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Interesting Concept, Despite Reviewer's Lack Of..., July 24, 2014
by Hanon Ondricek (United States)

Progression is a dungeon delve into the underworld that seems to borrow a bit from Andrew Plotkin's Bigger Than You Think in that it seems that the player is meant to fail multiple times in order unlock new options to move further in the game. There's even an XP display that does not reset during multiple play throughs.

The "die to proceed" mechanic can be interminably frustrating in most games. Many Twine games are filled with these unhinted arbitrary choice clicks leading to an unpredictable game-over as a way to add the illusion of choice without the work of actually writing extensive choices that are meaningful. I remember a particularly egregious Ecto-Comp entry where the character has a choice of "Proceed down the sidewalk" or "Cross the street". Since no specific goal or direction had been given, it was infuriating to choose "Cross the street" only to summarily be told "You have been hit by a car, try being more careful next time," when there was absolutely no clues that the player could have made use of to know that was a death-end. Bigger Than You Think used dying abruptly as a gimmick - you died but were able to drop a rope into a chasm where it remained for the next incarnation of your player to use it and proceed further so "bad" choices could lead to new interactions.

That *seems* what's supposed to happen here with the XP count. Progression's text is evocative but sparse, and there are passages with several links that the player cannot choose since the preceding paragraph dims out when one is chosen. A few repetitions, therefore are not unwelcome. The problem here is some choices provide only a few words in response or a slight text variation, and then new links not seen before appear later on with very little to clue the player why. (Spoiler - click to show)Three scenes in I had to choose an answer to the Sphinx's riddle from about four provided. Each time I was wrong and had to replay the previous scenes. I steamrollered through them, restarting each time. At one point I was given a *fifth* choice, ostensibly based on what I had done before. Since I didn't try that one immediately, and didn't remember what slightly different sequence of clicks led to that choice appearing, I wasn't able to proceed.

I was hoping that the XP meter was the games way of keeping track of this and would offer greater and greater explanation of what's going on and more choices in each scene, but this didn't come into play in the sequence of the game I worked through - even though I got the XP count pretty high. Is it just a matter of grinding XP to make the game winnable?

The succinct writing style is good since the text must be read multiple times, but even then I was eventually just clicking hard and fast to get back where I was. Early on, the player is plunged into darkness with just two words "torch" and something that's not the torch. You're not told what the torch will do, but having the screen fade then from black up to deep blood red was a nice bit of styling. Despite being short, Progression quickly becomes tedious. There's no save/reload mechanism that might make this less frustrating because that would defeat the game of setting all the right flags so progress can be made.

This is unfortunate, as I genuinely liked the scenario. It seems like a step toward creating a larger puzzle in a choice-based adventure besides "Choose A, B, or C", but I grew quickly tired of it after about nine times through. Better feedback when the correct choices are made would go much toward improving this. Also some more extensive variations of the opening sequences so the player feels like they actually are "progressing". A way to review the choices that were made previously with a hint or nudge in the right direction after the death screen might help. Maybe this all happens later in the game past where I gave up after trying every response to the Sphinx.

There is no "about" or "hints" option, and no setup other than "You descend..." which could come off as pretentious, but works into the mysterious impenetrable-ness I think the author wants to evoke. If this game wasn't tested, it should have been. Perhaps if the player made enough correct choices, they could be returned just to before the incorrect one to save some tedium. I liked the game, I just didn't like repeating the opening ten times and not knowing how I could improve by taking different links. Appropriate and clear feedback is a must in a game like this. If you like experimenting and trying to find every nook and cranny that a Twine game provides, this will keep you busy a while.

(Spoiler - click to show)
‌‌‌‌‌‌‌‌‌‌Your descent is over.

This place is changing you.

You have died 6 time(s).
You have killed your brother 1 time(s).
You have eaten 2 sandwich(es).
You have incorrectly answered the Sphinx's riddle 4 time(s).
You have earned 175 experience points in total.
This is not true. These results are from one extra play I did to check things while writing the review. I may have restarted without a death several times, but I earned a lot more XP than that in my initial playthroughs. Apparently there's a cookie to remember some bits of your play but not others.

Comments on this review

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Ryusui, July 26, 2014 - Reply
I should review this game in full sometime, like I did the author's previous "Dog Saves Baby." I'll say first and foremost that this is a vastly better effort than "Dog Saves Baby." But I also need to say that you haven't missed much past the point where you got stuck.

Here's a clue that might help: you need to get the skull to the Sphinx's lair, then examine it for a hint as to what to do. Be sure to ask the Sphinx about the tapestry once you've examined it if you're still stuck. More explicitly, (Spoiler - click to show)examine the torch, use the sword on the clasp, take the torch, then use the torch on the tapestry.

Past the Sphinx, the game devolves into incoherence. There's a short interlude revealing the truth behind what you're after, but it's mixed in with (Spoiler - click to show)an inexplicable throwback to Zork and a sequence of randomized battles where you need to cash in your EXP to buy a gun(!) in order to have any hope of surviving the gauntlet. The final ending is, perhaps unsurprisingly at this point, (Spoiler - click to show)more of a token "A Winner Is You" sequence than anything, unless - like you - there is something I have missed.
spacetroll, July 30, 2014 - Reply
Thank you both for taking the time to play and comment on my game. I won't expound on my design decisions here but I will let you know that there is more to the conclusion of "Progression" than you seem to have found. (Spoiler - click to show)There are two possible endings -- one "good" and one "bad" -- plus a "secret" ending (though how secret can it be if I'm telling you about it?) that can only be unlocked after completing the game at least once with the "good" ending.

I understand if you are not motivated to return to the dungeon, but I wanted to clarify for other potential players who may read your comments.
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