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Competition zip file. Contains the two Twine parts, TADS 3 (.t3) part for use with an interpreter, and walkthrough.
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Hand Me Down

by Brett Witty profile

Slice of life
2023

Web Site

(based on 10 ratings)
5 reviews

About the Story

Ruby Walker takes a hesitant bus ride to the hospital where her father has spent the last nine months. But he has not called her there to discuss his condition. With James, her supportive partner by her side, Ruby is about to discover a deeply personal project decades in the making.

Dive into this intimate tale spanning IF platforms (Twine and TADS 3), all within your browser.

Content warning: Terminal illness, divorce, very mild rough language


Game Details


Awards

17th Place - 29th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2023)

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Most Helpful Member Reviews


2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Legacy game, November 28, 2023
by Mike Russo (Los Angeles)
Related reviews: IF Comp 2023

(This is a lightly-edited version of a review I posted to the IntFiction forums during 2023's IFComp).

I’ve noted elsewhere that the Manichean parser/choice split has been breaking down in recent years, and Hand Me Down is a leading example of the trend: what we have here is a big old Twine-TADS-Twine sandwich, and despite the slight wonkiness that description might suggest, the narrative handles the transitions with aplomb. In the framing choice-based bits, you play a young woman who’s visiting her ailing father in a hospital oncology ward, while in the middle you play the text adventure he (and your partner) has written up as a gift for you, so the shift in platforms makes diegetic sense.

To its credit, the novelty of the game’s design never felt like a distraction. It helps that the various pieces are playing to their platform’s strengths, and even their stereotypes: the parser game is a lightly comic puzzle-‘em-up in the mansion of a whimsical relation, while the Twine bits deal with emotional family drama. On the technical level, I found the process a tiny bit convoluted, but largely because the author provided a lot of choices about how to play each bit; while I could have simply gone from one bit to the next via the game’s webpage, in my experience TADS games tend to be way better when played via the QTADS interpreter, so I the slight fussiness that came from deciding to download the game file instead is on me. And while there’s no state carried between the different pieces, given the setup, that’s not a feature I missed.

This isn’t exactly a game of halves, though – the two Twine pieces are much shorter than the meaty middle. That’s not to slight them by any means: I thought the opener efficiently sketched out the loves, annoyances, and fears between the various character, while providing scope for a few low-stakes decisions that nonetheless helped characterize the protagonist. And the finale sequence is an impressively open-ended conversation where you can choose to chat about what you liked (or disliked) about the text adventure, press your dad on his health and prognosis, or a combination of the two; while the game cues you towards positivity and escapism, at least it does acknowledge that your dad’s constant wisecracking and avoidance of hard topics is at least a bit problematic, so there’s some tension in how to navigate the discussion. But still, combined these two parts made up perhaps half an hour of my two with the game.

(I also can’t help but note that the Twine sections feature AI-generated character portraits; adding insult to injury, I didn’t think they were very good).

As for the text adventure, it’s an impressively realized artifact that does a great job communicating the fictional details of its construction: it’s a wacky puzzlefest set in the house where your dad grew up (very in line with the first parser game many folks write), and since it was originally intended as a gift for your 16th birthday, the main goal is for you to get an invitation, costume, and shareable gift to bring to your party. So if there are sometimes dumb jokes, overcomplicated puzzles, or implementation niggles, well, those are all to be expected!

Irony can only take you so far, but at least as to the first two potential issues, I think Hand Me Down succeeds. On the writing front, the joke-a-minute style lands more often than not, helped along by appealing, entertaining prose; there’s the inevitable puzzle where you need to search an unpleasant pile of compost, and of course you know there’s something in there, but the game’s going to drag things out:

"The only way to make this dark curiosity go away is meet it at the end. You thought you were used to the smell, a cross between vegetable corpses and bug barf, but nope, urk! there it is again, with a fresh layer of horribleness now that you’re getting closer."

There’s also an extended sequence where you have to follow a snail as he races to show you something that left me giggling.

As for puzzles, thought has clearly gone into how to balance the old-school feel with player accessibility. In particular, while there are five different invitations, costumes, and gifts in the game, you only need to get one of each to get to the ending, which takes a substantial edge off the difficulty. There are definitely some design approaches that are too hardcore for me – if you want to get a full score, this is the kind of game where you’d better LOOK UNDER the kitchen table without any prompting. I also signally failed to figure out how to interact with any of the computers I found, with USE COMPUTER or TURN ON COMPUTER being no help at all; turns out MOVE MOUSE is the way to go, which is a pretty granular requirement for something that shouldn’t be at all hard for the protagonist to accomplish. But since those puzzles were largely optional, I can’t complain too much about a design that allows more hardcore puzzle-solvers than I to have extra fun.

That third category, implementation niggles, did sometimes get more than niggle-y, though. There’s some minor stuff, like unimplemented objects (the narration calls great attention to a clock on a mantelpiece in one room, so I was surprised no such thing actually existed) and a takeable beam of sunlight. But the major issues I ran into were about disambiguation. I had to go to incredible lengths to manage such mundane tasks as unlocking a drawer with the key that clearly unlocked it, or reading the most recent of the dozen notes I’d picked up. Judicious inventory juggling got me through most of these challenges, but there were a few I simply had to write off because I couldn’t figure out how to communicate exactly which object I was referring to. I haven’t experienced anything this rough since playing Cragne Manor – and that had 84 different authors, none of whom coordinated with each other!

Those nearly-interchangeable notes bring me to what I think is Hand Me Down’s other missed opportunity. See, over the course of years, your dad has added what amount to diary entries into the game, musing on his relationship with you, his divorce from your mom, how he felt about his own dad… these are well written, and form the clearest connection point between the text adventure and the frame story, rewarding the diligent player with backstory and deeper emotional engagement to inform the eventual climax. But it’s pretty hard to find them – I only discovered about half – and because they’re embedded in a big, riotous puzzlefest, I found they didn’t have as much heft as they merited, because as soon as I read one it was on to the next complex challenge. I would have enjoyed the game more, I think, if the author had leaned harder into creating resonance between the frame story and the text adventure, so that it felt like progress through the parser game was more directly shedding light on the central character relationships.

That would have been a different game, though; and to be honest I have a hard time believing that the protagonist’s dad would have made a more modern, post-Photopia game instead of going back to the 80s text adventures of his youth. Similarly, if Hand Me Down doesn’t fully integrate and unify its disparate pieces, it’s still quite successful at the ambitious task its set itself. The game has heart, comedy, and clever puzzles out the wazoo; if the pieces don’t fully cohere, at least each of them is enjoyable on its own.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A new perspective on Grandad's mansion, January 18, 2024
by Rovarsson (Belgium)

Ruby’s riding the bus, on her way to the hospital. Her father’s not well at all, and Ruby’s struggling, wanting to see and hug him as fast as possible but at the same time reluctant to see him sick, postponing the confrontation with her dad in a bed in a too-white room.

There’s been a rise lately of a new genre or side-branch within IF: Works where the main game is embedded within a frame-story which opens a perspective on the protagonist and the (fictional) writer, which colours the player’s interpretation of the events. In Repeat the Ending and LAKE Adventure, what would have been a rather standard text-adventure on its own gains a more complex meaning and narrative depth by the player’s experience being informed by the frame-story.

Hand Me Down's prologue introduces Ruby and her father, Miles Walker, in a slice-of-life choice-based manner. The choices have no immediate consequences for the rest of the game, the player can choose to rush to the hospital room, or go with Ruby’s reluctance and opt for a number of delaying activities without special punishment or reward. The simple presence of the choices as a depiction of Ruby’s worries is enough to put the player in the right mindset for what follows.
Once Ruby is with her father, he is quickly wheeled off for medical tests. Before that, however, he offers her a much-belated present: a game he has written in TADS3 for her sixteenth birthday.

-A Very Important Date-
The main game, considered outside of the frame-story, is a straightforward treasure hunt. There’s a party going on in the back garden of the manor, but no one, not even you, the birthday girl, is allowed without an invitation, a costume, and something to share with the other guests.

The manor has an expansive map which is almost completely open for exploration from the start. There are outdoor and indoor regions, some rooms with unexpected functions, and loads of stuff to examine and investigate.
Simple (but thorough) exploration will yield a great harvest of objects, some necessary to gain entrance to the party, some apparently just stuff lying around, either on its own or as left-overs from finding another object in or under them. The inventory can become quite unwieldy if you should choose to hang on to everything. Leaving items behind might mean that you lack a crucial object for a puzzle you have yet to encounter… I picked a convenient central stash-spot to dump everything I didn’t regard as useful at the time.

Puzzles range from simple lock-and-key to clever physics to fiendishly difficult multi-step decoding, and even dating. (In the historical sense, that is.) This latter variety absolutely requires the use of outside sources to solve, something generally frowned upon in IF. In A Very Important Date however, with its game-within-game setup, it’s not only justified but could even be leveraged to deepen the player’s engagement. (More on that below.)
The “fiendishly difficult” puzzles could be brought down to simply “perplexing at first” by a scrupulous pruning and streamlining of the gameplay relating to those puzzles. More gentle nudges toward a solution when the player is flailing around aimlessly, cleaning up some of the clutter in rooms with such a puzzle so the pertinent parts are more readily visible.

In fact, the implementation as a whole is rather uneven. For most of the game, it’s more than adequate, splendidly surprising even in some instances where examining bits of scenery returns a beautiful reverie about the sun’s rays, or in one memorable instance, a not entirely shabby freestyle rap. In other parts though it seems the author fell victim to a heavy bout of implementation fatigue, leaving all but the most immediate objects undescribed and thus dropping much of the moodsetting scenery descriptions aside. At one point I joked with the author in a PM that I could read his state of mind through the depth of implementation, whether he was in the creative flow or stressing against time, playful and free or distracted and worried.

The same criticism holds for the writing. Here and there the descriptions feel cluttered, grating sentences and elegance lost. This actively works against clear visualisation of the surroundings by the player. It makes me suspect that the author too did not have as coherent an image of the room as he wished, or that more time was needed to sort the important and unimportant bits.
This said, there are true flashes of brilliance too. The Vegetable Garden with its compost heap, or (my personal favourite) the Statue Garden with its intricately carved figures are a beauty to imagine, and made a lasting visual impression on me.

For any other game, I could close the review here, concluding that I had fun with this challenging and satisfying treasure-hunt puzzler, and that it might benefit from another run through the testing mill. With Hand Me Down however, I have only laid bare the superficially obvious. The game-within-game approach deepens the emotional response I had, widens the range of interpretation considerably.

Synthesis

Throughout A Very Important Date, there are reminders of the “real world” of the prologue. The author, Miles Walker, Ruby’s father (!), has left pictures, notes, letters, all kinds of information about his own life and that of his father, Ruby’s grandfather, around the manor. Perhaps these started as little Easter eggs for his daughter to find, little tidbits about her family’s history to discover in her birthday present. Along the way, however, Miles has begun using his writing of A Very Important Date as a way to capture intimate lost moments, ventilate anger and grief, remember or break down turning points in his own life.

The PC-Ruby in A Very Important Date remains a typical underdescribed player character in an old school adventure game, frozen in excited exploration and casually conversing with funny animals. Miles Walker understandably wrote her like this, expecting his real-life daughter to project her personal feelings of joy and discovery onto this digital placeholder. This PC-Ruby shows no emotional response to her father’s sadness and frustration evident in the notes he hid in the game. But, with the Ruby from the prologue still echoing in our minds, we can only imagine the effect this all has on that girl sitting in the too-white hospital room with the laptop on her lap…

This is where the intense emotional impact of Hand Me Down lies for me: In keeping in mind that I am not playing A Very Important Date, I am playing Ruby who is playing as herself in this text adventure her father made for her as a deeply personal gift. I’m channeling this girl in the too-white hospital room, shaken by worry about her sick father, learning intimate details of her father’s life she didn’t know or realise. My mind’s eye kept flashing back and forth between the manor, where my PC was doing all this fun and frustrating stuff, jumping through the hoops as we make our adventure PCs do, and the too-white hospital room where Ruby is typing commands onto the keyboard, worried about her father, maybe crying…

This invites further speculation about this tangled web of of relations. If the player is channeling Ruby playing PC-Ruby, then what of the fictional author? Miles Walker, Ruby’s father, is a character in Hand Me Down. He’s the in-game writer of A Very Important Date. While he was struggling with TADS3’s containers, was Brett Witty channeling Miles Walker as he is seen by the player?

The continued tension between levels of reality, the juxtaposition of the girl exploring the manor and the girl crying in the too-white hospital room, lift Hand Me Down to a degree of sophistication, a height of complexity above and beyond the qualities of the surface adventure. The characterisation and emotional weight set by the prologue reverberate throughout the game-within-game, the father’s intimate intrusions serve as a bridge, feeding “real-world” feelings into the imaginary adventure, regularly jolting the player’s realisation of the wider story in which she is taking part.

It is here that I think there is a great opportunity for the puzzles requiring out-of-game resources to play a significant role in leveraging the identification of the player with Ruby, and in more closely entangling the text-adventure with the frame-story. The father, aware of the fact that his daughter is an adventure-novice, could break the in-game fourth wall to leave little encouraging remarks, explaining to her that she might need to look up some information in an encyclopaedia. (“Hey Ruby-doo! I’m glad you’ve already made this much progress. If you found this note in the skull, you might want to open up Wikipedia.”) This would strengthen the in-game father-daughter bond, and it would also alert the player to do what Ruby’s father says: prepare to do some out-of-game research.

Bugs and momentary lapses in implementation aside, Hand Me Down had me deeply engaged for more than five hours (fortunately I remembered to enter my rating at the 2h-mark).

Remember: The player is not you. The player is Ruby, the girl in the too-white hospital room, worried sick about her dad, crying over the “treasures” of her father’s intimate revelations her adventure-counterpart discovers in the family manor.

Very moving.
----wipes dust speck from left eye----

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Twine and TADS combine to evoke nostalgia and care for a child, November 23, 2023
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours

This is another game I tested, a hybrid of Twine and TADS.

The idea is that you are an adult (or teen) woman with a boyfriend/partner. Your father is dying of cancer, and could go at any time. You find out that your partner has been working with him on a game (written in TADS) to present to you, years after he started.

The TADS game consists of a house filled with materials for a party. You have to gather up enough stuff to enter the party: a costume, a thing to share, and an invitation. There are 5 ways to satisfy each category. Parts of the house additionally contain journal entries reflecting real-world issues the father had over time.

I really liked the concept of sandwiching a TADS game between twine games, and I like that it works both online and in downloads.

As a beta tester, I’m not sure how effective I was. I found 1 or 2 of the paths (I especially focused on the board game in testing), but that means I neglected 3 or 4.

And that’s both the blessing and the curse of this game: the multiple paths are very clever, allowing people to bypass a lot of puzzles and get to the end, contributing to a more relaxed atmosphere and helping casual people play.

On the other hand, that means that players (and inadequate testers like me) will only see 20-40% of the game. I’ve written before about how having ‘hidden bonus content’ in your game can make the game very very rewarding for those who find it, but overall tends to drag down the score as most people don’t see the hard work you do (Hanon’s game Transparent I think is a good example, where it’s a beautifully complex and rich game that hides most of it below the surface).

I enjoyed on this second playthrough figuring out the computer/radio problem, although I used hints several times. There was a minor hiccup at the end. I did find the puzzle fun and like the solution, though.

The twine scenes are, I think, descriptive and emotional. This kind of writing, with end of life care, can be really hard to write because everyone mourns in a different way. It’s almost impossible to provide options that meet everyone’s way of dealing with grief; one alternative is to write a strong personality for your protagonist and just provide options that are believable for that personality.

I feel like this game leans towards the second choice. Our protagonist has been deeply impacted by the trauma of cancer, and many options hover between ‘soldier through stoically’ and ‘allow sorrow to briefly overcome you’. This provides a contrast to the upbeat, cheery and often child-like TADS game. I think that the reactions of the protagonist are realistic, for a certain type of person and personality; yet at the same time, there is, in me, perhaps a longing for a positive and direct reconciliation and expression of appreciation that the game does not afford. There is in me a desire to have happy endings for games, but also to write games that do not have happy endings (my original ending for Grooverland was to have the main character frozen as a statue forever in a theme park, but CMG talked me out of it as too depressing).

Overall, I find the complex systems and puzzles of the TADS part and the dialogue and descriptiveness of the Twine part to be the best aspects of the game.

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Hand Me Down on IFDB

Recommended Lists

Hand Me Down appears in the following Recommended Lists:

Surreal/trippy/metaphor/mind's journey, with two worlds by MathBrush
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Polls

The following polls include votes for Hand Me Down:

Outstanding Twine Game of 2023 by MathBrush
This poll is part of the 2023 IFDB Awards. The rules for the competition can be found here, and a list of all categories can be found here. This award is for the best Twine game of 2023. Voting is open to all IFDB members. Eligible games...

Games that simulate their own aging by Beable
I'm looking for games that pretend to be another, older game - sort of like Repeat the Ending and LAKE Adventure - or that contain elements within them that are supposed to play like an older game - like And Then You Come to a House Not...

Outstanding Use of Interactivity in 2023 by MathBrush
This poll is part of the 2023 IFDB Awards. The rules for the competition can be found here, and a list of all categories can be found here. This award is for the an outstanding game of 2023 that felt truly interactive. Voting is open to...

See all polls with votes for this game




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