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About the Story
Every system, whether the economy or the ecosystem, has an equilibrium. When we keep extracting the resources, exploiting human moral bottom-lines, consuming carelessly, and ignoring small but essential part of the system chain, the system sends a feedback loop to break in most unexpected ways. The equilibrium has a balance based on the principle of equal-ibium.
101st Place - 26th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2020)
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Number of Reviews: 5
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A very short Twine morality play about having responsibility as a CEO to do the right thing for your employees and the world.
Ima does some visually arresting things with Twine graphics that I hadn't seen before, and I found them to be mostly effective in communicating the mood the game is going for. Unfortunately, the game still needs a ton of work. There were spelling mistakes on nearly every page as well as issues with grammar that made some passages hard to understand. I also encountered one apparent bug where a macro text-type doesn't load.
This review is based on the competition release. I could see raising my rating if the bugs and spelling were fixed as it has some cool things going for it. That said, the moral the game conveys about corporate greed is fairly basic and there's not enough time within the span of this game to give the topic justice.
This is a very short choice-based game where you play the CEO of an investment firm facing moral choices about the company's action as well as how you treat your employees. With a game this short I don't think it is worth it to talk about the plot that much as just about anything I say would be spoilers. I will say that it is fairly heavy-handed in its messaging regarding the choices you have to make and what the author thinks the right ones are. I tend to prefer games that weave the message in with interesting plot or mechanics. Also, this game had several typos and one obvious bug, so it could stand a bit more polishing.
I did enjoy the way the author made visual effects out of the text, with flickering or timed text, among other things. I felt that really added a sense of being under stress and/or scatter-brained to the story. I love seeing text and the IF creation engines stretched and used in interesting ways to help convey something that might be hard with plain text alone.
I think many of us have had the experience of being on one side or another in a conversation where someone’s trying to communicate an experience that was incredibly profound and meaningful to them, but can’t articulate it in a way that really lands. It’s a frustrating experience – more so for the teller than the listener, I think – because even while it’s clear there’s something important on the table, the palpable lack of understanding becomes alienating. That’s very much how I felt about Equal-librium, a game desperate to share something life-changing, but which at best is only able to talk around the space where that something should go.
It’s hard to go into what I mean without spoiling the whole game – it’s very short, and there’s really only one central dilemma. So I’m going to assume you’ve finished it in the paragraphs that follow.
Right, to sum up the story as I understand it: you play the CEO of an investment bank that seems to primarily deal with the resource-extraction industry. You’ve just cut a deal with a nonprofit to exploit some land they had obtained for conservation purposes, and as part of the negotiations you’d demanded (and received) a bribe. However, a hacker has accessed your email and found out about this, and is blackmailing you. Depending on whether you’ve managed to reconnect with an old friend from college when he accidentally spilled coffee on you earlier in the day, you either are able to identify the culprit, or have a last smoke and kill yourself.
This story doesn’t really make much sense – most notably, shouldn’t the bank be bribing the conservation nonprofit, and not the other way around? But stuff like that is relatively easy to ignore if the character work is up to snuff. Sadly, where Equal-librium really goes astray is in its depiction of the relationship with the old college friend. Shu/Will seems nice enough, and it’s clear there was some important connection between the two almost twenty years ago. But the game talks around that connection – it has something to do with the main character helping Shu quit smoking? – but it feels like there must have been something more important, and more reciprocal, going on.
The thematics of the ending also don’t feel like they quite click. In the “bad” ending, the CEO, facing the ruin of his reputation and bereft of human connection, decides to end it all. You then get some moralizing final text talking about the importance of balance: “Every system, whether the economy or the ecosystem, has an equilibrium. When we keep extracting the resources, exploiting human moral bottom-lines, consuming carelessly, and ignoring small but essential part of the system chain, the system sends a feedback loop to break in most unexpected ways… Perhaps you need to restart the system to really experience how good it is to be in Equal-librium.” But in the “good” ending, the main character is just able to strike back at their rival, and does reconnect with their friend, but doesn’t seem to change their ways at all, making the ultimate meaning very unclear.
The technical implementation is fine – the color and font choices are attractive, and there’s an undo button always available, so it’s simple to explore the different possibilities, which is good because I think the game only works if you can see the different paths. I did encounter an odd error having to do with a non-existent macro, but it didn’t seem to affect progress. I did find the prose a bit of a stumbling block; there aren’t many out-and-out typos or grammatical errors, but there are a lot of awkward phrasings and run-together clauses that made the writing a bit unclear at times. That’s Equal-librium in a nutshell, I think – there’s intentionality and heart to it, but in its current form, it’s not quite able to bring the player fully in to the experience it’s working to evoke.
Equal-Librium is a short, replayable Twine game about how our daily choices affect our lives in deep ways, and interesting topic that I had actually been reading about before the comp began.
The game uses complicated styling, like shaking text and some timed delivery (which didn't really annoy me here as it was fairly fast and the game was short). It emulates e-mail systems.
The story is about being a CEO of a company and receiving a bribe offer with ecological consequences. There are several endings with a suggestion to replay.
I found some typos and a broken macro, but the story was interesting.
-Polish: The effects were fancy, but there were too many typos and errors for my liking.
+Descriptiveness: I found the writing vivid and interesting.
+Interactivity: Branches a lot but is short enough to make replaying feasible.
-Emotional Impact: I got where it was coming from, but for some reason or another the message didn't sink in.
+Would I play again? Wouldn't mind giving it another spin to find more endings (already found 2).
The purpose of this short choice IF seems to be simple moral education. Following anything other than the most virtuous path will quickly end the game and encourage you to try again. Although I’m not strictly opposed to this – it was, after all, a groundbreaking element of Ultima IV in its day – it feels here too simplistic, which undermines its educational value. There is also some polish lacking in Equal-librium: for one, the blurb contains several typos, and at some point I even got an error message
This is version 4 of this page, edited by JTN on 9 December 2020 at 7:58pm. - View Update History - Edit This Page - Add a News Item