Mike Russo's IF Comp 2020 Reviews

The Land Down Under, by the Marino Family

I dunno – on this one I’m slack-jawed, don’t have much to say.

…sorry.

Anyway, The Land Down Under, which I’m going to call LDU from here on out to avoid further temptation, is an appealing fantasy adventure with a moral and an entertainingly-realized world, plus some jokes that, unlike the one at the top of this review, actually work.

The fantastical bit of the premise is immediately grabby – the player character needs to explore a magic sort of paper-doll world to find other kids who’ve been sucked into it – but I have to admit I found the character introductions, and the emotional dynamics between them, a little more confusing in opening. I suspect this is because I haven’t played the earlier games in this series, though LDU does draw attention to their existence and even includes links to play them in-game, so that’s on me I suppose. Still, given that the heart of the game is the relationship between Lin, Wanda, and Peter, I felt like I had to fill in those details based on what I learned once in paperworld, rather than coming into it with a strong understanding of them from the real-world sections.

Once Lin is shrunk down and paperfied, though, I experienced charm overload. The mechanics of how this paper world work are clearly thought through and delightfully presented, both in a playful narrative voice and the occasional illustration that really fits the storybook vibe. I’ll spoiler-block two of my favorite bits so as not to ruin things: trying to surf the breeze as a paper-person was super fun, and the kitchen table that flips from breakfast to dinner back to breakfast was a great gag!

There are lots of choice along the way, and the game clearly signposts which are important by presenting them as an exclusive list at the end of a passage, with regular progression and exploration handled with inline links. There are some dead-ends, but there’s an undo mechanic that’s sufficiently generous to make them not feel punitive, as well as providing a further reward for poking beyond the critical path.

Surprisingly to me, LDU does touch on some relatively heavy themes – not just the expected look at escapism and conformity, but there are also hits of trauma, divorce, and depression around the edges. This is done with a light touch, though: they add weight and some added significance to the story without creating a tonal mismatch by dragging things into grimdarkness.

I did run into issue that I think is a bug, though I’ll blur it out since it involves a mechanical spoiler (after I found the second part of the poem right after getting to school, I was asked if I wanted to trade in my poetry power for extra jetpacks. When I said yes, the story put me back to where I was when I found the first half of the poem, just before entering the paper world. I was able to replay and then finish the game with no further issues, though). But overall the implementation was smooth, allowing me to focus on experiencing the heartfelt story.

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Ascension of Limbs, by AKheon

Huh, somehow the randomizer decided to cluster the Lovecraftian systems-driven games all together. AoL applies effective horror theming to what’s mechanically a sort of card game (I think if you squint at it, it might be doing something like Cultist Simulator in parser-IF, though I’m not really sure since I only played Cultist Simulator for like 20 minutes before bouncing off of it, thinking I’d get back to it, and then all the Alexis Kennedy #MeToo stuff came out and, nope). Much like with Chorus, the real fun is in replaying and optimizing, though here there are a lot of different outcomes, both positive and negative.

For all that it is a very mechanical game, there is a fair bit of writing, and most of it is I think quite good. Honestly I’m a bit burned out on straight Lovecraft at this point, but the author really hits the tone, including not just the expected tropes about sinister cults and dark inheritances, but also paying attention to the internal stresses on the player character in a way that doesn’t just hit lazy stereotypes about mental illness. And on subsequent plays, you can enter an “Arcade” mode that skims over some of the more lugubrious bits of writing. There are several characters with whom to interact, though I thought more could have been done to give them a personality – the various customers come and go quickly, and most conversations wind up being alternate ways to engage with the mechanics.

Good news then that the systems are solidly built, and just as importantly, the game is well-paced so that a playthrough doesn’t stretch beyond the amount of content. There are clear early, middle, and late-games, with distinct challenges and risk/reward calculations to play out, and with clear signposting of the different paths to try to follow. Most of what you do is match a limited (but expanding) set of verbs to a limited (but expanding) set of nouns, while running a cursed antique shop.

The basic loop is of finding goods, some mundane but some rather unique and eldritch, in the labyrinthine recesses of the shop, promoting your store to bring in customers and their cash, then using the cash to improve the store and pay upkeep, while dealing with the odd raving loon or incident of vandalism. Going after anything beyond mere material remuneration, like ancient artifacts and forbidden lore, requires juggling additional mechanics including sanity and infamy, and considering making a variety of deals with a variety of devils.

This is a solid structure, and there are a good number of different things to be pursuing, or worry about going wrong, at any moment – beyond the three core victory paths, there are four or five different ways to lose if things start going badly along the different tracks. But the player usually has a good number of options to forestall disaster, plus UNDO is permitted which helps obviate some of the randomness of a few of the events, so it’s usually possible to settle back and play things safe. It’s relatively simple to get into a stable position, and then getting to the more interesting endgames is primarily about when you want to start taking bigger risks for bigger rewards, which seems appropriately in-theme. Towards the latter end of a play-through, interest can start to wane, since there’s only a finite store of characters, unique items, and special events, but I found this was only an issue when I was going for the special mega-ending that combines all three of the primary ones – otherwise it goes down sharp and easy.

I also wanted to call out that the included walkthrough is quite good, and makes for interesting reading as basically a set of design notes. I had to consult it to get to the even more special bonus ending (I could not figure out how to avoid being on good terms with the seer, since even trying to kill her wasn’t doing the trick! I don’t think I would have hit on either of the options for doing so on my own) but would definitely recommend doing so, though only after you’ve decided you’re finished playing because it lays everything quite bare.

Oh, and I can’t help sharing the way I customized the super secret ending (which I didn’t include in the transcript since I neglected to start a new one after I quit out to read the walkthrough):

Let us begin a new spiritual task that will allow us to keep growing going forward. Let us ensure that even when our work is done, our work will continue. Let us show our initiative and make κλάδος proud. Let us believe in Puppies from now on. Let us cultivate puppies. Let us trust in puppies! After consulting the treatises of ανάβαση, I believe the best way to do this is by tail-wagging’.

Ascension of Limbs MR.txt (437.8 KB)

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Red Radish Robotics, by Gibbo

In some ways it’s apt that the randomizer gave me Red Radish Robots right after Ascension of Limbs (yes, I’ve gotten to the point in the Comp where I’m starting to think about the randomizer…), because while AoL’s secret sauce was that it was paced just the right length for its content, RRR suffers from stretching on too long for the interest its setting and puzzles can support.

The concept is a fine if unexceptional one – robot waking up after some kind of disaster and trying to reconstruct what’s happening while solving straightforward puzzles – but the trouble is, it isn’t too hard to suss out what’s happened, and the puzzles are all quite straightforward. The closest thing to a twist is that the robot has been deactivated without fingers, so you need to gather them one by one until you have a full complement of ten, which allows you to get to the end-game. But ten is too high a number to which to have to count, given that you mostly find them by unlocking doors (some with keys, some by oiling stuck ones), opening multiple safes, finding a note where someone’s written down their computer login and clues to their password… Again, there’s nothing wrong with the classics, but in too large portions it feels overly starchy.

There are ways to be destroyed or get to a dead end, but a limited number of respawns are possible (respawns also appear to somehow rewind time as to at least one object, which is helpful but confusing!) The writing is typo-free and does what it needs to to communicate the setting and what’s going on. And there are a couple of puzzles that have a bit more zip to them, like the final one (though requiring the player to lie to the “bad” robot, then sucker-punch him while shouting out that I’m fine being a slave was maybe not my favorite aspect of the game). But my interest started to flag on like the sixth spin through the same eight rooms to see what one new quotidian interaction my incremental progress had unlocked, before having to do the inevitable seventh. All this speaks well of what the author will do next – and there are indications there’s more work already in the oven – hopefully with a bit of trimming to cut away any unneeded filler!

What a long review! :eyes:

I’m glad to hear that you found the systems solid. The sandbox could always be larger with a few more mechanics and items, but it might be best to keep things relatively streamlined in a pure text-based format since at some point the sheer amount of information to relate to the player becomes too much. I’m still interested in continuing the development of AoL in some form in the future.

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If I can’t always offer keen analysis or surprising insight, at least I can throw together a lot of words, is my general theory of reviewing :slight_smile:

And yeah, I think your instincts on keeping things relatively streamlined are right, and helped AoL land in a sweet spot pacing-wise. Since you’re interested in more work on it (yay!), maybe it’s worth thinking about things that might change existing behavior or items, or swap in for them, instead of just being additive? I didn’t really explore whether choosing a different backstory for how you got the shop changes things, but that might be one approach. Or switching up or randomizing the nature of the cult and their artifacts, though that would probably be a lot of work!

But Undum… [wistful sigh]

In my opinion it produces the most beautiful games I’ve ever seen, and I wish I was smart enough to actually use it!

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Oh, I hadn’t realized there was a specific library behind LDU – I’m not at all versed in the technical details of Twine, so thanks for mentioning that! I did think the layout was really nice, since it integrated the graphics well, toggled cleanly between hyperlinks and listed choices, and had those flexible side-windows with the character stats and about the author blurbs. So it’s definitely effective – glad that the author mastered what’s apparently a really challenging system to make it!

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I WANT ALL THE PROGRESS BARS!

undum is actually an entirely separate system from twine. the games you might remember best for it were made with bruno dias’ extension of it, “raconteur.”

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There is one prominent example of an item changing after using, which is Reed, which becomes “distasteful” once you feed it enough. But yeah, more of this might be a good idea. I also thought about giving random properties to more items, but I prefer the idea that the player can plan around the items they find without having to consult the seer every single time; there’s always Oulent for the truly random item that always should be asked about if you find it.

Originally different backstory gave you a different starting perk, but I scrapped the idea and just kept the choice there to suggest that the narrator is unreliable.

The town has a bit of a Mêlée à Trois going on with the congregation of Kleidos, the rogue cultists worshipping Technitis and the strictly secular law enforcement. At the very least, it would be nice to give the Technitis side some more artifacts; at the moment they only have the two that creep drops in your store.

About your transcript, after reading it, I think it might be helpful to add a short tutorial message mentioning that the seer can’t be defeated in combat if the player happens to try it.

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@HanonOm surely you are being overmodest.

But, if you ever want a tour of Undum – or at least our version of Undum – I’d be more than happy to show you its ins and outs. And all the delicious design work (other than a few adjustments) goes to Ian Millington, of course. And obviously, the Marino family agree with you 100%.

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Thank you for this thoughtful review – and the bug catch! I look forward to sharing this with my kids. As the narrator indicates, this story was mostly my daughter’s concoction. I did my best to render the details she had dreamed up in that paper world originally when she was in 4th grade. (She’s a senior in high school now!) You review makes me think we need to go back and look at those character intros. Yes, there are previous stories, but Lin is the only character who shows up in a previous one and only very briefly.

And thank you for taking the story on its terms. Most of the reviews of the other Wobbles stories begin, “I am not a child, so I cannot appreciate works written for children.” I’m not a child, and I LOVE children’s lit. By contrast, your review is full of so much affect and genuine joy. We’re going to treasure it and use it to fuel our work on future stories!

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I should mention that although the progres bars are part of Undum, we hand-made the percentage completed system. As you can imagine, it’s not perfect – since it is using milestones rather than actual counts. Hopefully it works well enough to get people through without that feeling that they could be reading forever or are missing lots of content.

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Glad you liked the review, and thank you for the game! I’m looking forward to checking out the earlier installments once the firehose of content that is IFComp is over.

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Deelzebub, by Morgan Elrod-Erickson, Skyler Grandel, and Jan Kim

Deelzebub is a lightly-puzzly comedy game that nails the comedy and got my first out-loud laughs of the Comp.

The scenario – the player character is part of a cult that may be harboring a dark secret – is immediately familiar, but the tone of the presentation quickly subverts expectations, as the player character is presented as earnest, friendly, and a little bit suspicious of many different things and people, but willing to go along to get along. This easygoing vibe fits well with a rather ridiculous, but appealing, supporting cast, and some engagingly silly situations.

I don’t want to get too much into detail on the comedy, both not to ruin it and because what worked for me might not work for you. But I think it’s really, really well done. The best gags, I thought, have to do with the main character trying to bluff his way through a demon summoning, and this bit alone is worth the price of admission. I can’t help spoiler-blocking my favorite single joke:

Dave (the aforementioned demon) looks around the chamber. “So this is the human world, huh? It’s a lot smaller than I imagined.”

“This isn’t all of it. We’re in a basement.”

Deelzebub stacks up well pacing-wise, too. The player character is given a series of tasks, which are generally pretty clear in pointing you in the right direction and none of which overstay their welcome. The structure then opens up during the endgame, with four different endings to pursue (I found two).
The puzzles generally have good clueing, though some niggles in implementation and a little bit of guess-the-noun/verb-ing occasionally undercut the momentum. I also was a little disappointed that Dave, the demon you summon early on, can sort of drop out of the story midway through, since he was the clearest throughline for the first half of the game.

There’s a good amount of scenery implemented, though occasionally objects that seem to be mentioned aren’t actually there (there’s reference to a pamphlet that explains the group’s beliefs in the opening scene, but I couldn’t find or read it), or objects that are important but aren’t mentioned despite being present (Chris was listed as being in the crop field area, but not Ruth, even though you can, and should, interact with her! And I had the same issue with the ear in the worm bin). The map felt a bit too big, but maybe that’s just because I had a hard time holding it in my brain due to there being some non-cardinal directions thrown in to confuse things.

There were also a few niggles that might have just been part of the way TADS works, but which stood out as strange to me since it’s been a while since I’ve played a game written in it – in particular, there are a fair number of multi-passage scenes (including the opening) where you need to hit enter to continue, but without specific prompting and the ability to write text before one hits enter, I wound up being a bit confused because I thought I was playing the game and just getting unhelpful/strange responses before twigging to what was going on.

All of which to say there are a few small rough patches that can hopefully be smoothed over for a post-comp release, because what’s here is really solid and really funny, just tremendously appealing.

Deelzebub - mr.txt (305.6 KB)

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Accelerate, by the TAV Institute

So there was this book that circulated amongst the, shall we say, less-popular kids when I was in high school and college (the mid to late 90s, for reference) – the Illuminatus! Trilogy, by two dudes named Robert. It’s this frothy, over-the-top, drug-fueled mélange of Philip K. Dick sci-fi tropes, secret-society paranoia, revisionist history, anarchist theory and praxis, Tantric sex, gnostic apocalyptica, and like twenty other things all cut together in high-Sixties style. I don’t know whether people still read it these days, or if it would have the same impact in a world with Wikipedia, but I remember it as a big deal because it connected basically everything a certain kind of person might be into – any individual sorta-weirdo probably was big into, and familiar with, a portion of what was on offer, but certainly not all. And in fact I think of there being two main channels into it – first, you could be a dork coming to it from the sci-fi, history, and religion side of things (it me), or alternately it was also big with the folks who took a bunch of drugs and were excited about blowing up authority.

Illuminatus! isn’t mentioned in the Brobdingnagian acknowledgments page for Accelerate, so I suppose there’s no direct linkage, but I share that to give some partial flavor of what’s contained in this maximalist work, and also to acknowledge that while I think I get a lot of what’s going on here, I’m aware that I’m significantly too square to be the ideal audience for the piece – like, through my choices I think I made Accelerate’s transgender divine assassin sometimes feel a little normcore? So while I thought it was really good, I suspect there’s a chunk of folks to whom this will be amazing (and also a chunk of folks for whom this will really not be their thing, of course).

This is another one of those games that’s hard to figure out how to get one’s pick into, so I’ll once again fall back on some structure to make it seem like my thoughts all connect up. I don’t think it’s worth trying to write about this piece without getting fairly spoilery, so I haven’t bothered to blur things up, but fair warning that you should really play this for yourself, and only then come back to the remainder of what I’ve written).

  1. The saha world of birth-and-death

(By which I mean, what is going on within the fictional world of the game – there is probably a way to write about Accelerate that does not involve reaching for the most pretentious references available to one, but where’s the fun in that?)

Though the introduction to the game is intentionally jumbled up and disorienting, what’s going on here is relatively straightforward – the protagonist, an inhabitant of a repressive and despoiled future that is not different from today in any significant respect, feels a kind of internal brokenness. They check themselves into a sort of clinic, partially to score some drugs, but eventually enter into the spirit of the program, which involves transformation and transcendence of the self (the body, the mind, the soul – transgenderism is a strong element here but isn’t, I think, the whole of what’s going on). However, it turns out that the program doesn’t stop there, and is also focused on external change – soon the protagonist is going on high-stakes missions to disrupt capitalism, government, and religion, and in the climax hijacks a spaceship-chariot and storms the Garden of Eden to immanetize the eschaton by exploding the demiurge with a cancer-bomb.

So like I said, simple, straightforward stuff.

Though the overall arc here is I think fixed, there are nonetheless significant pieces of interactivity, through what I think are three primary types of choices. First, there are lots of opportunities to either get more detail, or speed through some of the denser parts of the narrative – I pretty much always opted to explore since I enjoyed the worldbuilding and the writing, but since I barely finished within two hours and others might be less into e.g. reading like 5,000 of a fictionalized interview transcript in between the main plot arc progressing, I think these were a nice convenience. The second set of choices are about giving the player an opportunity to characterize their, or the protagonist’s, responses to what’s going on – ones that I don’t think dramatically shift the story, but offer a welcome invitation to the player to engage with what’s being presented and own it through shaping a reaction.

The third set of choices are the most traditionally gamey, and allow what I think are whole scenes or sequences to be opted into or out of. There was a bit early on where the protagonist had the option of sneaking into the clinic’s basement to search out drugs, but I took a nap instead (told you I was normcore!) There’s also a big set-piece midway through where the player has a choice of different missions to disrupt society – I got a suicide-bombing at a punk show, but from reading other reviews it seems like there’s also an art gallery sequence on offer. So while the overall arc of the narrative appears pretty fixed, the choices do have a significant impact – in particular, the horrifying, civilian-directed violence of that punk-show chapter strongly colored how I experienced everything that came after, so I’m curious how the other branches would change things.

  1. Logos

But look, none of the above would be worth very much if it wasn’t written like getting the right words on the page was a matter of life and death. The whole thing is animated by a feral, demented energy that goes way, way over the top, and sure, sometimes stumbles on itself, but is grabby as fuck. I was copy-and-pasting passages that I wanted to remember as I was playing, and wound up with over 2,000 words accumulated by the end. I’m going to excerpt one early bit of world-building at length so you can see what it’s like:

This is the kind of thing that’s easy to do very very badly – and maybe you think this is bad, fair enough! It’s definitely unpleasant. But while I’m old and technocratic now, I remember being young and angry and thinking and writing things like this right after 9/11, when we started invading and bombing everybody in sight. This style works, it compels, and it doesn’t let up. I don’t want to just keep regurgitating bits of writing I liked, because again I’ve got 1,700 more words where that came from, but the language is intense, it’s smart, it’s playful and self-referential – it’s grim, so very grim, but leavened with joy and jokes as well. Two full hours of being in this world might not seem the most appealing prospect – and to be fair, it isn’t meant to be, and it isn’t – but it was the quality of prose that keeps one going.

All right, here’s one more, a description of a spaceship dogfight of all things: “Hamish sends flaming whips at our pursuers. One flashes to dust in the dark. Each spirals outwards in sine waves of decreasing frequency, whirling towards us.”

The visual design of the game itself is also quite smooth and pleasing. The fonts, colors, and animation all work to keep the focus on the text, while frequent chapter-breaks parcel out a story that would feel overwhelming if undifferentiated. My setup doesn’t lend itself to audio, unfortunately, so I wasn’t able to experience the music, though it appears a lot of thought and effort went into that.

  1. The realm of forms

As is hopefully clear from the above, there are a lot of ideas at play in Accelerate, and even more references. Again, the acknowledgments are comprehensive and worth a read, though many of them are catchable as you go (Accelerate confirms my theory that if you ever see someone use the word “preterite”, there is a 75% chance they are winking at Thomas Pynchon, and a 25% chance they are themselves Thomas Pynchon). You’ve got Jacob wrestling the angel, 1990s space-rock band Spiritualized, the Albigensian heresy, and way way more within the fictional conceit of the world – and in the authors notes and acknowledgments, a clear invocation and situation of the piece within (what is at least presented as) a personal history of trauma and reclamation, the Black Lives Matter movement, and more.

If I were to try to sum up the ideological action as compactly as possible (which, to be clear, is probably not a particularly useful or interesting thing to do), it’s the Gnosticism that rises to the top. Accelerate, it seems to me, is about how the material world we inhabit is broken, fallen, and incomplete – and it makes this case convincingly! It posits that this is the result of a betrayal by an evil Archon, and that through personal and societal transcendence we can reclaim our birthright of immanence. And it portrays that redemption happening through often-horrifying violence visited upon often-anonymous people who are complicit in evil through their silence and acquiescence.

This is fair, as far as it goes – within the fictional world, the baddies certainly give better than they get, and épater la bourgeoisie is a hallowed strategy. And it also echoes some of the alleged deeds of the worst of the gnostics, whose revulsion at the fallen nature of the material world led some to commit enormities (at least in the unreliable narration of their orthodox enemies). Still, at a time when catharsis through violence animates so much of our art and, more to the point, our politics… it made me feel bad (the pathetic, mewling cry of the too-subjective critic). To be clear, Accelerate isn’t positing an ethic of brutality – the authors note in particular offers (again, apparently real-world) forgiveness for an awful crime – but I did feel like I sensed some quiet sorting of wheat and tares, of who is given the chance to be redeemed and who is not.

Wrapping up here feels like ending on a sour note, but I hope the author(s) will forgive that. Accelerate certainly wasn’t written for everyone; a large chunk of it worked very well for me, and it’s not too hard for me to imagine the person for whom it fires on all cylinders. It’s a wonderful, well-conceived and well-executed experience, and one I won’t forget anytime soon.

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thank you for the fantastic review, mike. we’re all exceptionally happy to see people are finding a lot to think about in it. i’d meant to get the transcripting system done before the launch, but it’s hard to make it especially readable. also should be adding some abilities to more easily save and jump around, just in case people want to step back in for a few minutes, in particular places, without going through a whole journey of foolishness all over again :slight_smile:

(iirc, you’re almost entirely correct as for the shape of the story, but the art gallery scene is actually the other choice for 10. there are stubs for a third subbranch for 10, perhaps also leading to three primary content choices or selections on the general theme of detrick/LANL-style weapons manufacture, but we ran out of time. there’s a couple more major subbranches for 12 than the punk show, and one of them leads to three or four subbranches. i wouldn’t necessarily say the others are less violent or disturbing, but the one you got is certainly the most broadly and consequentially violent.)

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and one last collective thought, sorry to double-post: one complication of this is that when we started working on the design of this game, back in late-ish 2019, it felt more like a warning about the consequences of a fallen world. back then our editor felt “ARID” was just too obvious a metaphor for GRID. now, of course, it feels necessarily cynical – we were right about the fall, the ashes, the sackcloth, the destroyer, we just got the deadline wrong by 6 months. the moral import of the story has become more complicated now that it’s half-prophecy, half-warning. but one intended difference between this and other games which suborn you towards terrible violence – quite common, as you fairly say – then act like you’re bad for it, is the question of trust. there’s not really a lot of games which show the image of an attractive, younger white woman misusing people this way, and certainly not many where there’s never much excuse given beyond the fallen world. shodan won’t give you a hug, naturally. in context, one of many intents of that was to point towards who loses, who wins, and who wears the mitre in that arrangement. i feel comfortable saying anyone reading this, myself included, probably ends up a fool, not a demiurge, adversary, or leader. just wanted to specify further, given that, bluntly, this game hurts a lot more than it did 12 months ago.

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Thanks for the insight! A quicker way of zooming around the game would definitely be welcome – I’d love to poke at some of the other branches you mentioned, but as you say it’s currently a little intimidating to contemplate.

And wow, crazy how your planning was overtaken by events, but at the same time utterly unsurprising. One of the notes I jotted for myself as I was playing, but didn’t make it into the review, was “This is all very 2020, except of course we’ve been living in 2020 for a long time and many of us just didn’t have to be aware of it.”

Your point about trust is a solid one – it’s definitely put into question, though as a player I think I’d largely put it aside by the end, once the adrenaline was pumping (which is in some ways very on point I suppose). Definitely something to have in mind when I revisit the piece.

Anyway, congrats again to you and your collaborators!

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an “unevenly distributed future” indeed :slight_smile:

one other interesting thing from my perspective, about the awful punk scene, is how it operates according to a cultic logic that’s almost video game-y.

shoko asahara, when he’d order the execution of someone, would argue in effect that this was an opportunity for the “victim,” not a crime against them. if they were virtuous, they ascend or reincarnate in a higher form; if they’re not, they get a replay at the akashic roulette. this is perhaps a suitable explanation for the uncanny fact, even more gruesome with the volume on, of the bands’ willingness to play out the apocalypse. one could charitably view it as the punk and scene kids having been ferried to the beyond earlier than the revelatory trumpets, by chapter 17 instead finding themselves enjoying “milk all the way.”

it’s perhaps tough to overstate how well that sort of language-loading works in a sealed milieu. “murder” is a mortal sin, we all know this, but “phowa” and “transformation” lack that sort of immediate revulsion, and that can be easily exploited when there’s more pain than remedy available. the historical context of that was the “lost generation,” who found themselves having sacrificed mightily for secure jobs at zaibatsus, the sarariman bargain of the prior generation, only to find no purpose in the meager offerings available.

this is all just the research, of course; if the game itself doesn’t manage to say it loud – and it may for some, may not for others – then an IJ-style set of endnotes likely won’t seal the deal either :slight_smile:

as for the zooming, there is actually a debug option. if you click that, you get a hamburger-style menu on the side, and there’s a drop-down in there that allows you to navigate to any top-level node in the game. i can’t promise it’ll work the same, or in some cases as expected, given it produces totally arbitrary paths through the game, but it at least does allow one to read any particular section (not including the chapter -1 branches) without having to reread anything.

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