Hand Me Down (Brett Witty)
This game came with some built-in advantages, choosing two themes (a parent with a terminal illness and Making Something For Your Kid) that are already resonant with me, so it wasn’t going to have to work that hard to pull at my heartstrings. And it did!
The game does an interesting thing where the game ‘Hand Me Down’ is comprised of three other games: a Twine prologue and finale, and a TADS3 in-universe artifact you play in the middle (the Thing Your Dad Made For You). The framing story did a great job of exploring the themes competently and evocatively. The setup was just varied enough to not be completely cliché, and the follow-through was solid.
The middle T3 game had a bit of an advantage in that since it was created in-universe, any bugs or poor design could be blamed on its fictional authors, instead of the actual author. And I indeed thought better of the game because of this! There weren’t really any bugs, but there were indeed a handful of times when the game seemed a little, I dunno, iffy in some way, but I was predisposed to forgive it because it was a gift from a dad to his now-grown kid. You can’t get mad at that!
However, there were a few times when even with that extra scaffolding in place, it fell down for me a bit. In the game, there’s a very personal document in the drawer of the bedside table, and I found myself very confused that the in-game dad would code that there for his in-game daughter to find, as me, when playing the game. It told me-the-player something that I hadn’t known before, so I assume the deal was that this was Mr. Witty’s way of telling me-the-player about the fictional family, but as read, I was mostly just kind of shocked that ‘my dad’ had chosen to include it. (Right next to ‘sunnies’ (aka sunglasses) that could be used for a ‘cool surfer dude’ costume. Tonal shift alert!)
There were also times when it seemed to me that the game had been designed by a kid instead of for a kid. I can’t even tell you why I thought that; it was a general impression I had. I was reminded of an analysis of ‘The Love Song Of J. Alfred Prufrock’, which said it was very much a young man’s vision of what it would be like to be old. The TADS game felt that way to me at times, too: a young person’s vision of a game an older man would write. I have no idea how old the author is, so I could be 100% wrong on this, of course. I also could be imposing my own design assumptions on the game, since I myself have an 18-year-old and a 22-year-old, so if I was writing this game, I would make different decisions… but that could just as easily stem from the fact that I am, in fact, a different person, and not from some inherent ‘games designed by middle-aged parents don’t look this way’ design flaw. Nonetheless, the game just left a twinge of disconnect in its choices that made me remember that it wasn’t actually an in-game artifact, but an ifComp entry in and of itself, which isn’t something you quite want in a game with this setup.
The game itself, looked at as ‘a game to play’ was fun! There were three main goals, and all three goals could be accomplished in (I think) five different ways each, which was amazing, because it meant that you could spend a lot of time figuring out everything, or a minimal amount of time figuring out enough. This was also something I thought worked as an in-game design, too: if you’re writing something for your kid, you want them to spend a good amount of time on it, and giving them several fast ways to get through means that you could have a meaningful conversation about the game in general, while still giving them time to go back and explore the whole world later. I personally ended up only completely solving my three goals in a single way each, but felt that Ruby (my in-universe persona playing the game) would go back and find more stuff her dad had left for her to find.
And hey, kudos to the telescope puzzle, which when I first saw it, made me think “What? No way this is an actual puzzle; it’s way too complicated,” but then after a bit made me think, “Wait, I bet if I…” and off I went. I used Excel a lot, and solved it almost in one go, with one in-game hint at the end that got me thinking along the right lines (literally) for the last stage of the puzzle. Go me!
Then I played the finale and got all emotional again, because I both have kids who I want to see succeed at life, and a father with a terminal illness who passed away a few years back, and it got me RIGHT HERE, which was unfair. And the game didn’t have to end like it did, but it did anyway, and it made me sad and hopeful all at once, so hey. Good job.
Did the author have something to say? Yes! A solid piece about legacies, regret, and running out of time, in the framing story, along with…
Did I have something to do? …puzzles to solve and a cute environment to explore in the in-game-artifact level. And, to be fair, back in the framing story in the finale, too.
Transcript (for the TADS part only, because TWINE continues to be incapable of saving transcripts): important_date.txt - Google Drive