Death by Lightning

by Chase Capener

2022

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Double-crossing, sex and ... low resolution?!, November 24, 2022
by Andrew Schultz (Chicago)
Related reviews: IFComp 2022

Oh my. Putting GameBoy-style graphics with a narrative where you've just finished having gay sex. That's a heck of a contrast, for sure, given attitudes towards homosexuality when the GameBoy came out. And my main quibble with all this is that you have to keep pushing "Z" to see relatively little text, some of which repeated. I've gone all old man yelling at cloud about this sort of thing before, but in this case, it was more that I'd like to see what's going on, and I'd like to piece things together better, and I wish there'd at least be an option to get the game to cooperate more after, say, three or four endings. There also was some worry I'd get impatient and start button-bashing and miss some of the text. I'm also not sure why the title is what it is. I found a lot of other creative and interesting ways to die, and there was lightning, but I didn't find the ending where you died by lightning. Perhaps it was the "best" one?

Unfortunately my enduring aesthetic memory is of the text chopped up like the timed text from Twine, and it backs up even one playthrough. This is okay at first when you're getting your bearings, but DbL seems meant to be replayed, and a lack of UNDO hurts this. This may be a feature for some. But in IFComp, with my goal to get through a lot of entries, I find it to be a bug. The work simply stops once you've reached a conclusion, too. Nevertheless, I took several diverging paths through and had a general idea what was going on, and overall what was there seemed good. So it's not a "waiter, the food is terrible! And such small portions!" sort of thing.

There was also a neat feature where the screen flashed, but it we assume all the threads are continuous, lightning kept striking at different times. I wasn't able to determine whether the player should be coming to a realization I missed, but I thought the screen flashing worked well with the low-resulution graphics. With more detail, or the game taking more of the browser, all the technical stuff might feel like it was trying too hard to call attention to itself. I fortunately don't have any physical reaction a flashing screen, but nonetheless, it was nice it wasn't overdone.

From what I saw, you're trying to betray your lover, but you're wanted, yourself. They have a truck outside the mountain lodge where you are both staying, and you, for reasons not immediately obvious, cannot let them leave. So do you take the truck or try to convince your lover to stay? Taking the truck risks accidents and meeting the local (very) wildlife, but staying in the cabin risks a fight, as they have a past that's not clear, too. Whatever your web of double-crossing and intrigue, you're pretty much, well, screwed.

The gimmick of a GameBoy-style game is clever, and I've generally enjoyed entries that give this retro feel. But unfortunately, with this entry having no exploration components, the design choice probably backfired in terms of placement in IFComp. I just wish there'd been more latitude to explore without having to repeat myself so much, or at least a way to increase screen size to see more at once, because there were some branches I didn't look into and wanted to, and without UNDO it was hard to keep track. Perhaps labeling a branch yellow or red based on how much you'd seen (some/all) would work, even if it violated the GameBoy aesthetic? The writing seems fast-paced and I was disappointed that certain design choices slowed it down, not to give us more chances to think about things, but to say, no, you can't quite move ahead.