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About the Story
Your housemate and her boyfriend leave for a spring break trip.
Finally, you get a taste of sweet solitude. Just you, hobbies, and cat cuddles.
Or so you think...
As the days wear on, you start questioning your decision to stay.
Navigate the unending night by dragging interaction icons to highlighted parts of the text.
Find a way out of the loop or choose to fall...fall...fall...
[Content Warnings: Unsettling imagery, surrealism, jumpscares, and minor self-harm (scratching an itch from an unknown source)]
Content warning: Unsettling imagery, surrealism, jumpscares, minor self-harm (scratching an itch from an unknown source)
61st Place - 28th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2022)
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Number of Reviews: 3
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The concept behind The Staycation is straightforward yet murky. The general premise is that the protagonist's housemate Claudia is going on vacation with her boyfriend, allowing the protagonist to have the house to themselves for a while. The protagonist is looking forward to some quiet time alone, hence calling it a ďstaycation.Ē Everything soon becomes vague.
The gameplay looks like this: (Spoiler - click to show) You cannot sleep, you hear strange sounds, your cat startles you, you hear more strange sounds, you feel the urge to check your phone, and then you realize that you do not like being home alone after all. These events convey a simple enough narrative about someone reconsidering their comfort zone of being in an empty house. But there are horror elements injected into the gameplay that make this storyline feel undeveloped.
Horror elements consist of (Spoiler - click to show) being unable to stop scratching yourself and frantically wondering why you refer to Claudia as your housemate instead of as your own mom. You are not really sure of what is going on. Perhaps there is stronger horror themes in this game. However, part of the game is broken, which prevents the player from investigating what they see in the game.
I ran into a broken page that prevented me from moving forward when I tried to purse the (Spoiler - click to show) path of self-denial in the gameplay. It said, "You choose to ignore the cracks within your marrow." This game is made with Texture. You make choices by selecting boxes and dragging them over the text to see what words the box can be applied to. In this case, there were two boxes at the bottom of the screen, a green checkmark and a red X. Moving them around the screen failed to reveal any sections that could be connected to either box. I had to restart.
Also, the gameís description says that there is imagery, but the only major visual was a (Spoiler - click to show) silhouette (a cute silhouette) of a cat in a doorway. There are also some creative emojis to illustrate certain actions. Otherwise, the game largely consists of text only.
To summarize, The Staycation is not as developed as it could have been, especially since part of the game is a dead end. If you have been planning to play it, I would still encourage you to give it a shot simply because it is so short. While the horror in the game is flimsy, the experience of unexpected nervousness while being at home alone is real. If anything, that human element is its one strength. Otherwise, it is not really something I would recommend. If it were more polished that could change.
(This is a lightly-edited version of a review I posted to the IntFiction forums during 2022's IFComp).
I have a really hard time writing reviews when I havenít enjoyed a game much, but canít tell how much of my dissatisfaction was due to the design and writing, and how much to bugs. I try (though often fail, I know) to spend at least part of the time in my reviews assessing how well a game achieves what appear to be its goals, and if it doesnít meet them because the gameplay is at war with the theme, or the characters need to support a level of emotional engagement theyíre just not up to, or what have you, thatís fair enough and I feel like I can evaluate those shortfalls in good faith Ė likewise itís no big deal to identify discrete bugs, even potentially far-reaching, gamestopping ones. But when I canít get a sense of the creative agenda, and there appear to be bugs whose scope I donít fully understand, itís really challenging to figure out what to say thatís at all useful: were things largely working as intended, and Iím pinning my confusion on a few minor bugs to avoid owning up to being a big thicko? Or was there actually a masterful design whose shape I didnít get to apprehend due to some unfortunate bugs? Either way, besides the author hopefully realizing they have some fixes to make, I doubt anyone would get much out of my virtual gum-flapping.
(I know, I know, how is that different from any of my other reviews, etc.)
Anyway, Iíve got that dilemma here. Staycation didnít work for me, but Iím flummoxed to pinpoint what specifically went wrong. Maybe itís best to just recount my experience with it? This is another Texture piece, whose premise is that youíre a young New Yorker whose housemates (who are romantic partners Ė you must feel a bit of a third wheel) decide to go for a trip to warmer climes to escape the northeastern winter. You decline, however Ė this is railroaded despite there being various options, which show up as emoji (?) though thankfully you get a preview in words of what each potential action will be. Apparently youíre a bit of an introvert and looking forward to some time alone? After some painting and lighting some incense Ė relaxing! Ė you turn in, only to be woken by scratching in the middle of the night: your cat, which can either come off comforting or menacing depending on the actions you pick.
Either way the vibe goes from cosy to horrific in the course of one like 50 word passage; my first time through, I somehow jumped forward in time, staying I think with my parents and reflecting vaguely on something highly traumatic that had just happened Ė at which point the game ended. So I tried again, making slightly different choices, which led to much the same events except upon the cat entering, the game seemed to rewind to the painting sequence Ė which I thought was a bug, though from looking at the blurb it sounds like repetition is supposed to be part of the experience? This time I made slightly different choices once again, and wound up at a passage reading ďYou choose to ignore the cracks within your marrow,Ē with a check and an X as my verb options, but nothing to apply them to, making it impossible to progress further in the game.
I assume some of what I encountered wasnít intended Ė at least that last game-ender has to be a bug Ė but based on this sort of heap of incidents, Iím having extreme difficulty figuring out what was supposed to happen and how I was supposed to be feeling. Partially this is due to the fact that the game moves really, really fast. Despite the two hour playtime listed in the blurb, each of my tries lasted maybe five or ten minutes, and the shifts from socially-anxious interactions with housemates, to laid-back alone time, to night terrors played out with virtually no transitions between them, leaving me with an emotional hangover that had me still reacting to the previous sequence while a new, tonally distinct one was playing out. The writing doesnít give much in the way of prompting, either, consisting of workmanlike but not especially evocative prose, with the occasional infelicity:
"Incense alights in its holder."
That must be magic incense!
I can try to reverse-engineer a sense of whatís supposed to be going on in Staycation. Maybe weíre awkward with our roomies and not going with them because even in the opening of the game, the protagonist is already on a repeat of the time cycle, so they know this is how things have to play out? Perhaps the attempt at painting shifting the mood from satisfaction to fear indicates that weíre a creatively frustrated type? None of these interpretations quite work, and I canít say that even on repeat plays things cohered enough for me to even figure out how my expectations were being disappointed. Certainly some combination of bug fixes, more focus on establishing the protagonistís mindset, and improved pacing would have made the game more successful, but I honestly canít tell you what combination, or what success would wind up looking like, though Iíd be very curious to find out!
This game was listed as a 2-hour game, so I was expecting the largest Texture game ever, but it turned out to be less than 15 minutes long.
In this game, your roommates are going on a trip while you are left behind. Alone in the night, you face a few frightening encounters, and have a disturbing morning.
This is a Texture game, where you drag actions onto nouns, and here all the actions are represented by emojis.
I had trouble forming a coherent story out of this; it's mostly vibes, but it seems to contain elements of anxiety, self-harm, and something weird involving your friends?
An interesting experiment, but not one the grabbed me. It's polished and descriptive, but I didn't form an emotional connection and struggled with the interactivity.