I had long marked Bee for reading one day, but was disappointed to see that it was no longer available as the original platform was now defunct; thanks to the efforts of the author and of Autumn Chen, this sweet story is now getting the readers it so well deserves once more.
The unnamed narrator, perhaps 11 or 12 years old, is educated at home with her younger sister. Her life is shaped by the seasons of the church, the homespun ways of her frugal parents, the trends of her local home education circle, and a long-running desire to win a national spelling competition.
Each 'turn' in the story gives the reader a set of options, which recur throughout: the chance to review some spellings; a social engagement; household chores; services for different times of the Christian year. Within the chosen passage, more options nudge the narrator towards different actions, subtly shifting the story in one direction or another.
Gradually, four different endings emerge. As with any choice-based fiction that commands my attention, I was pleased to read this one over and over, each time uncovering a few different passages, and moving the story in a different direction.
The subtlety of the story comes from the fact that the narrator's family are presented as trying to be distinctly different from the world around them while also avoiding real fanaticism. The narrator sometimes wishes to please her parents, while also displaying a streak of sarcasm from time to time. Above all, she begins to get a sense of how her life could unfold after the competition and once she has a chance to live differently one day.
A really lovely story, and worth the wait.
I've often wondered what it would be like to write a full-length novel in Twine which branched off in all kinds of different directions, with a really long reading time, so you could end up reading several completely different novels depending on which path you took. Or simply a vast fantasy world, which you could explore at your leisure, finding more and more places to discover and be delighted by.
I mention this because The Hole Man goes some way towards achieving both of these objectives. You start out preparing for jury duty, and have your identity - your whole self - stolen from you, and end up in a kind of surreal world. There is a whole world in this game to explore, and though the different branches often overlap, the game area is big enough that there were always new things to discover. You drift from one setting to another, whether realistic or pleasantly surreal, almost without noticing, just as if you were in a dream. It's funny in places (Spoiler - click to show)(such as, when asked for your favourite genre of writing is, and you say 'interactive fiction', the narrator calls you an "apple-polisher"), bizarre, whimsical, and philosophical.
I love games with a strong sense of place, and particular of fantastical places, so I enjoyed simply getting lost and wandering through this world - often I would wander around in circles, coming to places I had been to before; at other times I stumbled upon whole areas I had never been to before. Although the place descriptions mostly don't vary when you return to them, I did appreciate the 'hint system'(Spoiler - click to show):the slow loris in the tax office will tell you which areas of the game aren't worth returning to, and which require more exploration. Although of course the real problem is finding them again... As a Twine writer, I found myself thinking about how the game had been constructed: which passages linked to which, and when variables came into play.
If you wander far enough, you encounter one of several different Men, each of whom has a bit of wisdom to impart, and whose job you are allowed to take over, if you wish. (Spoiler - click to show) If you do accept, you reach an ending; if not, you collect a token from each one and carry on with your quest towards one of two winning endings. I'm not sure what the promised 'special surprise' was, although I did appreciate the 'I'm not a man' ending.
Of all the games in Spring Thing 2022, this is the one that I kept coming back to.
You are Qiuyi/Karen Zhao, a young Chinese-American who is home from university and celebrating New Year's Eve with friends and family - except that you suffer from terrible social anxiety and really, really do not feel like celebrating or even socialising at all. It's six hours until midnight. How will you fill all those hours?
This is a thoughtful, character-focused narrative written in Dendry, a choice-based format which is well suited to this story: Karen feels trapped, her options limited. Various social interactions are on offer, but all are difficult; other possibilities include taking a walk, eating from the buffet (I did a lot of that) and playing interactive fiction to pass the time.
This game did a really great job of simulating a social event that goes on for too, too long, and the feeling of having to find something to do to fill all those empty hours - but though the evening is boring, the game itself, the relationships described and the narrative voice, held my interest really well. If you check out the 'Credits' page, there is a Spotify playlist which I would have played while reading for extra atmosphere, if I'd read that bit at the start.
This is a really polished, professional game, and I must check out the prequel.
This is one of the most atmospheric and evocative Twine stories that I have read. The things you see and read on your mysterious journey seem full of meaning, yet I could not say what they mean exactly.
The strangeness and arbitrariness of some of the objects which you interact with allow for some workable puzzles, even in Twine: rather than logically figuring things out, as in a parser game, you need to visit various different locations several times and note when they change and where new links appear. Many of the passages and descriptions do nothing to move the plot onwards, but they serve to develop the atmosphere and act as red herrings as you try to find a way forward. The visuals were absolutely appropriate to the gloomy midnight setting - black background, white serif text with pale grey link text - but I found that I really needed to look closely in order to notice where the links were.
What a strange and beautiful piece of interactive fiction!
Summit is based on a startling idea: that human beings must periodically expel living fish from their fishstomachs, and then swallow them, ultimately choosing a more gradual death over a prompt one. Somehow Phantom Williams manages to make this idea sound completely convincing within a few minutes.
The story is based on the desire for the far-off summit of the mountain, and the long journey that must be taken in order to reach it. I would have liked more time to have been spent expressing why the character desires to reach the mountain.
Your journey takes you through a number of different places, in each of which the people find a different way to deal with issues of death, fish, and ecstasy. Having played it through twice, I think the path taken by the character is roughly the same in different playings, but it's possible to skip parts and include or exclude other characters, and to make decisions about how to spend your time in each place, and how much time.
The style of frequent link-clicking, based on symbols which may or may not have significance, slows the story down and gives it an almost meditative feel. The descriptions of the places you visit are mysterious and beautiful, creating an excellent sense of atmosphere.
One question: it promises music, yet I couldn't see any way of turning it on (yes, I had sound switched on). Given the atmospheric nature of the piece, I would have loved to have heard that.
An interactive novella about coming out as transgender in early adulthood.
This is a Twine production that really feels like reading a story. Although each chapter ultimately leads you through a pre-determined plotline, your ability to make choices gives an added layer of agency to the narrative. The young protagonist deals with some difficult encounters, but there is a strong note of hope.
The addition of music, colour and background graphics makes this an extremely polished production indeed. It made me realise just what a Twine story can be.