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32nd Place - 22nd Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2016)
The Breakfast Review
All right. There's stuff going on, and the story quickly takes a turn into cosmic horror and X-Files conspiracy, and just as quickly ... we're done. Whoa. I am not sure I understand fully everything that happened or what I just did, but that's the story and I think I actually found it kind of charming. It's the "you are a squid" line, I think, even if the last iteration seems potentially sinister. And how the initial research ties into the final denouement.
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Number of Reviews: 4
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(This is an edited version of a review I originally wrote for my blog during IFComp 2016.)
This review is entirely spoilery.
Tentaculon is a link-driven Twine game that initially appears to be an eat-or-be-eaten squid simulator. Its prose is keen, a bit gooey and very slightly uncomfortable-making as one cruises around trying to kill and eat stuff while not being subject to sudden spasmodic jerking motions at the same time. I admit I feared some kind of cheap game-ending blow to the back of my head was imminent, for instance a message saying 'HA! You killed to live! You lose!' – but this was unfair misapprehension on my part based on past negative experiences.
Instead, the game cut to a Philip K Dickensian scenario in the present day. I was really a human. The squid I'd been brainjacking was safely across the room in its tank.
Placing what could stand as a whole Twine game in its own right (the short history of this design tool mostly being about short works) within a larger one which turns out to be about neurobiological research and realities within realities is conceptually a very attractive design move, and one I also felt aesthetically. In retrospect of the whole of Tentaculon, I really liked its sci-fi story and its idiosyncratic humour. But actually playing it I found to be a curiously disorienting slog. It brandishes a large variety of interface and delivery approaches that kept me in a place between irritation and aggravation.
There's no consistent way to move between sections. Sometimes it's by clicking the specifically crafted back button, which I'm used to reading as an UNDO button in Twine. Sometimes it's by clicking an acknowledgement ('OK'). Sometimes it's by clicking a particular option amongst several others which are only asides. The variation which bothered me the most, because I didn't realise it was happening for awhile, was when it was necessary to simply wait for the viable link to appear amongst additional text further down the screen after a fixed amount of time. I have complained about the use of text delay timers in Twine games before and will do so again now in light of having discovered a new way in which they can hamper your experience.
I'd say Tentaculon's interface inconsistencies stand out because considerably more Twine games prior to this one have been broadly abstract or linear than have not. Tentaculon features locations connected by stable geography, exits, gettable items and conversations with NPCs. In other words, it's got a light world model, currently a minority mode in Twine, and players need to be able to have some kind of reliable relationship with that model in order to grasp or visualise the results. I struggled with all the chopping and changing of the presentation, links being all over the place and in different styles, and I often felt I didn't have much of a hold on things.
In spite of my troubles, I made it through Tentaculon, relieved that the keycard puzzles were easy, that I was able to link-mash my way through some other bits when I'd lost the plot, and really glad that I'd encountered the fictional work Life Chutney.
This is actually a pretty good game, but just a bit odd. You are a squid.... sometimes, in a development that reminds me of the old game Delusions, although I'm sure the resemblance is a coincidence.
The game has a nice world model, with different locations and the ability to take and use objects. There are some fun graphics and cool timers and text effects.
It's a bit odd that you have to undo at times to move around the game, and there was an occasional typo (I saw the word maintenance room with two brackets after it), but overall it was a fun game.
Tentaculon hasn't really done a good job advertising itself in the comp, but it is worth playing. It has an interesting, if sly tone, though I admit I would've liked playing the entire game as an octopus.
Heroes, by Sean Barrett
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