Wolfbiter reviews Spring Thing 2024 -- Social Democracy (all main festival reviews complete)

To Beseech Old Sins by Nic June
Playtime: 15 min

This made me want to talk about:

  • Loved the concept, I’m always here for “we gave up our humanity to become living weapons”

  • What factors help a game quickly create a sense of place, personality, and stakes? I struggled for a while in this one to understand the main characters and their hopes and fears etc (and this is fiction-heavy IF, so that stuff is important). I’m not sure I can explain why I struggled–partly I think the opening screens were short, and the text was general enough that it could have described a lot of characters and situations. (A character portrait or illustration of the initial scene might have helped convey personality or setting.) Skipping back and forth between paragraphs with the hypertext links was slightly disorienting, too. The opening is not dialogue, but it reminded me of this advice from the Writing Excuses podcast:

[Mary Robinette Kowal] The problem with starting with a line of dialogue is that we do not hear a voice without attaching things to it in the real world. It’s incredibly rare to hear a voice and have no sense of who the person is. But when you start with a line of unattributed dialogue, you have no sense of who that person is, you don’t know where you are.

  • There’s also a decent amount of worldbuilding knowledge necessary to understand the plot, and it’s only being revealed indirectly. It’s very cool worldbuilding once we get it, these premises are like catnip to me, but it took me most of the game to figure out what was going on. And to some extent the plot subverts the worldbuilding, in that we SEE the characters being treated pretty well and everyone being respectful of human life, but are TOLD that that’s unusual. (And the blurb implied a past relationship between the main characters and the admiral that I didn’t pick up on?)

  • The tone of the narrative voice also injects a romance element:

“We slip on our skintight suits, covering ourselves in armor after. A layer of protection that still left little to the imagination. In all our years of experience, we never found a non-suggestive way to put these on. Not that some of us tried very hard.”

“What would have been an otherwise elegant ponytail and some leftover layers for framing her face are instead a tangled mess with some telltale signs of hurried brushing. It is in fact extremely cute.”

  • All of these elements absolutely could work but I’m not sure I totally got the intended effect of the how they were combined in this game. If, for, example, we’re doing romance, I would love chance to select some interactions with the admiral with the cute hair! If the intended effect is the hurt/comfort emotional payoff of expecting something bad to happen to the main characters, but then something good happening instead, then I need to understand what the main characters are scared of before it is averted.

My fervent wish:
that the player had some ability to influence the plot

To synthesize, creative worldbuilding and characters, but didn’t fully engage me.