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About the Story
The Mamertine is a rather confusing cult escape story that evolved out of a tech demo for the upcoming second iteration of the VIBAE engine for Twine.
Entrant, Back Garden - Spring Thing 2023
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Number of Reviews: 5
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The Mamertine is a Twine-ized parser game supposedly about you (the player) escaping a cult. I say "supposedly" because I barely saw any hints of such a story when I was playing.
I imagine there's a lot of debate on "Twine" parsers / and a wide spectrum of them besides. Some of them are done so well that you forget that there's any distinction between the two — Twine and parsers — and they rightfully 'escape' into having a whole new genre of their own's. Some of them flounder, a little bit. The Mamertine was somewhere in the middle for me. The controls made the 'parsing' part of a parser easy — but at the same time, they prevented the player (me, at the very least) from feeling fully immersed in the game — this I could tell because I kept wondering during play if this and that 'action' or this and that 'command' might work better in a traditional parser format, instead of focusing on what I was doing and how I was supposed to solve the puzzles.
The puzzles and the endings were very confusing in this game. I couldn't help but wonder what, exactly, was the point for some of them at several points throughout my playthrough. The problem is that the game lacks logical flow in many of its departments. (Spoiler - click to show)e.g. The puzzles — you pull the lever? To make someone scream? What for? I thought you were trying to escape? There was also the sitting skeleton in the room you return to near the end of the game — is that the old man, and if so, how did he wither down to just his bones during the short period of time that we were gone? Is the implication that something happened during our brief sojourn into the outer walls to influence our perception of time or otherwise just make time go faster? But again, I ask, what for? There's just too many questions and not enough answers. The ending, when it came, was just as abrupt and as nonsensical as many of the events that happened before. (Spoiler - click to show)I've only managed to get one ending, with the variation of how many times or whether you managed to pull the lever at all. Let me know if there's anyone out there who's managed to get something different. But the author did describe their game as being "rather confusing" in the game description, so I suppose all of this should've been expected, anyways.
I looked up the title out of curiosity. Surprisingly, "The Mamertine" is a real place — an ancient prison used in Roman times — located in Rome, Italy. It's obviously fallen out of use now, and was in fact used by the Christians for worship since medieval times (the site, at least, apparently not the prison itself), so I'm having a fun time trying to place the "cult" that the player escaped from (Spoiler - click to show)— and, assumedly, been brought back into — in history and recognize its historical significance, if there's any to speak of in the first place ((Spoiler - click to show)and though some of the tools that appeared throughout this game gave off the feeling that the game is based in if not modern, at least very recent times). I'm now just curious why the author decided to choose the Mamertine as the setting at all (assuming it's even eponymous in the first place?). It just seems rather niche and sort of out-of-the-way, not an obvious choice for any author.
This game did make me think of other games with similar fuzzy categories — A Long Way to the Nearest Star or JELLY (my personal favorite), for games that also kind of attempted to destroy, merge, blend (I don't know, okay) the boundaries between Twine/hypertext and parsers, and even The Master of the Land, though that one's more of a conversation puzzle game than parser and a bit more far-off than the others. Anyways, what I'm mostly saying is that these types of games are an interesting developmental direction that should be further explored. (Cue tiny me cheering in a tinny voice at the back: Yeah! Break the boundaries, baby! Okay, that was embarassing. Ignore that.)
As afternotes — I liked the signage of the 'cult' in the story, as well as the background music, which is definitely not for everyone, but I personally found it suited the progression of the game very well — though it stopped quarterway during play for me. Visual design was okay; the fonts could have been done better. Some proofreading and work on sentence structure might be in order to fix a couple obvious mistakes (e.g. (Spoiler - click to show)"You are you don't think ..." right in the beginning few pages) and to break up run-on sentences.
Adapted from a SpringThing23 Review
Playtime: 45min, died same way 4 times, caught in same apparently unwinnable state 4 times
Here’s something I knew nothing about before Thing23: Mamertine. For weeks, when I read it in the list, I rhymed it with “Hammer Time,” and mentally included the distinctive musical sting. I am still enamored of that reading, tbh. According to the Internet WHICH NEVER LIES, Mamertine is variously ancient Roman mercenaries or an ancient Roman prison that housed the Apostles Peter and Paul. Seems this work is referencing the latter. One of the few descriptive blurbs on the work suggests escaping a cult which is a really subversive connection, if intentional.
The work itself has a tremendously attractive facade - the graphical interface design is slick, functional and appealing (standard taste disclaimers apply). The moody background music, effective. It implements a click-based parser of sorts, providing a stripped down menu of standard parser verbs, and highlights potentially relevant matching nouns when selected. You are effectively building parser commands with your mouse. It is a not unsuccessful choice! You deliberately trade command speed for guaranteed valid entries. My personal preferences may lean the other way, but this was as slick an implementation as I could hope for. “Why is this a back garden?” I asked myself. “Seems pretty polished.”
The narrative may have been a first clue: it was pretty bare bones. Hinted backstory of betraying a master landing you here, environs to navigate that presented more mystery than coherent story, an NPC much more concerned with their immediate surroundings than any background or table setting. Now this artifact is far from unique in IF, particularly in puzzle driven IF. Here though, the puzzles encountered were minimal and straightforward (at least partially an artifact of an interface that inevitably allows for exhaustive permutations if all else fails), so not the star. It kind of left the piece without compelling plot, story, character or puzzles. What is left?
And then I got to the game play. It opens with timed text, deliberately dragging the introduction. While I have seen timed text used effectively in support of artistic choices, without a compelling justification its use can easily become tedious. The game play itself harkens back to an earlier time, where death arbitrarily follows seeming benign choices. Where you can blunder into locations without crucial items and get locked into an (unacknowledged) unwinnable state. And I’m not sure you can achieve anything OTHER than that. I couldn’t. I made a good faith effort to restart and explore all location branches and that’s all I could find - death or purgatory. Maybe I wrote off the puzzle complexity too soon. Certainly there might be more business with the only NPC that could help me, but no clues guided me nor paths suggested themself. Not ruling out that I somehow missed a path (I didn’t actually map it out), but I did plumb my memory hard before throwing up my hands.
Which is where the lack of HINT/HELP systems became important. None exists here. I guess I am more forgiving of this omission in a Back Garden entry, but without that tool I kind of had to give up.
In the end, the star here was the pseudo-parser implementation, including the graphical flourishes. Those were pretty successful I thought! As a showcase of what the platform is capable of, it makes its case pretty well.
Apropo of nothing: CAIN’T TOUCH THIS! (doo-do-do-doot. yeeeah, yeah)
(Post Comp update: seems like what I interpreted as unwinnable state was an ordering problem. Game - 1, me - 0)
Spice Girl: Sporty Spice
Polish: Both Gleaming and Rough
Is this TADS? No.
Gimme the Wheel! If the engine were mine, I would focus on adding Hint/Help capabilities. That tool is crucial for a fully usable IF authoring system, as it is the surest tool to get players past brick walls, authorial or personal. If the GAME were mine, I would take a hard look at unwinnable state handling and engineer those out as best I could - or at least put the poor player out of their misery. And maybe also provide a walk through, pending the hint system release.
Spice Girl Ratings: Scary(Horror), Sporty (Gamey), Baby (Light-Hearted), Ginger (non-CWM/political), Posh (Meaningful)
Polish scale: Gleaming, Smooth, Textured, Rough, Distressed
Gimme the Wheel: What I would do next, if it were my project.
I have fumbled my way through the game for couple of time and each case, losing to a trapdoor that cracks my head or being eaten by a plant and repeating same story. While playing, I thought back to what it would be like using a traditional adventure system and it was good reminder that good old parser games had saved me from a lot of problems choose your own adventure are guilty of, mainly hand-holding, condensced narrative with little clues and choosing to much for me. This last one deserves explanation. When I embark on an action, it seems to take me to a place with so many extra steps chosen for me that I'm sure if I was given the choice to I wouldn't have taken. The author reduces this by making it plausible why for example going through a right door will lead you a long narrow slippery corridor and eventually you will slip down a path and land somewhere. It's reasonable that I might go straight so far ahead after choosing a door. But, I would still be careful around doing it in the dark or after feeling sticky moss and not examining and fanilly without clues to what that entails.
As for the technology, it's impressive to bring the point-and-click system your parser game. I have made some games that are loosely point-and-click with <a> tags, and this took to new heights. Parser games will be far more accessible to new gens that expect such ease of game play.
This is a Twine piece where you try to escape from a cult. It feels more like a parser game than Twine generally does, with geographical locations, and objects that you can manipulate, and verb and noun pairings. Plus inventory management. Oh and it’s partially point and click. It’s an intriguing combination, and works well with the puzzles of the game.
However I found quite a lot of problems. There are a number of typos, and also I ran into a runtime error. I replayed several times, but couldn’t get past (Spoiler - click to show)the room below the swaying cultists. I had pulled the lever 4 times, rating “Psychopath”! Also I am very much not a fan of slow timed text, which happened in the opening of this game. I read very very quickly. I do not like text playing out very very slowly.
However the story and puzzles were intriguing, and fun, and I’d be interested in seeing more works using the game engine.
This game is a demo for a Twine engine that lets you pick up things, move around, open things, etc.
The system works pretty well for me and looks cool, I think it'd be fun to have more games like this in the future.
The game itself was a bit confusing for me. You kind of pass out and wake up in a labyrinth with nothing but an old man for a companion. It's basically just a big maze, and at one point I thought I had gotten locked out, so I restarted, and ended up in the same spot, but then found something new and interesting, so I went to try it out on a room I remembered, but then it wasn't there any more...I eventually found an ending that seemed 'real' but overall the plot was disconnected and the maze wasn't super exciting. I feel like a lot of the elements of a great game were there, but just needed something more to glue it together.