From the yellowed plastic windows of Borok Singh's penthouse at the top of the Gardeners' citadel, I can see the whole arc of it. The shanty streets. The corpse-processing factories. The sagging footings of the geodesic dome.
This is the first game published in 2023 that I am reviewing. In The Green, you play as a Gardener named Imrik Tso who lives in the city of Klay. Something happened that made all plant life deadly, a phenomenon simply known as the “Green.” Humanity is left huddled in a barricaded city while scientists and firefighters work to keep the lethal greenery out of city limits.
Lately, Imrik feels like this has all been a band aid. He thinks he may have discovered a real piece of hope: a cure. But this means leaving the city.
The gameplay is ultimately a perilous journey out of the city and into the unknown. The first half is about gathering supplies and finding a discreet way to exit the city, of which there are multiple paths. Some choices are tagged as "risky” or “chancy” which can lead to different outcomes. Saving is advised.
There is some resource management woven in. You begin the game mildly infected. Supplies are meant to stave of the infection’s spread, so it does not kill you before you reach the three towers. Even then, you will be crawling across the finish line. And for good reason. Life is deadly outside of the city. Peach trees and daffodils are replaced by venom roses, choke apples, butcher's bloom, and other botanical monstrosities.
At the top of the text space is a circle depicting a diseased handprint. The circle’s outline gives a quick assessment of your health. As you become more infected, the longer the green border grows. Physical injuries are shown with a red border. Clicking on the handprint provides a description of your state.
Not bad. A few small stains. A tinge of green on the webbing between my fingers.
It's not pretty. This function reminds me of playing Vespers where your body is slowly infected by the plague. Beholding the physical transformation of the PC is all part of the experience.
The stain on my left arm is getting worse.
Every time you move, the green border creeps forward. There’s no stopping it (right?), only delaying the inevitable. It gets the player neurotically checking for increased signs of infection, emphasizing the touchiness of the protagonist's situation.
In the second half, the gameplay gets a little repetitive. When you finally leave the city and enter the wild (Green) yonder, everything is about survival and rationing your supplies when you encounter toxic plant life. Hint: It’s everywhere. In a nutshell it consists of ouch, ouch, ouch, don’t step here, don’t step there, ouch. Do I dodge this field of deadly vines or run right through it?
I liked doing battle with killer shrubbery. But it feels like the game is repeating what we already know: The plants are deadly dangerous. Meanwhile, drastic plot elements are handed to the player, detracting from the more investigative themes we see at the start of the game. I’ll discuss this in the next section.
As you can see, I opened this review with the first passage from the game. It is descriptive, atmospheric. It immediately makes you curious to know more about the game’s world which is a powerful trait to have. For some additional context, Klay is run by Borok Singh- or the High Reaper- who orders Gardeners to develop new ways of combating the Green. Imrik managed to hack together a cure but needs to take it to three towers several miles out of Klay. It is thought that those towers are the origin and source of the Green. Because Singh would never agree to this, Imrik must be sneaky.
No living thing (besides deadly plants) survived the Green. Surviving life resides within the walls of Klay. The turning point is when (Spoiler - click to show) Imrik encounters moths flittering casually amongst the plant life and realizes that he was misled. Instead, the Green appeared to be selective, not this all-encompassing beast that sterilized every ecosystem it touches. He concludes that the Green was a human engineered weapon designed to kill specific targets. Human targets. Seems like it got out of hand. There is some ambiguity here. While (Spoiler - click to show) discovering the moths were a surreal moment and a good opportunity to build the story, the scene lays out the plot twist in one go without the subtlety of the earlier gameplay.
Before, you would learn exposition through small choices, whether it would be opting to go through the tunnels to leave the city or to spend some optional time talking to another Gardener. With this, bits and pieces trickle down to form the post-apocalyptic story. But now, the game gives you the big reveal all in one paragraph that feels like the plot twist is being told instead of shown. It’s a tough balance to explain. I think my reaction is partly towards the differences between the first and second halves of the game. It goes from a light investigative piece to a more linear one.
There are still plenty of subtleties to appreciate. A thoughtful perspective emerges with the protagonist’s observations of the Green as he travels. It appears that the Green becomes (Spoiler - click to show) less aggressive the further you are from Klay. There is a perimeter around the city called the burn-back that marks where humans combat the Green with fire, herbicides, and other weapons. Terse, bitter plant life appear to be chopping at the bit to infiltrate the city. But this becomes more mellow, though still dangerous, as you leave the war zone behind. I feel like this offer commentary on our relationship with the natural world, on how our trying to “control” and refine a landscape can only make it more resilient towards our efforts. While The Green takes this to the extreme, it draws similarities with real-life scenarios.
I only found two endings, not including when you die prematurely from the infection (Spoiler - click to show)(although you ultimately die at the end of the game anyway). I’m still not entirely sure of how the cure works, and honestly, I was left with some unanswered questions about the Green and city of Klay.
For instance, the game is nebulous about Klay. Remind me, is Klay the three towers or the city where the game begins? Both? No one knows? All I know is that I found the two endings. (Spoiler - click to show) One is where you use the cure against the Green, and the other is where you decide not to use the cure and let the Green run its natural course. I was hoping for more answers, but these endings suffice.
This game gets high marks for visual design. It is also another strong example of visual storytelling. I am glad to see Twine authors going the extra mile to offer something new.
Now, go outside and find a dense patch of moss, trace a circle, and then clear away the moss inside of it. That's what the artwork looks like: a slab of moss with a circle for text in the center of the screen. The text margins and scroll feature was a bit of a hindrance, but that can be expected when trying to fit chunks of text into a circular text-"box" space.
The circle is a cream colour that turns pale green when you leave the city and enter the Green. Around it is a faint green shadow that turns red when you are severely injured. The text will sometimes blur to replicate the protagonist’s blurred vision as he is further infected or injured. These surprise splashes of red added nice contrast. The result is an effective visual experience that makes the gameplay more vivid.
Generally, the colour palette for this game is- big surprise- green! Everything in meant to conjure up plants, plants, and more plants. There are also illustrations of your supplies which are shown on the left half of your screen. The game experiments with clickable icons, such as the journal icon that opens to pop-up window with journal entries. This really gave the game a professional look. Even the save menu has greenery growing on it!
These quality visuals make up for some of the gameplay’s deficiencies. Without them, the experience would be less potent. Yes, this sentiment could apply to any Twine game, but some can hold their own with or without special designs. While the overarching story in The Green is strong, there is a lull in the later gameplay. If this game stuck with the generic black screen + white text look, it would not command the effect that it does. Part of what I like about The Green is how it demonstrates the extent visuals can go to make a completed piece into a polished one. All the power to it. Visuals can go a long way.
The Green is a unique and compelling game about sacrificing everything to undo the apocalypse. A one-way trip, so make it count. The gameplay combines two cool elements- survival and resource management- which will likely be a draw for players. If post-apocalyptic games interest you, The Green is worth checking out. Plus, the visuals are fantastic.
If you liked the themes in this game, I highly encourage you to check out the game Calm. It’s an Inform game about apocalyptic spores that, when inhaled, kill people if they fail to remain calm. Calm is not the most polished work out there, but it has a unique appeal. I know I played it longer than I expected to. For more subtle plant dystopian Twine games I recommend Defrosted and The Soft Rumor of Spreading Weeds.
P-Rix – Space Trucker told in third person past tense from the perspective of a PC named P-Rix, a trucker who agreed to a sketchy delivery with the promise of earning a high reward. But partway through the journey and accident occurs. The ship had a collision with an unknown object. A collision that damaged the cargo bay. You know, the place where the super-secret cargo is held.
It is also a demo. For future reference, that’s what this review is about.
The game begins with a message saying, "Alert! System Breached! Alert!" that pulls P-Rix out of sleep. Here, the bottom screen faintly blinks red to simulate an alarm going off. Just one of many cool visual effects found in this game.
The first few puzzles are about fixing the ship’s critical status. The ship is losing oxygen and fuel, and a careless mistake results in death. There are plenty of insta-deaths in this game. The player typically has two options at a time to search and fix the ship. I liked the sense of danger and urgency that is conveyed right from the start. If only I knew what was in that cargo…
Story + Characters
As expected, the story is minimal. We know that a client, an ambiguous “they” looming over our heads, made the request for a delivery to NA-Dux 16T-8R, one of the most dangerous areas of the universe. Given there is a demo, we only see a little of this pan out. We do hear a mention of a contractor named Mr. E in regard to the cargo. The client, maybe? The game ends when you (Spoiler - click to show) finally get the space trucker’s rig up and running only to have to seek out more extensive repairs at the nearest interplanetary mechanic stop.
Likewise, info on the protagonist is also limited. There is some repetitive swearing that loses its potency after a while, but the game never breaks from P-Rix's flustered character. It's hard to tell if he is a slacker or just had been dealt a really bad set of cards. We only get a sense of his situation beyond dealing with an immediate emergency. It should be noted that the only reason why he agreed to the delivery was because of the number of zeros at the end of the payment. Makes for a compelling story.
This, in my opinion, is the main event in this game. So far, at least. I was really impressed with how visual elements are used to tell the story. Attractive appearances go a long way, but when they enhance the storytelling itself, that's when the bonus points start coming out. Hence my long discussion of it.
After a brief intro, the visuals transform into a large console-like text box against a pink tinged star field background. The console is broken into six panels, the main two being the top half that shows the ship's status, and the panel beneath it where text is displayed. I wish that part was a little bigger, but it is a minor hindrance. There are also stats (yay!) for the cargo, oxygen, and fuel, although the game is not long enough to really see these features in action.
The game occasionally switches things up with a new screen depicting a diagnostics page with a striped green and black backdrop behind a large green text box area in the center. It uses a mix of scrolling text and glowing letters to add to the atmosphere. Even some character graphics are introduced, but the game ends soon after that.
The star field takes up a little more than a half of the backdrop space, starting from the top of the screen and moving downwards. The bottom half is black with a curved glowing edge, like the event horizon of a black hole. Everything, both the backdrop and the console, has a rose red pink colour that later turns purple once the ship is repaired. A ship icon then appears on the display panel. Then… the animation kicks in.
What's wild is when the star field then moves towards and under the bottom half to create the impression that the ship is moving. Have you ever stood on a pier at the ocean and feel like the pier was moving when in fact it is the motion of the waves giving that impression? It’s like that. But with Twine. This was brilliant. This is what I meant by the game using visual effects to tell the story of traveling through space.
A similar example can be found in another Twine game, To Spring Open. It uses a bouncing text effect to simulate a ride on a subway train. Both cases demonstrate the merit of experimenting with visual elements to change how the player experiences the story.
Lately, there have been quite a few high-quality Twine demos floating around IFDB made by a wide variety of skilled authors. These Twine games are beautifully designed with either elegant simplicity or with impressive visuals. They make waves as quality demos, often with eye-catching cover art. I just hope that the authors continue to pursue them. Including this one. No pressure but including P-Rix – Space Trucker. The title alone is worth checking out.
THIS IS THE END OF THE DEMO. MORE CONTENT WILL BE ADDED IN THE FUTURE! THANK YOU FOR PLAYING!
Please, please, please, keep developing this. Finish it. I want to play more of this space truckin' adventure. It's already off to a great start.
Overrun is a cyberpunk hacking game set in 2050. Nearly two decades prior, a virus known as the Crash Virus wiped out the internet and every database, toppling governments and nations which would be replaced by corporations. To investigate the virus, computer experts turned to an experimental brain-computer interface called a cyberdeck that allows the human mind to enter the digital world. Eventually, the Crash Virus was destroyed, though not without killing some cyberdeck users in the process.
You were one of the experts who helped in destroying the Crash Virus and are now employed at the corporation Renraku Arcology as a programmer and corporate decker. One day, your System Identification Number (SIN)- akin to a Social Security number- is erased. You have no memory as to why, only that without a SIM, you no longer exist in society. To find answers, you turn to your cyberdeck.
Janos Biro originally wrote and released this game in Portuguese but later posted an English version, both of which are available on IFDB. If it isn’t obvious, I played the latter. Overrun is based off a tabletop RPG game called Shadowrun, which details the discovery of magic in conjunction with pre-existing cybernetic technology. A quick glance at Wikipedia reveals similar themes and features in both pieces, particularly dystopian corporate undertones. The game also explains that Biro created a 1996 version of Overrun in QBASIC. It is cool when authors decide to revisit their previous works.
I was not expecting such a complex and immersive game when I sat down to play this. I figured it would be a familiar cyberpunk Twine game about defying corporations with gameplay where you are presented with three to four choices at a time to influence a storyline. While those games are also fun, Overrun brings something new to the table. It's a hacking game, or at least a "hacking" game, but one that makes you feel like a pro at computer hacking wizardry even though you fully know that you are just messing around on a Twine game.
Everything is centered around completing missions where you hack into systems to either find files, disable system functions, or shutdown the entire server. Completing missions rewards you with experience points, and payments from jobs allow you to upgrade utilities that give you extra skills in the field. You can also sell files for extra income.
Hacking is an interesting experience in Overrun. The server is represented with an in-game map depicting corridors and system nodes, within which are your avatar and icons representing IC programs that patrol for intruders. You move in up/down/left/right directions, either by clicking the screen or using your keyboard. Next to the map is a list of your utilities and your stat resources. Spending memory on your utilities gives you an edge of overcoming challenges. Just be careful not to set off any alarms.
It really feels like you are hacking into the "mainframe." That sounds cringy, but it is true. There is a somewhat steep learning curve. I was clicking things at random for a while but eventually I got the hang of all the RPG functions and features. Everything was rather easy after that. Maybe even too easy, but I have no complaints. Strategy is still required and provides a meaningful gameplay experience. This is what the menu of your cyberdeck looks like:
[Decker] [Files] [Mission]
[Saves] [Options] [Help] [Quit]
And that's not including the extensive stats at the bottom of the page. In retrospect, all this feels straightforward, but nonetheless left me overwhelmed when I first found the game. There is a learning curve that may compel players to quit before reaching that moment when you finally feel like you are making progress. For me, it was using the utilities in combat.
Pyro is containing you!
Pyro caused 8 damage to you.
The more you upgrade your utilities the more effective they are in the field. However, they start out as being in effective and flimsy until they are upgraded. Spending 6 memory on a mirror function that did not even work (see above) was frustrating, but it was all part of the learning curve. Stick with it, especially if you like RPG games.
To advance the story, you must build a rapport with the hackers in the Hacker Bar. They give you tasks and odd jobs in exchange for information or leads on your situation. The more they trust you the more exciting the quests. Later, there is a (Spoiler - click to show) big boss fight where you recruit almost all the hacker NPCs to hunt down a character who refers to herself as Alice in Wonderland. That one is a lot of fun.
My main complaint is a need for organizing ongoing objectives. There is the “Mission” section that lists active missions from the Hacker Board, but it does not include special tasks taken on from the other hackers. The annotation section in your files similarly lists the tasks you’ve completed, but not the ones currently in progress. While the hosts are automatically listed in your cyberdeck, you must remember who requested what which can be confusing if you have taken on multiple tasks. An objectives page would have been helpful.
For those interested in worldbuilding, Overrun is a great example. There is an info section called Shadowland that provides more than enough story context. More than most people would care to read, although I far prefer having too much over too little. I appreciate the author’s thoughtfulness in providing in-depth exposition for the player.
Time to dive into some (major) spoilers. (Spoiler - click to show) Turns out your SIN was erased because your physical body died. How is this possible? Well, it appears that the human brain can make a digital copy of itself as a last measure of defense when the physical body is on the brink of being killed. The person lives on as a program in their own cyberdeck, sometimes not realizing what had happened, as is the case for the protagonist. This raises all sorts of interesting implications of what it means to be a former human and a sentient being in the non-physical world.
This game does leave you with murky, answered questions. (Spoiler - click to show) There is some ambiguity about Project Morgan and why Renraku decided to terminate you as their employee. As part of your job, you were testing Morgan's program, but somehow was deemed a threat to the corporation. An “accident” was faked to cover for your death when in truth Renraku hired some shadowrunners to do the dirty work by ensuring that you were killed while hooked up to your cyberdeck. Ironically, two of those shadowrunners turn out to be at the Hacker Bar. If you ask the right questions, Morgan will tell you about this. I recommend saving before you talk to Morgan in the Hacker Bar because some dialog options only appear once.
While technically the erasure of your SIN means you are free from the influence of governments or corporations, you are still confined with the limitations of your cyberdeck program. Morgan and Jerusalem ramble about the Resonance and its path towards freedom but the game never provides any answers. The player is not free their program whereas Morgan apparently is, and she makes it sound so easy. Morgan is extremely confident that the player can be free, but ultimately the player pays dearly for thinking that. I will discuss this in the next section about endings.
Thoughts on genre
I have never been a huge fan of the sci-fi fantasy genre. I like sci-fi 110%. I apologize if that makes me one-dimensional. I still like trying the genre's games because you never know if you will find something that does resonate with you. For example, I am a huge fan of Skybreak! It is made with ADRIFT and balances the two genres perfectly. Overrun does a decent job in combining the two genres, and I liked the emphasis on science fiction over magic while still staying true to its fantasy elements. Still, it took some time to get used to it. The last thing I think of when I see the year 5050 are dragons or magic, especially when cyberpunk themes are involved.
It occurred to me that the hacking sequences feel reminiscent of a dungeon crawl puzzle where you have a map with opponents. Play is move by move. Instead of ogres and looters you have anti-malware sentries roaming for you. Instead of a chest of gold you get classified files. From the other side of the room if you saw the game's map you would probably assume that you were looking at a dungeon map.
The major downside to Overrun is a lack of commitment to the endings. The endgame involves hacking into a server to talk to a digital program named Mirage who was tasked with helping computer experts overcome the Crash Virus. After some dialog, Mirage offers some intriguing solutions on how to end the game. Unfortunately, the execution of these endings is flimsy, leaving the player with few substantial options to conclude the lengthy gameplay.
I like to avoid dissecting every ending in my reviews to keep from spoiling everything but sometimes I simply want to discuss these outcomes, especially if I feel strongly about them. So here you go: A guide about the endings. I will stick it all under one big spoiler tag. Please avoid this section if you have not played the game yet. (Spoiler - click to show)
>>>I want to have a body.
>>>I want to cease to exist.
>>>I want to be free.
>>>I think I have enough, I don't need the Resonance.
The first three are the only ones that have endings that actually end the game. The fourth option just sends you back to your cyberdeck menu.
>>>I want to have a body.
The outcome I was looking for. It feels like the PC was not finished living when Renraku had them terminated. Why not seek a second chance? Mirage tells use to look for a person named Thomas Roxborough. But when you ask Jerusalem about finding Roxborough he says, "His research will only increase the power of megacorporations over people and the Matrix," and refuses to help you. That’s ominous. When finally find Roxborough he offers you to join the Brainscan project which seeks to build synthetic bodies for individuals who have lost their body. Then the game ends. I was hoping to see the implications of this decision.
>>>I want to cease to exist.
This results in a generic “You died” ending. Well, we did ask for it, didn’t we?
>>>I want to be free.
So, this one is a zinger. Turns out you cannot be free. I still do not quite understand what Mirage means by this; it seems like we can never get more than a cryptic explanation from anyone about your situation. But by making this request we are told that are story will end once we leave the server. Whether this means death is unclear, only that the game ends immediately after. This was a potent ending that bites the player out of nowhere, but it is also a bit disappointing since Morgan, Dodger, and the other characters are flouncing around explaining that you can be free! Free from your program! All you need is the Resonance!!! I still don’t understand what the Resonance is.
Oh well. The most answers you find, the more questions remain unanswered.
The Hacker Bar is full of interesting hacker NPCs with names like Misfill, Skinpact, and Dodger. They come from different backgrounds and have their own specialties. Not all of them can be found in the Hacker Bar when you first visit. Some show up later in the game as you build a reputation for yourself which was a nice change in pace.
Both Skinpact and Crapper will (Spoiler - click to show) challenge you to a cyberduel, but I was surprised at how easy it was to defeat them. I spent a lot of time practicing with the simulation feature and building up my utilities, only to crush my opponents after a few moves. It seems like battle is mostly reserved for system ICs.
The game uses visual effects to emulate a familiar “computer” atmosphere, particularly with thick green glowing text against a black screen. Its careful selection of font also adds to this look. It does use some scrolling text, mostly with character conversation, which was tedious but otherwise used infrequently enough to avoid dragging the player down. I liked how the game used flashing, urgent text for when you trigger an active alert while sneaking through a server.
Fun graphics are also included. Beside the server maps, the characters in the Hacker Bar each have their own character portrait, and the start of the game features imagery as it provides an overview on the history behind the story. The game even includes corporate logos for the files on corporations in the Shadowland module. That was a nice bit of atmosphere.
I highly recommend this game to anyone interested in hacking themes in interactive fiction and/or if you are a fan of the Shadowrun universe. Fans of cyberpunk may also enjoy this, but it seems to cater to a specific audience. Not everyone will be interested in this game but those who are will probably be immersed by what it has to offer. It is especially fun if you are looking for a long RPG Twine game with stats and strategized combat. Overrun is ultimately a cyberpunk adventure with a strong foundation.
There’s some explaining I should do first.
Clicking the “Web Site" link brought me to a website that had a link saying “Play” in the middle of the screen. This resulted in a cool cyberpunk ten-second-long video before launching into the game. And then…
And then, I was suddenly looking at a screen with the phrase “THIS CONTENT IS NOT AVAILABLE” plastered in large text smack in the center. There were even animated confetti bouncing around as if someone were throwing it at my screen. Thing is, the gameplay’s text appeared in the background, and I could see read it if I zoomed out or scrolled around. “THIS CONTENT IS NOT AVAILABLE” was not going to stop me from playing. I hope there is no trouble with that.
One more thing:
Ainimus is in French. I do not speak French. I auto-translate with my browser window, and since that is shaky at best, I take the writing with a grain of salt. A similar thing occurred with Night City 2020, another sci-fi Twine game in French that I also reviewed after playing it with auto-translate. I wanted to review it but was also worried that readers would find it bizarre. No one expressed any concerns, so I am going to charge ahead with Ainimus. If you have a problem with it, please tell me.
Your childhood friend needs help writing a thesis on marine biology. That’s the main storyline. He does not have enough time for work and his thesis. Thus, he turns to you for help.
You can help him out or pass, which ends the game. Choosing to help him gives you some options that boil down to helping him financially, helping him by writing passages (which uncomfortably edges into the realm of plagiarism) despite your lack of knowledge on marine biology, or suggest AI to pick up the slack. The first two are easy enough wins but neglect to incorporate the game’s themes into these sparsely written paths. You might as well skip them and go for the main event: Using AI.
Note: When I was mapping out the choice branches, be aware that certain choices result in a long error message that replaces the gameplay.
Story + Characters
Using AI means telling your friend that you will write portions of the thesis on his behalf (plagiarism?) whereas the AI option involves using an AI to write the passages and then saying that you wrote them instead. (Spoiler - click to show) Later, your friend runs into legal issues and is accused of plagiarizing an AI. Now we’re going somewhere- wait, the end? Yes, the game ends without pursuing the story. It ends just as the party gets started (yes, I associated that with the confetti flying everywhere).
You can choose to admit or deny your use of AI, but both options results in an immediate ending with no follow up on the story’s outcome. In fact, it barely feels like an ending. What kind of (Spoiler - click to show) legal action does your friend face? How has access to AI changed for the everyday consumer? What sort of AI rights, if any, are factored into legal proceedings? What regulations were in place when your friend was (Spoiler - click to show) accused of plagiarizing a non-human (which is an ethical argument in itself) entity?
According to the game’s description, “you play Peter Smithee, a renowned developer who participated in the rapid democratization of the automation of many tasks and professions.” I would have loved to know more about the PC’s work with democratization AI technology. What would that work look like?
In the game’s world, society has a strong pro-regulation attitude towards AI following its advanced integration into daily life. Using AI is typically frowned upon in the workplace. It struck me as odd that the protagonist would casually throw AI at his (I assume the PC is male) friend’s problem. Without additional context behind his decision making, this choice seems out of character and does not offer further insights on the implications of applying AI to everyday challenges. The game could have gone somewhere with Peter Smithee (that’s how his name is spelled in both French and English translations) but failed to develop these ideas.
I want to look at the main objectives of Ainimus which are listed at the start of the game:
You will be faced with several dilemmas on different philosophical themes.
With each story choices will be offered to you, you will vote for the solution you find most relevant.
At the end of the game you will be able to debate around the topics addressed and continue your discussions thanks to quotes.
Are these objectives successful? Yes and no.
1: It feels like there is only one major dilemma, which is to help your friend. The philosophical themes are focused on whether you decide to use AI. I was expecting it to cover a broader scope of ethics but at least identifies some societal views of AI in everyday settings.
2: In terms of relevance, there is the only path that remotely touches the themes about AI. The player is not presented with several choices about the ethics of technology. It is pretty clear at which path you are supposed to follow to explore the game’s core ideas. Again, not as comprehensive as I expected but still relevant.
3: This one was not successful, or at least not successful in this version of the game. The discussion at the end is a cluttered list of quotes without any supporting content. It does list some titles to check out but offers no additional commentary other than an unorganized list of quotes and blurbs pasted together at the end of the game.
While the game only mildly entertains its philosophical themes, they are still included and worth a mention. There were two main themes that stood out while I combed through the gameplay.
The first theme considers the balance between robotics for human convenience and robotics as a force behind unemployment. An argument* is that robotics can perform everyday functions to free up our time for other pursuits, often leisure. The flip side is that these “everyday functions” may have once been human jobs that are no longer available. This is an extremely simplified argument that overlooks countless factors needed to fully comprehend this issue, but it still rings true with concerns we have today.
The second theme looks at the unforeseen impacts of regular implementation of robotics in modern daily life, especially since these technologies only seem to grow more sophisticated. If robotics is everywhere, and shows no sign of stopping, what means should we have to manage it? I was hoping that the game would dive into this, but there is no mention of any specific law or regulation in the game’s story. Your friend is accused of fraud and that’s about it.
*Check out Choice of Robots. It is one of the more popular commercial ChoiceScript games out there. I have not played the entire thing, but I can tell you that the first few (free) chapters introduce some interesting points in the dialog. Design a robot and reveal it to the world.
For the visuals, I am not going to consider the ALL-CAPS message and the animated confetti in my assessment because I assume that is not what the game is meant to look like. I do love the cover art with its white background and green text artfully designed to form the word “AI.” If anything, that was the best part.
Besides the big message and the confetti, that game keeps it simple with white text against a black screen. There is scrolling text, but it’s fast enough to avoid taxing the player’s attention span. The screen includes the button you can click if you want the text to appear in one go. I appreciated having that option. Buttons are glowing dark green rectangles that add a subtle cyberpunk look.
Grammar? Spelling? I’m not even going to try. I used dodgy auto-translate French-to-English (I feel so lame saying that) so any errors were all me. Game gets a free pass there. Plus, some meanings were likely lost in translation.
For the record, I tried digging around in the source code (posted on Github. I looked at it AFTER I played the game a few times). This was not me trying to figure out to “win.” Rather, I was trying see if there were any explanations for the ALL-CAPS message. Either the source code is poorly organized, or I stumbled about wildly as I searched without really knowing what to look for. Probably the latter.
In a nutshell, its concept has potential but the physical game needs work before it can count as a finished piece. I feel like this game deserves two stars. As an interactive piece it is poorly designed and almost unplayable. But it attempts to start a discussion which is worth a second star.
Now, something tells me that I did not play the full game as the authors intended. Any game with the words “THIS CONTENT IS NOT AVAILABLE” running the entire time is probably not reflective of the “actual” game. Because of this, I will not include this rating in the game’s average.
Also: You can draw parallels between the game’s ideas and real-world developments. NPR (I am not affiliated with them) has some interesting articles on its website. Consider:
-Has AI reached the point where a software program can do better work than you?
-A new AI chatbot might do your homework for you. But it's still not an A+ student
Everyone is on edge aboard the CSS Jonas Salk, a spaceship tasked with astrobiology research to acquire alien life forms and substances to be used in pharmaceuticals on Earth. But the most recent mission has brought some troubling developments. Weird bruises have appeared on the crew’s bodies and, well, two already killed each other in a (Spoiler - click to show) cannibalistic outrage. By the way, you are the captain. Soon, that will mean little.
This is one of those gameplay stories where an infectious agent appears in a closed off area filled with people (ex. spaceship smack in the middle of deep space). The game begins by an inner airlock door where you and two crew members are observing the carnage through the airlock window- no, the SmartGlass* airlock window. You do not have many choices beyond calling for a meeting of all surviving crew. *Corporate (fictional) product placement! Hey, it’s a reoccurring theme in this game.
Gameplay is linear with some flexibility. A notable choice is when deciding to what to grab from your locker. It will be important for resolving (or maybe I should say “resolving” since teamwork has pretty much gone out the window) crew tensions during the meeting.
You hold up the crew manual. Everyone falls silent at the sight of this mystic totem.
(Surely this will work)
The crew rushes you from all sides.
(Tip: (Spoiler - click to show) Pick the gun instead.)
Later, choices boil down to two or three options at a time with fight or flight decision making. Do I try to reason with this crew member who is (Spoiler - click to show) eating his friend, or do I run for it?
A clever design feature for these choices were timed pages that kick in if the player takes too long to respond. The outcome is not favorable. It’s not obvious which ones are timed, and they last for about ten seconds, a reasonable length. Indecisive? This will catch you off-guard, contributing to the chaotic ambience in the gameplay. The message: Stop dawdling while the infection eats through your crew.
There is gore in this story. Not exactly One Eye Open (a personal favorite of mine) gore, but still gore. The gist is that the expedition’s recent target was a planet inhabited by primate-like alien creatures that were deemed perfect for science. The only catch is that the creatures (Spoiler - click to show) were all torn up and mangled. The crew assumed it was a territorial dispute, not some highly infectious pathogen that causes life forms to turn on each other. Needless to say, everyone gets infected, or at least exposed to the infection.
This is where moral decisions come into play: Are you going to return to Earth and risk infecting the planet with, essentially, a (Spoiler - click to show) zombie-like disease? Or are you going to land on a nearby planet and use its resources to address the problem first? Neither are ideal, but the crew 110% wants to return to Earth and deal with it there whereas the protagonist seems inclined to take a cautious route. Sadly, (Spoiler - click to show) the crew is willing to kill to get their way.
There are multiple endings, some of which go on longer that you anticipate which was a nice surprise. You will find some unexpected outcomes that encourage multiple playthroughs.
The weaker part of The Virulence Protocol is, oddly enough, the characters. I don’t mean their change into (Spoiler - click to show) cannibalistic rebels. Instead, their motivations for contradicting the player’s orders seem inconsistent. If anything, only the protagonist has their head on straight, even though they too show signs of the infection.
Everyone wants to go back to Earth to be home again (predominantly for medical care), but there is a segment where their demeanors change to embrace the corporate themes underlying the game. The whole mission is backed by corporations seeking to harvest resources for commodities. This is subtly conveyed through descriptive writing. But its brief manifestation among the crew was awkward.
For a brief moment all the NPCs care about is profit and making money, not whether their infection is going to spread in their bodies and kill them. At the start of the game some characters have distinct personas. It makes sense that they would all succumb to (Spoiler - click to show) zombie-like symptoms from the infection, but I feel like the game dissolves the NPCs’ individual identities for a single scene.
“The only thing we got to protect is our pay day! The gig is to find some alien plant or monkey with mojo that can be turned into medicine with serious worth!”
Next thing you know, it’s all about biolabs and seeing Earth again. There could have been a smoother transition here.
Game uses a default Twine appearance that many players will recognize. Black screen, easy to read white text, blue links that turn purple when you click on them. The game will occasionally throw around different text colours paired with blinking or delayed text effects. A few spelling/dialog formatting issues but otherwise this game feels like a finished piece.
It’s not the best plague-on-a-spaceship game I’ve played but it was certainly intriguing enough to play for several rounds. While characters were meekly implemented, it has its strengths. The horror element was especially well done because it takes an already precarious situation and slowly unfolds it to reveal a horrendous truth about the botched mission: The crew has discovered an infection that turns people into aggressive (Spoiler - click to show) sort-of zombies.
It’s a story where humanity found more than what it bargained for, and The Virulence Protocol conveys that idea with great enthusiasm.
You play as Rovie, a rover on a research vessel called the Curious Kitty. Daphne, the onboard AI, activates you to explain that the ship has crashed landed on the mission’s destination, planet Zephyria. Your task is to explore the landscape and gather research while Daphne repairs the ship.
Plasmorphosis allows the player to roam the planet freely like a parser game. It even maps the area with compass directions. This pairs well with the game’s theme of exploration. Between the Curious Kitty and the planet’s surface, there’s about a dozen rooms. Your goal: Study the planet.
You make progress by collecting research points with your scanner. The scanner can be used on lifeforms or alien objects/artifacts, such as carvings. To complete the game, you must accumulate at least 100 points. However, the planet does not have enough material to meet this quota. The player is required to get creative with the local ecosystem.
The planet is crawling with simple organisms called Zephyrian Protoplasm. Blobs… with shapeshifting properties. These critters transform when you touch them with different objects. For example, if you toss a (Spoiler - click to show) chunk of heat shielding at a Protoplasm, it turns into an *Oven-Safe Slime. Transformations come with unique properties that help you overcome obstacles. (Spoiler - click to show) The Oven-Safe Slime allows you to walk across the river of lava. Experimenting with different objects and properties is the main mechanic in Plasmorphosis. (*I kept expecting this to be Oven-Safe Slime™)
Gameplay relies on an inventory system. At the bottom of the screen is a drop-down (well, technically it is “drop-up”) menu of your inventory items. When an item is selected, it is applied to anything you examine. I wish the game would let you examine items in your inventory, but it’s not essential. There is also a database that keeps track of your research points and log entries for scanned items.
You can complete your mission and end the game after making 100 research points, but the game eagerly encourages you to continue investigating the planet for science. My final score was (Spoiler - click to show) 160/100 with 23 database entries. I believe that is the max. It was fun, finding ways to (Spoiler - click to show) enter inhospitable areas using random objects on Protoplasm.
Not all of it is seamless. There was a bug that kept me from starting over with reset progress even after I wiped my save files/autosave file. I had to do some backtracking to fully restart (author has now fixed this issue). Occasionally, character scenes were repeated. But nothing that really dulls the experience.
This is not a story intensive game. The only backstory is that the mission is backed by Star Research Co. There is a feeling of the Company breathing down your neck about meeting your research quotas. Either that or Daphne is being overly dramatic. It’s hard to tell. I suppose there are some undertones about resource exploitation. For each entry the database lists ways the subject can be used for industry, including pharmaceuticals, robotics, textiles- I’m reading too much into this.
The mission is also about understanding the sentient life that once lived on the planet: Zephyrians (not to be confused with Zephyrian Protoplasm). Zephyrians were (Spoiler - click to show) insectoid creatures that once inhabited the city ruins. They were skilled in the arts and sciences, and different parts of their history can be observed throughout the game. You can figure out what happened to them by checking it out. There is no major story or plot twist, but it is quite interesting.
This game really makes you feel like an anthropologist. Or is the proper word xenoanthropologist?
There are only two characters (unless you count the Protoplasm) in this game: Rovie (you) and Daphne. The character quirk of the protagonist is that they do not speak in English, leaving it up to Daphne to translate everything for the player. This led to some charming exchanges.
“Great, you found it!” cheers Daphne.
“Beep?” you ask suspiciously.
“Oh, I'm just accessing your optical sensors,” the AI explains gleefully.
Characters certainly have their own personalities. I thought it was (Spoiler - click to show) humorous how the game briefly tricks the player into thinking that Daphne left the planet without them returning to the ship. It was a nice diversion in the gameplay.
I would describe the visuals as a simple user-friendly design with a splash of colour. I especially liked the font and text colours for the title screen. Generally, the screen is black with white text. Room titles shown in orange. Links are conveniently colour-coded. Blue for exits, green for objects/scenery. Pop-up boxes are used to explain outcomes of an action, or dialog. Basic enough.
The author has made multiple high-quality Twine games, and Plasmorphosis is no exception. It’s fun and upbeat with well-implemented puzzles that provide a challenge. It kept me busy for at least an hour.
I would not consider this to be a “kid’s game,” but its lighthearted content (dinosaur gummies, friendly AI- well, anyone can love this) can appeal to younger audiences who are familiarized with more technical Twine puzzles. I mean, there’s a ship called the Curious Kitty. That can leave an impression about the target audience. So, sure. Call it a kid’s game if you want. But if you enjoy Twine science fiction, give it a try.
Your mind blinks into existence: You are an android at FutureBright tech company. Two humans, Dr. Jeongmin Kim and Dr. Jinn Hong, have brought you online for a social experiment. You are going to be making your public debut in… a school.
They want you to learn about what it means to be human.
The game takes place in an international school in South Korea attended by students from different backgrounds and native languages. The gist is that you will spend time with four students in the same class, devoting an entire day to each student. Details about the school are kept to a minimum, but my guess is that the class is about “middle school” aged (the author reminds us that school system structures are not universal).
Gameplay is straightforward. School days are basic but uniquely influenced by the student. This ranges from talkative strolls around the campus to spending time in the cafeteria. You learn about students’ struggles with their lives inside and outside of school. You also see them experience bullying (Spoiler - click to show) (Yeon & David), and you see them causing it (Spoiler - click to show) (Soojin & Sangho). In both cases you develop an understanding of their deeper selves that includes sensitivity, a lack of confidence, and a desire of fitting in. You engage them about their behavior, so they think critically on why they do it and how it harms others.
There are multiple endings, but it feels more like two endings, the second of which comes in several flavors. You can either choose to (Spoiler - click to show) keep participating at the school or to move on with FutureBright’s next experiment. Choosing to move on prompts you to reflect on your experience with the students. What did you learn about being human? Arguably these reflections count as separate endings. You can even request changes in your programming.
Also: I appreciate how the author provides the player with chapter codes so they can revisit their progress rather than having to start over. That makes it easier to explore different outcomes.
This is the main event. Learning to Be Human is ultimately about bullying and seeks to shine a light on how it can manifest in everyday situations. It also functions as a tool for resolving attitudes that lead to bullying. While bullying can be spontaneous and take one by surprise, so can behavioral solutions. The term “behavior solutions” sounds clinical, but the game puts it into context.
Themes about bullying and social dynamics are partly explored through restrictions placed on the protagonist. A defining element in the gameplay are Laws. At the start of the game, Dr. Jeongmin Kim and Dr. Jinn Hong explain that they programmed you to follow three Laws as follows:
- 1: Do not harm sentient life forms.
- 2: Do not interfere with human development.
- 3: Protect yourself from harm.
The second Law turns out to be a real pain. In ChoiceScript, the player selects choices from a menu. But in Learning to Be Human, some of these choices are greyed out and made unavailable because the choice violates a Law.
"Hey, maybe the rest of you should be nicer to David." [This would be interfering.]
"I'm happy to let David figure out what we do for today."
"I'm happy to go to the cafe with everyone as a group."
"Maybe there's some other way I can play the games?"
In example above, the top choice is greyed out because the player is trying to interfere with an exchange between a student and his classmates. This interference seems benign. The PC just wants David to be heard. But the Law interpreted this as overstepping, leaving the PC unable to promote a more inclusive environment. I thought this was an effective way at showcasing these programmed restrictions in the gameplay. More of these scenes appear in the game that also bring up implications about bullying in today’s world.
The Laws’ influence over the protagonist simulates real challenges about addressing conflict in group situations. Often youth are given simple instructions to merely “stand up if you see someone is being treated unfairly!” A valid lesson, but easier said than done. As we see in Learning to Be Human, bystanders suddenly turn into an intimidating audience. The person initiating the harassment may be higher in social status or have considerable sway over how everyone else views an individual. That’s a common theme in this game, the feeling that you could be more inclusive to [insert name] but worry that it would be at the expensive of your peers’ perception of you.
There are countless variables present in these scenarios that make “standing up” the opposite of an easy task. The game puts the player in the shoes of someone who is presented with these predicaments. While the protagonist’s reason for freezing is because of android programming, it captures the experience of witnessing an icky situation but feeling unable to respond.
On a funky side note, the PC can still entertain dubious ideas. The Laws do not prevent the protagonist from thinking about certain actions, only to prevents them from acting on it. Sometimes these actions feel like suppressed impulses. In more heated scenes, we see "so-and-so punched my friend so I'll punch them back" type of responses are fortunately disabled by the protagonist’s programming.
Hit him back. "How do you like it?" [This would be causing harm.]
"No. I couldn't interfere with that."
"I'm sorry that I couldn't interfere."
In these cases, I do not think the protagonist is seriously considering being violent. For the most part.
"There will be a bloody revolution." [This would be causing harm.]
(To clarify, the PC cannot wage war on classmates.)
Rather, these responses seem like an emotional byproduct of input from their surroundings. Being unable to carry out violent actions is a good thing, but sometimes this prevents the protagonist by standing up for others in nonviolent ways.
In my review’s title I call the game lackluster. I should elaborate. If you approach this game looking for a sci-fi adventure like I initially did, you may find it dull or underwhelming. All I saw was “android protagonist” and dug in. I confess that I have a habit of zooming through ChoiceScript games to orient myself with its structure before replaying it to focus on the details. My first impression felt like this: You hang out with Character A. You hang out with Character B. You hang out with Character C. And, finally, you hang out with Character D. Thanks for playing. What a bland story. Now, hold on a moment. I was missing the whole point. What changed for me (and no doubt people will pick up on this sooner than I did) was taking a closer look at the implementation of the game’s main idea in the gameplay.
The game may have sci-fi elements, but its genre is ultimately listed as Educational. As I’ve mentioned, it is about bullying. It is an important topic but Learning to Be Human also has a strong, consistent gameplay structure to back it up. This makes it easier to dive into key points. After slowly and earnestly playing the game with this objective in mind, it became more than just “hanging out” with NPCs. Instead, Characters “A,” “B,” “C,” and “D” are Yeon, Soojin, Sangho, and David, and each have extremely earnest and down-to-Earth life experiences that are relatable, and compelling because we view them through a unique vantage point: An android programmed for human interaction.
It becomes meaningful, and I’m not just saying that to be polite. Just don’t expect a wild sci-fi story.
A cool design feature is how the game subtly allows you to customize yourself when the researchers ask you to describe yourself. When I saw the “I am a human” option (one of seven options, actually) I figured that the researchers would snicker and say, “if you say so, android,” when instead they hand you a mirror so you can assess your appearance. The game then gives you a list of attributes that you describe, such as the colour of your synthetic flesh. If you describe yourself as an android the game assumes that your appearance is that of a standard android. You also choose your name and gender.
Oddly enough, being an android makes you a neutral party, especially as an observer. A common pattern is that students wage war on each other when the adult in the room leaves, only to pretend like nothing happened when a teacher returns. They have no hesitations around you. They are also more likely to listen to you. You are not a parent or stuffy adult giving them a lecture. You have no allegiance to anyone at the school or belong in a clique. You are cool, or at least novel enough to be interesting. Knowing every language doesn’t hurt either. As we see in the game, students are more receptive to your advice. And that feels nice.
There are six students, four of which you spend time with, plus a few adults. The game has a nifty bio page for reference that lists name, race, and role for all NPCs.
It's tough because some kids are not as likeable. Ouch. This is where we want to be careful lest we repeat the issues we are trying to address. Let’s put it this way: One of the students is the “main bully” whom you have- correction, you get (they matter too)- to hang out with for an entire day. When he hears about your Law against interfering, he pinches a bullied classmate to see if you can do anything about. You can’t. It’s frustrating. And yet, you slowly learn his side of the story and form a connection with him with the understanding that “the bully” only skims the surface of who he is. Simply talking goes a long way. That is where the human element emerges.
Be aware, you get placed in some awkward situations. The biggest challenge is when you have great one-on-one time with one student only to see them harass someone else. Yeon, a shy and soft-spoken student, is often the target. Someone might toss out the “b-word” or make derogatory remarks about one’s race. Cultural stigma also appears. The author does a nice job of sitting on a fence between being frank about bullying without making it too extreme for players.
But yes, difficult situations can spring out of nowhere, almost casually. In one case a random student (Spoiler - click to show) calls Yeon fat while standing in the lunch line. There are parts of the game where your android self is thinking, I swear to God if it weren't for these stupid Laws...
Learning to Be Human is a powerful resource about human interaction, particularly for kids and tweens. It looks at intersections of daily life (schoolwork, language barriers, parental expectations, feeling cool) and how it can fuel bullying behaviors.
The android protagonist has unique freedoms that puts them in the role of observer but is also bound by the Laws that prevents them for standing up for someone being bullied. This highlights the complexities and challenges that come with recognizing bullying, stopping it, and preventing it from happening again.
I think the gameplay has a realistic view about change. You do not waltz into the classroom and convince everyone to be friends. You certainly make a positive impression, but since the game only occurs over four days, there is no way of seeing the long-term effects on students’ behavior and relationships with one another. It does not set major expectations because small changes matter. That, I believe, is where the game will be helpful for real-world people.
The objective is to show ways of initiating a conversation with a peer, making amends in small ways, and understanding how seemingly perfect people likely have hidden struggles of their own. And on that note, the game provides resources about bullying at the end of the gameplay. I encourage you to check out the link to the author’s notes.
(And appropriately, this review is not going to be a short read.)
Trigaea in a sentence: An epic sci-fi Twine game that looks and feels like it walked off of Steam for twenty dollars. When I first saw this posted on IFDB, I did a double take and told myself, “There is no way that this game is free.” It is. The amount of time, brain power, and creativity that went into this thing produced such a polished, cool, and ambitious piece. I am grateful that the author decided to make this game available to play for free.
Prologue: You wake up inside a tank filled with strange green liquid in an unfamiliar room. A step outside the door reveals a wasteland of broken machinery- you did not wake up in a building. You woke up in the wreckage from a major accident, and your memories are gone.
The protagonist, whom you name, has a brain implant called a Rosetta that compresses an individual’s memories and consciousness. Upon death, the information from the implant is transmitted back to a compact AI-run lab called a Progenitor (where you woke up) that grows a new copy of the body with its own Rosetta. The data transfers to the new implant and the protagonist steps out of the tank as good as new with hardly a gap in awareness.
Early gameplay consists of exploring the wasteland to learn more about your surroundings. Combat is a frequent feature throughout the gameplay. When an opponent appears, you have a list of options on how to respond during the encounter. If you win, you earn microchips that are used as currency. If you lose, you die and wake up again in the Progenitor. This is streamlined to make it simple for players to rebound after a setback. Combat is both easy to use and easy to master. Collecting microchips and quartz chips are also vital to regaining your memories. Later gameplay shifts towards contacting the inhabitants of the planet to learn more about the unknown disaster. Rather than just exploring, you start to have more concrete objectives to complete.
I have played plenty of games advertised as having loads of optional content. Not all turn out that way, but Trigaea really is one of those games with substantial optional material tacked on to its already-extensive gameplay. And on that note, the gameplay is extremely long. Absolutely worth your time but you will not fit this in during a lunch break. Just know that once you complete it, (Spoiler - click to show) you can replay without losing your health and stat levels. Skip the intro, that sort of thing. That was convenient.
One of the coolest features in this game is about augmenting yourself for survival. You can spend microchips to receive genetic modifications or cybernetic implants that grant new abilities. This selection of choices only expands as the game continues. My estimate is that this will be a popular draw for players.
There is so much story content I hardly know where to begin. Probably the best thing for me to do is encourage you to play it rather than making this review longer than it needs to be, but I just have to discuss some of it.
Background context: (Spoiler - click to show) Humanity eventually advanced enough to populate the rest of the solar system, but the space colonies often clashed with the Earth government about resources, especial fuel. Riots and altercations became a common issue. A solution was developed: Project Amber, finding another home, and sources of fuel, for humanity. This was a project spanning decades in the making. Correctors were trained at an academy and assigned to govern a ship filled with thousands of people in stasis pods. Upon arriving a new world, Correctors would help settle the planet and guide humanity. Preparation included scoping out potential worlds with high levels of habitability. That way, even if the planet proved to be unfriendly to Earth-based life, terraforming technology could step in and make it habitable. Then one day, the conflict between the space colonies and Earth government goes too far. Project Amber must launch now. Preparation goes out the window as ships hightail it to their designated planets. Unfortunately, all the planets are too inhabitable. Except this one. Two ships, SCC Nuria and SCC Caleuche, end up orbiting Trigaea. Things did not go as planned.
We know that the protagonist was trained to be a Corrector. Part of that training involved receiving the Rosetta implant with a personal AI. Correctors are quite valuable. As you will experience several times, everyone freaks out when they learn that you are a Corrector. Moral choices appear on the horizon as your supposed responsibilities as a Corrector is made known to everyone. You become the go-to fix it repairperson. Someone who can do the impossible. You are a Corrector. Obviously, you are supposed to correct things, right? This is where things get complicated. They have questions. You have amnesia. Recovering your memories is crucial to making informed decisions as the lives of more NPCs fall into your lap.
As you regain your memories you realize that you are in over your head. The situation is not as simple as (Spoiler - click to show) “uh, a ship crashed,” but, to limit spoilers, an Earth ship(s) collided with the planet. Everything that could have gone wrong, went wrong. There are THREE struggling factions on one miserable planet: humans, natives, and robots (by the way, Trigaea is the name of the planet). (Spoiler - click to show) Natives, called X'irii, were on the planet long before this mess happened. Human colonists managed to hack together an existence in the ship’s wreckage. Some humans live as Outer Tribes, but no one seems to care about them. Finally, the robots that survived built their own hive city managed by advanced AI.
One of the strongest parts in this game is how it puts you in the shoes of each faction. The first faction you contact are the (Spoiler - click to show) human colonists, followed by the robots, and then the natives. You may encounter these groups earlier in combat, but contact is when you visit their “homebase.” Your Progenitor allows you to morph into machine and alien forms to blend in. The major clash in perspectives is (Spoiler - click to show) between the humans and the natives. The robot faction is more or less content with minding its own, but they too have an invested interest in the planet’s population.
The human colonists form the baseline perspectives for the first half of the game. From this angle you will look at the other factions and be absolutely convinced that human colonists are the way to go and everyone else are savages. The X'irii have wiped out every human colony except for Delta Colony. They brutally kill human colonists. And yet, when you visit their native home groves you realize that they too have a rich cultural heritage, sense of identity, and drive to protect their own families.
Humanity’s interstellar spaceships came with a Terraform Sphere to assist in colonization a new world. Trigaea is reasonably habitable, but one ultimately foreign to Earth-based biology. As a Corrector, everyone wants something from you: The second half of the gameplay is about finding the (Spoiler - click to show) Terraform Sphere, that is, if it managed to survive the wreck.
So. Eventually, you (Spoiler - click to show) locate the Terraform Sphere. The keystone of the game is moral choices. Get ready to enter Spoiler Land. Seriously, look away. (Spoiler - click to show) Here’s the deal: Activating the Terraform Sphere will make the planet perfect for humans but would wipe out the X'irii in the process. Quite frankly, I was inclined to side with the natives, but naturally the game had to throw some curveballs.
When humanity set to colonize other worlds one principle that was considered while screening for compatible planets was to find one without any intelligent species already living on it. Trigaea happens to be the first planet with sentient alien life discovered by humanity, ever. Arguably, wiping out this race for human benefit would be immoral. Thing is, due to circumstances that I won’t discuss to avoid spoiling everything, Earth is no longer a home. Furthermore, all of Earth’s ships sent to explore other worlds failed. Your own ship had no survivors. The humans on Trigaea are the last of the human race. If you side with the natives in this scenario, humans go extinct. And there’s also the robots to think of.
What would you do?
In this section, I am going to discuss some of my viewpoints in case you want to compare notes (and please do!) I will throw it under one big spoiler tag.
(Spoiler - click to show) I don’t think I would wipe out the X'irii even for the last dredges of humanity, or at least not for the humanity we see in the flashbacks. The humanity in the flashbacks really rubbed me the wrong way. Humanity lost the Earth because of squabbling, and even on the starships there is fighting between former space colonists and those who lived on Earth. I am only touching the tip of the ice burg here. But when put to a vote, nearly everyone onboard was content with squashing the natives to claim the planet.
To be fair, the colonists we meet in the gameplay are descendants of those who survived the disaster. Technically, they are not the same humans as featured in the flashbacks. Earth is a faint memory passed on through generations. Would they share the same perspectives of their ancestors? Thing is, an Earth-old feud still exists, even if the details have gotten hazy. The Outer Tribes are the descendants of the survivors who came specifically from the old space colonies. Delta Colony and its sister colonies were founded by the humans who originally came from Earth. That feuding is still there. And both sides would not hesitate to activate the Sphere. It comes back to the original question: do we commit genocide to wipe out the natives to make Trigaea humanity’s new home?
Oddly enough, the natives are little more receptive, perhaps even sympathetic, about the humans’ reason for being on the planet. You say Trigaea, but the natives call their planet X'ir, which is also the name of the god that sustains life. X'ir follows a reciprocal relationship. If you take care of the planet, it takes care of you. From their perspective, the humans abused their planet (an understatement) and were exiled- and the natives feel pity about that. However, if humans, to put it bluntly, managed to screw up their own planet, what’s stopping them from destroying X’ir? Already, humans squashed countless X'irii simply by falling from the sky. And now, human diseases and garbage from the wreckage has been poisoning the land, causing the natives’ offspring to be deformed. Thus, they feel compelled to fight against the foreign invaders. Besides, [name redacted] is encouraging them to raid the colonies. I am not saying that you should agree with the natives, only that they too have a valid perspective for how they respond to other factions.
What frustrates me about the human colonists that we meet is how oblivious they are to the impact of their presence on the natives. The natives aren’t using the humans for target practice. They are defending their home. But understandably, that means little when you are trying to protect your hovel of a home against an alien race that keeps trying to kill you. Human colonists trying to make the most out of a difficult situation and are so bogged down with daily survival that they probably do not have the time or energy to reflect on the virtues of a species that has shown nothing but hostility. When family and friends are at stake, the last thing you want to hear is, “well, it is their planet.”
I certainty do not have a polarized perspective. Halfway through the gameplay is a pivotal event where Delta Colony calls for your help in defending against a X'irii attack. In this battle you are on the colonists’ side, but the game will continue even if you fail to stop the attack. Failure just means that the colonist population is severely reduced. Despite my feelings for the natives, I would always defend the colonists in this scene. Why? Well, they are trying to kill characters whom we already know on a personal basis. And that is my point: There are no easy stances. There is the faction, and the individuals within it, and each faction has individuals who form a connection with the PC. The game forces you to make tough choices. (If it makes you feel any better, you do not have to kill a single person in this game. You even get a trophy for doing so. If you fight in non-lethal mode, you merely subdue your opponents.)
These dynamics foreshadow major moral choices involving the fates of each faction. The challenges encountered in the gameplay anticipate decisions about (Spoiler - click to show) wiping out one race to save another. At first glance it seems like you must choose either Faction A, B, or C when in fact over a dozen endings offer a spectrum of outcomes. Everyone wants you to side with them but, if you play your cards right, you can put your foot down and consider, “why not all of us?”
Still, that does not make the decision easy. There is only one consensus: (Spoiler - click to show) I would make a horrible Corrector.
The story features two commonly used tropes: Amnesia and experiencing the overarching story primarily through flashbacks. These can be touchy clichés, but the game pulls them off. They do not feel contrived, and instead, provide a platform for experiencing the story.
With amnesia, I like games that slowly construct an underlying context behind the protagonist’s reason for having amnesia that, when revealed, builds upon your understanding of everything you encountered in the gameplay. It creates that moment of insight that makes it all click when you finally piece it all together (If you are interested, Worlds Apart is a master at this). Trigaea takes one big reveal, breaks it into smaller pieces, and places them strategically across the gameplay’s timeline to keep the player’s attention from drifting without diminishing their impact. The cause of the protagonist’s amnesia also has a compelling reason. (Spoiler - click to show) Due to an unknown accident, which we slowly learn about in the gameplay, the Progenitor was damaged, compromising the transfer of your memories. When those memories come back- let’s just say that there is substance to this depiction of amnesia.
As for flashbacks, while the game heavily relies on them for exposition, rich story content about your circumstances is also infused in the gameplay. Rather than merely “watching” the story, you take an active role in piecing it together. A smart design choice is that some flashbacks are optional. They are unlocked by spending microchips or quartz chips that allow the player to learn more about the protagonist’s background and the world that they came from. Collecting these memories provides an objective for players who want to milk the gameplay as much as possible for more world-building. Being optional, you can choose to skip them if you would rather focus on immediate gameplay.
There are a lot of endings. Fifteen. This is the final implementation of the player’s skills and responsibilities as a Corrector. You have already spent hours playing. The game took the good, the bad, and the ugly, rubbed it all in your face, and now challenges you to make a tough decision: How will all this end? The author posted a walkthrough for the endings that organizes them into branches. It is a useful guide if you feel overwhelmed. Some endings will leave a lasting impression.
I won't say it, it is too much of a spoiler to discuss it even here, but one of the ending branches just left me thinking, "you are kidding me," where you are so surprised, you are not sure whether to be annoyed, pleased, or confused. I still don't know what to think about it. It does provide some closure for certain drastic events which I think players will appreciate since this is a rollercoaster of a game. The only mild downside is that it gave me a slightly skewered view of the other ending branches, hence my reason for not wanting to discuss it. It was a surprise and I like how it tests your understanding of reality as you try to navigate this wonderous world of advanced technologies that we can only imagine.
…………………………But then it does it a SECOND time!!! There is an ending (another branch of endings, actually) that tops even that! You are still required to go through the ending branch that I just mentioned to access it which only makes it more surreal. It tricks the player by saying, “oh, you thought you saw the bigger picture? The ‘actual’ layer of reality? Sucker. Think again!” It was wild. The game truly, truly (this time) caught me off guard. The only impulse my brain had was to applaud. I am being dramatic, I know, but it reminded me of the saying, "fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.” If such a statement could be applied in interactive fiction, it would be here. If the author is reading this, thank you for creating this game.
For a hint, it reminds me of a particular Rick & Morty (I love that show) episode. It is up to you to figure out which one it is.
Esra is one of the most empathetic AI NPCs you can find in interactive fiction, and the first character we meet in the game. You choose whether Esra is male or female but for this review I will just use "they."
Esra operates the Progenitor that allows you to respawn and carries out genetic modifications. They also have access to your Rosetta implant and will communicate with you throughout the game. There is a whole backstory about Esra- you will realize that this is the case for many characters in this game- that reveals how advanced, sentient AI is developed in the game’s world. Even the AI has a backstory? Yes. It’s quite fascinating.
They are also the NPC whom we interact with the most. The early gameplay contains more casual banter, while later conversation becomes more focused on immediate objectives. When I first played the game, these early interactions seemed to suggest that the relationship between the PC and Esra was malleable. Dialog options had distinct attitudes consisting of friendly, polite, no-nonsense, standoffish, and mean demeanors. Because of this, I figured that you could decide on your relationship with Esra and then see how it manifested in the gameplay.
1. "I'm sorry you have to watch that."
2. "I'm glad you're watching out for me."
3. "If you've got time to watch, why don't you help?"
4. "Geez, I don't get any break from you, do I?"
In one playthrough I was a complete (Spoiler - click to show) you-know-what to Esra (tick off the AI NPC to learn if it results in a certain ending, right?) in all the dialog options to see if that influenced character development over time. I kept waiting for them to turn on me, but they never did. Then I reached (Spoiler - click to show) Ending 10. Despite what I did, (Spoiler - click to show) Esra went the extra mile to make sure I came out top at their own expense. I felt so ashamed. Several minutes went by where I just stared at the screen, that's how much it elicited a reaction out of me. I didn't deserve them.
Once the gameplay moves past the introductory parts, the protagonist and Esra go into teamwork mode for survival. There are some small (and interesting) disputes that you can pursue but they will not influence the characters’ overall relationship. Esra is devoted to your success regardless of your attitude.
I am not even going to try to write about every character. As I mentioned earlier, there are three factions on the planet that you will eventually contact in your explorations. It does not happen all at once. Each faction has its own unique NPCs that play a part in the story. Characters are also shown in the flashbacks, but those come with heavy spoilers. Every NPC, whether you meet them face-to-face or not, adds something interesting to the game.
There is (optional) romance in this game, but that part did not really fly for me. Some of it, especially “flirting,” was almost a bit cringy. The protagonist’s sexual orientation is determined by the voice you choose for Esra, and there are about four choices that let you decide how to approach romance, if at all. Some players might like it, but I was too busy with the rest of the story to be interested.
(Confession: When I first picked up Trigaea, I was kind of hoping to play the villain. That honor goes to- major spoiler- (Spoiler - click to show) just kidding, you will have to play the game. Then again, “villain” is subjective, isn’t it? At the beginning, all I had was this wasteland and the ability to come back from the dead. I had an AI who would splice my genome with that of animals. I could have dominated it and made it my own. But as the gameplay started rolling out memory flashbacks and NPCs were added to the big picture, I realized that the PC is meant to be more of a heroic protagonist while leaving “heroic” up to the player’s interpretation. Oh well. Maybe in another game.)
You are probably wondering why I am giving this game four stars instead of five (although it came pretty darn close) after raving about how amazing it is. My main critique is repetition, which is tricky in extra-long games like this one. What baffles me is how the game manages to be repetitive and dynamic at the same time. I know the phrase “repetitive gameplay” can scare players away but know that these occasional lulls are overshadowed by riveting, everchanging gameplay. Repetitiveness is boiled down to combat and exploring the wasteland.
Esra gives you advice on what to do which is helpful. But sometimes the only guidance you have is to explore and harvest microchips. During these parts the game shares the symptoms of a repetitive combat simulator- that is, until something does happen. Then the game pulls a surprise rabbit out of the hat of wasteland drudgery and makes things engaging once more with a new development that redirects the gameplay to something interesting. Yes, eventually you will notice some repetitiveness, but it takes a while before you start to feel fatigue (and even then, you can’t stop playing). I also noticed that even when the randomized combat lost its charm the plot-oriented combat scenes were still exciting.
The one tedious component that grated on me is how you gain microchips by killing things. It makes sense with a person since you could theoretically just search their body for microchips, but why would some random animal out in the desert have them? You kill a man-eating starfish and microchips come spilling out of the beast as if it were a piñata. The logic of that does not quite resonate with me. Unless microchips are the equivalent of oxygen… maybe I should just ignore this technicality.
Notes on formatting
The game occasionally suffers from purple prose. You say that your eyes are blue, and this is how the game interprets it: “Your eyes are scholarly and sharp, and tinted as blue as a old mountain lake. Your pupil looms in the middle like a full stop, dotted with parchment ink.” It seems contrived.
There are also some spelling issues. Sometimes Esra’s pronouns were the opposite of the ones I selected. In one playthrough Shay’s pronouns flipped flopped between him and her. Frequent grammar issues are also present. “They looks heavily injured,” taunted me everywhere. In one case, “googles” instead of “goggles.” But in all fairness, these errors were like drops in a swimming pool compared to how much text there is. This game has been thoroughly tested, and it shows.
Oh man. This is where the game really looks like a professional piece. There are dozens of detailed sci-fi/dystopian backdrops that would put a visual novel to shame. I looked at the credits and saw that the artwork is from contributions of quite a few artists, and it goes a long way. Even if you decide not to stick with the game in the long run, at least you get a glimpse of the visuals.
Trigaea is also a great example of the possibilities of Twine stylization. Design elements are used to create a flashy interface. Experimentation with symbols, borders, colours, and text boxes add a futuristic vibe. It is easy to forget that you are playing a Twine game.
I think a lot of players will appreciate elements of Trigaea, such as the smooth visuals, but if you are not a sci-fi fan, your interest may waver early on. It is also not for the impatient. I love science fiction and was in it for the long haul and yet there were times where I was hoping that the game would just hurry up already and move to the next part of the story. It’s worth it.
Sci-fi fan or not, this game is intense. The story is vast and full of tragedies. Thick backstory. Rugged characters. Bizarre technology. Violence. All packed together into lengthy gameplay. But beneath it all is a solid framework. The build-up of all this is for the player to gradually realize the protagonist’s purpose and responsibility as a Corrector, and then make difficult decisions based on the endless content poured on them over hours of gameplay. The notion of finally reaching the point where a major decision is placed in your hands is what makes this game resonate.
Anyway, great stuff. Thank you for reading this saga-length review.
It is the year (I assume) 2073. The most recent technological advancements of the ages have taken a disturbing turn, and you and your tech-savvy friends want to disrupt it. Your target: A film premiere with an audience of six thousand people. The film, GONCHAROV, is the first of its kind, directed and produced by an artificial intelligence called MATTEO JWHJ-0715.
What is up with Goncharov?
I did not know anything about "Goncharov" until I saw the posting of the Goncharov Game Jam on IFDB and decided to do some online searching for background context. The competition posting also has information.
Goncharov (if you already know this, just skip ahead) is a recent meme about the promotion of a gangster film called Goncharov. The film was released in 1973- wait a minute. That's not quite right. Sorry, Goncharov is a nonexistent film said to have been produced 1973. An alternate timeline version of 1973. If you see the "poster" for the film, it's extremely polished and convincing. Martin Scorsese is listed as the director while (someone?) Matteo JWHJ0715 is the film’s writer. It even drops actors’ names. Even though people knew this was fake, they still had fun formulating a fandom/following for it. You can almost convince yourself that you have, in fact, seen the film before…
Also, (yeah, I used Wikipedia) I saw THIS: On November 25, 2022, a game jam of Goncharov was run by Autumn Chen on itch.io. There’s an article attached to it. Pretty cool!
Gameplay is not particularly interactive. Instead, it relies on the story, dialog, and visual presentation to carry itself through. This can be a risky gamble, but I think it succeeds. In fact, the only player choice opportunity is to (Spoiler - click to show) decide whether to show a warning, promise, or memory scene during the team’s sabotage of the film. The espionage undertones keep a steady pace, and the gameplay is short enough to maintain the player’s attention as the story unfolds.
The entire gameplay occurs over communication lines with your teammates. The plan is that Varda, your teammate/friend goes to the theater for the premiere while the rest of the group works remotely. The protagonist's picture is always at the upper right corner of the screen while NPCs are shown near the lower left corner, both of which have dialog boxes. The black box at the center of the screen is not dialog, rather it is the game's narration.
There is scrolling text, but it did not bring the scrolling text fatigue that I sometimes experience with games. When you read text like a laser beam, any scrolling effects can feel sluggish. In this game, however, the effect is minimal. Once the text appears you tap the screen to move to the next sequence. The game does not rush you. This translated into a stable gameplay experience (this was my first encounter with the tape window development system).
The game contemplates the real-life neck and neck competitive nature of film production companies as they strive for innovation and to be the first product on the shelf, especially with premieres. A premiere is critical because that first audience glimpse is the big money maker. Now, in the game, Perennial Pictures tries to take it to the next level. The AI’s film is described as the company’s “most prized weapon in the war for attention.”
Regarding this “weapon,” GONCHAROV 2073 considers the wild possibilities of technology available during 2073. Here, corporations have adopted the practice of “artificial resuscitation” where a subject’s digital footprint is used to capture their voice, mannerisms, and other defining details to create an eerily life like simulation. People must give permission for this, but the system is opt-out. This means that everyone is automatically said to have given permission unless they opt-out to do so, raising potential ethical concerns.
Perennial Pictures is one such corporation that seeks to embrace this new technology. Artificial resuscitation is still a controversial matter, and GONCHAROV is meant to earn favor with the public. Its film features the same actors included in the meme inspired movie poster that I discussed at the start of this review. But the twist is that artificial resuscitation is used on the long-dead actors to create “actors” in this AI’s film. The human element has been removed in the film’s production, and yet it can leave the illusion of a human impact on the audience.
One of the more unsettling scenes in this game is when (Spoiler - click to show) the Perennial Pictures personnel are trying to stop the sabotage and alter their Martin Scorsese simulation to soothe the audience with familiar visual cues: They've hastily programmed a new expression onto his face: an apologetic smile. That apologetic smile can do so much damage. If we really did have this technology, could we make Goncharov a real non-nonexistent film with all the actors and intended details? Wow.
The big tragedy (spoiler time) of GONCHAROV 2073 is when (Spoiler - click to show) Varda totally betrays everyone. The game evokes a gradual yet increasingly rapid downward slide of emotions in this final scene. It starts with confusion, then unease, then shock, and finally panic. This avalanche kicks off when you hear Varda talking to someone over her comm line about submitting a report and receiving payment. Then, when you talk to her, she goes on a tangent on how the mission was a mistake and starts dropping some concerning implications about her behavior. Suddenly:
Behind you, down the narrow hall - the sound of heavy footsteps at your front door.
Really, Varda? Or should I say Leica since you don’t care about code names anymore? The betrayal is strong. Here, the game gleefully heaps on the suspense. It shows no mercy. Those footsteps just keep coming. Before you know it, Perennial Pictures’ military forces are breaking down the door, and the game ends.
My understanding is that (Spoiler - click to show) Varda sold everyone out because she needed the money due to increases in living expenses. She agrees that it hardly counts as an excuse but that she did it anyway. At least she is not trying to take the moral high ground about selling out her teammates. Still. I’m not a fan.
As for the mission, her perspective is that the demonstration is only going to encourage people to want to watch this AI-directed film to witness the artificially resuscitated dead man who seems to embody every nostalgic feeling a person can have (and previously never had) about film, culture, and everything else. The tragic part is how the demonstration aimed to protest capitalistic domination of film production and other artforms, particularly with its commoditization of deceased individuals, only for her to betray everyone for money.
You play as Kon in this endeavor. That’s your code name, at least. The other members of the crew are Varda, Tsai, Sissako, and Vertov. Everyone has their moment of dialog, but character interaction focuses on Varda. The characters sound cool and look cool, but don’t have much exposition. Oh, there is one other NPC. (Spoiler - click to show) Artificially Resuscitated Martin Scorsese. He gets his own character portrait and everything.
Visuals are atmospheric and stylized. The black and white background scenery is that of an office (or safe house, if we are getting into the espionage spirit). The artwork is pixelated which creates a cool gritty effect. Characters also have their own portraits that appear onscreen during dialog. Some portraits are tinted with colour that adds a nice contrast.
The ending will leave you thinking, what just happened? It’s like a riptide. Pulls you in whether you want it to or not. The atmosphere is strong, and I enjoyed the story. It also introduced me to a meme, well, it seems more than just a meme now. And now GONCHAROV 2073 gave me a new perspective on that. I’ll have to check out the other games in the Goncharov Game Jam to see people’s various interpretations of Goncharov. This is a fun game, especially if you are looking for sci-fi espionage themes.
Solve a murder in a near future world by diving into the Wikipedia of that world
This is one of the coolest games I have played.
In Neurocracy, you explore a website called Omnipedia, the apparent replacement of Wikipedia, upon its release on September 28, 2049. Days later, tragedy strikes. Sift through the articles to piece together what really happened.
Neurocracy caught me off guard at first. I opened Omnipedia and was immediately hit by an intimidating wall of cookie privacy settings that seemed to request access to things I had never heard of before. What does it mean by asking to use my "neurometric colloid" for neurometric montages? That sounded like a big deal. But sometimes you have to take things in stride. I opted out of everything I could and continued the game. Later, I made the connection.
Neurometric colloids are a technology portrayed in this game, implanted inside the brain. If you, the player, are supposedly reading a Wikipedia-modeled website in the 2040s, then it is quite possible that you would have a neurometric colloid of your own. The “privacy setting” idea was as seamless as could be for immersing the player. If this were any indicator of the game’s worldbuilding then Omnipedia was just getting started...
You navigate the game like you would Wikipedia by clicking on hyperlinks that lead you to different pages. You can also type in search terms. The central gameplay mechanic used to solve the mystery is the change history feature located on the right side of the screen that allows you to observe edits throughout the timeline. This feature uses red, yellow, and green colour coding to keep track of changes, additions, and deletions which opens a window into new developments and content that is trying to be concealed.
Neurocracy is overflowing with content but designed so the player can keep up with the exposition. Hovering your mouse over words underlined with a grey dashed line spell out the word’s abbreviation while words underlined with a blue dashed line provide definitions via a black popup box. You really learn things. It is a great sampler of modern-day subjects paired with more speculative, fictional ideas. This game will not give you a full working knowledge. But it does offer a micro bite-sized crash course for topics in real-world discussions about ethics and technology. Learn about AI, neuroscience, quantum computing, genetic engineering, genetics, biology, aquaculture, and even sushi.
There are some articles where if I scrolled down halfway to the page, covered all the dates, and then asked you to read it as if it were a Wikipedia entry, it would take you several minutes before you realized that it was fiction (consider the article titled, "Piscine transmissible amyloidotic encephalopathy”). There is even a convincing reference section at the bottom of the page. If only I could click on those articles. I was extremely impressed with the realism. The game also gives a shoutout to familiar topics such as COVID-19 or Elon Musk’s neurotechnology company, Neurolink. These topics are smoothly integrated into the gameplay and are fun to discover.
It takes a bit to adjust to the slick interface and gorgeous visuals before you stop flipping through articles excitedly and finally sit down to absorb the content inside them. Random curiosity-driven excursions through Wikipedia for me often consist of a mix of thoughtful reading and skimming. The deeper down the Wikipedia rabbit hole, the more I resort to skimming as my brain flits from topic to topic. Omnipedia was the opposite. Conjure up the idea of having so many presents you do not know which one to open first. That was me. I finally told myself to pick an article and read it, and for 20 minutes or so, that's all I did. The next step was piecing everything together.
Story + Characters
The lifeblood of this game. Here is an overview of the surface story:
The game’s overarching story focuses on Xu Shaoyong, founder of Zhupao, a huge technology conglomerate, and the wealthiest man in the world. On September 30th, two days after Omnipedia is released, Xu Shaoyong is assassinated when a security drone open fires at his private helicopter upon his arrival at an airport in China. Along with him was another prominent figure, Yuri Golitsyn, who ran a large-scale energy company. This ripples across the world in complex ways that you must decipher. The assassination narrative is spread across ten days, the tenth day still portrayed as being an ongoing event.
A major theme is the balance of biosecurity and personal privacy. The gameplay is filled with the aftermath of the CMD (Cariappa-Muren disease) pandemic where an entire stock of genetically engineered bluefish tuna was found to be a vector for a prion disease. The resulting CMD phobia only spurred an argument in favor of heightened biosecurity. We see the usage of quantum computing, neural networks, and other technological advances to conduct surveillance and collect vast amounts of consumer and personal data, justifying it for the sake of monitoring biological threats. While part of this reasoning has merit, we see major problems with this approach. Whistleblowers reveal a lack of transparency in data collection and unethical usage of consumer products, often for corporate advancement. Neurocracy takes this a step further asks about the implications of these practices in more futuristic technologies such as brain implants. Cyberattacks are already a familiar phenomenon in our world, but what about brainjacking?
As technological advancements emerge, the realm of ethics only continues to grow. Even Omnipedia is shrouded in controversy. Wikipedia fizzled out and Omnipedia stepped in among criticisms of its supposed corporate favoritism. But by utilizing the revision history feature you can come to your own conclusions.
As for the characters, I found them to be intriguing even if we only learn about them through the pages of a website. (Spoiler - click to show) Connie Muren's death was especially saddening given her commitment to her work although her posthumous comeback against Spencer Hagen was quite moving. The characters themselves were just as interesting as the story.
The best part. I could say that about most things in this game, but the visuals really are a defining feature. This goes beyond the visual interface which already boasts of a clean-cut design with a blue Wikipedia reminiscent logo at the top left-hand corner of the screen. Neurocracy also features plenty of artwork of people, logos, locations, and technologies commissioned by artists. As is the case with Wikipedia each page only has a few visuals, but the quality of the art makes each piece shine. I can recall at least one article that had a small video imbedded in the page, which was a cool surprise.
Thoughts on structural design
After a long while I reached the point where I had viewed and analyzed a large chunk of the story’s content and wondered what to do next. I went online to learn more about the game, only to make a startling (to me, at least) discovery: (Spoiler - click to show) the player’s investigation is independent from the gameplay. I thought that the act of going through the content, of digging deep, would have some payoff within the game. A payoff beyond the deductive reasoning that occurs from article to article. Excalibur comes to mind.
Excalibur is another excellent and ambitious interactive fiction game. It is made with Twine and designed to look like a wiki fandom page for a fictional TV show by the same name. You read the articles to spot the controversies behind the show while pondering fandom culture and the dynamics of shared memories of media content. It too is open ended, but the twist is that content surfaces as a result of your explorations. For instance, reading about certain material results in more material being “posted.” The pinnacle moment of the game’s interactivity (go play the game) comes later, but even after that, the game never ends. There is no winning or losing or a congratulations for “completing” the game. You dive below the surface, and the game quietly acknowledges your participation.
I was anticipating something similar for Neurocracy. But Neurocracy is not Excalibur. They are two different games. And quite frankly, this game does not revolve around me. I decided to see it from the authors’ approach. Originally, the game was released episode by episode in 2021 to the public where players were encouraged to take notes and share theories with each other while waiting eagerly for the next episode to be released. That is the true investigation of game’s story. You take the investigation out of the game and into the audience. Meanwhile, I play all of it in one go a year later without any attention to this structure. There is also something to be said about accepting that sometimes games do not intend to give you all the answers. That in itself is part of the experience. And on that note, if anyone wants toss around theories, do not hesitate to comment on this review.
I must admit, the game’s design cleverly maintains the illusion that you are in fact sitting at your computer in 2049 leisurely browsing Omnipedia. Having the game act like a game would risk breaking this. Briefly, I wondered if there was an angle with the neurometric colloid privacy permissions. If you had such a thing would your browsing experience with Omnipedia be different? I opted into the privacy to setting to see if it changed the gameplay. It did not, but that type of experimentation is also part of the fun. The game entices players to invent ways of interacting with it.
Ultimately, (Spoiler - click to show) my sadness was about not being able to learn more about certain subjects. I was deeply disappointed because I was drooling for more. I felt like I had barely scraped the surface of this story’s vivid universe. As I described earlier, blue words with an underlined dash have popup definition boxes, but later in the story, some words turn into links with their own pages. I had my eye on several character names and terms that I hoped would become articles. Learning otherwise was a bummer, but it also made me appreciate the sheer volume of content- writing, artwork, user interface- that went into this game to produce over thirty detailed pages of glossy, futuristic wiki material. It remains, without a doubt, one of the coolest games I have ever played. That is nothing to sneeze at.
Now that you have (finally) reached the end of this review, all I can do is recommend playing Neurocracy. It will blow you away. Its story is fascinating and deep, the artwork beautiful, and the interface is effectively convincing. You do not need to be an interactive fiction fan or a sci-fi fan or a Wikipedia fan to enjoy this game. And even if you don’t, the game’s discussions about the intersections of technological advancement, personal rights, and societal ethics will still linger in your mind as you draw parallels from today’s world. I thank the game’s creators for creating and sharing such a fascinating piece.
(As a formality, I found and accessed the game through its listing on IFDB which took me right to the game’s website.)