Blue Chairs by Chris Klimas, creator of Twine, is a controversial game. Adam Cadre gave it a generally negative review on Radio K, and several other reviews are negative. On the other hand, it won XYZZY best game, and I personally enjoyed it.
It’s a game about a drug trip at a frat party, and contains some strong profanity. That’s otherwise my thing at all, but it more or less works in this game for me personally; the game becomes like that one cousin who’s a bit outrageous but has a heart of gold. Some disliked the literary allusions in the game, but I found that in short-term narratives, allusions like that can serve as a convenient shorthand for communicating ideas.
In any case, this is a game that is polarizing; you’ll probably love it or hate it. It has a maze that isn’t a maze, surreal content, and so on.
No matter what, it won the XYZZY awards, beating the popuoar intro game Dreamhold, the excellent commercial game Future Boy!, and the polished, exciting, big puzzle game Return To Ditch Day. so what does it definitely get right?
==Depth and breadth==
This is a big game, and it has depth throughout. It’s amazing to see all the things the author has thought of. You start out in an attic with dim lighting, and a man giving you a drug in a bottle. Waiting around, trying to leave, talking, etc. are all accounted for.
You occasionally change personas, and the standard responses change accordingly. There are a lot of cutscenes where the game is trying to move you along and it handles attempted diversions well.
There are puzzles with multiple pathways, a large number of npcs, the 5 senses are frequently implemented, etc.
I’ve noticed that what I really mean with depth in these essays is the idea that you as the player are part of this big world that always has something new to explore or discover. Birdland succeeded in this much better than most Twine games by having the stats with greyed out options, letting you know you weren’t getting the whole experience, and preventing lawnmowering by having the cause of the stat and its effects far apart.
Finally, the game uses several nice programming special effects, like a unique variant of forced input and some ascii art effects.
Like almost every Best Game, Blue Chairs has a strong narrative voice and a memorable PC. The PC has a sort of confidence mingled with deepset inferiority. When examining objects, the PC will frequently comment on memories or association with the object and not on the object itself.
The puzzles are all PC-motivated. The PC wants the pill, the PC wants to get home, the PC feels obligated to grab a donut. PC-motivated puzzles tend to go over much better than puzzles that you only solve because you the player know how to work the system. The quality of the puzzles itself don’t matter as much as the motivation behind them.
This is one of only two games to win Best Game, Best Story and Best Writing, the other being Birdland. Story and memorabilia often seem to me the most important factor in XYZZY voting. Yet Blue Chairs is a disjointed surreal games the kind that makes it hard to build a coherent story.
What Klimas does is use recurring themes and consistent tone. A recurring theme is the characters fragile grip on reality. The game frequently comments on what is certainly real, what is certainly a dream, or a dream within a dream, and what is just on the edge. This keeps the game from dissolving into incoherence, as happens sometimes (like the end of Kaged).
The tone is consistently polite, introspectful, and just a bit creepy, with most of the creepiness coming from random atmospheric events. These help keep the player on edge, giving the game the feel of a dangerous drug trip where something terrible might happen at any time.
Recurring themes like the progressive unveiling of Beatrice, the blue chairs, and the vague meetings with the blonde haired Alice tie the game together.
Blue Chairs is a polished game with a well thought out story, a great deal of depth and a strong voice. The enjoyability of the game varies from player to player, but its quality is self-evident, and the game has enough to offer to make several playthroughs worthwhile.