The Kuolema

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Running tediously back and forth, June 10, 2024
by manonamora
Related reviews: springthing

This review will mostly focus on the Twine version, submitted to the 2024 SpringThing.

The Kuolema is a fairly large mystery adventure puzzle/choice game made in Twine, where the goal is to investigate an incident in the eponymous ship, retrieve an important device, and avoid international conflict. In this one-man adventure, you get to explore the ship (whose many rooms require a key to access), interact with the different objects (and bring them along), question the few survivors about the incident, and maybe learn a bit more about this whole... "deal" (boat, employer, device...). There are a handful of endings depending on a few choices made during the story. This version also includes a "Story Mode", which includes visible hints (helpful for the crossword especially).

The game plays on the conventional and expected twists (uh-oh, that's a dead body) and tropes (e.g. the really smart scientist turning cuckoo banana or the rugged security officer that trust no one) of the genre. And while the writing tends to be atmospheric and gradually will build tension, it switches up to a fast-paced action-focused sequence, which kind of turned me off. While the use of the Security Officer breaks the story into beats, I do feel like the game have worked better had you found no life on board.

With the move to Twine, the game managed to remove some clunkyness from the Google Form format, especially when "moving" forward in the story or trying to go backward, with the "return" from your notes and "rewind" if you die - though there is no UNDO (if you clicked too fast, missed some information or by mistake, too bad); the picking up elements and moving between spaces; or with an easier access to the inventory and notes (which are not always available).
However, it also rendered some puzzles tedious, especially the ones requiring to enter a code to unlock a safe or a door. There are 6 different section using a cycling lock (you click on each number until you have the correct one on the screen), ranging from 3 to 6 cycling link, often requiring an option at the end of the cycle - but unlike those real-life combination lock, you can only turn it one way (if you miss it you need to start again). After the second or third lock like this, that sort of puzzle ends up being more annoying than fun to solve.
I think I might not be the target audience for the 'running back and forth' type of puzzle (i.e. the puzzle at one end of the map can be solved thanks to an object on the other end), I found the running around pretty frustrating reaching the halfway point.

I didn't vibe with it as much as I thought I would. I think I found the game more interesting in its Google Form version, because of the limitation of format.

A note on accessibility: while it is appreciated the game tries to be accessible, with settings to toggle timed text (though the messaging section was missed), or turning some images into text-only version* (if not, you have have super verbose Alt-Text), I had some concerned with other aspects such as: colour-contrasting between text and background - especially with pop-ups and listboxes (when open, the options are barely readable) - as well as the text and image animations (a warning would have been nice, a toggle would even be better).
*It would have been nicer instead to be able to enjoy both the images and the descriptive text, having the later below the former (using something like `< details >`). Having to hover over/press the images would make them at times glitchy (if they ended large enough to read the smaller text).

A note on tracking information and choices: Like the Google Form version, this one tracks your choices and compares it to other players (you can see that at the end of the game). While this is expected for the first version because of its format (that's the whole point of a Google Form), this is not a native option for Twine. When using code to track and store information, players should be able to make an informed decision (whether to agree that their playthrough will be tracked or whether to play at all if they are not given the option). This should be clearly indicated when the player starts the game, rather than told at the end of the game or hidden behind a few clicks. [Note: this may have been changed since this review was written/queued]

A note on the final poll about AI use: since the poll is only available after playing through the game (which contains AI generated elements), the results will surely be biased in favour of AI, as opponents of AI are less likely to actually play the game (as mentioned by the author in the credits). This kind of go against the want of the poll to have an open discussion, as the pool of participants is already pre-determined with the placement of the poll (at the end of the game rather, adding a "wall" to access it). This is a clear selection bias.
This placement could be even used to invalidate users choosing an anti-AI position, as they still played a game included AI elements.

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