Dead Man's Fiesta

Dead Man’s Fiesta, by Ed Sibley (review with spoilers)

[spoiler]This is exactly what it says on the badging: the player splurges a small inheritance (who died is never clear, but they were close, because the PC is grieving for them) on a haunted - and somewhat pricy - 2008 Ford Fiesta. Mysteriously, the cover art shows what’s undoubtedly an 80’s Fiesta. Spooky! The game kicks off with a Sator Square, with its gnomic reference to turning wheels. Spookier!

Sadly, the Fiesta is haunted by the ghost of one Steve Wintle, who in the opinion of this player is perhaps the world’s least interesting man. The most attention-grabbing things about Wintle are that his regular pub has an utterly bizarre name, and that his restless soul has split into three parts, presumably because one man’s ghost cannot contain that much ennui. He haunts the car like this:

cigarette butts in the cupholder
receipts and newspapers in the door pockets
takeaway bags rotting in the passenger footwell
glove compartment choked with sweet wrappers
furry dice on the mirror

The Triumvirate of Wintle replaces all this, every time you clean the car. The obvious solution is either 1) sell the damned thing, or 2) some sort of insurance job. Instead, the player is invited to move Steve on from the Fiesta with the occasional help of a lady psychic who possibly fancies them, by scrutinising this cruft for leads about the things Steve enjoyed. This all sounds like a comedy game, but it’s definitely not; it’s a catharsis game of fairly serious intent.

Probably because of this, Dead Man’s Fiesta feels longish to play, and the tone of the writing is…kind of on-purpose joyless. It’s deliberately meandering and unpunctuated, intended to convey how grief flattens you out emotionally, and how it’s weird that we reckon people would be one jot different in death to how they are in life. If that sounds an intriguing idea, I recommend (seriously) the excellent book ‘Beyond Black’ by Hilary Mantel, which I hadn’t thought about in years before I started playing DMF.

At one point, eating a grim sandwich in a grim cafe, I make a prediction. My prediction is that this is a low-fi horror game and that somehow, I will gradually turn into Steve Wintle, or someone so like him that he’s effectively reincarnated. In justice to the game, I have to say that this hunch was 100% incorrect. In justice to my powers of prediction, the end ‘solution’ is dropped on the player out of the blue by the long-winded lady psychic who possibly fancies them and whose only explanation for this revelation is ‘I’m a psychic, duh’. That is very naughty, and will lose you a point.

There are a few typos, but only “outer hebridies” really got me down. The accompanying illustrations, all custom-drawn for the game, are more than decent, especially the three ghosts of Wintle himself.

Prize: a pair of furry dice, redolent of fag ash and Brut.[/spoiler]

(Disclaimer: All of these are initial thoughts more than full reviews. There’s no way I’m going to have time to write 70+ reviews with my schedule, but toward the end I will try to write up some fuller-length thoughts.)

I skipped over this at first since it’s another one where the blurb is far less compelling than the story proper – the story is very voicey, but that doesn’t come out in the blurb – but I enjoyed this as well. (The theme of this year’s comp games I actually like seems to be ghosts.)

Generally well-written, voicey as mentioned (it reminds me a lot of Known Unknowns, both in voice and how it uses General Supernatural Happenings as a proxy for emotions, in this case grief; some of the mechanics work the same way as well). The author comes from a formal creative writing background, which didn’t surprise me. I could do without the symbolism being spelled out – it was pretty clear the story was about processing grief, so having that said explicitly at the end cheapened it.

The art is a nice touch, surprisingly evocative in a late-summer way for the cartoony style. I did feel like the CSS was a bit hinky at times (a lot of scrolling, particularly in sections like searching the car), and I always wanted the main text box to be elsewhere, but I know from experience that box positioning and scrolling can be a nightmare to work out in Twine. The default fade-in effect also, I think, interfered with a couple sections, causing text to load what to me seemed like late – anything with a list of 5 choices, really – and I guess that might have been intentional, to signify time passing/ennui/whatever, but it seemed more like a bug. (A hack to make text not fade in automatically is to put the text inside a separate div class – it doesn’t need any styling on it – which tricks Twine into not doing the fade-in. I actually loaded this game into the online Twine editor and tried that, which took care of the issue.)

Re: the Benbecula thing: I did choices slightly differently, and I actually did find out the name of the island before the fortune teller told me. I get that you more or less have to go there to experience the story – I’m just not sure this is the best way, mechanically, to do it. Perhaps something where, if you haven’t seen the name of the island and time runs out, you find out you’ve suddenly got a couple extra days of leave?

@ifcomp - just how I like my comedy-horror musings on the grieving process; wry, dry, and British with the steering-wheel on the right side. Reminiscent of @PaperBlurt, if you like that style, this will park nicely in the garage.

I was a bit ambivalent about this game. I’ve posted a review of it on my blog.