The protagonist is a biosynthetic technologist whose job is to restore extinct animals and habitats. They also designed The Great Memorial Reef, a project to memorialize Earth’s loss of coral reefs after severe climate catastrophes. Not all of it is natural. The fish are robotic but life-like, and the reef is an experiment in biosynthetic technology. Earth is degrading. Any research about biosynthetic technology will assist in terraforming efforts across the solar system.
The gameplay is short. A playthrough spans across four to five choices. You are swimming in the Sea of Memory that houses The Great Memorial Reef. As you take in the wonderous view of your project you cannot help but note that you cannot remember who you are aside from general details about your work. Your goal is to find the answers in the setting.
The plot twist is when (Spoiler - click to show) we learn that the protagonist had died but left behind instructions for their memories to be preserved in the cybernetic fish. The player realizes that (Spoiler - click to show) the PC is a fish reliving the original protagonist's memories. We do not know how the protagonist died or even the nature of their death. Was it an accident? Deliberate? Climate change? Or a matter of human lifespan?
For such a short game I think the author does a good job at maintaining a reasonable level of details to avoid overwhelming the player, but I would not have minded if the game provided a little more overarching story to piece everything together. (Spoiler - click to show) (What confuses me is that one part of the game says that The Great Memorial Reef was built on Earth whereas later it tells us that we are on Enceladus, a moon of Saturn.)
The game uses a blue text area against a black screen and the text is light blue. This was a little hard to read. At one point my blue light screen filter was on that made the text area appear purple. Surprisingly, this made the text easier to read because of the contrast.
Underwater Memories is a brief sci-fi story about an effort to preserve a natural ecosystem wiped out by Earth’s degradation. This is not a game solely about climate change, but it does touch on themes about long term accumulative effects of climate disasters and the loss of natural and manmade components that comes with it. There is a sense of tragedy as it ponders the implications of losing the Earth even if we have the technology to sustain ourselves on other worlds.
This is something new. I believe this is the first Twine game I have played that has animated GIFs. It is a Christmas themed poem about low expectations during the holiday season.
There is only one page in the game. It consists of a poem with links that reveal GIFs related to the subject matter. It is fun to find and watch every GIF. Many are taken from TV shows or movies. Not all the GIFs matched with the text’s content- they could have been more concise- but some were spot on. I loved the one with the (Spoiler - click to show) cats and dogs eating off the table. Also: Save us from a world of trouble! That link’s GIF is a lot of fun.
The writing is a bit vague but maintains a consistent and clear-cut tone of cynicism about the Christmas season. It looks at the grandeur of Christmas and the consumption of food and gift-giving which is tied to societal expectations about partaking in get-togethers of family and friends so everyone can be cheerful in ways that would otherwise be unlikely at any other time of the year.
It seems like the author is saying that not everyone wants to celebrate Christmas (or decline to celebrate it at all) with tons and tons of people. People do not always feel the spirit of Christmas and want to be roped into joining the festivities, especially since they do not share the enthusiasm of everyone else.
Of course, "everyone" is subjective. There is often an impression that "everyone" around you love this or that, when in reality the sentiment is a bit of an exaggeration. Still, it feels that way, and the stifling effect seems to be a main idea in the poem.
Similarly, the poem considers the instant cheer where "everyone" goes from living in the rat race to embracing a sparkling life when infused with the Christmas spirit. Obviously, this is not the case for everyone whether it be for personal reasons or circumstances out of their control, but it is easy to overlook the statistics when caught up in the season.
As for society’s (again, subjective analysis) positive attitude towards Christmas, it makes sense that people would be more joyful during the holiday season because of its correlation with traditions/practices that one can enjoy. The main argument that the author tries to make is how emotions and sentiments cultivated during Christmas time often dwindle once Christmas has passed.
Now, I am pretty sure that this is made with Twine. It uses a pale backdrop, black text, green links. The only notable visual element is a large drawing of an angel at the left side of the screen, adding some Christmas cheer. And of course, there are the GIFs that offer fun visuals.
This game offers an alternate look into celebrating Christmas. If you want to switch things up with your Christmas IF playlist, consider playing Christmas Greetings.
Lord Cephyis Alikarn is hosting a party at his opulent private estate on the Alikarn family's planet. It's kind of a big deal. This will not be a run of the mill party. Manners, etiquette, and protocol are critical because a slip-up can result in death or scandal. Maybe, just maybe, you will get to see the Emprex.
The nuts and bolts of the gameplay is where the game presents you an etiquette-based situation and you then must choose the right way of proceeding to avoid death or scandal. For example, (Spoiler - click to show) you are served a delicacy of a crab-like creature renowned for its meat. However, to preserve the flavor it must be alive when served and killed right before it is eaten. You must kill it yourself. The catch is that its pinchers are highly poisonous. The PC clearly has no experience with this, so the player takes a guess on how to kill it without being killed themselves. This takes table manners to another level.
I like how the game puts you on the spot to capture how the protagonist is not in familiar territory. It leaves the player thinking, "oh no, oh no, what do I do? Don't mess up."
This selection of choices should make you nervous.
I would have loved to see more of these challenges in the game. Hopefully, you will stick it out long enough to reach the end. Total gameplay is short but there is a lot of content to absorb.
It is a potent story of grandeur on a galactic scale. We see things that would not be possible or practical in real life but are commonplace in the story's world of raw decadence and political power spanning a galaxy. Along the way we hear information about other planets and societies. This is not a humans-only universe. There are also alien races, some of which are guests. But any world-building is typically limited to discussion of Emprex Hasina Alikarn’s role as galactic leader as the honored guest at a party hosted by her brother, Lord Cephyis Alikarn.
The big pivotal scene is when you (Spoiler - click to show) notice that the Emprex's drink has been tampered with, a sign that she is about to be poisoned. You have three options: Ignore it, turn her glass to the left, or turn her glass to the right. This is based on a tidbit of knowledge you can learn from one of the guests.
At a past formal event, poison was added to guests’ drinks and the cups turned a certain way so that the conspirators knew which ones were safe to drink. The Emprex was about to drink a poisoned glass when her brother intervened, saving her life. In return she granted him considerable power. Since then, turning glasses at parties has almost become a symbolic tradition.
When you turn her glass to the left to indicate poison she picks up on the cue and requests a different glass. She realizes you saved her and asks for the person behind the assassination attempt. It’s not hard to figure out, but I don’t want to spoil everything. I thought this was a clever way of incorporating information gleamed from the gameplay into a final decision that determines the ending.
The ending where (Spoiler - click to show) she is poisoned and dies ends on a cliffhanger. She tries to speak, but then the poison overtakes her and she goes limp. And? It felt incomplete to leave it like this. The winning ending leaves some unanswered questions but otherwise wraps up the story and gives the player a few choices on how to use the Emprex’s favor. I was surprised that (Spoiler - click to show) she allows you to suddenly be promoted to such high-level positions without any formal experience but if the protagonist managed to survive an Alikarn dinner party than perhaps they have more going for them than what meets the eye.
Ah yes, the protagonist. The intro in A Tragedy of Manners stresses how seeing the Emprex face-to-face is an extremely rare privilege reserved for the most elite. It builds rumor and secrecy about the odds of someone being allowed to visit the Alikarn family’s planet let alone be invited to a family party.
You have heard rumours that the Emprex herself might be present, but such a thing is impossible. Someone of your lowly status would never be allowed in her exalted presence.
The whole point of the game is that you are in over your head. The protagonist comes strolling in late to what the game calls “the most dangerous dinner party in the galaxy.” But the gameplay can undermine the societal exposition provided at the start of the game. (Spoiler - click to show) You pretty much walk in and bam, Emprex sitting at the table. For the player’s meager standing I figured that there would be more ceremony involved before they could meet her.
Some additional background on the protagonist would have helped. There are some mixed messages and I feel like I am overlooking something. The beginning suggests that the protagonist is a nobody who somehow managed to snag an invitation. They lack social standing and knowledge on formal protocol, admitting that the Emprex would have no reason to grant them an audience. And yet, (Spoiler - click to show) the Emprex vaguely mentions the protagonist in her toast, acknowledging that they are an invited guest before making an announcement. She wants decision making in the empire to be witnessed by individuals other than nobles. Excellent. By why was the protagonist invited? Why them? Seriously, who is the protagonist? I would like some clarification, that’s all.
You do not interact with NPCs as much as you see them and that is just fine with me because appearances and fashion come first. The Emprex’s dress was cool. This game takes the idea of a formal wear sci-fi dinner party and multiplies it by ten. One memorable NPC interaction was with a Legacy staff member. Legacy is where (Spoiler - click to show) entire families serve as staff from generation to generation. Each new generation has a cybernetic implant containing the knowledge and experience of past family members so they can perform their job with the equivalence of centuries worth of expertise. A creative character concept with unsettling undertones.
This is an Ink game. Visually, it sticks to a standard appearance of a white screen, grey text, and orange links. Simple and easy to read. Nothing notable to share.
I love the idea of a space opera etiquette game, and I would be eager to play it more if it were longer (I wish it were longer). The ambiguity of the protagonist’s social standing caused confusion and occasionally backtracked from the exposition but there is still something rewarding about a low-key PC succeeding while totally out of their element.
You lean back, basking in the glow of conversational victory.
Especially when that element is a dramatic futuristic dinner party with (Spoiler - click to show) cybernetically enhanced staff and (Spoiler - click to show) deadly main courses. I had a lot of fun at seeing the outlandish and imaginative world of Sanctum, the ruling planet of the Luminous Empyrean!!!!
This game is NOT for kids.
Page 1: This is Jo. Jo wants to go on an adventure!
You are reading a storybook about a boy named Jo who seeks to overcome adversary to reach a mountain and climb it. The narration depicts a fun adventure but inserted text on each page reveals how Jo really feels about the story.
Gameplay structure follows the concept of reading a storybook from start to finish. You click on a link at the bottom of the screen to flip to pages in the "book.” On the screen are additional links that allow you to explore Jo’s perspective as the protagonist of a storybook.
(It's almost over. Stop reading. Please.)
Turn to page 10...
There is more to this game than clicking on links to read a story in a picture book.
"Stop reading" and "Turn to page 10..." are both links that places Jo's predicament into the player’s hands. One hears what Jo has to say about the scene while the other simply moves forward with the story. This opens new avenues for the player to explore which then changes the gameplay.
The main plot element is that (Spoiler - click to show) characters recognize that they are cartoon characters in a storybook and that there are countless copies of the book that feature the same characters with the same struggles. As for Jo, he has experienced the same linear story of climbing the mountain repeatedly. Every time someone picks up the book to read it, he must relive the whole thing.
If you dutifully follow the page sequences straight to the end, (Spoiler - click to show) Jo manages to make an appeal when you reach the final page. He wants you to free him by ripping out the page to ensure the story never ends. That way he no longer endures the pattern of traveling to the mountain and climbing it.
The player has two choices. (Spoiler - click to show) They can rip out the page like Jo requested or close the book. Both led to lackluster endings consisting of a few words on the screen. I was expecting them to have a little more substance. Fortunately, it is possible to (Spoiler - click to show) reach an alternate conclusion by diving deeper. If you ignore the page sequences and explore the links on the screen you reach hidden content that takes the game in a whole new direction. That’s when the story starts to take off.
Clicking on other links reveal (Spoiler - click to show) Jo’s daydreams and idle thoughts of what he would do if he had free agency over the storybook that he is trapped within. These scenes depict violence, self-harm, and other subjects that depart from the picture book’s cheerful story. It also details the frustrations he endured and outlines his plan for vengeance on the author of the picture book if he had a chance to escape. If you explore these grievances enough, you can reach an alternate ending. It is similar to an ending that I previously mentioned but feels more like a solid outcome that ties the story together with no loose ends.
There is some cynical humor to the story and its protagonist. A (Spoiler - click to show) “children’s book” that jumps off the deep end with a dramatic shift in story tone. One minute a good-natured boy meets a friendly bear, and the next thing we see is the boy killing the bear instead. However, not all of it is a laughing matter. There are themes that make the humor less lighthearted and the story’s content more serious. But different elements can add dimension.
This is a PC who feels trapped. Jo often looks (Spoiler - click to show) for ways of committing suicide to escape the story but fails every time. The difficult part is that once Jo shares his grievances in an alternate scene the game then launches us back into the main storybook gameplay so that Jo can go through the exact thing he was talking about. At least I can say that it is possible for Jo to be free and seek vengeance. Closure, if you will.
A white section of page is used for the picture book which is then set against a pale blue backdrop. As a picture book it naturally features cartoon artwork. If this were a book for kids, I would say that the artwork’s style is a tad mediocre, but it has a crude quality that suggests a dissonance (or maybe it’s just the parts with the (Spoiler - click to show) blood). I have no idea if this is what the author intended but it pairs perfectly with the story and gameplay.
I like choice-based games that reveal a sinister truth and convey it with an abrupt change in visuals that tells the player in unveiled terms that they overstepped or disobeyed and should get with the program. The player has no choice but to follow the game’s orders, infusing the remaining gameplay a sense of dread. The game i love gardening comes to mind. If you refuse to garden, well…
This Is A Picture Book is a bit different in that the player is not being herded into making one specific decision. They still have choices even if Jo does not, but the change in the game’s appearance still indicates that there is a darker layer underneath this sunshiny story book. Things escalate.
The shock value comes in when you first encounter Joe’s (Spoiler - click to show) alternative narratives that dispose of the bright colours and outdoor scenery. Disturbing imagery is used. For instance, a friendly bear frolics on the green grass next to a clear blue lake. Next, the bear is dead on a stretch of concrete with red blood pooling from its neck. A noticeable transition that packs a punch.
Right from the start you know that there is something wrong with Jo’s situation, but you do not know the extent of it until you go off the beaten path to explore the links that reveal the story underneath. I liked how the game rewarded the player interacting with more links by adding an ending that felt cohesive, humorous, and a place to finish playing. Hidden cynical horror with a catchy concept. I feel like people are either going to like it or dislike it. If you are comfortable with its graphic themes (Spoiler - click to show) (violence, self-harm, mentions of suicide, blood) then try it.
John has been convicted of killing Jenny. He now finds himself restrained a table and hooked up to wires in his brain to self-analyze the murder. Required to play the Rehabilitation Game.
John Kills Jenny uses a third person perspective while you play as John. The gameplay is simple. The player is presented with scenarios about the murder and a list of possible answers in multiple choice form. The player selects A, B, C, or D to input their answer. There is a timer of 60 seconds for each scenario, ticking away at the bottom of the screen. This was a nice touch. Long enough not to overwhelm the player but short enough to create a sense of urgency. If you fail to answer the game chooses for you.
Apparently, in this dystopian world the Rehabilitation Game is the sentence for murder, and the sentence ends once you reach the right ending. Deceptively simple, to put it lightly. The player soon finds themselves in a moral dilemma.
While the gameplay minimizes details about John and his story, the writing sprinkles in hints of the society underlying the story. The game takes place at around 2187. Here and there are mentions of futuristic concepts such as hovercars, household androids, and nanotechnology which add a little worldbuilding. It makes the game a little more immersive.
Implications about the overarching story kick in at the fourth scenario. It asks what John is unable to control, such as the future or past. The reason he cannot change these factors, according to the game, is because he killed Jenny at the first scenario. Everything onwards is shaped by her murder. But the Rehabilitation Game begins question John’s understanding of reality. In having to try different scenarios repeatedly to appease the test he has lost track of what aspects of the murder were real.
The fourth scenario ends with (Spoiler - click to show) “The End” but below it is a link that says, “But the Game’s still there.” Part of me was thinking there was some way of weaseling out of the prompts to find a hidden path or loophole. The game faintly paws at the idea that if somehow this process were interrupted it might allow John to worm around having to murder Jenny in the first scenario. In that case, perhaps a winning (or at least, an alternate) ending could be achieved. Some way to “free” John or reach a conclusion that defies the structure of the Rehabilitation Game.
Okay, so is there a winning ending? After experimenting with different playthroughs I think the answer is (Spoiler - click to show) no. Ironically, the game (Spoiler - click to show) forces the player to replay the entire game just as John does, nonstop until he supposedly reaches the right outcome. John Kills Jenny ends with the Rehabilitation Game (Spoiler - click to show) surprising the player with another scenario: Do they want to reset the test? The only possible answers for the multiple-choice is “Yes.” You are then brought back to the start of the game. It tries to put the player in John's shoes. I think that the game is trying to show an (Spoiler - click to show) exercise in futility. If the Rehabilitation Game is unwinnable, then that leaves John in a rather bleak situation. I was hoping the game would have dived a little deeper down the rabbit hole as it explored these concepts, but as a short Twine piece it still conveys a solid idea.
The game uses visuals to paint the picture of being tested at a table. A grey box appears on the screen with a prompt and list of possible answers. This represents the machine piping in scenarios via the brain interface. Below this box are four colourful squares with links that say A, B, C, and D. Such squares are also installed in John’s table. Just as the player clicks on the colourful squares to submit their answer they can imagine John doing the same thing on his table. The game keeps everything else simple. Sticks to a basic black screen, blue links, and white text. No noticeable errors or bugs.
John Kills Jenny is an intriguing game. Its dystopian themes are paired with a compelling story premise that carries some interesting ideas. It makes you think about John and the points made by the Rehabilitation Game. Content-wise, it does not go too deep, but its structure is consistent and wields some creative visual effects. Worth a few playthroughs.
Your best friend has a change in plans for Friday night. Instead of watching movies like usual you are going to a party hosted by Henry, a former classmate. Henry... Vaguely familiar. No one fully knows why he stopped going to your high school but hey, a party is a party. Everyone will be there.
The player first customizes their best friend with a name and pronouns before the game begins. There is a brief intro that is skippable after your first playthrough. On the drive to the party your friend hits a pale and gangly creature unlike any animal you know. You can then choose (and this is where the gameplay begins when you skip the intro) to either step out of the car to look around or to continue driving to the party. This choice is relatively trivial, but its effects will worm its way into the rest of the gameplay in the form of tiny details.
At the party the player can roam around in three main areas: the barn, the yard, and the house. The game gives the player some free range of moment where it feels like they are strolling from each location. In these areas are some partygoers and light scenery, some of which the player can directly interact with. This is not a puzzle-oriented game, but it does require the player to use creative thinking to find every ending. Its combination of ten endings and short playthroughs make it a game with great replay value. At the time of this review, I managed to reach all but the fifth ending.
There are some rough areas that stood out. If you talk to Henry in the loft, he climbs down the ladder but leaves his thermos and key behind. You can then choose to take either item or simply leave. However, if you (Spoiler - click to show) do the latter and then return to the loft, the game repeats the encounter as if the player never visited with Henry in the first place. This did not give the impression of being purposely designed to cultivate a surreal effect for an otherworldly party. It just seemed like rough implementation. He can also be in different places at once. If you wear the mask, he will be telling a story around the bonfire while waiting in the loft at the same time (unless you previously took the key or the thermos).
Someone is sitting with his legs dangling over the edge, his back to you. It's Henry.
Climb back down to the barn.
The other rough edge that stood out is when content seem to replace each other. If you (Spoiler - click to show) eat five cookies in the kitchen you hear your friend calling you from the basement (and in fact, they are there when you open the door) but if you go to the cornfield instead of opening the door you find them under the suspiciously UFO-looking light in the field which defaults to either ending 8 or ending 7. It is as if the game suddenly rewrote the fact that the NPC was in the basement. This is not commonplace but still dulled the shine a little while I experimented with the gameplay. Nonetheless, it still offered immersive and compelling playthroughs.
One of the strongest aspects of this game is its atmosphere and familiar spooky themes. People telling unsettling stories around a fire, seances, a strange host, mystery beverages, etc. Then there is the odd fact that, when asked, none of the guests can say they know Henry at all. Intriguing. All of this sets a stage for the story.
But the storyline laced through it all almost stops short. The player does not quite feel like they are peeling back a mystery or some deeper layer. Some of the endings have a bit of cliche horror, such as the (Spoiler - click to show) Skin Suit ending. Others are more contemplative or make the player blink and say, “what just happened?” I liked all of these. It is tough to put into words. I sometimes felt like I was just skimming the surface of something more. Then again, horror games do not always need ultra-complex and detailed stories to be effective. Regardless, I still greatly enjoyed this game.
If I were to piece everything together to find the underlying story this is what I think it would be. Also: mega spoilers with yuck factor. (Spoiler - click to show) An evil (perhaps alien considering the UFO over the cornfield) entity killed Henry a while ago- explaining why Henry left high school- and stole his skin as a suit. If you go into the attic you see “Henry” slip out of his skin next to a clothing rack of, you guessed it, other human skins. Of course, the game ends with the entity claiming the protagonist as a new wardrobe piece. The game is not (particularly) graphic. Mostly implied horror (Halloween, anyone?). (Spoiler - click to show) These themes are only explored in endings 3 and 9. The other endings take a more generalized approach to the story. Does anyone have a different take on it?
The game sticks to a black screen, blue links, and (almost exclusively) white text. A strength is that the text is evenly spaced and easy to read. I know you are probably thinking, "So? Why are you rambling about this?" Well, text formatting can leave a dent in the game or enhance it. This game, I think, is a good example of a polished but basic look. It has a slightly distinctive look.
The game will occasionally incorporate some text effects to convey an effective atmosphere. This includes light animation and colours. It even dabbles with different font here and there. My favorite effect is when the lights in the den go out and the player has to "search" for the light switch by sweeping their mouse/cursor across the screen until the link appears. This demonstrates how special effects can be used to tell the story.
That Night at Henry’s Place is a solid and well-fleshed horror Twine game. Despite some rough areas the game effectively draws the player in with its dawning sense of horror and flexibility in free range of movement. The player can stroll freely from location to location but leaving the party entirely is another matter! I enjoyed the atmosphere and was motivated to try for every ending.
Right now, we are getting close to the end of September which means Halloween is coming up. If you are thinking about compiling a personal Halloween IF playlist for October, consider That Night at Henry’s Place. In fact, there are some Halloween references in the game!
You are trying to submit a story to the Salangrazarian Publishing Department. A rather controversial story. But if you want to be a published author you must write and rewrite to please your editors. Especially the rewriting part.
Gameplay is linear. The player does not choose what to write. Instead, the protagonist writes a sentence and receives feedback from the editor. Interactivity consists of the player choosing whether to accept or reject the feedback. The only way of making progress is to accept the feedback but the publishing company’s response to rejection is humorous. The player can experiment with this throughout the game to find the different responses. Be aware, some of the story contains physical and sexual violence.
Technically, the game does not delve into a full story. It only consists of a paragraph, but for a short Twine game this is effective enough at conveying this idea.
Initially, it did not strike me that the protagonist was trying to write a story based on an actual historical event. The first time I played the game I simply made the editorial changes without question to see how it would end. It seemed like they were reaching for story cliches, futuristic stock answers for a standard fairytale. Rather than an evil wizard or a menacing dragon in an ancient kingdom you have barbaric ogre-like aliens raiding jungle planets. Then I glanced at the game’s description and played the game with the intent of always rejecting editorial feedback. A deeper story emerges.
Regarding the massacre mentioned in the game's title, (Spoiler - click to show) Salangrazar had invaded Tripladin (which I believe are individual planets). In fact, "invading" would be putting it lightly. The capital was ransacked, and the citizens conquered. Tripladin is still under siege. Thus, why the Salangrazarian Publishing Department is so touchy about the protagonist's story.
The editor, I think, seems somewhat oblivious to the protagonist's true intention with writing the story. Rather than critiquing the story with the sole effort of acknowledging and calling out the protagonist’s attempt at sneaking in subversive content, the editor seems focused on critiquing it from the standpoint of merely evaluating a product that will sell, by nipping at small technicalities. The main giveaway is when (Spoiler - click to show) the player rejects the editor’s comments about the prince assaulting the princess. The rejection message reads, "The truth is out there, but we do not permit it to enter our publishing department." Other than that, they prefer to tip toe around the controversy.
There are no characters in the classical sense. The only interactions with the publishing company are through editor notes. The PC has no background, but I found it humorous how exasperated they feel as their story becomes increasingly micromanaged. The player in turn, feels prompted to just give up and give the publisher what they want. The irony (Spoiler - click to show) in this is that once you finally hack out a story worthy of being published you learn that you are only going to make $30 in profit. Even worse, the publisher's postal company only sends out payment ships once every 100 years. Oh well.
It is a nice example of how you can use a small array of text effects in a simple Twine game. There is a mix of formatting, such as bold and italicized text. Different colours are used and crossed out areas indicate corrections made by the protagonist. Everything is neatly organized against a black screen.
This game is extremely short and offers some bite sized humor. The premise of submitting a story to a galactic publishing company is a creative concept and could be classified as a “lunch break length” game. The editor’s feedback also opens a window into a variety of unique alien beings in the game’s universe, such as the (Spoiler - click to show) tribes of Rguzar IV or the Kraskan Fleamen, which adds a layer of creativity and light worldbuilding.
I would recommend this game if you felt like playing a short and humorous sci-fi game that focuses more on a general story idea rather than a richly detailed story.
This is a sequel (or maybe a prequel) of sorts for the game With Those We Love Alive. Its description merely says that it is set in the same universe. It is made up of five surreal chapters that can be enjoyed even if you are new to either game.
In the first chapter you play as the Empress, one like the NPC in With Those We Love Alive. You have a limited amount of time to explore the Empress’ apartment before an assassin arrives and stabs you. This is reminiscent of howling dogs where (spoiler if you have not played howling dogs) (Spoiler - click to show) the protagonist is in a VR sequence about an empress taught to die gracefully if assassinated. The way you die (piously, peacefully, or shamefully) in this game depends on your location and influences the writing. To move forward, (Spoiler - click to show) wait for the assassin to kill you in the garden. At the brink of death, the Empress cuts out her own heart to let it fly away. If this occurs elsewhere the assign will squash the heart. Only outside can it escape. This theme appears throughout the game.
Now, the gameplay is story heavy. Some parts of the gameplay have free range of movement, as is the case in chapter one, where the player can travel between rooms. This is an immersive method often featured in Porpentine’s games. It is part of what makes them such a delight to play. But other parts of the game give the player a lot of information to take in. It is full of new events and terminologies that are fascinated but also bewildering. That too is what makes Porpentine’s games shine. The gameplay and story are tightly intertwined and impossible to separate.
Story + Characters
I believe there are only two protagonists in this game. The first is the Empress who, as we know, is assassinated in chapter one. The second protagonist is a worker-convict who is introduced in chapter two and remains the PC for the rest of the game (although themes about the boundaries of individuality make this notion variable).
The story ramps up after the first chapter. I am going to summarize some parts because A, it is an incredibly rich story, and B, I want to see if anyone else had a similar impression. In chapter two (Spoiler - click to show) the protagonist works in a greenhouse that grows advanced perhaps sentient plants. Everyone lives under strict sovereign rules about what plants can be cultivated. The protagonist finds a letter explaining that convicts are now allowed to join the Stamen Vanguard. They jump at the opportunity.
The third and fourth chapters are about the (Spoiler - click to show) protagonist’s service in the Vanguard, the latter of which involves visiting a city where the Empress’ skeleton is on display. The player arrives at a garden where a woman explains that the only way to truly kill an Empress is to kill her heart. She tells the player to do just that, but the player is caught by a guard. Ironically, the Empress’ heart makes unexpected decision. She decides to use the protagonist’s body as her next reincarnation.
In the fifth and final chapter the (Spoiler - click to show) protagonist has been reincarnated into the new Empress. However, the heart often asserts its own consciousness onto the new Empress’ thoughts and actions. The game explains this in a manner that some players may already be familiar with: Dream sequences. These sequences explain how the heart contains the collective soul of all empresses. Even better, they utilize a red gradient background reminiscent of those seen in With Those We Love Alive. The gameplay too also shares some resemblance. Consider asking the Sartorialist to make clothes (below):
Crimson fabric: The better to be stabbed in.
White fabric: For a striking death.
Black: Goes with everything.
Lavender: Your new favorite color.
Look familiar? It is just like crafting items as an artisan in With Those We Love Alive.
The player makes speeches and other duties until the game ends. I only found (Spoiler - click to show) two endings. The first is where the Empress’ body and the heart seem to reach an understanding with each other. The second involves jumping out of a window in an attempt to regain control over yourself.
Overall, I liked this story because everything comes full circle. The start of the game depicts a (Spoiler - click to show) newly assassinated Empress; At the end, a new one rises to power. And yet, the Empress never really dies. The second protagonist is small and yielding in the face of the empire for most of the game but later becomes a central part in that empire’s leadership, even if they set out to do otherwise. There is a lot to think about.
The game has a black background with white text and purple links. A small flower icon is included at the end of some words which was a nice touch given its imagery about plants. I figured that this would remain unchanging, but the game decides to surprise the player more than once. The screen unexpectedly goes white with black text for the scene when you (Spoiler - click to show) cross the desert and uses a gradient red background for the (Spoiler - click to show) dream sequences in chapter five. Having a black screen for most of the game and then, bam, a gradient one has an exciting effect for the player.
The Soft Rumor of Spreading Weeds is quite an adventure. I encourage you to play this more than once since the story is extensive and always shifting. If you like surreal interactive fiction and Porpentine’s work (especially if you enjoyed With Those We Love Alive) than I highly recommend that you give it a try.
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.