1-6 of 6 Clever presentation in texting-while-snooping parser drama, August 6, 2022
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Number of Reviews: 6
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(A version of this review first appeared in my blog during IFComp 2021.)
In Sarah Willson's parser game Closure, teenaged Kira has snuck into the dorm room of her newly ex-boyfriend TJ (using her spare key) intent on nabbing a particular photo of the couple for future reminiscence purposes. As she commits this rummaging crime of the century, she texts her best friend, YOU, THE PLAYER, detailing her every move and asking what she should do next at each juncture. The result is a charming game of rummagey revelations, presented in one's browser with an excellent marriage of content and aesthetic framing, and which took me twenty-three minutes to complete.
I think it would be easy to oversell the game's presentation as the answer to the question of why it works. When Closure is played in a web browser, it certainly puts the player in the right frame of mind to see the speech-bubbled messages appear onscreen as messages do, but what's considerably more important is the dynamic flow of the prose and its accuracy as (pretty articulate, considering the situation!) text message writing. The divisions between successive messages indirectly convey the flow of thoughts in Kira's mind, and also lead the player to visualise the physical actions Kira might be taking between texts. The game can't mention all of her lurching about, lifting and dropping things, her gaze alighting frantically on this and that, her occasional standing back to consider the situation, these things that she must be doing, but I experienced them in a peculiarly vivid way for their absence.
I was actually playing Closure offline initially (I play almost any game offline if given the chance) and even in that situation where the messages didn't appear in bubbles, I already appreciated how well the game was presenting as a text messaging simulation.
The game is well-implemented in terms of cleverly fobbing off many typical parser actions in context, or translating them into the game's context in cute ways. For instance:
i'm using that picture from new year's as your contact photo!! hahaha
Mechanically, it is a one-room game in which you need to search everything in the room to reconstruct the backstory as to why TJ broke up with Kira. This isn't a particularly difficult task, but the revelations are laid out well, with Kira realising things about both TJ and herself in the process and the player being compelled to keep digging.
The next paragraph is 100% spoiler:
From what's learned, it's clear neither character is a titan of complexity (au contraire), nor was their situation. This all suits a still-in-high-school relationship. From being on the outside of Kira's experience, I moved into it a bit, and could think things like, "Yeah, you should have tried to understand TJ's extensive sneaker collection a bit more if you really wanted this relationship, not just made fun of his extensive sneaker collection." Outwardly, this sounds superficial, but I can buy it. People have broken up over infinitely dumber things. I also don't know the nature/extent of the sneaker-teasing; maybe it wasn't actually so dumb an interaction in reality. Also, it wasn't only the sneaker-teasing; there's the liking-metal-music teasing. The conceit is that Kira is texting in harried fashion as she snoops a dorm room, so I can also accept the lack of details regarding these events within the context of the game. Can the game stand up without such details? I've argued here that it can, except that the final revelation of TJ's having run off to marry someone else felt weird and extreme. It's clearly not an impossibility, but it didn't feel like the right end for this game to me.
I think Closure presents its situation as a game about as well as anyone has ever presented this kind of thing in IF. The texting conceit, the thoughts of the responding character as modified by this mode, the prose used to convey it, the dynamics of the text itself and the thoughtfulness of how Kira responds to conventional parser instructions are all handled wonderfully. The only misstep for me was the final revelation.
3 people found the following review helpful:
Text message interface, April 15, 2022
The player directs their friend's search through that friend's ex-boyfriend's dorm room via text message, with the purpose of coming to terms with their recent break up.
3 people found the following review helpful:
Clever and cute, but I'm just glad it's not TOO immersive, January 18, 2022
Closure is a potentially unsettling take on the whole escape-the-room genre, but it still has wisdom and humor. Your friend has just instant-messaged you for instructions to look through her ex-boyfriend's room to find a photograph of her. It's in the last place you could possibly look, of course, and along the way you and Kira learn a lot about the relationship. Using the thought bubbles as instant-message text in a parser game makes Closure stylistically pleasing, too. I wasn't surprised to learn that one person focused on the story and the other on the CSS to get things going, because both parts are well done and substantial.
This division of labor generally leads to a game that places well in IFComp and deserves to, and Closure is no exception, even if the plot may seem in the "that's something I'd never do" department. I can't say I'm comfortable with the thought of the player helping someone rummage through an ex-boyfriend's stuff, but first, I've had moments of nosiness where I didn't have the will-power about far less than a romantic interest. Also, I suspect Kira wasn't in the mood to hear "just get out, already." This could've gotten creepy fast, but I'm going to go with "friend got emotionally blackmailed into support and is trying to minimize the damage," because I think Closure does a pretty good job of establishing who's mostly at fault in the breakup. Kira, the broken-up friend, gets what she deserves for snooping around, but she's not totally humiliated.
At the end I was just sort of glad I didn't have to put up with Kira any more, but I had to admit it was a clever idea and well-executed. I may just have been put off by things a bit because I've had people who shouldn't have looked through my stuff do so and provide a really horrible justification later. But Closure does a good job of giving Kira what she deserves without going overboard on the humiliation, and that's impressive. (She's probably better off without her boyfriend, too, as we learn.)
Logically one wonders why Kira would need to call a friend to ask what to do next when searching through a room that Kira herself is in and her friend is not. But la couer a ses raisons and all that. People ask for support in weird ways, and it's not so much about the actual instructions as wanting to hear "I understand you need someone to listen" while leaving it unsaid that what they're listening to is a bit off their rocker. Of course, all Kira wants to find is a photograph. She's pretty sure it's there. It's up to the reader's imagination to figure why. And of course it's hidden, and it's a bit sad where it turns up, and Kira needs to look around just a bit more than you'd think she would. And her boyfriend TJ's new flame's name also led me to wonder if there was a Call Me Maybe style twist at the end. The main twist, to me, was that TJ was telling little white lies to Kira that you couldn't blame him for, and then he got sick of having to keep track of them as Kira began seeing inconsistencies, and, well, I sympathize with him even though I've never met him. Not that he's blameless--he moved on pretty, uh, significantly. I think we've all had people we tell little white lies to, to keep them from blowing up, and then they turn around on us and cut us down for not being truthful. And it's very good that Closure gives us TJ to empathize with, flawed though he is, to counterbalance Kira's burglary.
The fear in Closure is purely psychological. There is no potential confrontation. But Kira suffers enough embarrassment and disappointment when she realizes she hasn't been a good person. But at the end, I wondered if TJ ever looked for that photograph or even knew or cared if it was missing. However, though Kira and TJ are probably best off not looking back at each other, revisiting Closure provided me some learning moments, both from the CSS and the actual plot that reminded me of less-than-savory people I once thought I couldn't do better than.
1 people found the following review helpful:
Texting adventure, December 2, 2021
(This is a lightly-edited version of a review posted to the IntFict forums during the 2021 IFComp. My son Henry was born right before the Comp, meaning I was fairly sleep-deprived and loopy while I played and reviewed many of the games, so in addition to a highlight and lowlight, the review includes an explanation of how new fatherhood has led me to betray the hard work the author put into their piece)
Iíve seen a number of games that ape the text-message format, but Closure manages something novel and very impressive by doing so in parser, rather than choice based, format. Itís a brilliant move, since text-adventure shorthand makes more sense if youíre texting someone in a time-sensitive situation, and Closure goes the extra mile by recasting all the parser error messages in the voice of your friend. Oh, and through some interpreter wizardry, the game actually looks like itís playing out via text bubbles, complete with short but not irritating delays between messages.
As impressive as the first impression is, Closure isnít all style and no substance because the gameplay itself is satisfying too. Itís a short, one-room game, as you guide your friend Kira through an ill-advised break-in so she can search her exís dorm room for clues to what drove them apart. It does the usual one-room game trick of providing telescoping detail Ė thereís a closet, which when opened has another half-dozen objects, and so on Ė and since this is a character-focused piece, most of what youíre doing is just examining, with only one real puzzle (itís a pretty clever one, though Ė it uses a trick that often seems a little unfair in a regular parser game, but makes total sense here). The voice is dead on, and itís satisfying to peel back the layers of the exís plausibly-realized college life.
If I have a quibble, itís that Kiraís moment of revelation felt a bit on-on-the-nose, and her sense of what counts as someoneís identity is pretty juvenile. Plus Iím pretty sure she could have read between the lines and figured out what was going on earlier than she did. But hey, these are teenaged characters, so maybe thatís fitting.
Highlight: there are a lot of neat touches here, but one of my favorites was the elegant way the game responds if you take the high road and refuse to read the exís personal notes.
Lowlight: Thereís a mad-libs style opening where you can type in some things you do to relax, with the responses getting braided into the game later on. This works as well as mad-libs stuff usually does in IF, which is to say, awkwardly (both narratively and on a technical level, as I capitalized my entries, and the capitalization was retained even when the responses came in the middle of sentences).
How I failed the author: with Henry mid-nap I was able to play through in one sitting, and even took notes and everything! I did forget to save a transcript though, so my new-father brain did still manage to mess something up.
2 people found the following review helpful:
Short text adventure, November 1, 2021
Quick, fun game with teenage hijinks elevated by an impressive interface. Itís a parser game, but you are receiving what look like actual texts from the NPC you interact with. I donít know anything about programming, but I hear that this isnít an easy combination to write. I think most players are going to really enjoy the effect.
3 people found the following review helpful:
Parser game via text-message: explore an ex's dorm, October 23, 2021
This is a great game concept that's well-executed. It's an Inform parser game with custom CSS to look like text messages. I've been interested in this concept for a while and had even made a draft once of the necessary JS/CSS, but my version looked bad and was buggy and deleted it. So seeing someone who achieved a complete and great-looking version of that concept is very nice!
1-6 of 6 | Return to game's main page
You play as a random person who is getting texts from a friend. Your friend has broken into their ex's dorm room in an effort to get back a photo and to experience closure.
Technically, the game is very impressive. Besides the nice appearance, it also does some fun text stuff (like (Spoiler - click to show)drawing out the last letter of the name you inputted(Spoiler - click to show)).
Puzzle-wise, it's fairly light, focused on exploration without requiring you to use a ton of logic or calculation. I had to use one hint, as I had thought I investigated everything but missed a subobject I had seen early on.
Story-wise, I could identify with the themes of loss, snoopiness, and the realization that you didn't really know the other person.
The one caveat I had about the CSS/JS is that I sometimes had hiccups where I expected the texts to be done and started typing, not realizing there were more. There is a visual indicator (the flashing line), but it might have been nice to either add another indicator that more was coming (perhaps replacing the standard 'more' with '...') or just printing all texts at once, especially when using 'LOOK', which is the only place I had trouble.
Overall, I found the game was polished, descriptive, had interesting interactivity, was emotional resonant, and I might play it again.