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About the Story
It starts with you sitting down, eyes glued to your laptop as the credits roll on the penultimate episode of your favorite series. It's 2:00 AM on a weekday, and your bed's looking pretty good, but it's the season finale! It's the type of thing that'll keep you up at night! Now, you are on a throne. [Note: This game has a color mode that changes the text and background color during a playthrough; you can enable or disable it at the start of the game. There might be some interpreters that might not handle them well, so disabling them will put the game on the standard black on white.]
73rd Place - 26th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2020)
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Number of Reviews: 3
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This game seems strongly influenced by Adam Cadre's work, specifically Photopia (for its fragmented story, multiple viewpoints and use of color) and Narcolepsy (which is specifically referenced in the text)..
This game switches back and forth between multiple points of view, including real-life people and fantasy stories. The game is themed around three lights: red, green and yellow.
It uses fancy techniques such as color and even upside down text.
Unlike Photopia, the overall story didn't congeal for me. I see themes; for instance, (Spoiler - click to show)all of the three 'colored' passages involve an option to help yourself or to help someone else and die right before you achieve your major goals.
Similarly, I couldn't really see the connections between the real-life stories. (Spoiler - click to show)While writing this, I realize that Diane went from scared kid helped by Ben to teenager missing Ben to woman on a train getting a call from (or calling?) Ben. But how are George and co. connected?
There are some typos (like a double period somewhere, and some missing letters in the upside down text. If I play through again I'll record it!) More importantly, on my first playthrough, I was (Spoiler - click to show)selfish in yellow and green scenarios and kind in red, and that led to the game crashing (Spoiler - click to show)immediately after getting my POV after the white door where Diane is in the train. The game just stopped and ended with 'press any key to close the interpreter'. I then replayed trying to be as nice as possible, and got an ending.
So, for me, this is technically and narratively impressive, but the storyline remained inscrutable to me.
This game contains segments with frequent strong profanity.
-Polish: Several bugs, including game-ending bug
+Descriptiveness: The fantasy sub stories were especially vivid
+Emotional impact: Again, the fantasy segments carry this for me, especially yellow and green.
-Interactivity: The conversation system required both typing a topic number and retyping TALK TO instead of letting you continue in menu format. This and a few other such things were frustrating.
+Would I play again? Yes, especially if it gets a post-comp release.
The Wayward Story lives up to its title – this is a narrative-driven piece of IF that wends through a bunch of different characters, settings, times, and even genres. There is an overall structure that unifies the whole, but ultimately I think it plays its cards a little too close to the vest. Players who do the work to make the puzzle pieces fit will experience a satisfying click, but I can’t help wishing TWS did a little more to invite the needed effort.
It’s tough to talk about the game without going into a little bit of detail on at least the structure of the game, so expect some light spoilers from here on out (I’ll still spoiler-block anything major). Briefly, there are three major types of scenes: first, there’s the core thread of the game, which follows an isolated loner who falls asleep while watching TV and then finds himself in a strange, dark castle. Then while exploring, he’s drawn into three scenes, each set in a different genre of escapist fiction (post-apocalyptic, fantasy, Indiana Jones-style adventure) – these are the gamiest parts of the piece. And finally there are a series of vignettes set in the real world, at varying points in time and with different viewpoint characters.
There are a variety of linkages between all these different parts, some of which are clearer than others, and working through them is where the real meat of the game lies, since there aren’t really challenges or puzzles in the traditional sense. In each of the three genre-y scenes, you’re given a single clear task or direction, but it’s simple enough to follow directions to reach the end. However, each of them also has an optional alternate path. In retrospect it’s clear these are moral choices, and the game responds accordingly, but one of my quibbles with TWS is that some of them are very easy to overlook (the one in the post-apocalyptic scenario is straightforward enough, but the desert one requires what may be a tricky leak of logic, and whether or not you even notice that there’s a choice at all in the fantasy vignette turns on whether you explore off the beaten path when there’s reason not to do so).
There’s nothing wrong with hiding some pieces of a story, but here I think there are a few design decisions that compound the risks that some players will miss out on what’s really going on. First, depending on what choices you make in the three game-y scenes, you appear to either get different real-world vignettes, or none at all. Second, there’s a fake-out that I think is too effective (Spoiler - click to show)(after you reach the end, the game appears to restart – you need to keep playing and see what’s changed to get to the real ending, but there aren’t immediate indications that this is intended and not a bug so it’d be easy to assume you’ve reached the end and it’s time to quit). If a player starts poking around and gets to some of the harder-to-find bits, I think they’re more likely to be hooked and keep exploring to try to fully understand what’s happening – but if they don’t, I’m not sure they’d even notice that there’s stuff they’re missing.
This is a shame because there’s a lot to like here. The writing isn’t overwrought, but it conveys the main character’s isolation effectively through some simple but smart tricks: for example, the apartment where the game begins has its furniture described with each piece broken out on its own line, and called out as being empty, or standing alone. Effort is made to make sure the narrative voice is distinct for each of the various characters, and while this sometimes leads to overcorrection – I found the tone in the first vignette, where you play as Jack, a bit over-the-top – in general it works. Different scenes also use color to create or shift the mood, which worked well for me, as well as helping make the structure clearer. The text is close to typo-free, and the parser is implemented well as far as I can tell, though again, as a beta tester, that’s hard for me to really assess. Overall TWS is very much worth playing – it just takes a little bit of work to get to what’s good about it.
Another piece of puzzleless parser IF, though I’m not sure I understood this one. Then again, perhaps I’m not supposed to. What seems to be wayward in The Wayward Story is the story itself. Alternating between mystical, adventurous places and familiar everyday situations, it certainly lives up to its billing as “surreal / slice of life”. The narrative seems to be the essential thing here, and the writing is pretty good, with a rather unique voice and embroidered descriptions of that which seemingly is deemed important. I’m afraid the story didn’t provide we with much though. However, playing through it took me only 20 minutes, while the estimated playtime is 90 minutes, which means I might just have missed out on large parts of it. On the other hand, I never felt that I left anything significant unexplored. If anyone should tell me that there is much more to it, I may give it another chance, otherwise I’m satisfied, even if not entirely convinced.
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