When I first saw the game’s IFDB description I was expecting a story about a protagonist’s experience with being turned into a cyborg. Waking up from an operation and realizing that being a cyborg was not all that it was cracked up to be. Perhaps even trying to demand answers from NASA 11. Not quite. Instead, the game begins on a dirt path surrounded by forest in front of a lizard wearing a spacesuit. But this soon takes the player in an interesting direction.
Right now, I cannot say that I am familiar with the innerworkings of early parser (any parser, really) or how they are archived online. All I do is click on the “Play On-line” button and see what happens.
I am so used to the convenience of Inform games with their white screens and black text, and their utilization of a wide range of verbs. This was a completely different experience for me. Right now, it is the oldest interactive fiction game that I have tried. It certainly did not look like an Inform game.
Visually, it has a brown background and yellow-white text in all-caps. But the differences did not stop there. Instead of "look" you use "scan" to survey your environment, and “scan strange fruit” instead of “x strange fruit.” It took a while to acclimate but eventually became quite manageable. I especially liked how the player can communicate with their cybernetic half using the command "opinion on [subject]." This offers insight into how things may be used or their relevance to the story.
My only complaint is that the parser can be slow about processing commands, taking anywhere from one to three seconds to respond. But otherwise, it was still a fun change.
The driving mechanic in the gameplay is to find sources of energy to sustain your biological (snacks) and cybernetic (batteries) components. The cover art shows the protagonist being split down the middle with one half being all organic and the other being purely mechanical. I am not sure if that is the case in the game, but it is definitely how I imagined it.
I spent hours (okay, maybe an hour and a half) crawling through the forest trying to make progress. And I did, to an extent. There was a lot of trial and error. When you use your (Spoiler - click to show) microlaser you drain your own energy. I did not realize that when I first encountered the snake. I set the energy level to 600 and lost the game. Next time I was successful. There were a handful of other puzzles that I managed to solve but I ultimately ran into a metaphorical roadblock. Then I turned to the walkthrough.
I must admit that the walkthrough held my hand for the rest of the game, primarily because the setting becomes more cryptic (though still cool) as it transitions from a forest to (Spoiler - click to show) the depths of a spaceship. For those parts I even made some colour-coded maps for the two lowest levels so I could explore a little without getting lost. There were multiple times where I made an error that ended the game because it caused too much damage. As I made more progress in the gameplay, I found myself heavily relying on the walkthrough to limit the times I had to restart.
If the player makes a mistake that causes bodily damage sometimes the game will take the player back to a previous location, no save file needed. It does scatter your inventory items around, leaving you to recover them again, but at least you can still play. However, too many mistakes end the game. At least it has a sense of humor.
(Spoiler - click to show)
"TOO MUCH DAMAGE SUSTAINED OVER TOO SHORT A PERIOD TO EFFECTIVELY MAKE REPAIRS AND REORIENT OUR INTERFACE. BUT PLEASE ACCEPT MY CONDOLENCES... BYE. THANKS FOR PLAYING"
Condolences accepted. Of course, now I have to restart everything.
During the first section of the game, we realize that the forest (Spoiler - click to show) is not a typical forest. Parts of it have been cloned and organized into artificial patterns, giving the feel that it is manmade. Turns out it was created to be a colonization spot for humanity. The game takes place on a planet called Aurianta, not Earth. Maybe I am mistaken but based on what (Spoiler - click to show) the NPCs said it seems that Aurianta is also not the home planet of the reptilian characters that we meet, contrary to what I first thought. Dialog with these characters is minimal but it is as if both civilizations planned to divvy up the planet. There were parts that I wish had more backstory but overall, the story seems cohesive enough.
I have played cyborg characters before, but this game took an interesting approach. The gist is that cyborgs have an artificial intelligence that runs the mechanical half of the body. It narrates the game and talks directly to the player. Two beings with separate minds fused together in one physical body. If you have played Counterfeit Monkey this method should be familiar. The player just happens to be the organic half.
The game does use the amnesia trope. Something has happened and neither side of your cyborg being remembers anything. To avoid giving the whole game away I will not delve more into the protagonist’s identity, but I will say that while it was not what I expected it was still an interesting twist.
There are few NPCs consisting of lizard-like aliens (compelling geckos in spacesuits) with whom you can briefly interact with. While I am not sure if this qualifies as an NPC, there is a maintenance droid found in the gym that will comment on things or even give small hints as you carry it around. When you enter (Spoiler - click to show) the laboratory supply room it says "...KABOOM..." hinting to the fact that you can gather the liquid oxygen in the room and use it to cause an explosion to clear debris later in the game. Otherwise, the dialog is just meant to add some humor to the atmosphere.
I had fun trying out a different type of parser game and I liked how the story slowly developed rather than heaping information on top of the player. The gameplay is long, and the parser tends to lag. Now that I have played it all the way through from start to finish, I do not see myself replaying it again. But it was worth the time and effort. If you are a sci-fi fan then yes, I suggest trying out this game. If you find yourself getting stuck do not hesitate to reach for the walkthrough.
I will end by sharing a list of things I learned that are not mentioned in the walkthrough in case you play the game and wish not to make the same mistakes. If you want to rush ahead with open arms without my help interfering with your expectations do not continue reading.
(Spoiler - click to show)
-Do not wander off the catwalk while repairing the spaceship’s hull or you will drift off into space. I had to start over because of that one.
-Do not drop the dead insects or moldy bread (and to be safe, avoid dropping other food items) because a space suited lizard will zoom out of nowhere and devour it before you can react.
-If the game warns you that you are in a place with low visibility, leave. Do not go fumbling around without a light source or some form of seeing aid like I did.
-Make sure you kill the snake. Do not skip this part. Apparently, this is a requirement before colonization can occur.
-Be careful not to fall into the debris maze when navigating cargo hold. I also had to start over.
-Remember to take your ID after using it unless you want to spend time trying to find it again.
-Also: West of the tree with the string is a power unit I did not see in walkthrough.
The Vanguard is humanity’s first interstellar ship, and it has an emergency. For some reason, the ship is not responding to any Earth-based communication, prompting the dispatch of a team to investigate. You are part of that team.
This was a new experience for me. Not in genre or story, but style of gameplay.
The first portion of the gameplay is about exploring and seeing what bites, starting at the shuttle bay. Soon after, everything is turned upside down when a scenario card is automatically drawn by the game to introduce a scenario that shapes the remainder of the gameplay. As of this review, the game only ever has one scenario, but it is AWESOME.
Essentially, the ship’s original AI is squashed by a malicious, new AI who does not want humans on its ship. It proceeds to use the other machines to hunt down your team. I don’t consider that to be a spoiler since it is the premise of the game, but I will continue discussion on the story later.
Scenario 1 - A Change in Command
Suddenly, a synthetic-sounding voice cries out over the ship speakers. "Hurry, there isn't much time! Another AI has taken over the ship and killed the crew. I cannot hold it back much longer. I have had demolition charges delivered to the Upper Deck Landing. You must destroy the ship before it has a chance to-"
A female voice takes over. "Ah, that's better. Now to get the last of you meatbags off my ship."
Now, that’s a story. Exploring a ship controlled by a computer who wants you gone? Sounds exiting. But the gameplay surprised me. It was something I never really encountered before. Fate of the Vanguard is, to borrow the game’s own words, a board game emulator.
You drew an event card!
Off-Balance: The room lurches around you. Is it in your head, or is the ship really moving?
During the gameplay, the game draws cards and rolls dice automatically for every character as if everyone is sitting at a table playing a real board game. But here, the PC is the only one with an IF player seated in front of a computer. There are player stats for Speed, Strength, Courage, and Knowledge that determine your success with dice rolls.
The game displays the activities of every character, which ends up flooding the screen with text. It’s not too much of an inconvenience but can still be distracting. Besides you, there are three other characters who get “turns” in the gameplay: teammates Erick Rivera and Anne Hartley, and the evil AI who controls five other robots.
--- Enemy's turn ---
Prototype Combat Robot spends time powering up...
Load Carrier Robot moves east to Systems Monitoring.
Delivery Robot moves south to Chemistry Lab.
Analyzer Robot moves east to Galley.
Analyzer Robot moves east to Systems Monitoring.
Surgical Robot moves north to Explosion Site.
Surgical Robot attacks Anne Hartley! Surgical Robot rolls a 4, and Anne Hartley defends with a roll of 4.
The fight is a draw, and no one is damaged.
Except for each character.
You know their movements, what dice they rolled, what card they picked, whether they are battling it out with someone several decks below. I am pleased that the game strives to keep the player engaged and informed, but sometimes this translates in the screen being flooded by discoveries.
After Scenario 1 takes over, you are given a list of objectives to be carried out to win the game. Here’s the secret: (Spoiler - click to show) Have everyone do the work for you.
I’m partly kidding, but there is some truth to it. During my first playthrough, I did NONE of the work. I contributed NOTHING. Now, the objectives for the scenario were to retrieve some explosive charges, place them in target locations, and then escape to blow the Vanguard out of existence. But first time through, I was completely lost with the game mechanics and the endless assault of text filling the screen. Everything was new to me.
For this first playthrough, all I did was run like a maniac throughout the ship without any regard for the events around me because I was busy making my own map. The game has a simple built-in map that expands as you explore, but I wanted to make one out of fun. Plus, it is a great way to familiarize yourself with large layouts. The Vanguard has four decks. I counted 63 rooms total.
Of course, it was only until later that I realized that the game’s map is randomized. And I did all this with the intent of taking the next playthrough seriously. But then:
--- Anne Hartley's turn ---
Anne Hartley is waiting for you in the Shuttle Bay.
She did everything for me! On one hand, yay. On the other hand, the player’s role in the story seems diminished. Is this good or bad? I want to be clear that often Rivera and Hartley are killed off before they carry out the scenario’s parameters. I like how your teammates set an example for what to do, but since your relationship with them is so detached, you are just left there thinking, uh, thanks?
Helpful characters aside, you generally have limited control over the gameplay action. The only concrete choices you make are moving from room to room, picking up and using items (often passively), and arming explosives.
You drew an item card!
Painkillers: Powerful pills for dulling pain.
With the items, all I did was carry them around, although some players may be more skilled at putting them to use. Everything else- dice rolling, card flipping, etc.- was done by the game. And that makes sense since a real board game would also involve randomized action. But a lot of it was chaotic.
Eventually, it became clearer. As I played, the mechanics and objectives had more context, and I could understand what going on. Now, it was fun! There is something inherently fun about a sci-fi interactive fiction game where you run rampage through a spaceship with your friends and/or colleagues. Everyone breaks off and scatters in different directions.
However, I never needed to strategize with many of the creative features that the game has to offer. It comes down to this: (Spoiler - click to show) Zip up the central staircase to the upper level, grab the explosives left behind by the previous AI, and run around until you find five of the eight possible target rooms that you can plant explosives in. I ignored the combat. Ran right past the robots trying to kill me.
Surgical Robot attacks you! Surgical Robot rolls a 3, and you defend with a roll of 3.
The fight is a draw, and no one is damaged.
Surgical Robot waits.
‘Scuse me, just passing by.
Nor did I experiment with the inventory items because I did not need them. Well, I played with them a little since they have cool names like Goo Sprayer and Emergency Teleporter, but I often forgot that they were in my inventory. By now, the gameplay had shifted from extremely confusing to being overly easy.
Easy in the sense that many of the features felt unnecessary. This change felt unbalanced. That might be a possible place for improvement.
We’ve gone over the story already, but let’s explore it a little more.
One thing I had to come to terms with is that the story is structured differently from most interactive fiction games I’ve played. If this game were anything (and no doubt there is much I have yet to experience in the IF world) but a board game simulator, I’d be complaining about how we never get exposition or story content to explain how an evil AI managed to get its mitts on the ship.
We don’t know much about the ship’s mission or the crew. Heck, you cannot even talk to your own teammates. Story scarcity is also present in the setting. I like dissecting my surroundings (and yet there are cases where I miss obvious things, as some of my readers are perfectly aware of) for story morsels.
Thus, I was not a fan of the fact that the rooms in Fate of the Vanguard were featureless- devoid of room descriptions- aside from other moving characters, dropped items, and the occasional dice roll/turn count encounter unique to a particular room.
Before the end of your turn, you may discard an item here with the "discard <item>" command (where <item> would be replaced by the name of the item) to gain 1 Courage.
Destroyed Room is east of Incinerator.
Most locations only had a title and a list of exits. For instance, the location titled “Equipment Lockers” has no lockers to rifle through.
However, if you try the game, you can understand why the story is so scarce. With a board game format where everything is move-by-move, you have no room to be frolicking about the with room description and chatting with the other characters. That’s the whole point. If I did not like it, too bad for me.
The game follows a specific structure that will either be your cup of tea, or you will pass and do something else. I love science fiction, which made the game more appealing to me, but I confess that I was hoping for a more story-intensive game.
Though the board game model is not my first choice, at least I tried something new.
Erick Rivera and Anne Hartley are your fellow human teammates. There is no story attached to them or dialog. Just stats that appear if you examine them. They move around independently and function like another player even though this is a one-player game. Keeps it simple.
The evil AI that takes over the ship is reminiscent of the malevolent AI in Porpentine's Cyberqueen. It follows the same principle: AI's ship, AI's rules. If humans don't belong, they don’t stand a chance. Although the AI in Fate of the Vanguard is not nearly as terrifying as the one in Cyberqueen.
I was disappointed with the fact the AI did not cackle incessantly at the player during the gameplay as they scurry through the ship. It would have built on the atmosphere that arises when Scenario 1 kicks in. Clearly, it does not want humans on the ship, and I would like to see more of its attitude.
I understand that my inexperience with this game’s board game concept probably does not show the game in the best/fairest light, but there are obvious bugs. Some playthroughs were nearly seamless. Some, however, just tangled everything together. I am sharing this with the hope that it provides constructive feedback.
FYI: I played Release 1 of the game if that makes a difference for anyone.
(Spoiler - click to show)
The game had a habit of freezing. Frequently. And would often force me to restart the game when it happened. I would get two types of pop-up windows when this occurred.
One was grey and said, “This page isn’t responding,” and “Fate of the Vanguard – Parchment,” with the options of waiting or closing the page. Sometimes waiting would work, other times the game would freeze permanently. After a few minutes of using the “wait” option, the game showed no change, prompting me to start over by refreshing the page. Could this be a browser issue? My knowledge of this is limited.
Then there was a pop-up window that was white with a red border. It read, "Error: exit not yet implemented" and "Clear autosave and restart.” And I would do just that. If I’m not mistaken, that had to do with Parchment, but would appreciate a second option on that. I’m no expert. This was just something that kept cropping up.
The other bug with be with error messages. Things like, “Fatal programming error: I7 arrays corrupted,” and “Run-time problem P50: Attempt to use list item which does not exist.” I don’t think that’s meant to occur. The fatal one would end the game.
If reading this is starting to scare you away, I suggest this: SAVE the game if you do not want to lose your place. If was forced to start over, I would do so and then restore. Just play the game.
You know, I had fun with Fate of the Vanguard. Partly because it was a bit of a novelty for me, but also because I was drawn to the story despite being heavily gameplay oriented. I recommend trying the game if you are curious about a board game style of gameplay and/or a fan of science fiction.
As I’ve mentioned already, this game could use further development. Especially with the bugs. I did not see any testing credits or any author statements within the game. Perhaps I am jumping to conclusions, but if this game is meant to be a “prototype” or a basic framework for a larger idea I would say it’s a strong start. Fate of the Vanguard feels finished in the sense that it is playable and can be completed as intended but needs work before it can shine.
I hope it continues to grow. The explore-the-abandoned-spaceship trope is not one that I’ll be growing tired of anytime soon.
Fate of the Vanguard reminded me of Into The Sun, another Inform parser game with the concept of being hunted while exploring an abandoned spaceship. This time, you are a looter who wants to grab as much stuff as possible to sell so you can repair your own ship. Unlike Fate of the Vanguard, it does not follow a board game format, but exploring the ship’s layout draws strong similarities. As is the hoarding of useful items. Both games are worth a shot.
...and found drama instead.
You are BG Jackson, a smuggler in search of valuables. Your next target is an exploration vessel called the Achilles that went missing months ago, and you finally managed to track it down. Signs indicate that it has been abandoned, but experience knows that it is never quite that simple.
Fall of the Achilles features a gameplay structure that I call “free range of movement.” The term is when a Twine game (or other choice-based format) mimics a parser by allowing the player to move throughout a map and interact with items within it at their leisure. In other words, freedom to navigate a space. This game is a perfect example.
It begins upon your arrival at the Achilles. You are in the Corvus, a personal ship run by an AI named Sahil. After docking the two vessels, you explore the abandoned ship while communicating with Sahil. He does everything from friendly reminders to disabling locked doors. The objective is to acquire the code to the massive warp engines aboard the Achilles. Apparently, the code is worth a lot.
The screen is organized so that a list of actions and a list of exits are always neatly displayed on the lower left which enhances the feeling of a parser. You are still clicking on links, but the links are organized to feel like an arsenal of commands that you would otherwise type into a parser game.
—— ACTIONS ——
Look at the bootprints.
Talk to Sahil.
Use your blaster.
——— EXITS ———
North is the Achilles' bridge.
South is your ship, the Corvus.
The room title is listed at the top of the screen while inventory items and health points are shown on the left-side panel. These features create a parser-like Twine game with notable user-friendliness.
Be prepared: There are moments where you must make a judgement call. For example, (Spoiler - click to show) whether to kill Trace so she never poses a threat, or to spare her with the possibility that she will provide help later. I feel that this weighing of the pros and cons is a defining feature of the gameplay.
This game is full of puzzles but not quite a puzzle-fest. I never "needed" a walkthrough (I don't think there is one at this time), but there is enough in-game help to work around parts where I did get stuck. Sahil may not be a fancy AI, but he is quite helpful.
Generally, the puzzles are well-designed with a few exceptions. The puzzles for (Spoiler - click to show) filling the jug* in the mess hall and reaching the console in the warp drive were a bit tedious. You get injured at random and scurry back to the medical bay to heal yourself before trying again. The puzzle in the science lab was cool, though. The goal is to reach the end of the room while the space is influenced by deadly time warping properties. In truth, a mistake only gets you sent back to the front of the room where you started. A reasonably tame “red-light, green-light” game. The warp drive puzzle was a shadow to that.
*But the joke was on me instead: I could have just filled it in my own ship! I did not figure that out until the game lightly suggested that there was an alternate solution.
Also: There was one bug in the gameplay. (Spoiler - click to show) In one case, after I restarted the game, I was able to open the science lab door immediately after defeating Trace. It still had me punch in the password, which I remembered from the previous playthrough, but I don't think that was supposed to happen. I recall only having the password input box appear after you speak with Luisa. A similar thing happened again in another playthrough. Besides that, I did not run into any issues.
About the drama… (Spoiler - click to show) There are two (human) survivors on the ship: Luisa Romero and Elias Zeres. They are on opposite sides of the big controversy that went down on the Achilles months prior. They also control the remaining ship systems. Since the protagonist insists on getting the warp drive code, you must choose to help either Luisa or Elias. Each character functions as a “quest” that shapes the gameplay which adds incentive for replays.
No matter how many questions you ask, there are unknowns about the story. The Achilles was an exploration ship where the crew members lived with their families. (Spoiler - click to show) Upon receiving a strange signal, the ship sent out a probe which came back carrying a strange sphere called the Crux. Everyone on the Achilles split into two factions and- as indicated by the carnage we find- waged war with each other. Embrace the Crux or reject it, those were the sides.
I’m not entirely sure of the dynamics between these two groups. Where did all the violence originate? Dead bodies are everywhere. Were people dragging each other to be thrown into the Crux? Who shot who? We see bodies of Star Patrol officers on the bridge who likely came to investigate. At least we know that they were shot by Trace after she was reprogrammed. The title is Fall of the Achilles. I want more info on the “fall” part. Plus, the ship’s name carries nice symbolism.
Everything accumulates to one key moment: (Spoiler - click to show) Deep in the storage bay, you see a weird probe carrying a sphere, from which voices- people- ask you to join them. There are people in there. Moving closer activates a hologram of someone kneeling before the device only to have their brain lasered in half.
I have to admit, the Crux is not doing a particularly good job at selling itself. Can you trust the voices?
Kneeling before a strange device surrounded by corpses sounds like the most obvious insta-death you-have-lost-in-the-worst-way-possible ending that you just have to be a sucker to fall for… but you'd be surprised……
Someone takes your hand.
......that's all I'm going to say.
(Except that I wish the game gave us long enough to hear what Sahil had to say. I really wanted to hear him finish his sentence. Shame he couldn't come with.)
If anyone is interested in further discussion, see the section after the end of this review.
Fall of the Achilles does not have endings in the form of "Ending 1," "Ending 2," etc. Rather they are general outcomes underscored with secondary events and objectives. These general outcomes are determined by (Spoiler - click to show) whether you sided with Luisa or Elias, of which there are variations. Secondary parts range from (Spoiler - click to show) your success in acquiring the warp drive codes to whether you depart alone. All of this creates additional incentive for multiple playthroughs, especially since it is enticing to mix and match different outcomes.
Now I don’t mean to be morbid, (Spoiler - click to show) but there is a technicality about the fate of Captain Yamashita that kept bothering me. Her body is in a medical capsule designed to heal the patient inside. By default, the end of the game says, “You failed to (mercifully) end Captain Yamashita's life.”
She’s already dead. The medical console reports that "The patient's prognosis is terminal. Brain functions have been inactive for 63 days and are unrecoverable." Sahil summarizes this as brain dead. And therefore, incompatible for the Crux. The capsule is trying to heal a corpse. Opening the capsule to reveal her body (it is not graphic, just sad) is the equivalent to giving her a merciful death, but that seems to have occurred before we even arrive on the ship. A little more explanation would add clarity to this scenario.
I want to quickly acknowledge the writing. Fall of the Achilles is not an eloquent masterpiece, but it has the occasional descriptiveness that enriches the gameplay. My favorite was when (Spoiler - click to show) you are searching the captain’s quarters for a DNA sample.
A quick search seems to turn up nothing—until you find an oiled wooden brush with large, thick tines like a comb’s. A long strand of black hair weaves through it like the solution to a maze.
It’s not, “oh, you found a brush with a strand of hair in it. DNA.” Instead, the captain’s quarters are personalized and goes the extra mile to make the action more meaningful.
Finally, the genre is science fiction, but there are horror elements that come to life partly thanks to the writing. Arguably, the biggest horror moment is (Spoiler - click to show) the cramped (at least in my mind, it is a cramped space) storage bay. It contains stacks of bodies and a weird object. Everything reeks of death. It's probably really hot in there, I imagine. See how easy it is to visualize this scene? "Stacks of bodies" may not impress you, but this scene was genuinely creepy. There's gore in this game, but mild gore that occasionally turns it up a notch for scenes like this. It always felt like there was thought put into it.
The game is not crawling with NPCs, but there are some interesting ones. Let’s explore a few.
Sahil feels like a concrete NPC, although the game keeps his personality mostly neutral. What I love about his character is the convenience he provides for solving puzzles. Some form, a lot of function. He speaks up when something is worth noting and automatically incorporates bits of accumulated info from the gameplay into his explanations. It’s like having a polite notetaker following you around.
The AI’s assistance is streamlined and avoids feeling like, “talk to me for a hint!” I value games that use that approach, I really do, but I sometimes feel like the character is judging me a little when I ask for the answers. Sahil tells me what I need to know without making me feel lame. (But truthfully, I am thankful when authors incorporate in-game hint systems.)
Our first main obstacle in the gameplay is when we tangle with an android named Trace. She is referred to as the "universe's only sentient android.” That surprised me.
Sahil seems sentient. He may be a ship AI, but I feel like an AI could be dumped into an android body, or something to that extent. If the game's world possesses sentient AI technology, I'd think that sentient androids would be more common. I am drawing broad conclusions, but that leads to my next point: I wish there were a little more worldbuilding, particularly with the story’s technology.
I especially want to know more about Trace’s backstory as a sentient android. It is brief. (Spoiler - click to show) Trace was created by the “Sisters of Infinity,” a group of exiled scientists whom she refers to as her “mothers.” Cool! I’d love to explore that character feature. She is also a member of the *Interstellar Patrol with superhuman abilities for combat. We get a glimpse of that firsthand.
When you first try to access the main deck, Trace stands in your way in battle mode. There are two solutions. If you want to skip the frequency puzzle, you can just battle it out. However, the combat mechanics could be a little tighter. It follows a rock-paper-scissors style of combat where you choose between shooting, activating a force shield, or using a physical attack while managing health points. That was cool.
The issue was with trying to gain an advantage. She has more health points than you, although you have the option of sneaking off mid-combat to heal yourself in your ship before running back to resume the fight. That felt comical, and Trace was really testing my rock-paper-scissors abilities. Fight a few turns, run to the bridge, run to my ship, heal, run all the way back. She’s literally standing there saying, “do you want to resume this fight?” She can do this all day long. And she knows it.
I only did this approach to see what outcome it would lead to. I learned this: stick with the frequency puzzle. It'll take her out the same way. Then, you can decide whether to kill her. I don’t see a reason not to spare her, but you will have to see why. Even though the combat was not a highlight of this gameplay, it is always interesting to see how authors implement combat into the Twine format.
(*Just what is the extent of humanity’s space-faring capabilities and technological advances? For instance, the “Interstellar Patrol” implies that humanity has branched out of our solar system. When the game uses phrases akin to “bring the Crux back to human civilization,” I think of Earth. A few extra sentences for context would be welcome.)
Anyway, this section was longer than I planned.
In a nutshell: Ergonomic, standard issue visuals that consist of a black background, white text, and blue links. But slightly different from the “default” Twine appearance of black background, white text, and blue links. I hope readers know which style I am talking about.
It is a super simple look that functions just fine. I want to make a special note about the text which is always well organized. That may seem like a trivial detail, but when text placement is a mess, that’s all you notice. Fortunately, that’s not an issue here. If anything, it sets a good example for text organization in Twine when you have a moderate word count.
The only flair is the helpful map on the panel at the left side of the screen. It’s a nice reference point.
In conclusion, Fall of the Achilles is a potent sci-fi experience about a smuggler who found more than they bargained for. The trope of wandering a spaceship after it was purged of life from an incident is common but never one that grows old for me. I have a feeling that fans of the genre will feel the same way. It’s not perfect, but it is certainly a polished and high-quality piece worth playing multiple times.
I approach it partly as an example of the flexibility of Twine to create parser inspired gameplay even though it is ultimately a choice-based experience. If there are any readers skeptical about Twine’s potential with sci-fi adventures, consider Fall of the Achilles.
If you like the theme of exploring a lost and seemingly lifeless spaceship with a story wrapped around the ethics of mind-blowing technology in the hands of humanity, consider Reclamation. It's an Adventuron game where your task (as a corporate employee, not a smuggler) is to investigate a research vessel that went missing amid a vital experiment. You even get your own AI although he is definitely a different character from Sahil.
(Spoiler - click to show) Time to bring out the big question: The game assumes that the death and violence aboard the Achilles will only spread if Luisa brings the Crux to humanity. Would that happen?
It's not the Crux itself that is dangerous (unless you kneel in front of it, of course). It just sits there. It's not a weapon. What caused all those deaths were the fighting between people about what to do with it. Ideally, if you had it in a nice little area in a garden where people could join if they wanted to or otherwise carry on with their day, things would be fine. But the likelihood of that occurring- if the ship is any indicator- would probably be miniscule. Plus, Luisa does not field this subject well.
Captain Tomomi Yamashita authorized Elias to be the acting captain if something were to happen to everyone in command. Her final instructions are for him to make sure that the Crux never reaches human civilization. Meanwhile, Luisa managed to weasel her way into becoming the acting captain instead, forcing Elias to camp out in the corner of the ship. She also (poorly) preprogrammed Trace against her will. It is kind of established that Luisa is the “villain” in the game. But does that sentiment apply to the Crux as well? Does it bias the player? There is no easy answer.
On a brief side note as I wrap this up: One of the voices coming from the Crux is Elias’ parents wanting you to tell Elias that they want him to join them. It’s painful. I really, really, really wish the player could do that. He probably would not agree, but that’s understandable. When you go back up through the morgue, Elias is waiting in the medical bay. I just wish there were a way of saying, “your parents asked for you, specifically,” and then leave it up to him. Oddly enough, if you join the Crux instead, you have no way of talking to Elias’ mother about him even though she is your tour guide for the rest of the game.
Thank you for reading!
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
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.
(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.
You are in a cryotherapy room, awoken by a smiling AI who has a little task for you to take care of before you go back to sleep. Of course, you will comply.
The game begins on a one-person ship called the Silver Lining. A ship called the Charitable Donation had gone missing and reappeared without any sign of its crew. Survivors? That is for you to figure out. The Charitable Donation is a research ship designed to be a floating lab in space to conduct experiments deemed too dangerous to perform on a planet. Behind this looms CORPORATION UNLIMITED, a mega-corporation that holds modern society in its palm.
After waking up from cryosleep you are briefed on your mission by DOC, the standard AI built into CORPORATION UNLIMITED’s ships. You learn that you are a Reclamation Unit (and human, even if CORPORATION UNLIMITED does not act that way. Speaking of which, the game insists on spelling that in all caps so I will do the same!) and can even choose your serial number. I was Reclamation Unit #7. How exciting!
It is slick how the game incorporates a general parser tutorial into the game by having DOC test your motor and cognitive skills as you re-orient yourself. It is a tutorial that does not seem like a tutorial even though you obviously know it is one. It is super short, so it does not drag on for players who know what to do.
This is time travel game. I want to be careful but do not consider that to be a spoiler because it is established early on and is the focal point of the gameplay. Soon after boarding the Charitable Donation, you trigger a time loop that sends you back to the cryotherapy room in 50 turns. Using clues found on the ship you try to identify tasks and complete them before the counter runs out. Then it’s back to cryotherapy.
I like how the solutions are revealed in layers. There was never a point where I was unsure of what to do. For example, (Spoiler - click to show) the captain left a password in her room along with a message saying that hints for a second password could be found on her computer. I knew that this was my immediate objective, and the information from this puzzle had clear applications in the rest of the gameplay. The crew literally lays it out for the player. They even give you a (Spoiler - click to show) passwords log that you can carry in the time loop without losing it.
The game does use some cliches such as learning about the story largely through journal entries (extra points because it is on a spaceship). But what makes Reclamation different is that you are not merely reading things that were abandoned. (Spoiler - click to show) Those entries are for you. The crew wants you to find them. Suddenly, these entries are no longer optional deposits of story exposition. They take an active role in the gameplay which gives them an edge. Plus, the amount of material, I feel, is reasonable.
Not just another time travel game
When I play time travel games, I sometimes find myself placing them into two categories (I know, there are plenty of games out there that do not fit either one). In the first, the player can navigate the timeline and are free to decide when to leave. Often, the protagonist rides around in a physical machine that they operate. There are no time-based restraints that control the gameplay. Examples include First Things First and Roger’s Day Off.
The other category focuses on a time loop that the player cannot control, such as Reclamation. Some of the best time travel games out there use this approach, although it can be difficult to map out the passage of time relative to the gameplay. I think of games like Möbius which are high quality but features a (welcome) challenge with matching the time loop with the player’s turn count. In Reclamation, time travel is streamlined and easy to visualize. If you compare time travel games, you will get a sense of what I mean. I am not bothered by accepting hints, but I am pleased to say that there was never a point where I needed to use them.
Even better, Reclamation adds a unique premise to its portrayal of time travel that also provides an integrated explanation as to why the player is always sent back to the cryotherapy room. The logic is that (Spoiler - click to show) if you are in a lab and perform a time loop that resets, say, after an hour, you will not end up in the lab. Instead, when it resets you are sent to the location where you previously woke up (unless you sleep in the lab, of course). This unpredictability was a side effect that the crew could not control and noted the dangers it could pose. As for the player, because they woke up in the cryotherapy room that is where they are transported. I thought that this was a creative way of tying parts of the game together.
Reclamation takes place in the 22nd century and has familiar dystopian themes in its storyline. It reminds me a bit of Vicious Cycles, another parser (made with Inform) time travel game that considers the ethical implications of a vast corporate entity having the sole access to technology that can alter time. The player is stuck in a time loop that repeats until they find a conclusion. In both stories the creators of said technology start to have second thoughts about their work.
We know that CORPORATION UNLIMITED calls the shots when it comes to scientific progress, but you can only go so far before people snap. (Spoiler - click to show) Discovering how to create a temporal time loop was not enough. According to the captain’s correspondence, CORPORATION UNLIMITED wanted the research team to stay longer in space to develop a way of building this time travel technology into a nifty hand-held device.
By now everyone had figured out how this technology would be used. (Spoiler - click to show) CORPORATION UNLIMITED planned to put people in temporal time loops to maximize productivity. Time spent in the loop would feel like nothing to everyone outside it. You could get a year's worth of productivity instantaneously at the expense of people working away in the loop like a hamster on a hamster wheel. The crew of the Charitable Donation (such a cynical name, really) (Spoiler - click to show) have no intention enabling people to be turned into temporal hamsters, let alone accessorizing the technology for CORPORATION UNLIMITED's convenience. And so, the crew decided to destroy their own research. Discreetly.
Of course, that leads to (Spoiler - click to show) the question of, “where did everyone go?” The crew disabled their AI and made a small temporal copy of their ship and are hiding in it. The crew figured that CORPORATION UNLIMITED would investigate by sending a Reclamation Unit and decided to initiate a time loop to keep the protagonist from dallying with the corporation and instead follow the crew’s instructions to submit a report saying that the destruction of the time travel technology was an accident.
I have one question. It is about the (Spoiler - click to show) cat. Why did they not bring the cat with them? Was this intentional? Djamila's datapad says, "Once the cat was out of the bag,” which typically is a figure of speech, but I wonder if this is also a reference to the ship’s cat (who is named Pluto, by the way).
This is a world where everyone is formally identified by their job position and a number. You, for instance, are a mere Reclamation Unit (at least you get to choose the number). On record, the crewmembers of the Charitable Donation are units too, but their casual correspondence reveals lively personalities with real human names. The crew is interesting even though we never seen them in person. By reading their messages it really felt like they were guiding you along.
And no, (Spoiler - click to show) DOC is not on your side. He kind of reminds me of Georgie from lighthouse.
This is an Adventuron game that utilizes some basic visuals. A built-in map is added for the player’s convenience. The map shows an outline of the Charitable Donation with boxes representing rooms. Nothing fancy, but practical. The screen also turns white as the time loop restarts and sends you back to the cryotherapy room which creates an intense effect.
There is one other visual besides the map: DOC, the ship AI. He is a cheery hologram of a beaker with a face, glasses, and a red bowtie. He is filled with blue liquid. (Spoiler - click to show) Despite his appearance do NOT trust him.
This game has all the tropes: Cryogenic suspension at the start of the game, a single all-powerful megacorporation, a mysterious and seemingly abandoned spaceship, a mainframe AI, frequent use of journal entries, and time-travel thrown in for fun. And yet, it takes these tropes and sews them together into something novel and fun. While Reclamation has many similarities with other games, it feels like an original piece. It offers gameplay challenges without being too difficult and was rewarding to complete. There are two endings, and the (Spoiler - click to show) Humanitarian ending was brief but quite human.
Even if an NPC-less scavenger hunt in a dead spaceship is not of interest to you, Reclamation may surprise you with its player-oriented gameplay and interesting story.
In A Long Way to the Nearest Star, you play as a criminal on the run after an almost unsuccessful heist. You escaped with the goods but damaged your spacecraft along the way, forcing you to find a place to hide and make repairs. Luckily, you stumble across a seemingly abandoned research vessel that may solve your predicament.
After a brief intro, the gameplay begins in the landing bay of the mysterious ship where you discover that you are not alone. Your presence caught the attention of the ship’s AI, Solis, who communicates through terminal screens placed throughout the ship. Solis is eager to help but clearly guarded about the circumstances surrounding its own ship. The player is reliant on Solis to help them navigate the ship but is also compelled to find ways to sneak around the system.
The story and characters are worth about three stars, but the overall game gets four because of its puzzles and how those puzzles are implemented in a choice-based format. This is a puzzle-intensive Twine game with free range of movement. You have access to a fairly large ship, and the game lets you wander through it almost like you would if it were a parser game. This approach may appeal to some players. Some of the gameplay mechanics are quite clever. I especially liked how the game allows you to program the janitor bot to go to a location and then automatically follow it. Useful for puzzles while reducing travel time.
There is a lot of in-game guidance. In your inventory is a notes section giving you an overview of what you have learned, and if you take a break in your own ship the game gives you some suggestions of what to do. The author also has hints cleverly formatted into a Twine piece included separately with the game. All of this was nicely done, and I felt it was worth a mention.
The author gets some bonus points for worldbuilding. The terminal in the research lab allows you to look up planets in a digital encyclopedia. When the game ends, you are presented with the statistics of your playthrough which includes how many planets you researched. That alone was enough for me to replay the game just to comb through to find any planet names that I could punch into the encyclopedia. In case you are interested, I found 11 planet names.
The story retains a suspenseful and intriguing quality. The gist (I do not consider this part to be a spoiler since we know this at the start of the gameplay) is that there was a collision with the ship that caused toxic gas to enter the ship, killing everyone onboard. We learn this from Solis, (Spoiler - click to show) but the player knows right away that Solis is not being entirely truthful. It is not a matter of discovering whether Solis is hiding something. It is a matter of finding what it is hiding. Entering the medical bay was kind of chilling. On top of that, it has six endings which encourage replays.
At the end of the game there is this abrupt plot twist that it failed to pull off. This sudden twist, mega spoilers by the way, occurs (Spoiler - click to show) when you learn that Berthold was behind it all. It turns out Solis did not kill Trill, but Berthold did and made Solis think otherwise. That part had some decent backing. But then there is ambiguous explanation on the other ways Berthold potentially interfered, followed by an avalanche of speculation of why he attempted sabotage. You show Solis the captain’s real data pad, and the game rushes to explain everything in one swoop. Yet, it does not even clarify everything. The game says, yeah, Solis gassed the crew, but it also did not gas the crew. Any uncertainties are blamed on glitches. It seemed flimsy in comparison to the rest of the story which had been carefully constructed.
The player can choose the protagonist’s (fake) name and their brief cover story, but otherwise the game is hesitant to give out details about the protagonist since they are on the run. You can still get to know the PC in subtle ways, such as reprogramming the food options in food synthesizer and eat them. This gives you a look into the protagonist’s previous experiences. Some are quite interesting.
I did not particularly care about the characters which surprised me (This game is almost NPC-less. By "characters" I mean Solis, the protagonist, and the janitor bot. Okay, the janitor bot was nice). If anything, I was more interested in the crew (Spoiler - click to show) which is a shame since they are dead. We only get to know them through video recordings and see their corpses in the medical bay. They seemed to be a unique blend of species and cultures.
AI characters can be a lot of fun regardless of if they are villainous or friendly. I like it when such characters engage with the player, and Solis does just that. But for some reason, Solis did not have much of an impact on me. I find it hard to pinpoint why.
Despite the (Spoiler - click to show) ominous feeling we get from the “account” of what happened to the crew, Solis does seem genuinely interested about the player. The early gameplay has some cliché “gee, hello there, organic life form,” banter that stretches on a bit. Other times the exchange is more meaningful. I like how discussions tend to incorporate mentions of planets or civilizations that give you a broader sense of the story’s world.
Still, the character lacked in dimension. Remember how I said the game gives you a statistical report of your playthrough? It includes Solis' attitude towards the player which I thought was interesting because it made me reevaluate some of my choices to see how they influenced interactions.
Generally, the game uses a black screen and links clearly indicated with light grey rounded boxes. This basic look is offset by some stylization that adds some flair.
For Solis’ dialog, visuals are used to create the impression of looking at a terminal screen, featuring a rounded black textbox with a thick border and green text. This was a simple but effective look. Similarly, when it comes to reading data pads the game puts the text in colour-tinted boxes with rounded corners to simulate the feel of reading off a tablet. All of this was creative and eye-catching.
Overall, it is a quality game. It was not as potent as I expected, but the gameplay is solid and will likely be appreciated by players. This would be a good choice if you are someone who likes Twine games with a little more technicality because it has plenty of puzzles and freedom of movement to interact with the setting. Its IFComp submission says that its playtime is about two hours which is about accurate. Give it a shot.
If you enjoyed A Long Way to the Nearest Star, you may like Lux, another puzzle intensive sci-fi Twine game where the player heavily relies on the guidance of a mainframe AI as they navigate a nearly NCP-less setting in the aftermath of an unknown disaster. It is also an IFComp game from a few years back.
BaoBao follows the trope* of a protagonist digging through a computer only to find a surprise AI. Our protagonist is Aiyo. Her mother recently passed away and she now needs to sort through the contents of her computer. Along the way she uncovers an AI.
Gameplay consists of the player rummaging through a directory system on a computer. There are several directories, such as recipes or notes, each of which contain a file named “baobao” and a string of numbers. The other files in the directories are of no interest. The player only makes progress by exploring the baobao files, but when they do an AI intervenes. The AI prevents the player from viewing the file’s contents but instead adds new commands to the home folder that expand the story.
The game also has the option making a cup of tea before returning to the computer. This added some ambience because the protagonist is trying to stay calm, and level minded in the aftermath of her mother’s death. It adds a nice self-reflective approach. And if the player wants to pause the game itself to make some tea, that is fine too.
The game's description is "A young woman is sorting through her deceased mother’s personal computer and finds an AI in her way." If I did not know otherwise, I would not have said to myself "oh wow, I found an AI!" It is more subtle than that. They only part that screamed AI was when (Spoiler - click to show) the game says, “Aiya, don’t try to hide your face. I can see you know. This computer got webcam. Aiyo. No make-up also,” implying that it is Aiyo’s mother, or at least a digital version of her, is present. These interactions are brief and sometimes it can be confusing to keep track of when the AI is addressing the player and when the player is merely experiencing the Aiyo’s thoughts, especially since they are both shown with the same white text formatting. It does not feel like you are interacting with an NPC. While I liked the subtly, this vagueness may disengage players.
Game has some interesting themes on femininity, especially from traditional conventions. Aiyo has vivid memories of her mother and philosophies of beauty. Especially vivid ones are the smell of her mother's perfume or the fancy ornate patterns on her lipstick case the surface as she searches the computer. We learn that her mother was (Spoiler - click to show) always worried about her daughter's chances of finding a decent husband, one that would love her and never have affairs since her own husband had a beautiful girlfriend on the side. That was her main priority for Aiyo. She would often say that Aiyo was not pretty enough and that she should take things like makeup seriously. From the mother's perspective, this was not meant to be mean but to ensure that her daughter found a husband who would love and respect her. From Aiyo’s perspective this was stifling, and she was frustrated over her mother's attempts to find her the perfect lipstick shade colour or pressuring her to diet to maintain a feminine size and figure. These differences in ideologies come to light as the AI reveals more about the mother’s view of her daughter. They begin to come to an understanding.
I kept thinking that baobao is a pretty cool name for an AI until I found the translation. 宝宝 (baobao) is a word from the Chinese language that means baby or treasure and can be used as a term of endearment. The application of the word can vary, but this definition was the bulk of the results I found. So, is the (Spoiler - click to show) AI Aiyo’s mother or is it just a model of her personality and interests? Did her mother intentionally create the AI or was it accidentally formed from the clutter on the computer? There is a lot to consider with intriguing implications. The game ends with (Spoiler - click to show) the AI giving the player full access to every baobao titled file on the computer so that the Aiyo can finally see the parts of her mother that were always hidden, the parts where she genuinely loved her daughter but failed to convey it in life. In death it is as if Aiyo is relearning her mother. The game wraps this up on a graceful note that I found to be memorable.
The game keeps it simple with the visuals but uses stylization to create the appearance of a computer screen. For these segments the game has a black screen with green text and blue links. Otherwise, it sticks to white text. The creative part was that the player could choose between clinking on links to navigate the computer or type them in. This added some nice interactivity to an otherwise basic Twine format.
I really enjoyed this one. It is a thoughtful sci-fi game with a contemplative approach to death and memories. The dynamics between Aiyo and her mother were especially compelling and thoughtful. Throughout their lives they always seemed to clash in values but now Aiyo gets to see the possibility that she was closer to her mother than they both realized. Plus, I liked the cover art.
*Binary by Stephen Granade comes to mind, even though it has a different tone and subject matter.