Ürs, by Christopher Hayes and Daniel Talsky (mild spoilers)

[spoiler]My favourite Richard Adams book will always be Shardik, but I have a soft spot for Watership Down: ‘All the world will be your enemy, Prince With A Thousand Enemies…’ This also raises my expectations of the writing quality, perhaps unfairly high. That Richard Adams, he could burrow a line right through your ventricles.

First of all, ‘lushly illustrated’ is an honest description: the art is luminously sweet, with a mystical 90’s vibe. To contrast with this imagery, Ürs is set in one of those familiar semi-dystopias where life is actually not too bad at this very moment, but everything feels Ominous. It’s my tendency to feel flat terror whenever people are trying to sound reassuring about random loud noises…but I go against my instincts, and try to agree with our wise leader that it will All Be Fine.

OK, scratch that. Quest time. I get a piece of rather dry starting advice from an old guardian rabbit who hears out my fears for our warren:

If you think more rabbits need to be born then I guess you can try and do something about it.

Old timer, are you telling me I need to quit philosophising and…ahem…be a bit more rabbit? This line made me chuckle, and I really hope it was deliberate. The old timer doesn’t rise to such witticisms again, sadly, and instead lapses into Rabbit Yoda:

Ye go seek out thee places of the Ürs? That much I will advise deeply against young one.

It’s never very clear why he’s so against it: eventually, I meet the Ürs, and their main danger is that like a lot of people into Higher Things, they are boring. This is where I’m going to get unfairly critical, because a lot of work has clearly gone into this game and it deserves better than a wow-so-pretty on the illustrations: I’m in the sanctum sanctorum of ancient rabbit technology. I don’t require mind-blowing verbal descriptions (thought I like them. Pedal to the Black Rabbit Metal, if possible). But each the chamber of each Old One needs to be distinctive and give me a sense of their personality before they became an Ascended Rabbit Master; the more personal, humble, or surprising, the better.

It just feels like a missed opportunity, because these beings were clearly, at some point, creatures somewhat like the player – and the minimum-entry price for becoming a god is your former identity. I want to know more about them. Much more. What they can recall of themselves, and what they’ve forgotten.

Overall, Ürs is a charming game with a few highly soluble puzzles and lovely art. The tone of the player/narrator is consistent, and my only criticism here is that the location descriptions need filling out in a few places, notably the Ürs citadel and the (small and easily navigated) semi-maze. I get the feeling that this patchiness was due to time constraints.

As an enthusiast for extremely obscure words, I’d also like to take a moment to note the title.

Prize: a pitted ingot in the form of a rabbit gazing skywards. Left on a shelf overnight, it will be found pointing towards Alpha Leporis.

One technical issue: I can repeat the mind trip over and over again, and turn on the power over and over again – the game doesn’t remember that I’ve turned the power on once I’ve left the warren and returned to the Court of the Ürs.

I copied the typos that jumped out at me as I was playing:

Thanks to the Warenherd everything has returned to the way it was … like it always does … as Warrenherd tells us it always will.

Fearing for my life I dive into the entrance of the tiny tunnel and scoot back to the upper hubb

We were once quite beautiful and accomplished. We created this place, and and even your people in a long agoo.

There are towers and halls inside a cieling skin much like the one over this whole place.[/spoiler]

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Some response thoughts to that:

[spoiler]Ordinarily, I am also in favor of text descriptions being rich and nuanced. Here, though, I felt like the illustrations were so gorgeous — stylish, evocative, communicative — that it worked as a narrator-characterization choice to make the protagonist’s descriptions a little simpler and more mundane, for contrast. In particular, the narrator’s concerns are often either physical with lots of references to its own rabbit body, or else about how it would explain things in the terms other rabbits would understand. Both the high technology of the Urs and the rabbit perspective of the warren are alien to me in some fashion, but the pair of alien viewpoints made for an experience that was fairly novel.

At any rate, I wasn’t bored, but I did sketch in a lot of my impression of the world from the illustrations as well as the text.[/spoiler]

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A medium-length game with cool art. I’ve posted a review on my blog here.

I’m a designer in this year’s competition, but I have now played more than half of the games entered. For what it’s worth, I thought I’d take a moment to designate a favorite. It is this one.

This is an incredible game, and I wouldn’t be inclined to think so, as I usually prefer text games and don’t have a strong reaction to images…but the artwork in this game…it’s incredible!

Also: I will confess that my love of watership down lead me to play this game before many others. I was worried it would be a ripoff or a variation…but it is something else entirely. Something very, very good.

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The art made me nostalgic for the blacklight posters in my room in high school!

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A strong candidate for Best Setting and Best Use of Multimedia XYZZYs.

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Well gosh, it seems awfully silly to respond to a post about a 2018 IFComp entry, but the end of the current IFComp really has our 2018 entry on my mind, and I do periodically come back and read @Das_Reboot’s review of Ürs from time to time and always wished I’d responded, so I will do now, however untimely.

Yes, I will admit I am not the writer Richard Adams is! But I do wish to point out that just about every word is from the point of view of the main character, and I wanted to reflect their thoughts in a very innocent and rabbitty way as @emshort actually posited below. There were many times I wanted to do something a bit more prosaic, but kept being held back by my original design goal that it be from a somewhat innocent rabbit’s point of view.

Thanks, my partner did all the illustrations: probably about 80+ original illustrations, and we’re very proud of them. I’ve asked him to possibly do a gallery of them, but he insists he wants them seen primarily in the context of the game. I’ve only come to adore them more over time. Not only for their beauty, but how he was able to make some of the more awkward game mechanics more understandable.

You mentioned patchiness in some places due to time constraints and you hit the nail right on the head. There was no place that it pained me more that I wasn’t able to realize my vision due to time constraints than the conversations with the Ür-rabbits themselves!

They do each try to trick you existentially into giving up and letting the world be destroyed, and talking to one of them is a required solution to one of the puzzles, but I definitely had a lot more in mind and releasing it in this state was heartbreaking at the time. I wanted each one to offer clues to how to trick the other ones, ahem, Bugs-Bunny-style. I wanted to make it required to talk to all three to finally trick them into giving you the clues you needed.

It didn’t occur to me as much to talk about the histories of the Ürs, but that would have been a truly spectacular idea. It would be incredible if Twine had a plugin that allowed for Ink-style threaded conversations, but especially in Harlowe, doing complex inline conversation trees isn’t really supported without some really challenging hacks.

You may well be the only person who figured this out.

I never got around to fixing your couple of bugs or fixing the typos, but maybe someday I will.

In any case it brings me a lot of joy that you thought about this and what could it make it better. Your review was one of the coolest things anyone wrote about the game and I assure you me and my partner have both read it several times and discussed it. Thanks for the thoughtful playthrough and review.


We almost certainly would have won, had it not been for the choice-based interactive Netflix game Black Mirror: Bandersnatch which we could hardly compare with!