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You May Not Escape!

by Charm Cochran profile

Surreal
2022

Web Site

(based on 8 ratings)
5 reviews

About the Story

You are one of the unlucky many to enter the maze. Will you be one of the lucky few to escape?

Contains brief strong language and some mature themes.


Game Details

Language: English (en)
First Publication Date: October 1, 2022
Current Version: 2
License: Freeware
Development System: Inform 7
Forgiveness Rating: Polite
IFID: Unknown
TUID: y3dyfqgy5iolrjjs

Awards

38th Place - 28th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2022)

Editorial Reviews

Through the Shattered Lens
You May Not Escape! was designed using Inform and itís a throwback to the classic text adventures that I used to play when I was a kid. Even the puzzle feels like a throwback. Can you navigate a maze? How many times to Scott Adams go back to that well? But You May Not Escape! is much more difficult and rewarding than the old games that it resmebles. This game requires some thinking. It requires some imagination. It requires that the player pay attention to what theyíre reading. The game is well-written and I appreciated all the little details that made the maze so memorable. I especially liked the LED tickers the spelled out messages that were either menacing or encouraging, depending on how you read them. You May Not Escape! is challenging but rewarding.
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Number of Reviews: 5
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Most Helpful Member Reviews


3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A random maze and an interesting premise, January 7, 2023
by Jim Nelson (San Francisco)

Adapted from a review on intfiction.org

Best I can tell, You May Not Escape! is a parser-based IF built around a random map generator and a premise.

The random maps are the less-interesting of the two cornerstones. Notably, the author has asked that players not share their maps online as ďgetting lost and the entering the unknown is part of the point.Ē That leads to the second notable foundation of YMNE!: Itís premise.

You start in an outdoor maze of high plaster walls, too high to scale, which you must navigate while the weather grows worse and worse. A purported guide named John Everyman (not terribly subtle) acknowledges your obvious questionsóWhy am I here? What is this place?ówhile sidestepping to offer any real answers. Intriguingly, he suggests many others (ďbillionsĒ) have or are traversing their own mazes while you walk yours.

Then the conversation lulls, your questions bruise Everymanís feelings, and thereís nothing left to do but traverse the labyrinth.

Walking the maze is minimalism itself. Locations are described in fleeting, often incomplete, sentences. Occasionally the stingy maze generator manages to cough up a park bench to sit on, or a closed-circuit camera spying on you, but most locations donít even offer those variations.

At this point, YMNE started to look to me to be little more than an exercise in Inform codingĖuntil I encountered the LED ticker-tape-style wall displays. Each offers a different message, sometimes taunting, sometimes misleading, sometimes patronizing. The messages serve to frustrate and confuse in an already frustrating and confusing game. (The ticker machines do serve one handy purpose: They tell you when youíre walking in circles, or have returned to a previously-visited location.)

Game play develops into the monotony of a foot soldierís patrol as you wander in search of an exit. With each scrap of new information found, one will naturally try to piece together What It All Means. Some of the details hint at modern controversies, such dead-naming. Others offer empty sentiments for your predicament. Others still are accusatory and self-righteous. The game is patently designed to wear down the player (at one point, giving up is a formal option). Itís a bleak ride.

So: What does it all mean? Just as the author asked not to share maps online, Iím reluctant to share my full interpretation. I do think YMNE! is a reaction to social media and toxic culture online, although the abuse could be sourced from any number of dysfunctional situations. One of the ticker messages is political speech transcribed, the ďthoughts and prayersĒ mantra rattled off after every tragedy:

"The phrase 'thoughts and prayers' is grating in part because it has become a victim of semantic satiation, a phenomenon that occurs when a word or words is repeated so often that it loses its meaning. Thoughts and prayers has become a little bit like saying 'bless you' after someone sneezesÖ"

That said, I do wish the game had been a bit more ambitious. I would gladly have given up a freshly-minted maze with each quarter dropped for a richer world and more immersion. I think that could have been achieved without losing the stark economy of the prose and setting, which is gameís calling card. More tongue-in-cheek, I was tempted to shave off a point for the use of an exclamation point in the title, but I won't do that.

Bottom-line, I found myself chewing on this game after I finished playing it. A little more oomph would have left me chewing on YMNE! much longer, though.


3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A procedurally generated maze with some symbolic elements, October 24, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

I really enjoyed Charm Cochrans previous game, and I was surprised at how different this was compared to that. That one was a religious-themed Twine game with good graphics and lush descriptions. This is a stripped-down parser maze.

It's well-implemented and runs smoothly. You are met at the beginning by a man who introduces himself to you and explains the maze. You then go through it.

While it seems hideously complex at first, the vast majority of the maze rooms have only one entrance and one exit. If mapping, it's only really necessary to write down the rooms with three exits, which are rare.

There are several layers of meaning in the game, from the base Inform implementation level (with little meaning in itself), to the maze itself, to the objects in the maze (like the lizard you can follow or string you can leave behind you), to the messages from Everyman and the LED tickers, to clear political statements that are plain and not symbolic (especially (Spoiler - click to show)the gravestones describing people who died from being denied an abortion for a non-viable pregnancy or who died without anyone using their real chosen name).

Overall, I enjoy surreal games and well-implemented games. I thought that a lot of the messages were delivered well, and if it is designed as a way to feel the frustration of being a marginalized person in a white male cishet-dominated world, I think it demonstrates it very well (also the frustration of caring about the climate or similar issues and getting a lot of promises that don't get acted on). But the main gameplay loop was not one that I enjoyed; a frustration simulator is still frustrating; a frustration parody is still frustrating; a metaphor for imprisonment through frustration is still frustrating.

But given that the game seems designed to incur those feelings, I can only conclude that the author has succeeded. Given that they've so far made an excellent Twine game and an very well-coded parser game, I can only expect that his next game will be brilliant.


2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A thematically resonant maze game, January 5, 2023
by Mike Russo (Los Angeles)
Related reviews: IF Comp 2022

(This is a lightly-edited version of a review I posted to the IntFiction forums during 2022's IFComp).

The randomizer continues to send me games that rhyme; You May Not Escape!, much like One Final Pitbull Song, communicates what itís like to live a marginalized existence through a combination of satire and allegory. This oneís a parser game, though, and cleverly expresses its themes through a slight recontextualization of typical parser gameplay element (in keeping with parser tradition, itís a lonelier experience too, lacking the found-family gaggle of OFPS). While the ending didnít fully land for me, and I think the game maybe errs a little too much towards abstraction, itís still a neat marriage of narrative and crossword, with clean implementation thatís especially impressive for what I think is the authorís first parser game.

Now that Iíve said all that, this is a maze game. Wait, come back! Yes, 90% of the gameplay is wandering around a big, nearly-empty maze, and if youíre allergic to that sort of thing you probably wonít enjoy yourself here (I have to confess, itís not my personal favorite). But thatís integral to the premise of the game: youíve been chosen, through a process whose exact operation isnít clear but which is clearly deeply unfair, to be thrown into a maze. There is an exit, youíre assured by the representative who greets you upon your entry, but it may or may not be unlocked. Still, thereís nothing for it but to try.

This is clearly a bone-dry premise, but itís not too hard to suss out what itís in service of. When you ask the representative why youíve been picked for the maze, heís a bit shift, but admits ď[i]t could be based on any number of factors. Your body, your mind, your home, your clothes Ė any of these could make you eligible.Ē As you explore the maze, you come across screens where outside observers seem to be commenting on your situation, sometimes offering not-very-helpful advice, sometimes sending thoughts and prayers, and sometimes vituperatively wishing for bad things to happen to you. And one of the points of interest in the labyrinth is a graveyard with four tombstones Ė oneís being readied for you, making clear the graves are for those who never escape the maze, while the others appear to be victims of right-wing politics (as best I can make out, thereís a trans woman, a woman who died because she wasnít able to get an abortion, and some people who were killed by a fire in a gay bar).

It doesnít take much deductive reasoning to understand that the game is articulating something about what it feels like to face explicit discrimination and hatred, and the implicit challenges of living in a world not designed for you, with the metaphor being sufficiently supple to accommodate several different angles on the idea. It makes sense, then, that navigating your way through the landscape should be difficult, confusing, and fairly depressing. Thus itís no surprise that exploration is unpleasant: there are lots of twists and turns, with few landmarks and many locations that look exactly the same. Moreover, it quickly begins to rain, soaking you and making the dirty-floored maze muddy as all get-out. And Ė shocker of shockers Ė when you get to the exit, it turns out it is indeed locked.

Or at least it was in my game Ė for the maze is procedurally generated. This is another nice thematic twist, since of course while many marginalized folks face similar barriers, their experiences and circumstances are each unique, and as far as I could tell it worked completely smoothly in my game, which is an impressive bit of coding. So the metaphorical resonance takes some of the sting out of the exhausting gameplay, and the author also provides some support for the maze-averse player through use of an exit-listing status bar that highlights places you havenít been yet (the ABOUT text also recommends mapping, which would make things much easier Ė I didnít, to my regret).

Escape isnít too difficult, though Iím embarrassed to admit it took me longer than it should have since I failed to notice an important detail (in my defense, there are a lot of random events and atmospheric text that fires, meaning my eyes were starting to skip over some of the words by halfway through). But there are also a few optional puzzles that help flesh out the experience and deepen the metaphor. Many of them are pretty intuitive things youíre likely to try anyway, but once again, the authorís provided some assistance in the form of a STATS command that tracks your progress.

All told I found You May Not Escape a smart, well-designed experience. Personally it was more intellectually than emotionally engaging, since the allegory is fairly dry Ė I got a deep sense of the protagonistís discomfort, but since the protagonist isnít characterized in any real way, and there are no other people that they have a relationship with, their suffering isnít especially barbed. But I think thatís a reasonable authorial choice, and in some way may be a comment on the stereotypical right brain/left brain split between choice-based and parser games (increasingly inaccurate as the division of IF into those two houses is becoming).

As flagged above, the other thing that didnít fully work for me is the ending, and what it seems to be saying Ė but to explain this, Iíll have to back up to the beginning. So the person who meets you upon your entry into the maze is one John Everyman, who says heís there to answer your questions and advocate for you with the people outside to eventually make your lot in life slightly easier. Heís not especially helpful or sympathetic though, growing truculent through the course of your conversation and eventually berating you for ďalienat[ing] your potential allies.Ē Similarly, among the social-media-style messages youíre bombarded with along the way, is this one ďHave you considered voting? If we get more of a majority in six months, maybe we can demolish a few of the hallways.Ē Suffice to say the game seems intensely skeptical of political solutions to the problems it allegorizes.

So if politics and voting arenít the answer, what is? Here Iíll shift over to spoiler territory.

(Spoiler - click to show)When you get to the gate, youíll see that it boasts an inscription: ďAND IN THE END, THEY FOUND THEMSELVES RETURNED TO THE BEGINNING.Ē And sure enough, if you wend your way back through the maze, you find that Everyman has skedaddled, but also that thereís now a sledgehammer waiting for you, with which you can simply batter down the gate. As with most metaphors, this is subject to several readings, but one of the most straightforward is that itís about returning to oneself, gathering oneís strength, and then simply refusing to be bound by the limits society imposes.

Thatís an empowering enough message, but also kind of unrealistic and maybe in its own way not dissimilar to some of the annoying ďjust try harderĒ messages you seem ticking across the screens? Iím probably biased because my day job involves public policy, but at least in American society it sure does seem to me that there are a whole host of places where the lives of the most vulnerable can be meaningfully improved Ė maybe even only be meaningfully improved, at least for now Ė by voting, gathering coalitions of friends who can sometimes be kinda flaky, and at least starting out by making awful things like 15% less awful, in order to get to the place where true transformative change becomes possible. This is not a very inspiring view of the world, I admit! And far be it from me to lecture folks far more directly impacted by oppression on what their strategy for social change should look like, much less how they express themselves through art. But it seems to me this alternative has something to offer folks who canít find a sledgehammer inside themselves, or find that in battering against the walls that surround them, theyíre the ones who start to give.



Okay, back from spoiler-town. Iíll wrap up by saying that just because I didnít find the gameís suggested resolution of the dilemmas it raises especially compelling, that didnít undercut the effectiveness with which it poses said dilemmas. You May Not Escape is a smart game that knows how to weave its themes into its gameplay and its themes into its gameplay, which is a rare thing and well worth celebrating.


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Outstanding Underappreciated Game of 2022 - Author's Choice by MathBrush
This poll is part of the 2022 IFDB Awards. The rules for the competition can be found here, and a list of all categories can be found here. This award is for the most underappreciated game of 2022. Voting is anonymous and open only to...




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