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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
17th Place - 29th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2023)
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Number of Reviews: 3
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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.
This was an unusual one, starting with a short Twine piece that leads into a parser game. While the “a father made this for his daughter and wants her to play it right now in the hospital” conceit led me to expect a fairly small, simple parser game, it was actually quite large, with many rooms, hidden objects, and multiple NPCs. I started out exploring all the places and collecting all the things; the notes especially were an intriguing layer, and I felt motivated to hunt them down (I wish I could have talked about them to the dad in the “after” segment). So I was settling deep into the parser, when… I realized that my two hours of IFComp playtime were almost up.
Since I wanted to get to the second Twine part before my judging window ran out, I went ahead and skipped to that one without having reached the end of the parser game. Which made the experience of playing out that portion fall somewhat flat, because the PC had finished the game, whereas I hadn’t. It didn’t help that I had already felt at a distance from the PC in the first segment; for example, when I got the choice of whether or not to lie to my mom, I had no idea why the PC might want to. I couldn’t get a read on her relationship with James, either.
The parser game also suffered from some typos, lack of implementation, and disambiguation issues; at first I wasn’t sure if this was intentional, painting the dad character as an imperfect programmer, but nothing in the game supported that reading, so I think it just needed a bit more polish.
As a whole, I didn’t emotionally connect with this game, and I think the large-parser-between-two-Twines format wasn’t ideally suited to a comp with a two-hour judging window. But I did enjoy my time in the parser game, and will definitely be going back to explore more.
Hand Me Down is a choice-based/parser mix game in three parts, with the middle one being the parser. You play as Ruby, who is visiting her father in the hospital (the Twine bits), during which she is prompted to play a project (the TADS bit) her father made. The parser bit includes an external walkthrough. While there are multiple ways to solve the parser, the story is linear, and with four ending.
I'm always interested in non-traditional IF, the projects that mix and match elements of different gameplays, and blur the lines of the parser/choice-based divide. I was especially intrigued with this entry how the parser bit was implemented into Twine, especially with code from another parser language (separate files, it turns out).
And the game introduces the inclusion of a parser bit inside the game, and why you play it, quite smartly. Out of all three acts, I felt like the opening of the game was the strongest, introducing the characters and their wants and fears, and the relations between them. It was very touching, and also heartbreaking, to see Ruby and her father interact with one another, as he wants to avoid any negative conversation with her and to focus on showing her his project, while she wants to know what's going on with his health.
The weakest, to me, was the last bit. While the storylet mechanic was pretty well done (really worked with pushing your father to talk things out), there were some issues with that part not taking into account the actions of the previous acts or within that bit itself. For example, when calling the mother for advice, it did not take into account that I lied to her in the opening; or when she calls, disrupting the conversation, she doesn't acknowledge you called her moments ago; or when discussing the game with your dad, you have options to pick invitations or outfits you might not have found in the game (that one felt a bit cheating).
Since it's hard to implement different programs into one game, it made sense that the bits didn't "talk" to each other. But it also made it noticeable when things were not fully coherent. I wonder if creating codes for actions in the previous act, to input in the last one could have helped track some choices?
I think I missed quite a bit from the parser bit itself. That part of the game seemed to be quite large (you have essentially 5 solutions for each box to tick), with apparently Easter eggs hidden throughout (notes of the father - I found one). Each item to get come with its personal puzzle, over 15 of them, each of varying length.
But if you don't try to find every invitations, or costumes, or gift, or if you used the walkthrough to go through the parser, it's fairly easy to miss the seemingly gargantuan work the father had done over the past 20 years. I shared Ruby's sentiment of "uh... that's it?" when I moved on to the last act, and felt bad for the father for having put so much work into something that seemed so small...
I would have loved a map to be included in the walkthrough, some of the directions were confusing...
This was a neat experiment, with a touching story. A real tearjerker.
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