Second Wind

by Matthew Warner


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Non-cheery Adventuron games can still be entertaining, December 10, 2021
by Andrew Schultz (Chicago)
Related reviews: IFComp 2021

So I got something entirely different than I expected in Second Wind. Seeing what I wanted to see, I noticed the skillful cover art and the italics noting Second Wind was in Adventuron. The least cheery Adventuron game I'd played up until this point had been Snowhaven, which claimed the title by default, because it had normal, serious and dark mode, and I only played on normal mode, which was very nice, and it had warnings plastered abut serious and dark mode. And given the cover art and how Adventuron gives you a picture for each room, I thought we might be treated to something whimsical artistic. However, I only noticed the art quality and what it meant.

I was then disabused quickly of the notion Second Wind was just another cheery Adventuron game, perhaps where you finally have the courage to complete that marathon in a new record time, or you give a friend another chance. But I was also surprised the graphics were utilitarian. It seems like a chance missed, as if the author wanted to make sure they got the technical bits down. Maybe they felt more obligation than they should have to get things technically straight. And they did. They put together a pretty stirring story, too. But I'm left saying "Hey, for post-comp, why not put in an option to see more creative instead of practical pictures, for those who want to replay?" This is my greedy side. I know how tough it is to put it all together and to shift between the technical side and the graphical side. But certainly if the author writes another game in Adventuron, I'd be there just for the pictures, happy story or no.

Saying SW is a timed puzzle does bury what the puzzle is. You're in a fallout shelter. It protects you from werewolves. If they bite you, you change into one, and they're everywhere. Your wife is pregnant, but there are complications. She will give birth in six hours, but if she does, she and the baby will die. You need someone with more experience delivering babies than the nearby midwife, who knows she is over her head. The only person nearby that you can reach in the time frame is your ex-wife. She is your ex-wife because you were cheating on her with your current wife. So your task is to trek across miles of desert from Shelter 4 to Shelter 5. Yes, mass depopulation has occurred, thus making every newborn baby that much more critical. It'd be easy for her to say no. So even a "good" ending will be extremely awkward, even without the whole werewolf apocalypse thing still in progress.

This is a powerful plot, and the title suggests there are obstacles (there are!) Some might just be neighbors who are sick of you, or it might be the hoverbike that's a bit run down, and you have to fix it. But there are also fiddly bits, like opening the airlock properly. The thing about airlocks: I don't mind opening and closing them, but if I have to do so too often in a game or story in the course of a week, it's a bit exhausting, even when it's well-implemented in all instances. And it would be wrong not to acknowledge that, yes, this is a necessary precaution. But I had an "oh no, not again" moment that doesn't seem to be this game's fault. Once you have played X games with airlocks, they all blend together, and if the next one is unrealistic, it can break mimesis, and if it doesn't, you say "Oh no, not again."

Other fiddly bits were how you got the codes you needed to punch in to unlock certain areas. Sometimes this had a bit of emotional resonance and sometimes it relied on pop culture (e.g. a phone number ending in 09–when seeing how googleable it would be, I was surprised another number had gotten higher on the charts in the past few years.) Punching in keypads definitely disrupts the emotional flow of the game, but then again, there has to be some security. I did like how if you type the wrong number, you were locked out for a few game-minutes without having to wait in real life. There's also some fiddling with putting on your protective suit–after the first time you should just be able to REMOVE ALL or WEAR ALL. This is all an occasional nuisance, and it may, in fact, bury the lede that the game's mechanic of allowing variable time per typed move preserve a realistic accounting of in-game time without slapping the player around.

Second Wind is weakest when it gets hung up on minutae--perhaps the author felt they had to offer this detail or things wouldn't be nailed down technically. But it also makes an effort to get around them and explains what will cost you time and so forth. And, of course, in an apocalyptic future, precautions must be taken! It makes an effort to be fair as a timed puzzle, with checkpoints established and maps of the shelters with a "you are here" dot. So I think it works well, even though my suspicions are that the author didn't play well to their strengths. I hope this isn't backhanded praise, because my overall feelings were, they went out of their comfort zone to do this, and they should be pleased with the result. I am, and I think it bodes well for their next effort that may play to their strengths more fully.