BLK MTN

by Laura Paul profile

Surreal
2021

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Number of Reviews: 4
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
Dark Americana road trip story, November 24, 2021
by autumnc
Related reviews: ifcomp 2021

This belongs to a certain genre of twines: literary-inclined, mostly linear twine game that uses text and choice aesthetically? This is a genre, right?

This game makes use of a dark Americana/Southern Gothic aesthetic with a road trip narrative, somewhat resembling Kentucky Route Zero or Where the Water Tastes Like Wine. It's a pessimistic game about traveling through modern/historical America, in a world that's familiar yet frightening, hostile and hospitable in equal measures.

This story is surreal, unstuck in time. I thought it was close to the modern day until I saw the literal (Spoiler - click to show)Timothy McVeigh (I could brush off the Civil War battlefield as a hallucination). Then I wondered what year this was. There were references to segregation. Then I saw the hotel wifi. And then I got to the titular Black Mountain College and meet people who fled from Nazi Germany who have Wikipedia page links. It doesn’t really have a defined time or place (kind of like KR0).

BLK MTN has two phases: one during a road trip in Texas and the southern US, the other at Black Mountain College in North Carolina. I enjoyed the first part more, and in fact I thought the whole story was going to be the road trip. I loved Ashleigh as a character and I wanted to see more of her. The story slowed down after arriving at the college, I feel like. It fell into what seemed to me like a didactic mode, trying to teach us about these people and this forgotten slice of history, dropping Wikipedia links for all the mentioned historical figures. The ending of the story feels a little unearned. (Spoiler - click to show)It’s supposed to be about Jackson finding a community and belonging, but that didn’t feel right?

There was one sex scene which was very uncomfortable, which I guess is the point. Actually it wasn’t a sex scene, just a... physical intimacy scene? It was very well written.

I usually prefer a more terse, less ornate style of writing, with less text in each passage/segment, which is not at all this game's style. But I thought that this game was very well written. It can be very verbose, but it's also one of the few IFComp games that I replayed, because there are a lot of interesting pieces to it. Personally, I think it's one of the more underrated games in IFComp 2021.

Replaying, I found that it’s very easy to skip Ashleigh’s path entirely, to never even meet her and arrive at Black Mountain College almost immediately after the opening scene. I feel like that skips out on the most interesting part of the story. And that brings up a broader point: in a lot of twines that try to add in choice into what was conceptualized as a single narrative, I’ve found that often the choices are essentially, do you want to see this cool and interesting content or do you want to be boring and skip it. Do you pick the cool choice or the boring choice. I do this in my games too. I feel like there should be a term for this pattern. It’s hard to avoid! A few games are really good at constantly laying a path forward, like Birdland, or a lot of the Choice of Games. But plenty of otherwise excellent pieces of IF don’t do this well; they don’t provide a strong vocabulary of choice. I don’t know how to do this consistently either. At least, maybe we should signpost somehow that a choice will skip half the story.

Going back to the game, on the path where I skipped the road trip there are still references to Ash even though I’ve never met her. And I think that Marisol recognized Jackson even though they hadn’t met in that playthrough. I think this is a continuity error? Or maybe it doesn’t even matter given the hallucinatory nature of everything that happens.