Out of Scope

by Drew Castalia

Political romance

Go to the game's main page

Member Reviews

Number of Reviews: 4
Write a review

Ready, Aim, (mis)Fire, December 20, 2023
by JJ McC
Related reviews: IFComp 2023

Adapted from an IFCOMP23 Review

The blurb had me excited for this entry. These were bold themes: forbidden sibling love, violence fetishization, family and social hypocrisy. I eagerly launched the web version on my Linux machine and watched Unity, a platform I have no experience with, fire to life. In retrospect, the opening screen was a foreshadow of things to come.

The opening is a clever sniper scope graphic, inviting the user to ‘fire’ on menu options. It was not exactly clear how to operate it, but swooping around found menu options and I deduced a trigger was needed. I inadvertently hit CREDITS and for a mad moment thought the game was a one click prank! I chortled at my ineptitude, then fired again like a mischievous child. Then the screen locked up.

Restarting, I was able to begin the game, and then my long battle with the UI started. The UI is a series of text bubbles of various sizes, floating in a virtual space much larger than the browser window. The first two I got were obscured on either side of the window, neither legible. I figured out I needed to start panning around a virtual space, but the calibration was punishing. The slightest track pad movement rocketed text bubbles across and off screen. Arrows helpfully pointed to where offscreen bubbles might be but it was a trial of extreme precision to get any one of them centered and readable on my screen. I can see how the bubbles were loosely organized to navigate around the grounds of an estate, but the chore it was to find even one of them, let alone manage any kind of deliberate exploration, was exhausting. Often as not I was clicking options not because I wanted to go a particular way, or explore a particular location. Rather, I had just managed to get a random one centered and bird in hand…

It was particularly frustrating, because I could see a winning UI trying to establish itself. The thought balloon choices in particular I really liked. Perhaps a more damped motion scaling. A zoom or inset full virtual space map. A vertical wrap to match the horizontal one. These could have flipped the script completely and made me love it. But you live the life given, not the one you wish you had, no?

Looking past the UI, reading the text bubbles was a different kind of challenge. I can be fussy about language, I know this. While comps have treated me to wonderful examples of elevated, poetic language, I find those the exception. Far more common in my experience is florid prose aiming high but falling short. I found passages like “A southeasterly tor watches and chills and wets you from its prominence, irrespective of yours.” and “a rifle getting its colon cleansed” representative examples and well short of the lofty goals they strove for. Distractingly so.

Now, the underlying story being told was damned interesting! The opening game of cat and mouse, the fraught family drama of social shame and innocent yearning, the political intrigue, the indoctrination of martial violence, the alternating brother/sister POV, all of these pulsed with life and energy when the text got out of the way. I grit my teeth and strained my wrist and powered through as best I could. I was not giving up on the emerging drama, dammit, I was not!

Until I hit a blocking bug, where choice bubbles became unselectable. (This has likely been fixed post comp.) Whatever the review equivalent of ragequit is what I did. I was prepared to submit a review and a score that encapsulated all my frustrations and disappointments, and even documented them in the first draft of this review. Then I went to bed, woke up and remembered, “wait, there was a RESUME option on the main menu.” Sure enough, firing it up again, I was restored just prior to the blocking bug and successfully steered clear.

I can’t tell you how ambivalent I was about this. Ok, that’s not accurate, I am kind of telling you right now. I dreaded fighting the UI for another hour. Thankfully, the game had a few tricks up its sleeve. Starting with a dinner party, the UI shifted modes from player led exploration to chaotic table conversation. Instead of asking me to navigate around, the UI itself shifted around with spontaneous conversation options, centering themselves for my convenience! It was an exceedingly clever use of the interface, though I’m not sure how much credit to attribute to “you momentarily subverted my agony for a clever twist.”

Nevertheless, buttressed by that twist, I was able to complete the story. I am not sure how much my choices impacted the tale or if I was subtly steered to a single story, but plotwise it was pretty good! Betrayals, deceptions, misunderstandings, complicated feelings. The text and a return of UI navigation still made me work for it, often too hard. But by alleviating, at least a little bit, my UI pain, I was emboldened to power through.

So where am I left? I have to call the underlying story Sparky - it engaged very nuanced topics with admirable ambiguity feeding interesting plot twists. But that UI was frustratingly belligerent, no two ways about it. Couple that with great swaths of text that triggered my, “please do less!” reflex and Intrusively Buggy is the only legitimate rating. [reminder: tech rating is not just bugs, but technical intrusiveness into the reader/player experience.]

Played: 10/3 - 10/4/23
Playtime: 2 hrs, finished at the wire
Artistic/Technical ratings: Sparks of Joy in the underlying plot, sabotaged by Intrusive UI and verse.
Would Play After Comp?: Y’know what? Some overhauling of the UI and maybe. That plot could soar if it was free.

Artistic scale: Bouncy, Mechanical, Sparks of Joy, Engaging, Transcendent
Technical scale: Unplayable, Intrusive, Notable (Bugginess), Mostly Seamless, Seamless

Was this review helpful to you?   Yes   No   Remove vote  
More Options

 | Add a comment