Lucian's IFComp 2023 Reviews (latest: Tricks of Light in the Forest)

I felt similarly, and someone did comment in my review thread to say they agreed, so you’re not totally alone here. I’m glad what Beat Witch was doing seems to have worked for many people, but to me, letting players muck around a bit and interact with their environment is pretty much the unique strength of parser games, and the “type the one specific thing I want you to type or else” approach was not my jam.

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Well, it’s good to know I’m not alone :wink: I do suspect I may be an outlier in how angry the game made me, as opposed to ‘frustrated’ or even just ‘disengaged’, but hey.

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Tricks of light in the forest (Pseudavid)

This was a delightful game! I started off thinking it would be cute but too slight, but as the game progressed, it layered on extra depth without betraying its central premise.

That premise: you are 12, and you are exploring the forest on your own, and without express permission, hoping to gather samples and photographs to show your class. Nice, but slightly cloying, no? And indeed you start off and see a cool stick and cool flowers and cool animals, and touch them all and take pictures and samples. And it’s genuinely cute! And deliberately clicking on each ‘touch’, ‘photograph’ and ‘sample’ button made my own actions meld with the deliberateness of the PC, helping to increase our synchronicity.

But! As you go, the PC starts to reveal information about herself and her world in reminiscences triggered by stuff we see. And everything feels natural, like we’re just listening in to the actual monologue going on in her head, and not some sort of ‘As you know, Bob’ information-dump. But our view of the world she inhabits is quite different from her own! To her, everything is just ‘the way it is’, but stuff in her past turns out to be in our future, and of course she’s 12 and we’re (presumably) slightly older than that. So while we build up a picture of the world in her mind, we simultaneously build up a picture of the world in our own minds, and from our own perspectives. It’s a nice bit of world-building! I have to emphasize that this isn’t the ‘main’ thing that’s going on during the game, but it’s one of the two main ‘overlays’ the game gives us over the core ‘a 12-year-old looks at cool stuff’ experience.

The second ‘overlay’ is that our hero is herself blocked from doing stuff by the world, often embodied as ‘large animals’. This is where the light puzzles come in, where you have to overcome the obstacles. Nothing is ever too difficult, and the somewhat-limited choice-based interaction suite you have available helps here, because there’s only so many things you can do at any particular junction, and one of them is bound to be the correct one. And again, these actions often serve as fodder for more reminiscences, nicely layering the whole experience.

I suppose the rest of what I have to say is about the game as a whole including my reconstruction of the world and of the ending, and therefore is going to be spoiler-y. Blurs up!

One of the things I particularly liked about the worldbuilding was how believable-to-me the post-climate-crisis world was. It seems like things got worse before they got better, with climate change deniers initially having the upper hand, then people who wanted to fix it getting the upper hand, but with the deniers still holding out in places for some time. And the resulting world is kind of broken, but the main problem is being dealt with, and cleaning things up is going to be a long slog. This is a pretty hopeful view of the future, all things considered! And one of the ways I found it hopeful is that I believed it–a rosy ‘oh, yeah, we fixed climate change’ wouldn’t have given me hope, because I would have just rejected it out of hand as unrealistic. But a world where it was difficult and things broke a lot before they started getting fixed? I can get behind that.

I think the hut nicely embodied a lot of that: on one level, Our Hero has never seen that much plastic in one item before (a bog-standard bowl), nor has she seen leather before but once. So clearly, we’ve stopped using as much fossil fuels and cows as we do today. At the same time, the chair is sinister to us on a level that Our Hero can’t really contemplate, in one way because she’s only 12, but in another because the Time of Troubles is largely in the past. Overall, that whole scene hit me with just the right level of frisson of several things going on at once, with none of them being too ‘on the nose’, and everything feeling quite natural.

The only hiccup for me was the final line of the game, where it tells you:

I have the feeling that I’m missing something. That there is something to be understood in the middle of all this, which I can’t understand, I can’t even guess.

There are two possible interpretations of this line. One is that there were secrets in the game I didn’t uncover. I don’t think I missed anything, though, so that interpretation is misleading. The other interpretation is simply that Our Hero, as a 12-year-old, didn’t understand everything she was seeing, but that we-the-player should be able to piece things together. And I think that’s probably the correct interpretation, but I don’t like the choice to put it in the game. On one hand, it’s a little on the nose; surely most people playing the game are going to understand things from their own perspective that Our Hero does not. And on the other hand, it seems a bit out of character for a 12-year-old to literally muse to themselves, “Gee, the world is a complicated place; I bet I’ll understand more when I’m older.” I didn’t get the sense that she was much like that. There were times when she was all ‘That’s weird, what’s the deal with this thing?’ but I feel like those moments don’t haunt you unless you actually do understand what’s going on at some subconscious level, or at least have encountered that sort of thing in other contexts where you did know the ‘deeper meaning’ of The Thing, so you recognize the shape of A Thing That Would Make Sense If You Knew More.

I’m taking a lot of time talking about two whole sentences of the entire game, but they were the last two sentences, and they did strike me as a little incongruous.

But overall, it was a very minor issue, and I heartily recommend the game.

Did the author have something to say? Yes! On several levels!

Did I have something to do? Again, yes on several levels! I had literal puzzles to solve, and a world to explore, but also a backstory to piece together from what I suppose would have to be described as a mildly unreliable narrator.

Transcript (note: it looks like a parser transcript, but it’s all choice; it’s just that your choices are then incorporated into the text of the game as if they were entered into a parser): tricks_of_light.txt - Google Drive

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Thanks for this detailed writeup! Player-PC synchronicity is for sure a consideration I never had in mind during writing!

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