ended rather abruptly when all the villagers killed me for not contributing enough.  Which surprised me, because I was carting around like twelve bags of grain and two of potatoes, and I'd expected the collector would just come around and whisk them away.  (I'd even squirreled a bag or two away in my cabin, I think, in case they took everything.)  I'd also thought that the collector needed 10 bags total from the villagers, so I was only planning on contributing one or two.  It turns out that you actually have to hand the bags over yourself.  Life as a Russian peasant is really hard.

This is the first game I've played in the comp where the setting feels rock-solid.  Not that there aren't artificialities, but I can envision in my mind's eye the exact layout of my land, the look of the beggar, the smell of the earth, the huts full of the sick and dying and weak.  For a portion where the bulk of the interaction is typing "harvest wheat" 12 times, this is a big accomplishment.

The second chapter I was just grateful not to actually have to make 44 bars of steel.  It was actually kind of fun alternating turns with pouring steel.  The writing is top-notch.  (I advised my supervisor to lay off my coworkers.  Go revolutionary spirit and black lung!)  There's a line of black humor underlying this whole scene that is just brilliant and heartbreaking.  The downside: I spent the rest of the game, and a good portion of the evening, singing "I am the man who arranges the blocks!"

The third chapter is less awesome, perhaps because I was missing the intermittent boring work.  All I have to do is hide all my questionable stuff - and there's a lot of it.  (Dude has fine taste in music, if not literature.)  I got caught out because my picture of a butterfly was not Russian enough.  The black humor is not just a line in this scene - it's practically a current.

And then.  The fourth chapter. 

I think I am not adequately meta for this chapter.  I *want* to like it, because I think that's what a real literature geek would do.  I would scrounge up a Foucault quote and go all post-modern on its ass.

But it didn't work for me, and it didn't feel like the game ended at the right point - I didn't feel like I had closure on the game, which was a problem because I spent the whole thing is an uncomfortable roil of emotion.  (Mostly in the first two bits, but even some for the poor bureaucrat.)  I didn't feel connected at all to the dictator; worse, I felt like I wasn't even playing any more - I was just reading a one-sided conversation that some half-delusional sadist was having.

Often I could make a trivial choice, like having caviar at dinner, but not a more critical choice, like hanging dissidents vs. giving them a mock trial.  More often, the narrative went with option #3, which was never an option for me to choose anyway.  This was incredibly frustrating, and I could feel the distance between me and the game growing by leaps every time I pushed enter.  Then there were the little letters after pretty much every phrase, which were really distracting.  (The last line indicates they're probably chess moves, but I didn't go back and play them all or anything.)

The narrative of the story was still compelling, but it was no longer interactive in a meaningful way.  Which is why I think I should go all post-modern: maybe the discomfort I felt was an intentional nod to the intoxication of power and blah blah blah.  But it didn't help me get into the story - instead I found myself thinking about my laundry, which may not be where the author wanted to go.  I *did* love Stalin's voice, though, and his no-holds-barred, bat-shit crazy.  I just wish it felt less like looking through the wrong end of a telescope.

But the first three bits were so successful that I still have a warm glow, and I really want to know how the author managed to make typing "harvest wheat" over and over kind of a compelling experience.  I'm also really reluctant to start anything else, because it feels like the game is taking up all my head space - I'm just full of the game and the images and the taste of it, I don't want to put it away yet.

Score:  I don't even know.  7?  8? 10? This is definitely the high bar right now. 

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