+=x

A short, richly atmospheric game about a lottery for the residents of a dystopia (I think). I’ve posted a review of it at my blog here.

Honestly, I can’t say it much moved me. I find that style of interface is always cumbersome on my laptop, though I appreciate they were probably trying to link it thematically to the concept of cards. The plot is pretty well-worn, the characters quick studies of familiar archetypes. The writing is rather oblique in a way that just isn’t to my taste at the moment. I’d find it hard to point out any particular or excessive flaws (well, except maybe this endless loop I’m pretty sure is the ending), but I wasn’t really engaged by it.

(there might also be a conversation to be had about the use of mathematics as a shorthand for depersonalization, which is a pretty tired metaphor and one I’m not sure is fair, but I am pretty low on energy)

I pretty much had the same reaction as you. I was looking forward to playing a math themed game, but really I didn’t feel there was any math. The symbols on the cards just happened to be math symbols, but could have been anything, even colors. The formulas didn’t make sense and if there was a way to make sense of them, it was totally lost on me. It’s possible that was the whole point of the game, or it’s possible that I just couldn’t figure out the logic behind it.

Yes, I actually thought this was a bug. If it is intended as a feature, it was one I didn’t appreciate.

It pretty much felt like a random walk down a decision tree where my input didn’t matter.

On a positive note, I really liked the drag and drop interface.

A quick note: This is a game made in Texture. The drag-and-drop interface is the basic idea of what Texture does.

Possible spoiler?

The only variety seemed to be that different cards got a “you will be equalized…there are enough already and your selection ensures it” response (followed by an “=” card) while other cards got a “you will be multiplied…we need more and you have been selected to provide it” response (followed by a “x” card). It seems like each character corresponded to a specific number which made me suspect that if the correct number was put in at the end of the story/equation some alternate ending would happen. However, if that’s correct, I never did figure out the mathematical puzzle to get a different ending.

There is a little more to this. If you read the text carefully it tells you how to find it. Very tricky.

I didn’t find it that tricky. I think many people will

look through the game code when they suspect they missed something important - even without a specific in-game invitation to do so.

…I think I’m gonna knock my rating down a couple notches for that.

For the surprisingly large number of people who don’t know how to do that, or quite justifiably can’t be arsed, the “ending” (sorry for large image):equation.PNG

All very clever and meta, I’ve no doubt.

That image is so large that it’s hard to read. Here’s the text out of the image.

>=x=< Here I sit amongst the cogs, amongst the code, dealing my cards. Some say that I’m a wizard, and some say I’m a machine. I strike two lines, and those two lines determine what I mean. And what I mean is time, and what I mean by time is space, and what I mean by space is who and how and in what place. It’s faster to travel by not traveling. It’s faster to be when you already are. All it takes is a shift in the continuum to make something near turn into something far. And to make something far become something nearby. To move through the galaxy, just multiply. One atom, one hour, one lifetime displaced, and everything as it exists is erased, replaced by another existence equal to the fuel that I burn when I dip my quill pen. Again, I’ll deal another card. Again, I’ll strike another line. These equations are games in the game I’m inside. Now you’re down too inside the text, where numbers crunch, bullfinches nest. We are the stars, the universe, Alpha Centauri, Betelgeuse. Wherever you or I might be, you’re here right now, and you’re with me.

And if you’re reading this and were as confused as I was about what all these spoilers are about, here’s the spoiler explaining how to find this:

[spoiler]When the in-game text says this:

… that was an invitation to use your browser’s “View Source” feature to search for the unusual string of characters on the card, “>=x=<”. (Or at least, that’s what it seems to be. Nobody has found a way to find this ending text in any other way.)[/spoiler]

I’m sure there are a lot of people who will do exactly what Sobol said, but kicking in someone’s door is a different experience than being asked to come in. As for there also being many people who don’t know how to do this, I don’t mind admitting that I’m one of them, but there was enough in the text that it could be figured out. I know the fact that I needed the author’s assistance to go where I needed to influenced my perception of it, but for me it felt like solving a particularly devious puzzle, and I liked it.

Texture does not appear to be open source and you have to use texturewriter.com to write with the tool? Am I mistaken about that?

It might not have been done directly in Texture (I’m not sure how the writing interface works now, it’s been a while since I tried it and I know there have been updates since then) but the drag and drop mechanic is its key/only feature.

Texture allows authors to download the code they’ve written for a game in one self-contained, playable package which they can host themselves if they want. It’s also possible to gussy it up with a custom background, text colours, etc. (unsurprisingly, basic Texture doesn’t let you create white-on-white ‘choice’ cards that appear blank).

You can set up behind-the-scenes mechanics with Texture, using conditional ‘flags’ which allows the writer to create a logic-gated system that the player can’t see (unless you overtly tell them what’s happening).

Because a lot of the ‘choice’ cards in +=x are apparently blank and identical (though in practice, they must all be distinguishable to the game and always be laid out in the same order), and there was an underlying tone that everything that happens in +=x is a fix, this particular reviewer spent much longer than the suggested play time trying to see if the order of the card insertions could be wrangled to create a different outcome (unless I’ve overlooked something, the game never sets or unsets any flags at all).

Then I looked at the code.

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, and all that.

Prize: A box of 52 blank playing cards, and a pair of UV glasses that arrives a week later.

@ifcomp - A short, trippy riff in @TextureWriter full of delicious words by Chandler Groover and I just want to Eat Them. Ends in the air, but there may be a scrumptious dessert to be found. Just Groover.

  • Late edit: I was wrong, +=x does set a few flags, to control the when the game allows the player to move on to the next page. But they don’t conceal any secret conundrum, I think.

The game advertises itself as choice-based but there is rather little choice. This game was made with Texture, where you drag text boxes to key words. On a page, when there is one text box you can drag to one highlighted word, that’s not terribly exciting; rather, it is just a much more inconvenient equivalent of turning a page of a conventional book, to read on. The same applies to a single arrow pointing forward at the bottom of a page being the only thing you can click on. There are some choices at times, three empty boxes that, as you play, you learn that translate to adding, multiplying and equalizing. Why couldn’t these boxes have been named directly? Moreover, these three functions apply to some human characters, which didn’t make sense to me - what does it mean that a person is added or equalized, for example? I played through 4 times but there seemed to be very little actual difference whatever I chose. In the end, the game appears to go into an endless loop. Well, probably I have missed something which would bring me to the ideal ending? I have obviously missed the point the author wishes to make, and the impression I got from the game, even if I didn’t understand it, was not very strong. Everything worked technically alright, though, and I have to add that the blurb of the game was very inspirational and effective.

3

I found it dull and uninspiring, with little to no interactivity. What interactivity there WAS seemed entirely arbitrary, and I had no interest in replaying it to try different choices. I could barely even tell there was a story there, and IF there was, i still have no idea what it is. Nor am I interested in trying again to figure it out. (some dystopian lottery for some reason with no clear outcome or purpose of or for said lottery)
I may be biased, because I’m not a fan of choice games. THIS one tho was BARELY even choice based. just randomly choosing options for no apparent reason.

I don’t plan to write a postmortem for this game, but there are a few things I’d like to say, and this thread seems like the best place.

First, the loop at the story’s end is not an oversight or a bug. When you’re endlessly floating in space, that’s what you do: endlessly float in space. Since so many players thought it was an oversight or a bug, though, I doubt I’ll use a technique like that again.

Second, the loop at the end isn’t the end. Of course, people in this thread already know that. Looking into the code is the game’s biggest puzzle, with clues in the text directing the player to do it. Nobody was expected to blindly look into the code, and if anyone did, that means the puzzle didn’t work for them.

I don’t intend to explain the story. It’s something for players to piece together. I have, however, noticed a disheartening tendency for reviewers to assume the fortune machine is a statement, on my part, about mathematics being some kind of cold universal law. To those reviewers, I’d simply like to re-emphasize that it’s a fortune machine. A tool, built by people, installed to serve a certain purpose.