I Contain Multitudes

by Wonaglot

2021

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A wonky game wedded to an enticing setting, January 3, 2022
by Mike Russo (Los Angeles)
Related reviews: IF Comp 2021

(This is a lightly-edited version of a review posted to the IntFict forums during the 2021 IFComp. My son Henry was born right before the Comp, meaning I was fairly sleep-deprived and loopy while I played and reviewed many of the games, so in addition to a highlight and lowlight, the review includes an explanation of how new fatherhood has led me to betray the hard work the author put into their piece)

Reading the blurb for ICM, I realized that just as this Comp has been thin on fantasy adventures, it’s been positively skeletal on mysteries. I really enjoy them despite being awful at them, and this Quest game has a compelling setup: we’ve got a cruise ship for the pampered elite of an Italianish steampunk world, a dead bishop, and a creepily clever mechanic where you can don different masks to vary your aspect as you interrogate the array of witnesses and suspects. Sadly I ran into some technical issues that meant I couldn’t finish the game, and the puzzles lean more fetch-quest-y than mystery-solving, but I still enjoyed my time with it – I’ll be keeping an eye out for a post-Comp release.

The biggest positive here really is the setting. There’s an air of decadence that oozes from every overdone decoration or costumed passenger on the ship, and hobnobbing with slumming sopranos and vicious empresses is quite the good time. Poking your head into all the nooks and crannies makes the initial exploration lots of fun, while the on-screen map and compact layout still make it easy to get around when it’s time to dig into puzzle-solving. The prose doesn’t go too far over the top, either, relying on a few well-chosen details rather than slathering adjectives about willy-nilly. This restraint holds true for information on the overall society, too, with a few optional books and throwaway references hinting at an interesting world without getting bogged down in exposition. Sometimes the writing can err on the side of providing atmosphere and a general vibe rather than nailing down specifics of furniture, which can make some of the locations feel bare once you’ve read the introductory paragraph, but this again makes it easier to shift into progress-making mode. And there’s clever attention to detail, too: when you pick up a knife while wearing a bestial devil-mask, an extra sentence appears saying that it “reminds you of one of your fangs.”

Speaking of the mask, that’s the other immediate standout. Masks are a big deal in this setting, and besides going bare-faced, you have the choice of four to wear as you do your work: a devil, a cherub, a widow, and an anonymizing half-mask. Some puzzles revolve around having the right one on at the right time, with different dialogue options or actions being unlocked. I wasn’t really clear what this looked like from the perspective of the other characters in the game world – like, if there’s something supernatural changing their behavior when they see you don a mask – but it adds a needed additional bit of business to interacting with other NPCs: mysteries in IF are often tricky to solve because they can require repeat play, with careful tracking of NPC schedules, but things are more straightforward here, with movement only being triggered by your actions.

NPC autonomy isn’t ICM’s only departure from mystery orthodoxy, though. There’s some evidence to be gathered, primarily through SEARCH, LOOK BEHIND, etc., but for the most part you’re doing favors for the cast of characters, and at least in the first stages, they’re largely well-signposted scavenger-hunts. This makes it easier to make progress, since you usually have a list of specific tasks to accomplish and places to poke around. On the flip side, for the portions of the game I saw, I felt less like a detective creating a web of deductions to snare a murderer, and more a traditional adventure-game protagonist doing favors for people until they explained the plot.

This might change in the final section of the game, though, since I ran into some bugs just as thing were starting to come to a climax. After showing a piece of evidence to someone, I started getting repeated out-of-memory errors printing out down the screen. I was eventually able to type some commands which appeared to make the errors stop, but when I attempted to save, the interpreter froze (I was playing offline, per the recommendation in the blurb) – and what’s worse, this seemed to have corrupted the save. Since I’d already gotten close to the two-hour mark, that’s where I left things. There’s a lot to enjoy here, and depending on how the finale goes I could see ICM tipping over into something really special, but I’ll wait for a post-Comp release to find out.

Highlight: the ship’s library has a book with extensive excerpts from an in-universe opera which provides a lot of cool flavor for the world.

Lowlight: there are a few puzzles that have guess-the-verb issues – in particular, when a particular character asked me for some medical help, asking or telling the doctor about them does nothing (I had to ASK them FOR MEDICINE instead).

How I failed the author: life’s been pretty busy the last few days, (including Henry getting some vaccines yesterday that led to a stomachache and bad sleep last night), so I had an extended pause after my first forty-five minutes in the game that meant that when I came back to it, I had to spend a bunch of time reading back over what had happened – which in turn meant that when I ran into the bugs, I didn’t have enough time left to start over.


2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Wherein mask wearing leaves you vulnerable to (redacted), November 30, 2021
by Andrew Schultz (Chicago)
Related reviews: IFComp 2021

ICM was a bit intimidating for me to start, and not just because of the title. The introduction didn't say so, but I pictured being told "You'd better contain some seriously meaningful multitudes if you want to keep up with this game, kid." And I don't think wasting time on several very different websites every day counts a lot. The first moves, too, promise challenge and variety. There seems like a lot to do early on. You're Chandra Fitz, a junior engineer on a ship, and you're tasked with finding who murdered the Bishop of Elmee, one of the passengers. On the first move, you see a bunch of masks you can wear, and once you leave, there are all sorts of exits. So certainly I got the impression that this game will be very, very big. That, coupled with the captain saying "you have an hour to do things," left me worried I'd have to do a lot of mental calculus, and fast. I steeled myself for an initial mapping run before actually getting things done.

The reality wasn't so weighty. There was certainly more than enough, with interesting characters of noble birth, as well as the gruff captain and helpful ship's mate. Masks are only used for a few puzzles, though when they are, it's quite satisfying. They help give the fetch quests a bit of weight. This is reductionist, because the fetch quests do have a bit of dialogue and push the story forward, and the noblemen and women (and a chanteuse and a slightly mad doctor) who push you around, replete with appropriate highfalutin names and highfalutin dialogue, just can't be bothered to do things themselves. Too many, and the game might start to wear. But there are enough. If you please them, they may give you a key to their suite. And as you help them, you learn more about them. And the ship. It's not powered by the usual sources.

The nobles' needs certainly seem trivial. And each is a bit odd in their own way, and yet, they know something is wrong. Someone has film to be developed that they lost. Another person needs medicine or something resembling it. Another person wants you to sing with them. If you behave well enough, they may invite you to their room in the passenger's quarters, briefly. However, fetch quests aren't really the way to bring out the multitudes in you. And sometimes there's a bit of a fight to search promising locations that look likely to hide something. For instance, I had to SEARCH CABINET instead of X CABINET. Here's where the usually helpful Quest interface backfired. It will generally highlight things that are clearly important, but halfway through the game I got a bit lazy and relied on highlights to tell me what to do. Between that and a parser slightly less sophisticated than Inform's, I got slowed down a bit. These faults are likely not in the author's bucket.

The boat isn't a very huge place. Once you've pleased all the nobles, you find out there's something sinister happening in the engine, to which you have a one-way passage. I admit to poking through the source post-comp and having several a-ha moments. It's not quite spiritual possession--but the boat doesn't exactly run on high-octane gasoline or anything scientific. You do just need to be prepared. Here a choice of mask matters. There's a bit of retcon for certain masks. For instance, for one mask, you realize (Spoiler - click to show)you were the one that committed the murder. This conflicts with someone completely different planning the murder if you take the straight-up no-mask ending, where you get something about generally learning to be your own person, etc. That's all well and good, but it's a bit plain compared to the others. Stuff can get macabre. Perhaps the most interesting thing is the "where are they now" at the ending: choices you made during a dialogue can, for instance, cause a lovesick nobleman to enter or avoid a duel depending on how flowery a love note you ghost-write for him is.

ICM may have buried all this, and I don't think it gave an adequate technical carrot-on-a-stick to go look back--perhaps even a "you should try" option at the end. Though it does signpost that you should save before you visit the engine. So if you're reading this, save before you reach the engine, and take all the masks. It should be rewarding.

But given that, the concept of a ship powered by what it was powered by, and the end revelations (yes, the captain has a reason not to hire an actual detective,) makes for a good sort of creepy story that feels like time well spent. Certainly the final moves add a good deal of tension and some explanation. The biographies at the end add a lot of closure and explanation and, yes, a carrot-on-a-stick to say "what if I'd X instead?" I just felt I had a lot of adjusting to do after first impressions, and it wasn't until I replayed and looked at the source code that I realized who in the story got to say "I Contain Multitudes." It's only shown in one ending, perhaps the trickiest to get to, and one only hinted in the walkthrough that comes with the game. I don't blame the author for giving you the "plain good" ending in the walkthrough, though--discovering new endings, even cheating by looking at the source code, gave me a deeper appreciation of what ICM was doing.


2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Mystery somewhere at sea, October 18, 2021
by AKheon (Finland)
Related reviews: Quest, parser-based, IF Comp 2021, horror, mystery

I Contain Multitudes is a parser-based game by Wonaglot, published in 2021. You are an engineer on a steam boat. A murder has happened, and the captain covertly enlists you to try to figure out what exactly is going on before the ship reaches its destination.

Being a Quest-game, the gameplay is a type of a hybrid between parser- and choice-based systems. You can move around and do various interactions by either typing or clicking on highlighted objects, and you also have a map. This makes the game quite comfortable to play... at least when it's working as intended.

The game world is like a small sandbox with some timed events as well as characters who move around. Besides basic exploration and information gathering, one major gameplay feature is that you have four different masks which you can wear to subtly influence other characters' reactions. Overall, it's the most complex and ambitious Quest-game I've played so far, and it deserves props for trying to do something unique.

Unfortunately, it could've still used some more polish and testing. The general implementation is spotty: not everything that is critical for completing the game is highlighted, which forces you to keep switching between clicking and typing instead of being able to comfortably choose your playstyle. Some items are unnecessarily difficult to find, for instance (Spoiler - click to show)the metal key inside the Walnut Desk is tricky to notice since the only time the game even mentions it exists is in the room description while the desk is open. Some characters seem to have little dialogue, with nothing to say about some topics that they should know or care about. The entrance to the Bridge is to the west, but you go there by walking east. And so on... In the end, I had to use a walkthrough to figure out some of the game's logic and be able to successfully complete it.

The writing is something of a highlight. It's imaginative and expressive, and it creates a solid 19th century and slightly steampunk-ish feeling. Although, like the gameplay, it too has some unpolished spots here and there, such as a few typos.

As far as the use of multimedia is concerned, (Spoiler - click to show)the game utilizes graphics and audio during the finale sequence in a way that works really well for creating otherworldly suspense.

The game should take at least an hour on your first time through, and the multiple different story outcomes may give it some replay value too. My biggest gripe with it is the slight roughness around the edges, which I hope will be fixed in a post-Comp edition. But even as it is right now, the game should provide some enjoyment for someone with a taste for a mystery/horror game at sea.


2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Detective game on a boat with great concepts but some execution issues, October 3, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 2-10 hours

This is Wonaglot's third IFComp game, the other two being the well-received Dungeon Detective games, both placing in the top 15 and both receiving XYZZY award nominations.

Mystery is one of my favorite genres, so I was excited to see a new mystery game by Wonaglot. Surprisingly, this one is a Quest-based mystery. Quest is a parser system that, like similar systems such as ADRIFT, provides a simple and intuitive system for making parser games with less overhead than Inform but a little less robustness.

The storyline is that you are an engineer with a set of special masks, asked to investigate a murder on a large private ship. This is a long game, the longest I've played so far in the comp.

This game has great concepts and could be described as ambitious. It has many NPCs spread out over dozens of rooms. The PCs respond to conversational topics and items shown and can move from room to room. There are multiple mysteries to solve, multiple subquests, and magic involved. There is even some animation involved. Perhaps most ambitious, there are 4 masks you can wear that affect how others see you and treat you, changing conversations.

While I completed the game and found it overall satisfying, the implementation wore thin in several places. The mask system was not intuitive; it was hard to figure out what effect each mask would have, and the first NPC I saw didn't react to it at all. In the end, the masks systems ends up pretty inconsistent; sometimes it changes what actions you can take; sometimes it changes a couple of lines of text in dialogue; sometimes it adds flavor text to room descriptions. It was difficult to make plans and execute them with the masks.

Similarly, the NPCs had so many different ways to interact with them (showing them things, asking about topics, and TALKing to) that most interactions ended up being not coded in at all, leading to a lot of 'I don't know anything about that,' a problem common to many parser mysteries.

And in the endings I got, it lists what happened to everyone, with a few saying 'you should have interacted with so and so more' when I had gotten to what seemed like the end of their quest, while people I didn't interact much with got a bigger ending.

I'm not sure that all of this could be or should be changed, though. In a recent game I wrote, I spent months writing out every possible response for every object, but all feedback I received about that was that the text seemed generic and bland (since writing 100s of lines gets repetitive). So leaving the player to only find the few key lines of text isn't a bad alternative. But in the end, I wished for more smoothness and understandability, especially for the mask system.

Overall:
-Polish
+Descriptiveness
-Interactivity
+Emotional impact
+I would play again



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