Madam Spider’s Web by Sara Dee (Inform)
Sara Dee’s entry in the IFComp 2005 was my second favourite game of the Comp but I wasn’t half as keen on this one. It started off quite well – with me being addressed by a spider. Literally a spider. The Madam Spider of the title in fact. But after that, I didn’t find myself enjoying it as much as I felt I should.
The aim of the game is to put Madam Spider’s house into some kind of order. There’s a snake in the bath, something living inside the wardrobe and a distinct lack of music coming from the music room. Sort them out, warns Madam Spider, or else. The last serving girl was quite tasty…
The setup of the game was interesting and while I was playing the early stages of it, I got quite involved in it. But at the same time, I didn’t find myself enjoying as much as I thought be. Weird. Maybe the problem stemmed from some of the guess the verb problems I was running into – seriously, I’d have never got into the attic without the walkthrough – or the non-obvious puzzle with what keys to play on the piano (was it clued in some way that I missed or just as non-obvious as it seemed to be? I suppose through trial and error, mixed with a good dose of dogged persistence, I might have figured it out eventually, but even so…)
On the plus side, I liked the style of writing. I liked the way some of the puzzles were handled. I liked the general creepy feeling of the game. But like I said before, I didn’t like it as much as I kept feeling I should.
The ending was… unsettling. I wasn’t too sure what to make of it, although I’d guessed early on that the events in Madam Spider’s house might well not be happening the way I was imagining them. Apparently there are five different endings, some better than others. The ending I reached was definitely a bad one, although as I followed the walkthrough as closely as I could (unless I missed something vital along the way), I’m not sure how I could have improved on things. Maybe I was just doomed no matter what.
So… mixed feelings overall. Good parts, bad parts. I’ll call it an average game and score it 5.
5 out of 10
The piano puzzle was clued with the porcelain figures on the cabinet. You had to have the piano make the sounds that the figurines would themselves make (like for the dog driving the firetruck, a wailing siren, like a firetruck), in the order they were on the mantel.
Personally I had no trouble with the game aside from the ending ‘twist’… The writing and the setting were both nice and dream-like, and it would have been nice if it had been kept in the dream-scape. Instead we get somehting to the tune of ‘You’re a little girl in a fantasy fairy tale who’s trying to find her way free… Naahh just kidding you’re actually a woman who’s been in a horrific car accident and is having coma-hallucinations!!! Did I get ya did I huh?’ Which is the same gripe I had with Swordsman only this game takes it to another level, moving it from ‘oh that’s nice’ to ‘…o…kaay…’
What is so horrible about having a straight well-written enjoyable story without a twist in an IF game is and will remain beyond me, and I’ve seen this so often in 12 years of IFComps that I know it’s not going away.
Yes, I felt the ending was a bit of an unnecessarily unpleasant one. I think I’d have liked the game more if it had ended all sugary sweet or, at least, not with the PC dying and the whole game turning out to be some kind of hallucination. I’m all in favour of ‘edgy’ games in their own time and place, but I don’t think the ending suited this game at all.
This would be a great topic to discuss all on its own, but this is probably as good a place as any.
I think what we’re all doing, in offering these kinds of twist endings, is an attempt to do something that’s been done, but better. I can only speak for myself, but I think it’s probably true of the others. As I was considering the ending for TTS, my first thought was that it might be seen as a cliche. That I considered it something others might think probably should have clued me into the fact that I might have thought the same thing.
I don’t think I even thought about the “it was just a dream” ending that’s so prevelent in all forms of storytelling (if I did, I don’t remember – I’d have to consult my design notes to say for sure). It could have just been my narrowmindedness. I wasn’t thinking about twist endings where everything was a dream, but rather twist endings where the way things are imagined (consciously by the PC) is the way the story is told. With that more narrow view, I couldn’t think of any examples. There are – they’ve been brought to my attention. In hindsight, I should probably have considered all such twists, instead of thinking my way was an original way.
Also, I couldn’t think of any IFComp games in the past two years (the years I’ve been involved the most) that had a twist like this (somebody can correct me if I’ve missed one). So, I kind of thought it would be fresh, even if a few thought it felt like a cliche. I think I deceived myself there. It’s interesting that there were 2 – or 3 or 4? – this year.
In short, I think when we as IF authors do this, it’s because we think we’re doing it in an original way – and that the journey will justify the destination. It’s easy to think this when writing the game – harder when you see it done by others.
Hm, to me it’s not so much an ‘It was all a dream’ kind of thing, but more of a ‘Right before ending the game, we reveal that everything is totally different than what you thought it was’ Jeffrey-Archer-esque kind of thing, which would actually encompass several recent games and a few in this very Comp.
But I totally agree with you that it’s a very tough call to make. It possibly comes from the ‘spoiler-effect’ where nobody actually wants to openly talk about twists in games because nobody wants to spill the secret, so on the outside it seems like it’s rarely done, and meanwhile you, as a player, are going ‘OK, and now here comes the twist at the end…’ in your head at every well-written game.
Everyone’s going to have a different take on twists depending on how much fiction and int-fiction they’ve gone through. It’s an absolutely relative thing, ranging from ‘Wow I cant believe that happened!!’ to ‘I thought this particular twist was a little less needed than other twists I’ve come across’ to ‘Seriously, does every single story HAVE to have a twist…??!’ So in the end the decision is less about deciding whether something is in fact a cliche and more about calibrating what your target audience of if-readers are expecting, and giving them something different; which as we’ve said is very difficult to do. All you can do is to go with your gut and see what happens.
Sara Dee’s entry last year was my favorite game of that comp but I didn’t care for this one.
My biggest complaint was that I just could not see what the connection was between the main game and the ending. Unlike the other posters here I got a (fairly) happy ending but even so I could not see how it was relevant to the tasks in the house.