The Staycation

by Maggie H


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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Sisyphus Wept, December 6, 2022
by JJ McC
Related reviews: IFComp 2022

Adapted from an IFCOMP22 Review

This was my first exposure to Texture pieces. Maggie H’s use of it, including formatting, color choice, response management and graphics use felt like an extension of their expressive prose in setting an overall mood of the piece which I’ll call ‘lazy disquiet.’ Even where the choices were limited to one or just a “next” button, the text blocks, breaks and changes all felt deliberate and evocative in a really nice way.

But there were bugginess issues. In particular, it seemed that regardless of my choices (and boy did I try a lot of permutations of them) I could only get at most two nights’ sleep that ended either in waking up with an unexplained loss of time that seemed narratively important, or on a page whose bug was that none of the presented choices allowed you to leave the page. Stuck.

I hit both of these end states within 15 minutes and spent the next hour and a quarter trying choice combinations and failing to achieve a different result. Early on, this actually seemed intended (stuck bug notwithstanding), striking a “Russian Doll” / “Edge of Tomorrow” / “Happy Birthday to Me” vibe which generally is catnip for me. (Just realized I didn’t invoke “Groundhog Day” above. Is this where we are now? We’ve now got so many it’s lost its primacy as naming this genre?) If that was not the intent, boy did I misread it, though it was that read that motivated me to try and push through.

According to my arbitrary judging criteria, my first few playthroughs elicited true Sparks of Joy in turn of phrase, surprising interactions, creepy description variations. This was not to last. Repetition, especially in time loop type games relies on setting narrative expectations, then either building on them or infinitely and creatively varying them. Without either, there are two possible progressions: long blocks of text will be ignored and clicked through mechanically; short bursts of text will be read so frequently that, like rapidly repeating words for a not-so-long period of time they will lose all meaning. Both happened here, though a third thing did also. Maggie H’s prose is wryly singular in a way that sustains it for a while. But with repetition, many passages seemed to undergo distillation - with every cycle, they concentrated. Not unlike boiling sugar water until it sublimates from lightly sweet liquid to way-too-sweet syrup. An example: the game poetically presents a few things as “gaping.” That is an insanely powerful word, immediately invoking a symphony of feelings. But the more you read it, the stronger its impact is, until you start engaging it with “Is this really the right word here?” “This is saying a lot more than it should.” “Oh my God please stop saying ‘gaping.’”

So I’m left with very positive feelings of my first half hour, quickly eroded away through repetition and lack of progress. My criteria shows its flaws: while my impression showed “Sparks of Joy” initially, repetition eventually sanded those moments down to “Mechanical.” Alternately, if repetition was NOT the point of the game at all, maybe my experience was due to “Intrusively Buggy”-ness. (There is a third option. That I was too dense to make progress, missing some obvious out for over an hour. I acknowledge the possibility but “Just Know Something You Can’t Figure Out” has never been actionable feedback for me.)

Played: 10/3/22
Playtime: 1.5hrs, stuck for 1.25 of it
Artistic/Technical rankings: Sparks of Joy -> Mechanical/Intrusive
Would Play Again? Maybe, If reminded and bugfixed

Artistic scale: Bouncy, Mechanical, Sparks of Joy, Engaging, Transcendent
Technical scale: Unplayable, Intrusive, Notable (Bugginess), Mostly Seamless, Seamless

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