INFINITUBE

by Tom Charles Bair III

2020

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Number of Reviews: 4
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
A potentially great story, held back by the game design, October 14, 2020
by autumnc
Related reviews: ifcomp 2020

This is sort of a difficult game to describe and review. It was a university MFA project, so it has clear literary aspirations and fancy writing. But those aspirations seemed to clash against the actual game design.

From a UI standpoint, this is as default twine as it gets. I’ve been spoiled in this comp for interesting CYOA visual designs, so it was a little disappointing, but no big deal. There is heavy use of time-delayed text, which was annoying. I sometimes tabbed out when that happened. Maybe for a reader who is in the correct mindset, it is okay to have time-delayed text, but it didn't work for me.

On one level, this is a story about a virtual reality world, the INFINITUBE, where “you can be anything”. It’s supposed to be an infinite world driven by the imagination, but instead it’s a gamified and monetized tech product like anything else out of the startup world. Your experience in the world is presented as a series of lightly interactive vignettes, which seem to be slice-of-life experiences for vaguely middle-class white Americans (the "WHITE" part is emphasized for some reason).

The main “mechanical” aspect of the game is going through the vignettes and trying to gather enough attributes so that you can sell them for tokens, and use these tokens to renew your subscription to INFINITUBE. You gain attributes by taking various actions. This could have been a cool mechanic, but it’s not entirely clear what actions will gain attributes (is it actions that are "successful" on some level?), or how much those attributes will be worth. Which is troublesome as gaining attributes is necessary to progress the game.

The problem is that if you don’t have enough tokens to renew, the game completely resets, apparently back to the beginning. This is made more difficult by the fact that costs for renewal escalate each session. There are also bugs where selling attributes don’t net the value that is shown. And if the game resets, you have to play from the beginning all over again. With all the time-delayed text, tons of clicking to reveal every sentence, and so on. It became tiresome enough that I just stopped playing. It feels as if the game doesn’t want the player to actually experience the whole thing.

There is a deeper layer to the story here: (Spoiler - click to show)Family drama. The creator of the INFINITUBE was apparently a boy named Charlie, who lived with his mother, Linda (?) (who was divorced acrimoniously from his father, who was probably abusive). Their lives are shown as vignettes in the INFINITUBE virtual reality segments. Somewhere else in the virtual world, Linda’s avatar is Minerva, and Charlie’s avatar is Boniface, but at the same time Charlie still exists in the game world as himself, and is trying to escape? Is the player also trapped in the virtual world? The story is interesting, and I would have liked to read more of it, but it seemed like I was always unable to progress due to a lack of tokens.

Edit: the INFINITUBE vignettes seem to be randomized. I got a vignette about a Hollywood actress dealing with an abusive work environment, and one about the 1999 WTO protests in Seattle (I liked that vignette; it's interesting to see how much things haven't changed).