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Contains Chaos.t3
Includes the game’s story file and walkthrough.
Requires a TADS interpreter. Visit IFWiki for download links. (Compressed with ZIP. Free Unzip tools are available for most systems at www.info-zip.org.)
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Jay Schilling's Edge of Chaos

by Robb Sherwin profile and Mike Sousa profile


Web Site

(based on 18 ratings)
5 reviews

About the Story

There was an aye-aye behind the bar, staring at me horribly. Or maybe its face just froze that way. I was waiting for my client at ten at night in a dusty, dirty town in the middle of nowhere. Clouds out here were apparently one of the thirty million newly unemployed. There was a missing woman and my client was about to hire an amateur private detective with the world's most technologically advanced cellular phone. This was going to be a cinch. Seriously. It'll take me like two searches with it to close this case. Three if mid-investigation I check on my torrents.

Y-You're a player of the 2020 Interactive Fiction competition. I'm Jay. Let's straddle the edge.

Game Details


25th Place - 26th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2020)

Editorial Reviews

Reviews From Trotting Krips
In Jay Schilling’s Edge of Chaos Sherwin teamed up with fellow IF author and coder extraordinaire Mike Sousa to leverage the best of each other’s talents. I don’t know if there’s an official breakdown as to who did exactly what, but each bite of the game tastes as if Sherwin’s deliciously chocolate humor has been poured over Sousa’s peanut-buttery solid framework, creating the world’s first Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup of interactive fiction development. Depending on your previous experience, you might describe the game as either one of Sousa’s funniest, or one of Sherwin’s most polished. Either way is a win for gamers.
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Number of Reviews: 5
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful:
A Beautiful Partnership, October 3, 2020
by deathbytroggles (Minneapolis, MN)

Finding that there’s a new game by Robb Sherwin is like opening up the first present on Christmas morning. Discovering that he didn’t code it is like knowing you’re not going to find a sweater inside.

Sherwin’s writing, as usual, is sardonic and full of referential humor aimed at children of the 80’s (despite being set in a future that frequently references the hellscape that is 2020), with not-so-subtle regular doses of liberal ideology from the PC. If that’s not your thing then there’s probably not a lot for you here. That’s not to say the game is about any of those things, but its strength lies in the writing. I chortled at least a half-dozen times and I enjoyed exhausting all conceivable actions in every area just to keep reading (and then replaying with the list of amusing things to try).

The game is designed to keep you moving, with the puzzles being perfunctory and the conversation prompts inserted for pacing. The game wants you to get to know the characters, easily unravel the investigation, and find the jokes. Sousa’s coding is excellent. The game understands tons of variations on things you are trying to do while also often correcting your own spelling mistakes like a Google search. And even if you find yourself stuck, there are gradual in-game hints. I had to reference them once (Spoiler - click to show)(for the snake puzzle) during the one time in the game where you must help the PC deduce the solution even if you, the player, already instinctively know the answer.

While Jay Schilling feels similar to most Sherwin characters, the highlight here is the parrot and dog that follow you around for half the game. I won’t spoil anything other than to say they are used for puzzles while also becoming the games’ pathos.

Nineteen years ago Sousa and Sherwin paired up for No Time To Squeal early in their respective IF careers. While that game had its highlights, it was a bit of an awkward and confusing mess. Jay Schilling’s Edge of Chaos is consistently delightful from beginning to end.

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A crazy and imaginative story, November 30, 2020
by Stian
Related reviews: ifcomp 2020

The strongest aspect of Jay Schilling’s Edge of Chaos is the storytelling, narrating a crazy and imaginative story with a language very much suited to it. To be frank, neither were perfectly up my alley, but it is of consistent and solid quality.

The puzzles are not that interesting, however. The game is completely linear and the solution to the obstacles are for the most part so obvious that they feel more like small nuisances. There are a few exceptions to this – some clever constructions, but also one that I found far fetched and impossible to guess without reading through all the hints for it. The hint system was very thoughtfully implemented though, with clues in order of specificity. My final playtime was 80 minutes.

A nice bonus were the images: lovely drawings of several characters that show up the first time you look at them.

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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful:
Underdeveloped, October 6, 2020

"Edge of Chaos" has the makings of an interesting game. The player-character, Jay Schilling, is well-defined, childish and petulant, and surprisingly unsuited for his work as a private detective. He, for instance, constantly makes assumptions about people at a glance, even though his job is to investigate them.

This creates an opportunity to play with both the problems that Jay's character would create while attempting to perform his job and the problems the player will likely have with Jay while attempting to guide him through his investigation.

But, instead, the game just allows Jay to do things without the player guiding him, and then prompts the player to do Jay-like things when the player is given the opportunity to play. This reduces player agency to a frustrating level. Worse, the game's keyword-based conversation system breaks the interface's imperative-sentence format, forcing it to reveal topics the player no longer has the opportunity to discover though game-play.

"Edge of Chaos" is a missed opportunity to allow the player to experience the consequences of clinging to a puerile outlook in a situation which should require the player-character to adopt a more mature approach involving research, empathy, and reasoning.

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Wackiness with some heart, December 8, 2020
by Mike Russo (Los Angeles)
Related reviews: IF Comp 2020

If you’ve played other games by these authors, you probably have a reasonable sense of what you’re in for in JSEC: an off-kilter comedy with some surprisingly serious character work, clever implementation, and puzzles that are mostly there to shunt you to the next bit of story. You might rarely know exactly what’s happening at any point in time, or what you’re meant to be doing, but that sense of dislocation is integral to the game’s deadpan, absurdist delivery.

Attempting to sum up the plot here is a rather daunting prospect; yes, it’s a sort of private-detective missing-persons case, and you do track down victims using internet searches, interrogate suspects, and look for hidden doors in the villain’s lair. But you’ll also fend off a snake attack while sleeping rough in a garage, get into buddy-comedy antics with two deeply unexpected sidekicks, and stop a pervert from creeping out other patrons at the library. There are a lot of animals involved – the game opens in a petting zoo that doubles as a bar, or perhaps it’s the other way around – for reasons that aren’t entirely clear (but sort of reminded me of Blade Runner?) There is a narrative through-line of sorts, but it’s really all about the ride – you could almost shift the order of the four or five main scenes that make up the plot and with only a few tweaks it’d probably still work.

JSEC is all about the texture, in other words. If you’re hyper-focused on tracking down leads and getting through the case, you won’t get nearly as much out of the game as if you poke and prod your way through at a more leisurely pace. The narrative voice guides you towards this approach, I think – the game is in first person, which allows Jay’s understated, anxious but somehow languid vibe to come to the fore. He’s the butt of some jokes, but cracks some good ones himself (I was a fan of his response to the cell-phone mishap that, given the claims in the blurb, of course occurs almost immediately after game start). He’s not exactly a relatable character, and his behavior can sometimes be pretty off-putting, but he means well, and, crucially, gets along well with the generally-really-pleasant supporting case.

Gameplay-wise, this is a talky one. Conversation is handled smoothly, with a TALK TO command spitting out some ideas for topics to explore in depth, often with ASK X ABOUT Y syntax though sometimes, pleasingly, prompting alternative phrasing that make conversation seem more natural. These conversations aren’t puzzles – you can just exhaust the topics and get through just fine – but I found they had a good rhythm to them, which is really hard to manage in IF! There are also some puzzles, most of which are pretty straightforward but a few which are quite clever (though there’s one that I think will only be intuitive to folks in a very specific age band). Some even pull the rug out from under the player without making them the butt of the joke (I’m thinking in particular of the darkness puzzle in the cabin basement).

I did hit one puzzle that I think was a bit unfair and/or buggy: (Spoiler - click to show)I’d hit on the idea of trying to deter the snakes by lowering the temperature, but couldn’t get this to work until I followed the LOOK -> LISTEN -> LOOK -> USE REMOTE sequence listed in the walkthrough; after I’d finally managed to succeed, in the course of three turns I slept through the night, woke up and had breakfast, then got into a cab, only for the snake-murder event to somehow fire well after the threat made sense. But the included walkthrough got me past that without much fuss.

It’s hard to think what else to say here except recite the various things that made me laugh or grin in delight, which isn’t very useful as it just ruins the fun. I will say the ending was surprisingly affecting, though not necessarily in a wholly positive way ((Spoiler - click to show)I can’t believe those jerks killed Raisin!), which is maybe a good synecdoche for how JSEC does way more than it the average zany private-dick adventure, and is well worth your time.

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
An entertaining detective game with unusual animals, October 17, 2020
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours

I beta tested this game.

This game is about a private detective hired to track down a woman, and features a number of unusual animals (for instance, it starts in a petting zoo with an aye-aye and an iguana).

Robb Sherwinn is an incredibly funny writer who makes games that involve bizarre logic and creative situations. Mike Sousa is a talented programmer who also has a knack for humor.

So this game is a tag-team effort that warms my heart. When I beta tested this, I laughed out loud several times. Parts of this game are so funny to me specifically. It really depends on what type of humor you have. For me, the thing I think I like best is that it’s good-natured humor; the people might be weird, or violent, or non-human, or troubled, but they’re inherently kind to each other. I’ve always been averse to games with strong profanity and sexual references, which featured in early Sherwin games (not in this game, though), but the inherent goodness and kindness in the stories overpowered that for me. Because isn’t that more important? Isn’t doing your best and trying to help others more important than the way you talk? I still felt uncomfortable with the content, but this game is like ‘clean’ Sherwin and I can’t say how much I appreciate that that exists.

I also enjoyed the references to Mike Sousa’s earlier games, like the computer sports news about Jake Garrett the baseball player (from At Wit’s End) and the garrulous taxi driver from Fake News. I also appreciated (of all things) the smooth elevator in the game. I did some ‘Inform tutoring’ with someone and we spent an entire week of lessons working on his elevator extension he was trying to write, so I confidently say that this game has an excellent elevator, the kind of elevator I aspire to write.

Finally, I love the art in this game by artist asteltainn. So I definitely plan on revisiting this and playing it again in future years.

+++++Polish, Descriptiveness, Interactivity, Emotional impact, Would I play again? This game satisfies all 5 criteria for my star rating system. It's great for my tastes!

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This is version 8 of this page, edited by Robb Sherwin on 2 December 2020 at 11:16am. - View Update History - Edit This Page - Add a News Item - Delete This Page