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About the Story
But it’s worth it, right? It’s going to be worth it. Because tonight is the red carpet premiere of the debut film by artificial intelligence application MATTEO, model JWHJ-0715, and six thousand people are going to attend.
And you’re going to override it.
An interactive fiction piece about cinema, technology of the future, and doing outrageous shit with friends. Submission for Goncharov Game Jam.
Entrant - Goncharov Game Jam
Number of Reviews: 2
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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.
Goncharov 2073 is a fairly short stylistic linear piece with one small choice, set in a not-so-far and not-so-implausible future, in which Goncharov is a movie written by an AI, rather than the illusive and very human Matteo JWHJ0715. At the movie premiere, you and a group of activists will try to derail the event as a protest. Will you truly succeed?
Following Kon - not their real name - you oversea the smooth running of a project started months prior. Due to the significance of the event, the first ever screening of an AI generated movie, it is of the upmost importance things go the way they should. One small mistake and it will mean the end of the team. Things often go haywire on sabotage missions, and it is never when you think it might…
While the entry might seem to follow tropes of sabotage missions, delivering the tension at every turn, having the blasé handler, or things not going quite as planned, it is not much of the story or the meme that is most noteworthy, but the messages behind it. It should not be this surprising, with the author’s other games often having quite a bit to say or critique about the state of things.
In the past years, there have been increasing talk about Artificial Intelligence and its use in different industry. Recently (as of this review), it has been found that Entertainment Companies have been looking into rendering the likeness of background actors and using AIs to render them in the final project (without needing them on set). The use of AI software to render text or visuals is becoming more common, even going as a replacement for employees. It feels a bit hard to remove this topical aspect from the story of this game: an AI has written this movie, an AI is controlling the likeness of a (probably) dead Martin Scorcese…
The onus is not really put on the AI here - it is just a tool (and not a reliable or great one at that, if the comments about the movie are to be trusted*). The game takes a hit at the companies behind it, the ones using the tool, the ones actually profiting in this endeavour. *or that could just be making fun of the meme, whose lore is often contradictory.
In-game, the rules around AI use regarding using the likeness of someone cannot be done without their consent, a fair system… if it wasn’t an op-out one. The rules don’t seem to apply to people who died before the system was put in place - ruling impending - which explains the presence of a holographic Martin Scorcese at the premiere. Still, you have a sense that regardless of the legality of the tool, those company would try to find a way to use it anyway…
The criticism goes even clearer with the reveal of the activists’ manifesto: the technological advancement is not the problem, capital endeavours are - butchering, making almost a mockery of creativity with their generated “work”.
On the other hand, the game does not shy away from critiquing the actions of the activist group, showing that the sabotage of the premiere would not only shed more light on the movie, but ensuring its popularity at the box office - people who might not have cared about would come in flock out of spite. Activism is hard: there is no one way of doing things, actions can backfire, and you could be going against organism so large your actions might not even make waves or get you quite a bit of retaliation. Replaying the game to see the different option of that choice may hammer on this aspect…
With its title reminiscing of the Blade Runner sequel title, or its dark and gritty UI (a bit à-la Metal Gear Solid - very very cool), and the messages above, the game gave me vibes of Paul Verhoeven movies.
2023 - Top 50 short list by manonamora
Tentative list for the Top 50 IF of 2023 It will help me remember the games that really did an impact on me... bc I am terrible at remembering titles There is no ranking here. Also not complete. I will add more stuff before the deadline
Outstanding Short Game of 2022 - Player's Choice by MathBrush
This poll is part of the 2022 IFDB Awards. The rules for the competition can be found here, and a list of all categories can be found here. This award is for the best short game of 2022, where the definition of 'short' is left up to the...
Outstanding Short Game of 2022 - Author's Choice by MathBrush
This poll is part of the 2022 IFDB Awards. The rules for the competition can be found here, and a list of all categories can be found here. This award is for the best short game of 2022, with the definition of short left up to the voter....
Outstanding Underappreciated Game of 2022 - Player's Choice by MathBrush
This poll is part of the 2022 IFDB Awards. The rules for the competition can be found here, and a list of all categories can be found here. This award is for the most underappreciated game of 2022. Voting is open to all IFDB members....