Swigian - Rainbus North

Swigian is a minimalist game (as its blurb states), though not quite a miniature. It got me thinking and doing some research when finished, and I still easily had time to spin through the game a second time before one hour was up. Research, because this story stems from a well known mythology that you might not recognize at first. A single word near the end will clue you in.

Don’t read until after playing:

That word is “Beowulf”, but in this game you apparently are playing as Grendel. I don’t know the Beowulf story well enough to know where Swigian fits in exactly, but I’m sure some reviewer will be able to shed more light. “Swigian”, according to cursory research, is an Old English word that appears in Beowulf and means “to be silent/quiet”. That ties in with the game’s opening line, “I don’t like talking”, and of course with the succinct verbiage, but there may be more to it. I suspect it is a canonical characteristic of Grendel, at least.

Minimalism is not uncommon to see in IF, but here it is very well-justified to get inside the mind of the player-character. I found it fairly robust as well, occasionally witty, with many stock answers of the parser being changed to something more appropriate. The sparse feedback generally serves the game well, directing the player to effective commands in a natural way. I thought it got a little dicey in one scene (mountains) that I didn’t quite understand, but I did make it through the area the first time, if only by luck. I also ran into a few cases–typical of sparse games–where descriptions or responses to certain manipulations of objects or scenery didn’t quite make sense after something else was done or upon some action being repeated. But that’s just a lack of testing or most testers staying on the rails.

Especially when finished–if that makes sense–I enjoyed this game quite a bit. I think it might be worth it for the author to shore up a few things and perhaps invest more completely in the POV, and then do an update. The problems were relatively minor, but probably worth another polish before this game is put up on the IF shelf.

About the spoiler above:

The response to SING also gives the theme away: It’s the first few lines of Beowulf. (I usually try out all the standard verb responses in games, especially in ones like this where the stock responses have obviously been heavily revised.)

Because a few reviews have asked:

Review. Transcript:


  • Jack

Swigian is a rather linear and straightforward parser game where you play the role of an epic hero (epic villain?) wandering the wilderness, getting into fights, tidying somebody’s dungeon/lair, and finding your way home. It becomes clear towards the end of the game that the game is set in the world of Beowulf; unfortunately I haven’t studied Beowulf, and from the plot synopsis on Wikipedia, it is still not clear to me which character I represent, and how my actions fit into the epic poem. I played as one of the villains, presumably.

The game features very sparse room descriptions, no item descriptions, and consists mainly of progressing from room to room picking up and using items in a very straightforward manner. What writing is present is polished and evocative, at least. The only puzzles, such as they are, involve moving three items between three different rooms, and a game of guess-the-room-exit where the wrong choice means death (UNDO is fully implemented, fortunately.) On the one hand this style keeps the game moving, and guess-the-verb is neatly circumvented by the game telling you what command to perform if you should stray. On the other, I found it frustrating not being able to interact more with my environment, and I have to wonder what was gained in the choice of using a parser at all.

I suppose there is a pleasing parallel in using a primordial form of the mechanics of interactive fiction to tell a primordial tale… I don’t know. Perhaps those sufficiently erudite find hidden meaning in this game and are engrossed by it; I am not, and was not.

I felt with this piece as though the author had a cool hook — the idea of the minimal presentation and the identity of the protagonist — but that it doesn’t develop from there as successfully as it could. The mid-game puzzles felt like they were there just to be puzzles; in some games, that’s fine, but so much of this game was about the atmosphere aspects that

being required to move the canopic jars around felt very soup-can-puzzle-like

– there was no narrative reason for that to happen, and no symbolic/atmospheric reason either, really.

By contrast I did like the shroud-and-coin sequence because that did feel atmospheric and resonant. It wasn’t a hard puzzle at all, so it was more like being asked to enact a ritual.

Doing more with its premise would also help proof the game against two current vulnerabilities: it’s easily spoiled (if the listener knows Beowulf) or else easily not understood at all (if the player doesn’t know).

In my opinion, a good candidate for Best Individual PC XYZZY; but not for Best Puzzles.

I have a slight suspicion that this might be a A Better-Known IF Author writing pseudonymously, but I’m not close to sure.
The implementation doesn’t seem quite good enough (I don’t mean the sparseness, which is obviously a stylistic choice, but it clunks in places); nevertheless, something about the subtle cleverness and the way the story unfolds is familiar. I won’t say who unless they do (and again, I’m nowhere near sure.)

The response to eating the last snack is brilliant.

I’m pretty sure that “Rainbus North” is an anagram.

Turns out it’s not who I thought it was!
And yeah, I’m disappointed by my anagram-spotting failure.