The Warbler's Nest

Granted I’m a sucker for all things horror in IF but even so, Warbler’s Nest is one of the standouts of this competition. It’s also pretty heart-wrenching, but that could just the perspective of a parent who’s expecting a new baby any day now.

Discussion of the game’s ending follows. Do not read until you’ve played it through to the end.

[spoiler]So I thought it was pretty clear, on the basis of the textual evidence and also certain meta-game elements, that the baby was not in fact a changeling. You have the obvious fact that the ending where you accept the baby as Anda triggers the AMUSING text, and on this basis can be treated as the winning ending. (AMUSING is something of a wild misnomer here, given that this may be the first ending a player sees and that the website actively encourages players to explore the baby-killing ending before reading the commentary.)

Most of the evidence for the Anda hypothesis comes from the standing stones behind the cottage.

Along with the player’s thoughts when picking up the baby:

Taken together, this paints a fairly clear picture. The first baby was either stillborn or died shortly after birth; the second baby lived but your wife did not.

I’m satisfied enough with this line of reasoning that I’m almost afraid to ask: did anyone find the third ending?

Also, I really liked that you could unlock more recollections by doing things in a slightly different order, e.g.

Which you only get if you empty the cracked eggshell before going to the backyard. It makes one of the more disturbing passages even more upsetting by analogy. I thought at first it was an inconsistency in the text, since you had talked about the fairy ring with the tailor in the recent past, but those mushrooms were in the garden out front and not in the backyard.[/spoiler]

Kudos to Jason for such a fine, subtle work of IF.
warbler.txt (55.9 KB)


Aren’t you the mother? I thought a “shift” (from x me) was a woman’s garment. Anyway, I didn’t pick up on these; kudos for the observation.

The third ending, I think, is where you just walk out into the forest (which is actually worse for the baby). I didn’t want to play to the river ending. (I got the forest ending when I couldn’t find the shears; the only criticism I have is that I was sometimes confused by being unable to find important objects in unexamined supporters. And that may be more a criticism of me.)

It also seems to me, from the afterword, that the game may respond to how you refer to the baby; a nice touch.[/spoiler]

Definitely one of the best games I’ve played so far (mostly the z-code entries).

[spoiler]Wow, I completely missed that. Guess I should pay more attention instead of imposing my patriocentric ideology on the game.

A related discovery: the game responds to “nurse baby” which is pretty cool.[/spoiler]


Yeah – I just played through the game again and was about to say that you can end the game by “feed anda,” which removes any doubt. Also, I think in this setting, if the mother had died the baby would need a wet nurse.

Another correction is that the forest ending is more inconclusive than I remembered – you go to look for more eggshells, and maybe you won’t come back.

Last, one criticism I didn’t have before: There are a few too many default messages left in, as for “think” and (unfortunately) “touch baby.”[/spoiler]


That, and:

And various other little details. But possibly what made me so certain of the PC’s gender (aside from just a general habit of casting my own female self into characters unless otherwise stated – I had a bit of a jarring moment in a different Comp game when it turned out the PC was male) was that the changeling myth seems so very female, composed of things like midwife lore, postpartum depression, and village gossip. I may also have been subconsciously influenced by the recent Angelina Jolie movie, too.[/spoiler]

What triggers that exchange? I missed it both times through.

Examining the shears.

Regarding gender…

The person I played with thought there was a specific “peasant woman” reference early on, and based on that I played as female. But playing through again I could not find that peasant woman reference anywhere, though I guess the ‘shift’ is pretty conclusive. Perhaps that was what she had picked up on.

Regarding atmosphere…

I felt it was an excellent choice for a short IF subject and found the alternative endings very well chosen and effective. The game definitely had a wonderful sense of atmosphere.

Regarding narrative voice…

The 2nd person perspective just doesn’t work very well for me for psychological suspense, mostly because the best way to do that kind of suspense is to withhold information that a first/second person perspective should really have. The author made a good compromise since achieving suspense is definitely more important than maintaining a consistent first/second person perspective, if those are your choices. However, they aren’t the only choices. I am always surprised as to why people who do this kind of genre in IF consider third person as an option so rarely. I know the arguments about immersion, etc., but whenever I weigh the benefits of that on one end of the scale, and all the obvious benefits of psychological ‘cloaking’ to a suspense tale on the other end, and realise that the two techniques do not really hybridise very sensibly, I personally find the balance of narrative benefits should tip far in favour of third person, and I would have preferred this story told in that mode. YMMV of course, but IMO this story was not very successful in terms of narrative voice — we’re just so used to overlooking that since 2nd-person is the default mode of IF, that it’s relatively easy for a veteran to look beyond it. But I’m hyperaware of it because I’m somewhat of a third person partisan in IF, plus I was playing with a relative IF newbie, who was very much aware of the incongruity of the withheld information as well.


Regarding gender: yes, a shift is very much a feminine garment and also recall the task for which the PC is accustomed to venture forth for the cabin: gathering reeds. This is generally women’s work in this kind of milieu, the peasant-and-fairy-tale world.

BUT – the fact that many of my forum-mates here seem to have read the PC gender as male and the game still made sense to them is, I find, a point in its favour in terms of immersion and playability. It makes me like the game more.

I do agree with Paul on the narrative voice (I’m the relative IF newbie with whom he played).

What jarred me in particular was a point where, when I was trying to decide what it was I was supposed to do with the water once I was awkwardly carrying it in an eggshell, I tried just pouring it out. I got a lecture from the game along the lines of “what you’re supposed to do with the water has been made very clear” (I’m paraphrasing, here, because I don’t remember the exact wording). This took me right out of the game and annoyed me because it bloody well had NOT been made clear, had not been mentioned at all, and I, the player, was not privy to this information in the slightest. Were the game written in third person the knowledge gap between me and the PC would have made a great deal more sense and I would probably have just said “huh” and gone about carrying my water in my eggshell until something gave me a clue what to do with it. But maybe that’s just me.

On the whole this has been one of the more enjoyable games so far, along with the People’s Glorious Revolutionary Text Adventure Games. I even wrote a sonnet about it over at my blog 8)

Yeah, to a certain extent Kate and I may just be critiquing the general IF form here rather than the specific game. I don’t want to be unfair to Warbler’s Nest and tar it with a problem that is actually pretty widespread in IF. After the first third of the game I made a conscious effort to look past my issue with the story’s perspective and meet the game on its own terms. It’s really quite well done and a fascinating subject, well-evoked — it made my skin crawl at times, and it will likely be one of my favourites of the comp when all is played and done. 8)