Jay Schilling's Edge of Chaos

by Robb Sherwin profile and Mike Sousa profile


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Number of Reviews: 6
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1-5 of 5

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Wackiness with some heart, December 8, 2020
by Mike Russo (Los Angeles)
Related reviews: IF Comp 2020

If youíve played other games by these authors, you probably have a reasonable sense of what youíre 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 whatís happening at any point in time, or what youíre meant to be doing, but that sense of dislocation is integral to the gameís deadpan, absurdist delivery.

Attempting to sum up the plot here is a rather daunting prospect; yes, itís 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 villainís lair. But youíll 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 Ė the game opens in a petting zoo that doubles as a bar, or perhaps itís the other way around Ė for reasons that arenít entirely clear (but sort of reminded me of Blade Runner?) There is a narrative through-line of sorts, but itís really all about the ride Ė you could almost shift the order of the four or five main scenes that make up the plot and with only a few tweaks itíd probably still work.

JSEC is all about the texture, in other words. If youíre hyper-focused on tracking down leads and getting through the case, you wonít 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 Ė the game is in first person, which allows Jayís understated, anxious but somehow languid vibe to come to the fore. Heís 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). Heís 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 arenít puzzles Ė you can just exhaust the topics and get through just fine Ė 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 thereís 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 (Iím 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)Iíd hit on the idea of trying to deter the snakes by lowering the temperature, but couldnít get this to work until I followed the LOOK -> LISTEN -> LOOK -> USE REMOTE sequence listed in the walkthrough; after Iíd 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.

Itís hard to think what else to say here except recite the various things that made me laugh or grin in delight, which isnít 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 canít 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.

2 of 2 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 Schillingís 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 Ė 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.

1 of 1 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 itís good-natured humor; the people might be weird, or violent, or non-human, or troubled, but theyíre inherently kind to each other. Iíve 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 isnít that more important? Isnít 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 Ďcleaní Sherwin and I canít say how much I appreciate that that exists.

I also enjoyed the references to Mike Sousaís earlier games, like the computer sports news about Jake Garrett the baseball player (from At Witís End) and the garrulous taxi driver from Fake News. I also appreciated (of all things) the smooth elevator in the game. I did some ĎInform tutoringí 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!

4 of 6 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.

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
A Beautiful Partnership, October 3, 2020
by deathbytroggles (Minneapolis, MN)

Finding that thereís a new game by Robb Sherwin is like opening up the first present on Christmas morning. Discovering that he didnít code it is like knowing youíre not going to find a sweater inside.

Sherwinís writing, as usual, is sardonic and full of referential humor aimed at children of the 80ís (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 thatís not your thing then thereís probably not a lot for you here. Thatís 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. Sousaís 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 wonít spoil anything other than to say they are used for puzzles while also becoming the gamesí 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 Schillingís Edge of Chaos is consistently delightful from beginning to end.

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