The Spirit Within Us

by Alessandro Ielo

2021

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Number of Ratings: 6
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Too-vague psychodrama with adult subject matter and a stretched custom parser, August 6, 2022
by Wade Clarke (Sydney, Australia)

(A version of this review first appeared in my blog during IFComp 2021.)

The Spirit Within Us is a parser-driven thriller with crime and mystery elements that opens with the injured and bleeding PC waking up in a bedroom. Amnesia-game-fearers need not fear per se; the amnesia is well justified and quickly overcome. The whole game plays out around this house setting in what feels like real time, and ultimately with an emphasis on realistic action.

The author describes Spirit as psychological, but I found the prose too sparse and some of the content too vague for it to succeed at that level. It is evident English isn't the author's primary language and its use here is functional. The section of the game based in the house presents as an almost default set of IF content: a bunch of rooms, doors, fiddly doors, openable things and plain objects from daily life ó sinks, toilets, boxes, etc. If it weren't for the timed interjections of the PC's returning memories and the few interesting book props, this phase could pose a boredom challenge for the player.

The author wrote the game and its parser from the ground up using C. While that parser effects the basics, the game's needs have definitely outgrown it. My transcript shows I once entered seventeen commands trying to eat a pill from a packet of vitamins before I succeeded, and twenty-three trying to execute the last action required by the game.

The story that is revealed and the violent situation that grows out of it in light of the player's explorations and recollections are more compelling on paper than in the game. They're particularly filmic, as well. I've seen a lot of thriller and horror films make good use of the "waking up in a messy and potentially violent situation" scenario when they're also withholding some information from the viewer. Spirit is in this terrain, but unfortunately doesn't have the prose detail to sell it.

There's also a health timer element for the PC that induced a bit of unintentional amusement for me. The PC starts losing hit points from his injuries as soon as the game starts, and the player has to keep finding enough food and supplies to keep them up until the end. This mechanic does seem to be well balanced in terms of raising player stress levels while not being too savage under the hood. I finished the game without dying on my first play, and with plenty of health left, and this only took me about twenty-five minutes. (I acknowledge that geographically, I had good luck during my playthrough. After I'd made the whole map in my head, I could tell I'd fluked the ideal direction to explore in on a couple of occasions.) But the amount of time I'd spent rummaging around for food Ė fruits from gardens, leftovers from kitchens et al. Ė seemed to be too great a portion of the game experience. It's the major mechanical feature atop the find-and-use puzzles and some semi-randomised combat.

From the epilogue, I learned that the author's stated intention was to create a game with some moral challenge/choice. But again, the psychological content wasn't evident enough during play to make it clear I was making any moral path choices, at least in terms of my choosing them against apparent alternatives. If an action seems the obvious one needed in a game, I will take it. I don't come to these games to test my own morality, and I know this a difference between me as a player type and some other player types out there. Certainly the ending text I received was of the kind to indicate what the other endings might be compared to the one I got, but I'm not interested in replaying to see them.

I like the kind of story and situation this game presents, but its sparseness of writing and implementation mean the story doesn't really land, or with the right impact. The game's title is also too vague, in retrospect. I'd still say Spirit may be of interest to players who like a game with a bit of contemporary grit. And its mystery remains a little abstract, which is to say, I have questions about the backstory and I'm not sure whether I'm supposed to. This situation could just be due to the limitations of the prose. Even if it is, the particular degree of vagueness where the details have ended up is not a bad one.


2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Light gameplay and minimal writing don't do justice to heavy themes, December 22, 2021
by Mike Russo (Los Angeles)
Related reviews: IF Comp 2021

(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)

I canít say I fully understand the impulse behind making a custom parser Ė beyond the abstract desire to test oneís programming chops Ė but one thing Iíve noticed about custom-parser games in recent IF Comps is that they tend to share an old-school sensibility thatís hard to recapture with the modern languages. The Spirit Within Us at first blush seems a case in point, from its white-on-black text, its amnesiac protagonist, the stripped-down prose, and the my-first-apartment setting of the first half of the game. Thereís also a hunger timer of sorts: you wake up wounded, in the aftermath of a fight, and you bleed over time, reducing your ďenergyĒ stat, which only increases after eating (thereís a combat system you get into later on, which is also based on energy). Rather than being a lighthearted puzzle-fest, though, the gameís story-focused and hits on some heavy themes, but I unfortunately found the mismatch didn't serve to add a frisson of novelty but rather made the game feel incoherent.

Letís start with the gameplay. For the first section, this largely consists of exploring the strange house where you've woken up, trying to piece together the backstory from a few scattered clues. And per the above, since youíre bleeding and arenít able to bandage yourself (I wasted a lot of turns trying to rip up the sheets in the opening location to staunch the wound), instead you keep death at bay by eating the various foodstuffs you find, so as youíre learning details about the horrid events that got you here, youíre also hoovering up raw eggs and vitamin pills. The second section, meanwhile, opens up as you leave the house and start blundering around the woods exploring the physical geography and trying to figure out what youíre meant to be doing next.

The good news is that it doesnít take long to basically figure out whatís going on; the bad news is that itís also quickly clear that the game is going to be dealing with the fallout of the sexual abuse of children. There are no details depicted, thank God Ė youíre only told that youíre finding photos depicting awful events, and come across vague excerpts from the self-justifying writings of the predator whose actions have set this story in motion. Still, this is a heavy, heavy topic, and it sits awkwardly with the Hungry Hungry Hippos vibe of the first part of the game.

Itís also one that I donít think is handled especially sensitively. Some spoilers here: (Spoiler - click to show)thereís an indication that the protagonist, whoís one of the victims of the villainís abuse, has wound up with violent tendencies that almost rise to the level of a split personality as a result of their trauma. And speaking of the antagonist, turns out heís the school janitor, which fits in a not-great tradition of inaccurately portraying the most common perpetrators of sexual violence as low-economic-class strangers. Beyond these specifics, another challenge is that the writing is pretty minimal, as befits its presentation Ė most locations get only a sentence or two, and even the throes of combat arenít described especially fulsomely. Doing justice to the emotional heft of the subject matter would require something a little more robust than what the game delivers, especially after it reaches a violent catharsis.

The parser is generally solid enough, though I did spend some time wrestling with it. Disambiguation was often very tricky, and examining objects requires you to be holding them, which is made harder by the low inventory-limit. Still, overall the custom-parser is a good-enough example of coding acumen Ė I think itís just married to a game that it doesnít fit.

Highlight: I usually detest hunger timers, but here itís implemented pretty generously, so I found it added a prod to move efficiently through the world but didnít add too much stress.

Lowlight: Trying to get a bunch of pills out of a vitamin packet required something like two dozen trial-and-error commands before I understood how to refer to them.

How I failed the author: I played this late at night, while pretty bleary-eyed, which meant that I really couldnít read the blue on black text the game uses to update you on your energy levels, so I was flying blind most of the game.


- Karl Ove Hufthammer (Bergen, Norway), November 15, 2021

- OverThinking, November 3, 2021

- Edo, October 22, 2021

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
A custom executable game about pedophilia and violence, October 3, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 1 hour

I'll be frank and say that I don't enjoy playing games about pedophilia in any way; I don't find them fun, and I have yet to play one I find enlightening. I think that games can and should treat difficult and heavy topics, but for me playing game about pedophilia is like reading a coffee-table book full of high-quality illustrations of feces. My apologies to authors who have attempted to treat this topic in a sincere and thoughtful way.

Anyway, this is a custom parser game where you explore a house and try to recover your memories. You wake up weak and bleeding, with a health counter that slowly decreases until you die.

The storyline centers around pedophilia, with texts by de Sade and inappropriate photos (described in vague text terms only) to be found. There are also several weapons to find.

The game isn't too big. I wandered around for a while before trying the walkthrough, and found that I had seen about 50% of the game already. The walkthrough itself contains many unnecessary but interesting commands, such as looking at every wall in every room and trying to go in wrong directions in most rooms. These commands are in the walkthrough because the author has implemented custom text for much of them.

The parser is pretty good, but I miss being able to use pronouns, since you must take an object before looking at it and it would be easier to type "take paper; x it" instead of "take paper; x paper". Some synonyms would be appreciated, like 'turn on car' instead of 'turn on engine'.

Overall, this game is solidly in the simulated realism camp of parser implementation, with a wound/hunger timer, lots of red herrings and random scenery, randomized combat, etc. There are multiple endings, of which I found 3 (although 1 of them just ended the game immediately, so I don't think it was a real ending. This was (Spoiler - click to show)driving away before discovering the truth.).

My overall rating:
-Polish: more synonyms would work well, I think. There are very few typos, but some of them are noticeable.
+Descriptiveness: The game is very vividly described.
-Interactivity: Finding the objects of importance often meant looking at things that are not described, such as walls or floor.
+Emotional impact: The impact was negative, but it did provoke strong emotion.
-Would I play again? I tried a couple of endings, but I don't plan on looking again.

I would have given 3/5 if the subject had been different.



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