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About the Story
Trek into the fearsome Caves of Despair in search of the Jewel of Happiness! Encounter grotesques and total weirdos! Collect all the shiny, shiny gems! All this and more in THIS WON'T MAKE YOU HAPPY——a sort of funny, sort of sentimental game by a real-life, non-fictitious comedy writer named Mike Gillis.
64th place - 27th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2021)
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Number of Reviews: 5
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This Won't Make You Happy (shortened to THIS) is a short meta-humor game where your goal is explicitly to find a jewel of happiness. It shouldn't take long, either. The game explicitly admits at one point it was about learning to code, and I think we've all identified with just playing QuestyQuest or getting to that next level or whatever. And I certainly identify with COVID throwing me for a loop and wanting to try new stuff and not being very motivated. The choices are silly and maybe a bit reductive, and there's minor gross-out stuff, but they're never obscene.
And yet it only goes so far. Having seen a lot of games in the IF community, I've seen the basic puzzles people do to learn the technical parts of a language. It's new to them but not to those of us who have been programming. Towers of Hanoi, Wolf Goat Cabbage, truth tellers/liars, and so forth. It seems there are basic "unit" stories or tricks for programming more creative stuff. Fourth-wall humor, Do I Really Need to Keep Grinding, autobiographical ruminations, and, well, It Was All a Dream. They have more value, because although we've read them before (of course WINNING doesn't make you happy) we are more likely to get individual touches and treatments from the author. In this case, most of us know that getting a big fancy jewel won't make us happy. It's the journey. And here, the journey is nice, but there's not enough. I'd hear the jokes before, and they're not bad jokes, but they don't make for real individuality.
So what happens? You start off trapped in the Caves of Despair. You have some normal choices and some weird ones. Sometimes the normal ones fail, and you try the weird ones, and the game heckles you mildly. You find some gems and really have no choice but to take them, though you can sing a Gem Song if you want, and then there's a small green man, Grommo the Gremlin, who is in your way. You have no choice but to kill him, but after you do, you have choices of how to complain to the narrator. You do get to see the Gem of Happiness at the end, though first, you get to talk with the narrator about life and isolation from COVID and other disappointments. As for actually taking the gem? (Spoiler - click to show)You can't. There's just a loop. But you can quit the game.
Now I've seen these jokes in various forms. We know, abstractly, that "keep on questin' no matter what" is quite bad, whether it's a Candy Crush level that won't let you get 3 stars without really good luck or a lot of power-ups, or ... well, anything that gets your attention and then holds you in with sunk costs. So it's good THIS comes out against that sort of thing and provides humor. But nothing really memorable enough.
It did have a positive effect on me. The night before playing it, I was on chess.com last night just playing enough games to advance to the next league. You see, chess.com has leagues of 50 people and you get points for each win or draw. The top 10 (or 5 or 3 at higher levels) advance. There is no relegation. I was in the top 5 and managed to secure staying there, but I remembered how nervous I was that #6, whom I was ahead of by a factor of 1.33 or so, would catch me. But it didn't feel like enough! I was still looking over my shoulder. (I made it, of course. But it did call into question whether I should be playing chess games just to play chess games. I wound up deciding in favor of IFComp reviews, which was a good choice.)
One other thing: THIS's twine template may freeze up your browser. I admit I got rid of the timed text (a personal bugbear) with a few regular expressions. It seemed to get stuck some times, and the 15/20 second waits seemed indefinite. Replace (Spoiler - click to show)after:[0-9]+s with after:1s and t8n-time:[0-9]+s with t8n-time:1s.
This (puts on shades) made me happy. I got to see everything in the game a bit more quickly, and also I felt less helpless. And perhaps if THIS had explored these themes more, it would've soared.
In the authors' forum, someone compared the writing to Kingdom of Loathing, and once they mentioned it, it did remind me of that. I'm hesitant to recommend KoL because of what a timesink it was, even though it was terribly fun. THIS, but it does have that “first program” feel to it, and with more characters/obstacles like Grommo the goblin, we'd have something very cool. I think that's needed, because otherwise the main idea of "collecting gems is useless" is a bit trivial. In KoL's case, part of the fun is collecting worthless items like ghuol ears (not a typo) and batgut and putting them in a display case to be the person with the most batgut, and maybe even inflating their price in the process and having fun and not taking it seriously. That's hard to capture in a 15 minute game.
But THIS makes a start, and though if it didn't make me happy, it gave me a legitimate boost.
In this game you explore a small cave with different fantasy creatures and gems and such in it.
This game is part of a small genre of games best described as 'quirky twine game based in a cave/dungeon that riffs on the silly parts of fantasy games but also has feels and is generally a simple branching structure with little state tracking'.
Other entries in the genre include Just Get the Treasure v0.9.1, Girth Loinhammer and the Quest for the Unsee Elixir (a more complex example), TOMBs of Reschette, The Cave (a less humorous example), The Thing About Dungeons, etc.
This game is definitely on the zanier end. My son first got into Twine with games like this when he was 5, like Escape from the Crazy Place, because it's fun to do silly things like (in this cave) refusing to enter the cave from the get go. For me, as an adult, I still think it can be fun at times.
For some reason one of the passages didn't work at all for me on PC chrome, but it did when I loaded it up in the Twinery app (the one all in cyan that's on time delays).
Overall, I think that this game has some entertainment value, but I think it didn't offer very much new.
(This is a lightly-edited version of a review posted to the IntFict forums during the 2021 IFComp. My son Henry was born right before the Comp, meaning I was fairly sleep-deprived and loopy while I played and reviewed many of the games, so in addition to a highlight and lowlight, the review includes an explanation of how new fatherhood has led me to betray the hard work the author put into their piece)
This Won’t Make You Happy gives a first impression that seems like it’s going to live up to its title: the design is close enough to default Twine to look rough, and the confrontational narrative voice is way too in love with the cleverness of a meta premise that’s actually pretty played out (like, have you ever thought about whether hoovering up shiny objects might have some metaphorical resonance with the pursuit of happiness and mental health under late capitalism? If so, approximately six billion indie platformers would like to have a word). Happily, the game pulls the good kind of bait and switch, and while its short length limits the impact it can have, This Won’t Make You Happy actually did bring a smile to my face. If you haven’t played it yet, definitely don’t be put off by the prickly presentation – it’s worth the additional five minutes to see where it’s going.
If you have, here are some final spoilery thoughts: (Spoiler - click to show)the crux of the game is clearly the moment where, after provoking a fight through its blatant unfairness, the narrator admits that it’s been a rough year all around, and shifts gears to provide some reflection and self-care – enforced through timed text that’s actually a good idea, for once! I was confused by the blurb’s characterization of this as a sort of funny, sort of sentimental game, but after finishing it, that totally makes sense.
Highlight: Despite the initially-blah design, there are actually a bunch of neat visual effects as the text transitions from one passage to the next.
Lowlight: In the first chunk of the game, I wound up seeing the narrator make the same dumb “the object seems to say X, but of course because it’s just an object and I am pretending to not understand how metaphors work despite just having deployed one, that doesn’t make sense!” joke like three distinct times in five minutes.
How I failed the author: I played this one-handed on my phone while Henry napped on my shoulder, and again, this wound up being a secret success: if there is a jewel of happiness more efficacious than a sleeping baby, I’ve yet to find it.
This game has a self-consciousness of game tropes and fourth-wall-breaking that I probably would have found very deep fifteen years ago. Now, I feel like the game was too short to explore the existential problems of collecting things and killing things in platformer-type games. I also had the game-ending bug with the cyan type.
I did like the various effects the writer used with the type, like making it different colors and shaking or blurring it. It made me want to try something like that in my own games.
If I didn't feel happiness, then why was I smiling? This is a short, irreverent game whose humor I mostly appreciated. For some reason, I did not write a review the first time I played it, and couldn't remember how it ended. Playing again on Chrome, I got stuck on some pages with no choices available. Sometimes backing up worked, a couple times refreshing did, but eventually I couldn't progress any more. Then, while playing on the phone, I got stuck in a loop trying to pick up a gem of happiness. Even more upsetting, on both devices I was unable to access the "USER ANGER LACERATION" song. I am forced to rate this as incomplete. I'm going to be traveling out of country for a couple weeks, but when I return, we can discuss our options for completion. You have until the end of next semester.