Eat Me - Chandler Groover

Off site review: … ndler.html

From my review on
Eat Me is a fantasy game where the protagonist is a child who ends up in a castle where everything is edible. There is food anywhere but also objects, furniture and people can be eaten. The writing is fluid, the game is well programmed as always, and it’s fun to go around eating everything. Assuming that I don’t like grotesque stuff, this is a good proof of concept that it’s not for me.

I beta tested this and it was wonderful even then. Excited to see if anything has been changed!

I have posted a review and transcript for “Eat Me” on my blog:

  • Jack

In terms of any individual element of IF that is on balance more objective than subjective when it comes to assessment, Eat Me is virtually flawless, and that’s even with me placing probably more things on the objective side than most judges. Chandler is tops not only in polishing the fundamentals but also in honing the user experience at every level. It’s quite smooth, and sure, I’d attribute some of that to the limited-parser design, which sidesteps some potential trouble. This design can create problems as well, but this author has the experience there to alleviate them. Of course, I’ll bet Chandler is also an expert in reading his own work and especially in anticipating likely commands from players. My nouns had excellent credit. Thorough testing played a role too, certainly, and that’s how good games are made.

Eat Me is no less on-the-money with IFComp-specific criteria. I comfortably rate the scope/length as perfect, at least for me. The limited-parser mechanism is firing on all cylinders, allowing the game to move along rapidly and cover substantial terrain. Not being able to render the game unwinnable helps too for this venue. So does superb cover art and an attractive interface. But what I found most incredibly dialed-in was the balance between a well-guided, cohesive story experience and an open-world adventure experience. That required one hell of a good design.

The secret of that, I think, is the map. After a smallish, contained, but plenty substantial first area, the map opens up directly. That’s where some players go “oh shit” and others are like “aw, sweet!”, but it’s a good moment for the latter category. For the former, the really ingenious part (even if it’s been done before) is how the map shrinks as rooms are no longer needed because you solved the puzzle there. (You’re in a castle and parts of it collapse, justifiably enough for the mood, as you go.) That points the player right to whatever has not yet been solved. It’s impossible not to appreciate the careful design of how the puzzles are laid out on the map.

How about things on more of the subjective side? As flawless games go, this one’s pretty good. I might prefer difficult puzzles, but I was plenty motivated to mow down these unavoidably easy ones to see how things would turn out. I can see some descriptions here–without question–turning some people off, but none of the material bothered me; perhaps because the particular narrative voice kept any revulsion at–or well beyond–arm’s length. I found it more descriptive than gross, and more dreamlike than grotesque. We are, just to catch you up, talking about eating everything in sight in single-minded fashion, including people. But the people are made of food, so that’ll check out morally. The animals, however, don’t have or need that layer of excuse for consumption, so the vivid acts in question will hit closer to home, and that’s where the author’s switchboard may light up if it does. Not that I would be calling in anyway, but… it’s just a dream.

We are told from the outset that the game cannot be put into an unwinnable state. For a take-lamp adventurer like me, that’s actually a little uncomfortable. I want reward for prudent caution, and here we are presented with more obviously irrevocable actions than I’ve ever seen. I had to adapt, playing like things mattered but also not hesitating to take risks when they called attention to themselves.

Among other things, I’ll call the writing in Eat Me taut and expedient. So much so, that I misunderstood a few passages at first, but the forgiving nature of the game rendered any confusion a non-issue. I used the word “cloying” to describe Chandler’s writing in Mirror and Queen. That’s perceptible here but is now much more under control. And it makes more sense this time. I felt the tone was neatly aristocratic, perhaps noble, and combined with the point-of-view, perhaps deific, as if there was something truly omniscient about the narrator’s character. I felt good about that characterization when I saw the ending, but let me back up first.

Avoiding spoilery story-specifics for now, Eat Me establishes a setting that is distinctly European, from some bygone era of aristocratic or royal-court-type society. (I’m not sure, but I can see one interpretation that would justify taking elements from several eras; more about that later.) What’s clear is that it’s from a different time, one where children should be seen and not heard, their thoughts and desires only guessed. The child-protagonist in Eat Me is not actually heard from at all. The game is presented as some prior-era stereotype of what an adult might think a child’s fantasy would be. A dream of indulgence; not of adult things like sex or booze or money, but something a child could conceivably desire in excess: food. The child must be not-so-subtly encouraged in his or her pursuit by the narrator, who is presenting a test of gluttony. The child’s only means of expression is to complete the test or not complete it. I felt there were a few different interpretations about whether or to what degree the child was lured in, coerced, or threatened to take or complete the test. There is certainly room to speculate that it was, in fact, the child’s dream-come-true all along.

Under spoilers, a few notes on story specifics. I will give away the ending here but not the puzzles:

In this game like some of his others, Chandler is spinning off of established literature, in this case, a story called “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King” (1816), which gave rise to the well-known ballet The Nutcracker. The Mouse King makes an appearance in Eat Me, while the narrator, guide, and the deity of the dreamlike world we see is the Sugarplum Fairy. I assume the mentioned “virge” lets the presence of a Nutcracker be known as well. The narrator-child might be one of the children from the 1816 story, used by the Fairy as an initial test-case, but perhaps not. In the game, there’s a child’s skeleton in the cell where you start. Is this merely a conjured warning, or the actual bones of a child that failed the test? At any rate, the Sugarplum fairy’s motive is what’s central. In the vein, perhaps, of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, I think the basic idea here is to take a minor character and expound somewhat upon her story. Some details have been left to us. The Sugarplum Fairy is looking for kids who can pass the test, ascend to her Court, and apparently be granted immortality. Straying into supernatural territory, it’s tough to say what actually happened. My take is that the Fairy has been doing this for quite some time. Sometimes, children have dreams of gluttony, and that’s when she ensnares them. On a tragic note, it’s probably not the child’s true desire; it’s just a dream.

My review

[spoiler]Well, everybody loves this game. It’s therefore with great regret that I have to confess… I, well, kind of found it… off-putting?

The writing is solid, the game is well designed. The subject matter, however, was another matter. (Yes, I made a pun. Send me to the pun-intentiary.)

I stopped playing the moment I found myself eating people who had not done anything to harm me. Disgusted that the smoothness of the gameplay could have lead me to actually commit such a heartless act in the game-world, I typed QUIT and was done with the game.

There you have it in a nutshell. Subjective, I know. But aren’t all reviews subjective to some extent? Besides, an accomplished author like Grover needs no ‘yes men’ to grovel at his feet. He knows what he’s doing and he’s good at it.[/spoiler]

Short review here:

tl;dr is that it’s a fantastic game that’s also super Not For Me.