Rescue at Quickenheath thoughts (all spoilers)

Probably not going to play any other Spring Thing games before it ends but if I do then I’ll update this lol.

I wanted to show my boyf a recent IF game since he’s played parsers ages ago but wanted to get back into the swing of it. When polling for reccs in my IF communities, this got recommended a few times, and it seemed up our alley, so we tried it out. We alternated reading passages and voiced different characters, which was fun (he was Aubrey, I was Kit).

It’s a very charming game, with a lot of genre notes that I love (faerie stuff, historicalish setting, breaking the law, queerness) that are well written and fun. I felt like all combinations of choices were weaved in organically, and while we got most of the puzzles right, I liked that it was forgiving when we got the Queen’s riddle horribly wrong and turned into a fish…put a pin in that.

I also continually marvel at how games pull off romance plots, not because I think it’s impossible, but because I am abjectly terrible at writing romance. I really enjoyed the sweet dynamic between Kit and Aubrey. I also appreciated that I could see that Aubrey is a fae from like forty million miles away but even though Kit was completely oblivious, the “mystery” was cleared up incredibly quickly so I didn’t have to groan about Kit being so slow on the uptake for long. Overall, I left the game really enjoying the experience.

Now, take that aforementioned pin and read what I actually wanted to talk about.

Illusion-ruining and/or Experience-enhancing game design spoilers

When we talked about this game at the little IF book club I’m in, it was a conversation of compliments. Then someone pointed out something I hadn’t realized playing it the first time: at least some of the puzzles in the game don’t actually affect the outcome of the plot.

I got turned into a fish in one run, and the whiskered fae saved me. In this run, the whiskered fae saved me from the frog faeries. You can get the password for the warden egregiously wrong until he just tells you the answer. If you get Aubrey’s True Name wrong, they turn into a Fae anyway.

I can’t say if all the puzzles are so forgiving, such as getting lost in the caverns with the chaperone or the maze or being chased by the Wild Hunt – I couldn’t bear to get those wrong even when I replayed – but a lot of the ones that seemed most critical to get right still looped you back to the same track, usually within a few passages.

We had a lengthy discussion about this. At first I was very resistant to the idea that these were puzzles if they didn’t actually affect the plot of the game, and had a negative reaction to their advertisement as puzzles. I am someone who’s VERY invested in the thematic and narrative purpose of puzzles, having made an entire presentation on it, and I was confused about why it didn’t seem to “matter”. In my presentation, I posit that puzzles need to have different outcomes based on different attempted solutions. There has to be at least one answer that gives a different outcome than another answer, usually wrong vs right. If the puzzle gives you the same outcome no matter what, it’s not a puzzle, but possibly an instance of a ludonarrative structure that represents inevitability or lack of agency or some other theme.

But then after other people’s points were made about Rescue, I have come to this expanded understanding:

The game does give you a different outcome if you’re wrong vs if you’re right, and after replay, I realized it is a deceptively linear game – there is actually far more branching than is obvious from one playthrough. While it doesn’t affect the plot as a whole, insomuch as most of the same key conversations and scenes occur, and you still save Aubrey/Aubrey saves you by turning into a Fae at the end, your experience is different, as a player.

An experience where Kit has to survive being chased after by the Wild Hunt and turned into a fish and get the True Name wrong is different from the one where they nearly fall asleep with a boring chaperone and eat Faerie food for too long and get the True Name right. That experience matters just as much for games as different endings do, it just isn’t so obvious. Sure the branch quickly bottlenecks back to the main plot, but the branch is there for a qualitative reason.

It also reminds me of a talk that Ian Michael Waddell gave at Narrascope 2019, about how games kind of suck at the concept of failure. In real life, when you fail, it’s often a learning experience, and you have to deal with the failure but move forward. Meawhile in most games, when you fail, it’s a blocking and often punishing experience – lose progress, lose a life, lose time, get a worse ending than if you were smart, or simply sit there banging your head against the obstacle until you solve or beat it. This game feels like it moves past that sort of dynamic (the way that IMW was advocating for) elegantly.

Lastly, if I do end up pushing the puzzles through my lens of thematic puzzles or through ludonarrative mechanics or whatever such framework that analyzes the themes inherent in the design…I think i could argue the theme is “the power of love overcomes all obstacles”. That’s a pretty cool way to weave the theme of love into a romance game!

Overall, I left the game really enjoying the experience in the end, even after all the twists and turns it took to get there. Very fitting for this game in particular, I think :wink: