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externoon

by nune

2022

(based on 2 ratings)
2 reviews

About the Story

On a whim, a woman, approaching middle age, decides to steal away to the Oregon desert to join a commune.


Game Details

Language: English (en)
First Publication Date: April 5, 2022
Current Version: Unknown
Development System: Squiffy
IFID: Unknown
TUID: jgk78pwqjvb4d63i

Awards

Entrant, Main Festival - Spring Thing 2022

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Number of Reviews: 2
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Character-driven roadtrip in need of a tuneup, June 15, 2022
by Mike Russo (Los Angeles)
Related reviews: Spring Thing 2022

On paper, externoon should be the kind of thing I dig. Itís a grounded look at a woman trying to externalize her feeling of being adrift by traveling across the country by bus, having low-key encounters with fellow travelers and musing on her dysfunctional relationship with her sister. I would 100% pick up a novel with this summary on the back cover, so I was excited to see where this journey was going to take me. Unfortunately I found that the aimlessness wasnít just confined to the protagonist; while thereís some good writing here and well-observed detail, I thought the authorís decisions about where to focus attention wound up neglecting character development and thematic progression, and the increasing number of errors and typos as the game went on suggested this is isnít quite a final draft. I can see how the pieces could come together with a bit more time in development, but externoon isnít there yet.

Admittedly, it opens strong. A major thread running through the game is the letters to her sister the protagonist composes in her head to apologize for leaving their shared apartment without saying goodbye. Thereís a plain, direct quality to her voice that makes these letters compelling:

Dear Angie,

I woke up this morning at three oíclock. I know. I can hear Mom saying ďthatís yesterdayĒ in my head, too.

I couldnít really sleep.

Remember when I told you Iíd travel someday? That day is today. Please. Try not to worry. Iím OK. I think.

Iím sorry.

Kicking off the action with a trip to the liminal space of a bus terminal is also an effective choice; the protagonist is in motion, but itís clear that the process of getting where sheís going will be time-consuming and provide plenty of time for reflection. And thereís a solid texture to the details, which rang true for me (I donít have a driverís license so Iíve spent some time traveling via long-distance bus).

As the story progressed, though, I found myself less engaged by it, largely because the protagonistís character and the storyís themes were frustratingly vague. We get a sense of her internal monologue, beyond the aforementioned letter, but not much of this comes through in action. There are a number of set-piece incidents as she travels, where the narration slows down and gets very granular: a disagreement at a bus station water fountain, a conversation after the bus breaks down, an exchange at a coffee shop, and an extended sequence of going to a bar and meeting some folks. Nothing much happens in any of these in terms of plot, which doesnít bother me much; for a travelogue like this, itís all about the slow accumulation of events adding up. But nor do they amount to much in terms of the protagonistís character arc Ė sheís passive and diffident to a fault, whether sheís witnessing but failing to intervene in an argument, enjoying meeting her seat-mate but also wanting to keep some distance, getting dragged to a bar but sort of enjoying it once sheís thereÖ

To a certain degree this fits the characterization the game has set out, I suppose, which positions the protagonist as someone dissatisfied by the way sheís just drifting through life Ė despite the fact that sheís taken decisive action by leaving home, it could be that weíre meant to see her nonetheless repeating old patterns. But if thatís the case, itís undercut by the fact that she makes another significant decision at the end of the game, which felt to me largely unmotivated and disconnected to anything that had previously happened. The high degree of detail given to comparatively in-depth recitals of quotidian events isnít matched by similar attention paid to whatís going on in the protagonistís head, so I felt like Iíd have to infer a whole lot to be able to construct a coherent mental or emotional journey for the character.

One area where this really hit home for me was race. It plays a significant role in the game Ė Lucas is from Trinidad, and attention is paid to how he navigates social space as a Black man Ė but itís unclear what race the protagonist is meant to be. From the names given to her and her sister (Liliana and Angie) and the fact that they live in Queens, itís plausible sheís meant to be a Latina Ė but on the other hand she also seems very naÔve about the US immigration system when Lucas shares some of his experiences, and sheís on a trip to rural Oregon which from my understanding can be a pretty unfriendly place for nonwhite folks. Itís certainly not a requirement for a work of IF to specify the race of its main character, but given that the omission makes it hard to make sense of some of her interactions with the other characters, itís yet another decision that muddles what externoon is trying to say.

(Speaking of things that are muddled, having finished the game, I also have no idea what the title is supposed to mean Ė thatís a little thing but it bothers me immensely, and seems indicative of the larger point about the thinness of the gameís thematics).

As mentioned, partially this could be a sign of the author running out of time to bring the game in for a landing, as typos proliferate as the story proceeds. The clearest indication of this underdone quality, though, is that the version currently up on the Spring Thing site has a progress-breaking bug midway through Ė fortunately, Autumn Chen has created a fixed version, available here. There werenít any other bugs that I came across, but I did find gameplay frequently annoying nonetheless due to the lack of signposting for which hyperlinks provided additional detail or flavor, and which progressed the story to the next passage (I didnít notice any branching choices). Since itís impossible to go back to previous passages, playing quickly became an exercise in trying to get the complete story by guessing which link would move the narrative onward and avoiding that one Ė the logic was sufficiently obscure that I guessed wrong a lot of the time, though.

This is only one reason I found externoon frustrating though. There are interesting conflicts set up, I like the setting, and the authorís clearly got some writing chops. But it doesnít feel like they were able to clearly identify what they wanted to communicate in the story, and edit it accordingly; it reads like one of those first drafts where the writer is feeling their way towards their themes, occasionally getting lost noodling around in a scene or getting interested in a character without quite knowing how to fit the pieces together into an overall plan, and then not having the chance to fix things up in a second draft.


Thoughtful musings on life and running away, with game-breaking bug, April 23, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

This is a game written in Squiffy, which is based on the engine that Quest uses but is choice-based.

You play as someone who walked away from a relationship and is going cross country on late-night/early-morning busses.

It does a good feel of evoking that wistful travel feeling when you've left something behind and are passing by other people's lives, people you'll never see again but feel important in the moment.

Unfortunately, there is one passage that contains no links to any other passages (in a section on a movie), and this makes the game no longer possible to play. It's possible to fix this by opening the game up in a text editor and adding a link to the next passage. I didn't do so, but read ahead.

Overall, thoughtful and musing. I wish there were a way to tell which links were exploratory and which links moved the story forward.





This is version 1 of this page, edited by kaemi on 6 April 2022 at 11:02am. - View Update History - Edit This Page - Add a News Item