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About the Story
How to renew an old story? Put some new circumstances into the game. An old dating sim of mine, made for Twiny Jam is completed with a few new details.
69th Place - 28th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2022)
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Number of Reviews: 8
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Adapted from an IFCOMP22 Review
4 Edith + 2 Niki proclaims itself a dating sim, but this game is not what those words suggest to me. It all feels very slapdash. You enter on the grounds of psychiatric hospital I think. This setting is almost never referenced again. I guess you work there, because you are presented with a corridor of offices to visit. The descriptive text of what is on this corridor does not match the choices on offer. This is a befuddling choice. Twine lets you embed the destinations in the description itself, itís MORE work to provide two (incompatible) versions! You visit all 6 rooms, barely interact with their occupants, then pick one to date. One of the choices here is a date that was not referenced in ANY of your initial conversations so you kind of have to deduce who itís referring to. Did I mention one of the interactions has a weird sexual harassment vibe?
Selecting the date presents an end screen. Thatís it. No time to build Sparks of Joy let alone Engagement, though the text was really too awkward to supply either of those anyway. Besides its really rushed presentation, the thing that sticks out most is the amped up Bro tone of the thing.
Bear with me while I expand a bit on the genus and phylum of Bro-tone. All Bro-tone comes from the same extended lineage that culminated in the 80s/90s teen sex farces. Its key hallmarks were 1) faintly knuckleheaded cis dumbasses 2) carefree good humor 3) treating women as sex objects to achieve and 4) inhabiting narratives where the world happily rewarded all of those. (There was another gene, 5) Gay Panic, that is not relevant here.) And it was toxic as hell, once we looked at it close enough. Prominent in movies like Porkies, and I donít know Joy Sticks (deep cut!), but really you couldnít swing a dead cat in a cineplex and not hit one back then. Nowadays it is most readily identified by its excessive, prejorative use of the word Ďwoke.í
There was a key mutation in the late 80ís that forked the line. Iím speaking of course of Bill and Tedís Excellent Adventure. This mutation dramatically diluted gene #3 above, and somehow made the species stronger. Suddenly, knuckleheaded amiability could rise unfettered by toxicity. Subsequent mutations actually flipped the gene to engage women as people, and even modified #5. At first haltingly in supporting characters in American Pie, then fully-fledged in Neighbors or its Final Boss form, Josh Segarra in his roles in She-Hulk and The Other Two. Spoiler alert, this is NOT the Bro-tone phylum 4E+2N showcases.
The Bro-tone main line had another mutation in the last 4-7 years - a new gene of mocking self-awareness. Where the joke is how awful the main line is by subtly amplifying the meanness of the worst if its excesses. A great example of this line is Michael Cheí on SNLís Weekend Update. He deadpan advocates the most insane, exaggerated Bro-tone behaviors for laughs. Colin Jostís role here is indispensable - his comedically beleaguered disapproval is vital to the identification of this strain. Superficially it is so similar to the main branch they can easily be mistaken for each other.
And these separate-but-similar Bro-tones are where we are in 4E+2N. My first ending I was presented with (Spoiler - click to show)"Over the years, you realize that she's a little hysterical, but which woman isn't."
My impulse was to hear it in Michael Cheís voice and snorted in amusement. My second ending had a less over-the-top but clearly still Bro-tone blurb that made me question what I was looking at. As I contemplated a third run, I realized I was holding a Schroedingerís cat box. At this point, the game was in superposition between the two Bro-tone lines. If I opened the box with a third run, it was going to concretize into one or the other. I donít think I want that.
Playtime: Less than 10min, two runthroughs.
Artistic/Technical rankings: Mechanical/Intrusive
Would Play Again? I dare not trifle with the quantum superposition.
Artistic scale: Bouncy, Mechanical, Sparks of Joy, Engaging, Transcendent
Technical scale: Unplayable, Intrusive, Notable (Bugginess), Mostly Seamless, Seamless
I have no idea if using the term "short" is even the right word to use for this game. It says dating simulator when there is no proper dating involved except for some awkward lines written when you choose with whom to go on a date.It jumps from the presentation phase straight to the date.
Even the 'Edit 1,2,3,4' who are available for the dating, only have a tiny description. Some of the "character presentation/meeting you for the first time" sentences are even more awkward.
There is a serious need for some massive rewriting on this game if the author wants to get a higher rating.
From the picture, blurb, and length on the IFComp page (which I swear used to say 2 hours, but I think I must have misread it because now it says 15), I expected this game to a big, polished Twine game with cool visuals, like Porpentine's Crystal Warrior Ke$ha.
Unfortunately, this is a very short Twine game with 1 major area, with simple links to rooms and back (each room being one passage). State doesn't seem be to be tracked at all. Almost all the endings are just vague statements that you slept with someone.
I think the author can do better. This kind of game can be written up in 30 minutes or an hour. That doesn't mean you can't make a great game in that time, but it's hard and needs good luck. I'd like to see more length and/or effort and/or cool new idea.
(This is a lightly-edited version of a review I posted to the IntFiction forums during 2022's IFComp).
I sometimes worry that I give short games short shrift Ė I mean I guess in a way that would be appropriate, as often thereís just less to say about a game that says less and in the attention-economy itís easy to equate length with value. But still, thereís a lot to admire in a game that knows how long it should be, knows that the 90-second punk-rock version of a song is often strictly better than the 12-minute prog-rock version. In last yearís Comp, I adored some shorter games, like Funicular Simulator 2021, Closure, and My Gender is a Fish (I only just now realized that sometime in the last year my memory had invisibly renamed this game to I am a Fish, which of course would be the title of the inevitable genderqueer Faulkner mashup) Ė they didnít need to maunder on endlessly to make an impression.
Sometimes, though, short games are too short to adequately develop their ideas, and sadly, such is the case with 4 Edith + 2 Niki. Per the blurb, this is a dating sim, implemented in basic-Twine style, though it takes a couple minutes to reveal itself as such. You start outside a shanty, given a choice of whether to enter or stay outside. If you choose the latter, youíre treated to a series of increasingly random vignettes with questionable grammar, before being railroaded into going outside. Hereís the last, so you get a flavor:
"You decide to stay longer. A horrible young man appears and names him a coffee-mouthed boy. Marvel starts entertaining with stories, especially the X-Men, Iron Man, and Dr. Strange sequels. After a while, though, itís just EnterÖ"
Once inside, it turns out the shanty is a spacious office, with six different sub-locations to explore; two have people named Niki inside them, and four have people named Edit (not Edith), each with a different number to distinguish them. The various Edits will ask you on dates or mention an event theyíre going to, and after visiting all the rooms you decide which of the four to pursue, at which point the game ends with a different, but identically-cynical, ending involving you getting coupled-up with that iteration of Edit. Like, hereís the one where you go get Slovak food with Edit 1 (Iím like a quarter Slovak, and since thatís an especially random ethnicity even by the low-stakes standards of Eastern Europe youíd better believe I picked that first when I saw it was an option):
"You decide to go to the Museum Village, where you will meet Edit 1. At first you fuck like rabbits, but less and less often, and you can listen to his head-voiced laughter at his shitty jokes. Plus, by the end, youíre completely silly."
Lest you think this is an outlier, punishing those who foolishly think Slovak food sounds like a good time Ė lots of love to my grandmother, but so far as I could tell from her cooking, flour dumplings, sausages, and doughy pastries were the highlights of the cuisine Ė hereís the one where you go to a concert:
"You went to the Anne and the Barbies concert and then you became a couple. Over the years, you realize that sheís a little hysterical, but which woman isnít. Thatís all there is to it."
That sounds pretty misogynist, but maybe itís a knowing pun, you know like hysterical → hystera → uterus? This is awfully abbreviated to try to draw conclusions from, though, and indeed, thatís how I feel about the game as a whole. Is this meant as a satire of dating sims, making fun of the idea that you make a few low-context choices and you wind up mated for life? Is it trying to say something about the banality of identity in modern society by having all the romantic options have the same name? Is the juxtaposition of dateable Edits and standoffish Nikis (oneís implied to be an ex) getting at the sometimes-arbitrary way people present themselves or donít present themselves as potential partners? Is the fact that the only option you have is which of these people to date, with remaining self-assuredly single not even a fail state or but-thou-must false choice like the one in the opening, trying to critique the normativity of coupledom, a la Lanthimosís The Lobster?
I dunno, man, nor do I know what that any of that has to do with Iron Man or TARDIS-like shanties that contain office buildings. It just feels like stuff, and while individual vignettes have some disorienting zip, thereís just not enough here Ė not enough characters or plot or engagement Ė for them to cohere into anything with impact.
This one's really short by IFComp standards. I mean, it's shorter than The Lift, which I like to point out as something someone slapped together because IFComp seemed neat to enter at the time, and also to win the game you have to do something kind of hilariously skeevy. The author had other creative pursuits which, on Googling, seemed to go well, and they probably thought, what the heck. It happens. And with 4E, the concept had so much you could do with it, but there's no other way to say it: you bounce around and check out a few coworkers named Edit(h) and Niki and choose one to go on a date with. None work. Thankfully, it's got more than the most minimal on IFDB. I remember the author's name, but it'd be mean to share them. The game simply asked "Do you want to win this game?" Well, it kept the IFDB front page busy for a bit. Even when the author made points I agreed with, it made points so clunkily that I just groaned.
With 4E there's more, and the premise of sorting out similarly-named people is ripe for comedy. I was ready with a sheet of paper to evaluate pluses and minuses. I was about to start writing. Then I chose someone, just to see what happened. 4E ended. I undid and tried again. Same thing. I learned who Niklos Fenyo was, which is something.
The final observations are sparse, with a sentence or two describing your remaining life together, which may be a long relationship or not. It's arbitrarily chosen and can't be changed. So there is not a ton to see here, and given the game mentions it was for Twiny Jam, with some details added, I could have done with more. Well, better a bad date than a bad drawn-out relationship! It felt a bit more like getting free samples of the only thing left at the store, and it's nice, but you're not going to buy it as-is and you know why it was left last. My guess is that the author misjudged the scope of IFComp, and if they'd known it was for potentially longer works, they could and would have done more.