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About the Story
As an heir to the fortune of the Coltan-magnate ER Millhouse, you can expand your inheritance or become buried in medical and legal fees as you peruse his living will and discover the story behind the fortune he pillaged in the Congo.
17th Place - 18th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2012)
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Number of Reviews: 3
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I think one thing it's hard for traditional parser games to do is encourage experimentation--Inform's default rejections are necessarily neutral yet tough to change. "You can't go that way." "You don't see any such thing."
That's not mind control, and more colorful options would annoy people anyway, but it's discouraging--shouldn't you have known beforehand not to X, or not to fiddle with Y?
Living Will's goal is unstated--maximize your money or, perhaps, your happiness, as one of four people close (or who can claim to be close) to ER Millhouse, a magnate who's made in the Congo with his company Droxol Vox. Each choice you make adjusts lawyer and medical fees, bequests (e.g. how much wealth you get,) DV's stock price, and even which of the four people you can be.
The first few times you'll undoubtedly stumble, but there are enough different ways to play the game, from too nasty to too generous, that you can--by the time you've run through a couple characters--predict how the third and fourth will do. I didn't dig in as deeply as I could have, but the parallel stories don't seem to change the basic facts of the past. You can change people's motives or how they feel now, but understanding the core story appears to be key in getting the result you want.
I'm a bit disappointed this game didn't do better in IFComp 2012, though I will waffle here and say I can't pick a game I'd boot from the top half, which this missed. I gave it a Miss Congeniality vote, though I also really enjoyed the games I tested. Perhaps the period-specific writing turned people off, but it seems necessary, to euphemize the dying man's actions.
Because of this and other things, LW feels a bit esoteric to start, and though it's clearly completeable in two hours, you need to have your thinking cap on to enjoy it, and you should try several radically different paths through before giving up on it. It's a good use of Undum's strengths, with the scoreboard that each move changes and a cool map of Zaire, too.
And any game where (Spoiler - click to show)unless you're very clever, the lawyers get most of the loot, even/especially when they help you rip off other inheritors, gets bonus points for me.
This review was previously published on a blog in connection with IFComp 2012.
The Living Will is a hyper-link based CYOA story, which reminded me, at first, of last year’s The Play. Unfortunately, I found it a much less satisfying experience.
(Spoiler - click to show)The Living Will starts out promisingly, with a very novel concept. You are playing a character reading a will, and the choices you make in reading it affects how much you are bequeathed, the legal expenses, and so on. These are shown in a box to the right, similar to how The Play tracked the shifting moods of the actors. The game tracks no less than six different statistics, including medical fees, taxes and shares in the telecom company founded by the writer. This seemed daunting at first, but I assumed that there would be some kind of strategy involved in manipulating these numbers.
At first it seems like the choices you make might simply represent the reader deciding which sections of the will to focus on, but it quickly becomes apparent that this is not the case. The character of the writer has actually implemented an interactive will, which is being read by the player character.
The game begins with a few introductory paragraphs, describing the background story. The maker of the will has created a telecom company in the Congo, and it’s strongly implied that he has committed many unsavoury deeds along the way. Each paragraph usually has several in-lined options to choose between. Which ones you choose not only affects how the story unfolds, but also causes one or more of the numbers being tracked by the game to rise or fall.
Unfortunately, I never did figure out how I was to supposed to know how my choices would affect the numbers. It seems like you are supposed to work out a strategy to optimize your gains, but there doesn’t seem to be any way to tell in advance what effect your choice will have. In “The Play”, you could at least figure out that letting an actor have his way would make him happy, while putting pressure on him would make him sulky.
After a brief introduction, you get to choose between four different potential player characters, each with their own background story. As you read through these stories, selecting options along the way, numbers continue to rise and fall in the box to the right. I pretty much stopped paying attention to them after a while, as there seemed to be nothing I could do to control them.
After getting the background story for your character, you arrive at the Allotments chapter, where you are told how much will be bequeathed to each character. The bequests all seem to consist of a randomized list of junk, followed by a certain amount of shares in aforementioned telecom company. They seem to be at least partially randomized. They may or may not also depend on the choices made before then, but I was unable to replicate any particular combination, even when following exactly the same path through the story.
Here the game introduces another novel concept, as the current player character can seize the bequests of the other characters. This increases your own total inheritance, but also adds to the legal costs, and you will get a note later saying the character in question now hates you.
However, there still doesn’t seem to be any way to tell whether seizing a bequest will be a net benefit. Sometimes the legal costs exceeds the extra inheritance you get, and sometimes they don’t. If I am missing something here, I would love to know.
In about two-thirds of my playthroughs, I ended up with legal and medical costs exceeding my actual inheritance, which seems rather strange for a will. Worse, when you end the game with a negative net inheritance, the writer will chastise you for your lack of “resourcefulness.” I would love to know what kind of resources I am supposed to bring to bear to determine the optimal ways through the game.
When you do manage to end the game with a positive net inheritance, you are given the chance to save the life of the writer, who is dying from an unspecified disease. Saving his life will slightly increase the medical costs, and give you a different ending, but I didn’t feel very emotionally involved in the choice.
I played through the game several times, but I did so to see the story, and never because I had a coherent idea for a new approach. To be fair, I did find the story to be reasonably entertaining and well written. I enjoyed gradually uncovering the background history from several different perspectives, and learning more about the writer of the will. However, I enjoyed the game much more after I decided to ignore the numbers, and just read through the different stories, seizing a few random bequests at the end.
As an interactive story, I liked “The Living Will”, and found the presentation to be novel and engaging. As a game, I found it severely wanting. If you include numerical scores in a game, you have to provide some hint as to how the various choices will affect these scores. There is a good reason why most story based IF no longer tracks a point score, much less six different ones.
This game features an old man who made a fortune in the Congo. It's set in the near-future, with a variety of corporations mentioned.
It is a short game, with the bulk of interactions taking place near the end of the game. Basically, you can pick which character you are, and raid the shares of the others.
It reacts quite pleasingly. But I noticed that the interactivity was fairly opaque, and the story hard to grasp. Marino's later games feature detailed and exciting stories with clear interactivity, which is a development I'm very happy with!
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