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(based on 10 ratings)
About the Story
Your sister is missing, and the answers lie within your dreams.
You just hope you can find her at the end of this all.
Content warning: Drinking. Potential death. Potential drowning mention. Gun mention.
55th Place - 28th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2022)
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Number of Reviews: 5
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(This is a lightly-edited version of a review I posted to the IntFiction forums during 2022's IFComp).
I’m a sucker for stories about siblings. Much of that’s probably for boring autobiographical reasons – most things are when you get right down to it – but even without that personal link, I’d stand by the opinion. They allow you to have strong connections between characters outside of a romantic relationship, with a potentially richer palette of emotions – for one thing, there can often be more pain, resentment, and ugly history between siblings because even after doing things to each other that would be unforgivable in a friend or a partner, they’re still related – and unlike with parent/child relationships, who has power or who’s in control in a particular situation often needs to be continuously negotiated, and can shift drastically with little warning.
Am I My Brother’s Keeper? is a short choice-based thriller that centers on one such bond, following the protagonist as she searches for her missing sister. Sofía’s got a drug habit, which means everyone else is prone to write her disappearance off as simply ducking off the grid for a while. But you’re sure something terrible has happened, and after a late-night phone call, you get a lead that could take you to her, if you’re got courage enough to brave some sketchy warehouses and even stranger places…
This is another game written in Texture, and while I’ve enjoyed several of the Texture games in the Comp, for some reason the system didn’t seem to work too well for me this time. For one thing, I had to start over since when I played on the phone, I hit a point a third of the way in where I couldn’t drag one of the action-boxes I needed to in order to progress – and then once I switched over to my laptop, had to start over again because the game reset itself after I alt-tabbed for five minutes. For another, the game largely uses choices not to present different paths through the story, but to expand on details in the text – and these are added inline, which dynamically shrinks the font so that the full passage stays on a single page, meaning the writing was often uncomfortably small for my aging eyes.
These minor gripes aren’t all the author’s fault, of course, but they perhaps made me grumpier at its weak points than it deserves. There are very much some pieces of Am I My Brother’s Keeper? that I enjoyed; the investigation is pacey, and introduces supernatural elements in a gradual, grounded way that kept me from immediately guessing the truth behind what was going on. And when you share a scene with your sister (there are flashbacks, so that’s not a spoiler), the sibling rivalry and banter definitely strike me as authentic.
But there are other aspects that aren’t as successful. For one, while much of the joy of this kind of procedural is running through the beats of an investigation, the process of finding and decoding clues here feels overly abstract or unrealistic (there’s a sequence where the cop assigned to your sister’s case suggests running down a lead together, then later lets you explore an evidence-containing warehouse on your own, as thought they’ve never heard of the concept of chain of custody). The writing also aims for a neo-noir patter that’s effective at communicating a vibe of omnipresent gloom, but lands in Max Payne territory more often than not:
"A journal on a coffee table in between two seats. Compared to the rest of the building, it’s immaculate, unburdened by the marring of abandon."
The game’s almost entirely linear – there’s one choice at the end that might have an impact on the outcome, but other than that you almost always need to use all the actions available to you in a passage in order to move on – which I often don’t mind, but again, for what’s framed as an investigative game, makes progress feel unearned. This extends to a sequence where you’re told you can only take a single item into the final confrontation: but rather than this being interactive, the game just railroads you into bringing a gun, surely the most boring choice imaginable.
The other exception is very early on, when you’re given the chance to answer the title’s question in the negative, and abandon Sofía to her perhaps-deserved fate. This takes you to what’s clearly a premature, unsuccessful end, but along the way the game also plumbs the relationship between the two sisters with more nuance than comes out in the faster-paced rest of the game. With more of this, and less of the soft-boiled narration, Am I My Brother’s Keeper would be substantially stronger; as it is, it’s pleasant enough to play but is unlikely to stick with me for very long.
AIMBK is a relatively short Texture entry that seems a bit too linear to take full advantage of the medium. Nonetheless, the dynamic parts of Texture that don't have you move the mouse around everywhere are effective. You, Sara, have a sister named Sofia. She's been distant her whole life, in and out, and it's not clear what's wrong. The usual, well-trod problem (alcoholism/drug use) isn't the cause, here. Or if it is, it isn't explicitly stated. Unsurprising, as this is a horror game.
So what has gotten her? It's never clear, and that's intentional and more than acceptable. We're left with some ambiguity as to how the supernatural monster chased Sofia, or why. But we're left with the portrait of a narrator who realize they haven't done enough for Sofia, and Sofia has done a lot for them: listening, etc. Sara's provided material comfort for her back, but she can't help her with what's really bothering Sofia. It also seems implied that the narrator doesn't fully realize how Sofia sacrificed mentally to help her. The title itself suggests a feeling of "I've done enough--do I HAVE to do more?"
At least, that's what I'm guessing. I confess I pulled the text from the source, the same as I did for To Persist. And I put things together. I think I enjoyed it more that way. Perhaps this entry would shine more in Twine–as it is, Texture breaks up the flow a lot, though I still got enough out of it. Things got bogged down when turning a page becomes a matter of learning to drag-and-drop from the right place, to the right place. Perhaps this is less of a problem to people more comfortable with Texture.
That said, it's a nice touch to have your answer to the text's question change to a further question when it hovers over the highlighted text it needs to, but the payoff is too little for a story you can't undo, which feels to me like a weakness of Texture. There are three choices at one end, along with a semi-obvious "dud ending" branch early on.
This seems a bit harsh, because clearly AIMBK is well above a "look what I can do, I did something" entry. The writing puts it well above that. There are no Great Evil Proclamations, and I found several interesting revelatory moments. A lot of the ambiguity works. But I don't know if the author used the right tool for the job, and perhaps if they had, I'd have been able to see the author's vision of Sofia's world and trials more cleanly.
Adapted from an IFCOMP22 Review
This is an uneasy marriage between a paranormal adventure and a sibling relationship drama. Let me start by answering the question posed in the title. “No, you are your SISTER’S keeper.”
Now I am on record as admiring the Texture interface. I think an author can do a lot with the drag and drop mechanism, particularly what options you make available, associated with what text, and through creative use of the “balloon text” when you do connect the two. I don’t think this work leveraged the power of that interface to its narrative fullest. On many early screens you are presented with two options. Turns out they are not exclusive, you actually need to connect both to advance. Worse, each choice reveals a subsequent paragraph, but they are not position independent. If you choose to reveal the ‘second’ paragraph before the ‘first’ the text doesn’t really flow right. Or if it does, the insertion of the final paragraph dispels that equilibrium. Now creative text choices could use that to advantage, to lead the reader on a different mental path depending on order. Here, I couldn’t detect that. It just felt like a single page that required two pulls to see. It didn’t connect prompt and choice in an interesting way and didn’t leverage that delay for dramatic pause.
I’m not sure why, but I also hit some issues that I think belong to Texture and not the author. It's weird to me how much Texture work I consumed before this registered. I don’t know enough about Texture to know if other authors were able to mitigate these artifacts better or if Texture’s luck just ran out here. For one, the VERY distracting “font resize” issue reared here. (Is it just me? I complain about it a lot, like a LOT a lot, and I’m starting to question whether this is a fundamental flaw of Texture itself.) Texture appears to do an HTML-like dynamic formatting for line wrap, paragraphing, etc. Which suggests that like HTML, an author would need to do some extreme intervention to tightly control their screen. In HTML, when text overruns the available window space, it scrolls. In Texture it seems to shrink the text until it fits. Man is that an intrusive choice.
There was another presentation glitch that I noticed for the first time here. The “text balloons” that hover over the prompt word do not recognize edge-of-window. If your prompt is on one side or the other of your window, and you have more than a word or two of bubble-text, it disappears under the window’s edge making it useless. Since Texture appears to auto-wrap, its not clear how the author could mitigate this, and yet this is the first work I saw this artifact so consistently. Bad luck?
Leaving aside the distracting formatting, the narrative was a little too bare bones for me. It’s a missing sibling search, that culminates in a Big Bad dream-dimension battle for freedom. It has always been true that horror is a genre practically screaming for metaphor. The supernatural stakes are completely at the author’s whim, and creative authors have crafted innumerable monsters as sophisticated metaphor for real-life horrors. Buffy the Vampire Slayer famously did so for years until the true monster was revealed! I wrote that line as comedy, but it actually makes me a little sad.
Here, the Big Bad doesn’t strike me as having any metaphorical resonance, it's just a (really cool!) monster. Its realm, whose description is also a high point, similarly doesn’t seem to serve a metaphorical purpose. The central sibling relationship seems to be crying out for such a treatment, but no. So it ends up being a pretty straight-forward, unnuanced pulpy adventure.
I don’t think it succeeds as that either though. It's not moving fast enough to paper over its plot contrivances, which is crucial for pulp. If it’s not a white knuckle thrill ride, the audience will have time to question, “Wait, he rode all the way to Germany CLINGING TO THE OUTSIDE OF A SUBMARINE???” Zip them past that, author, that’s totally not important! I get no joy from listing “plot holes” so I’m going to spoiler these just so we don’t have to read them. If the author is curious what didn’t work for me, here are a few plot choices that jarred loudest: (Spoiler - click to show)finding not one but 2 crucial clues, in minutes, that a presumedly much longer police search failed to turn up. Keeping the police out of the loop before the supernatural angle was obvious. Reading about the savior MacGuffin, that the sister suddenly has, but does not realize how to use. Why else would she have it?
I think though, that all of those I could have forgiven with a taut sibling drama, and I feel let down here too. The missing sister was presented as flighty, disappearing for long stretches without reason, the implication being she can’t take care of herself. More traditional use of spoiler-mask: (Spoiler - click to show)At the climax, the sister is begging, pleading to be trusted to effect her own rescue, or at least effect a heroic sacrifice. The game does not even give you an option to honor her wishes, and so the protagonist siezes the agency, denies the sister, and saves the day. The real answer to the question in the title “Am I My [Sibling]'s Keeper?” is apparently “Yes. Yes you are and always will be.” This is like the least satisfying answer to that question.
Playtime: 15min, finished
Artistic/Technical rankings: Mechanical/Notable
Would Play Again? No, experience seems complete
Artistic scale: Bouncy, Mechanical, Sparks of Joy, Engaging, Transcendent
Technical scale: Unplayable, Intrusive, Notable (Bugginess), Mostly Seamless, Seamless
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