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About the Story
The sky is grey. The sun is setting. You’ve never been a believer in ghosts, but they still want to tell you all their secrets as you wander their graveyard.
Become a ghost therapist as you explore a graveyard at night.
Content warning: Death, murder, blood, supernatural freaky occurrences, light body horror, mentions of abuse and child abuse.
39th Place - tie - 28th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2022)
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Number of Reviews: 4
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(This is a lightly-edited version of a review I posted to the IntFiction forums during 2022's IFComp).
Graveyard Strolls is a game of halves. All games are games of halves, the pedantic part of me wants to point out –and I just did, spoiler alert, “the pedantic part of me” is just me – but in this case, it really does feel like there are two distinct pieces to Graveyard Strolls. The first half is a relatively lighthearted, mostly linear help-ghosts-resolve-their-issues-and-move-on kind of setup, while the second, entirely linear, piece swerves into the intensely personal, with the threat of the supernatural functioning as a veil-thin metaphor for trauma. There’s things to like about both of them, but I’m not convinced that they sit together easily, and the skeletal nature of the game’s choice elements don’t make much of a case for interactivity.
Taking the first piece first, the game opens with you having decided to go to a graveyard to see whether it might be haunted, on the advice of one of your favorite YouTubers. So far so Scooby Doo, but after you hear a spooky groan on the wind, you quickly encounter the first of a series of ghosts, all of whom seem more or less in denial or confusion about their deaths, and all of whom look to you for guidance. Other than their tendency to float and annoying bouts of amnesia, these spooks are understandably human, with relatable challenges. Hank, the first one you meet, is working through some issues with his wife; the second one fell in with a bad crowd and hasn’t quite internalized his mistakes. As for the third, on reflection I suppose he’s not technically “understandably human,” but I found him quite relatable all the same (Spoiler - click to show)(he’s a dog).
Persuading them into the great beyond is a straightforward affair. In just about every passage, you’re given a choice of two options, one of which typically involves engaging with the ghost, being sympathetic to them, or putting pieces together, while the other usually ignores them, is dismissive of their feelings, or otherwise seems clearly marked as a bad choice. This doesn’t make for very compelling gameplay, unfortunately, all the more so because it doesn’t take much to get a game over. In the first real choice, for example, I decided to believe that the spooky noise was just the wind – which led to me getting freaked out, leaving the cemetery, and being brutally attacked in a way that makes sense in retrospect now that I’ve finished the game, but initially just seemed like out-of-context, incongruously brutal violence.
This means that I quickly stopped experimenting and just defaulted to the choice the game seemed to be pushing me towards, which, as you can imagine, wasn’t especially engaging, since felt like I was being presented with false choice after false choice. I liked exploring the backstories of the first two ghosts, and interacting with the third, though, and was ready to finish my time with Graveyard Strolls chalking it up as a fairly enjoyable but very low-key spooky story. But then I got to the final sequence, and everything changed.
I don’t want to spoil the plot points here, since this surprise is much of what makes the game interesting (though nor are the specifics especially relevant to my evaluation of the game, so I’m not going to blurry-text them – the game’s short, just play it if you’re curious). It’s a fairly visceral twist that involves the protagonist’s backstory, injecting an element of psychological horror into proceedings. But it doesn’t seem to build in a meaningful way on anything that’s come before, and the protagonist’s lack of subjectivity or interiority in the first part of the game – you mostly seem like a player-insert who’s just there to listed to ghosts, not a specific character with their own experience of the world – makes the sudden shift feel jarring.
The final sequence is well written, or at least I found it fairly gripping, but to me it felt too disconnected both narratively and thematically from the rest of the game, as if the aforementioned Scooby Doo episode had ten minutes of The Haunting of Hill House spliced onto the end. There’s maybe a way to make that work, but it would probably require more connective tissue than Graveyard Strolls offers – as well as leveraging interactivity to engage the player more fully than the current, rather desultory, approach does. I’d gladly play something else by the author, but once again feel like a little more expansion and refinement would make for a more compelling experience.
I still don't particularly "get" Texture as a development system, as opposed to others: Ink, Twine, parser. However, it seems to produce a certain sort of effort I might otherwise ignore but for IFComp, and overall, I've enjoyed them. The GUI is just too fiddly for me, on a desktop or on a phone. But it does tamp down some of the special-effect excesses that can occur in Twine and ambiguities of the parser. You need to keep stuff tidy on one screen. It doesn't seem built for long works. GS felt like the most technically substantial of the IFComp texture entries, and it didn't feel too long.
My expectations certainly swerved through GS. Early on, you have a lot of player deaths, as you'd expect from a game named Graveyard Strolls. Whether you flee or not, you can get killed, unless you thread the needle. Most of the time, you'll figure what to do, but there are enough forks you will probably slip once later. Then, later, there are ghosts you have to face, which I assumed would be as lethal as the ones that struck from the blue to kill me. With a lack of undo feature, this was stressful indeed. Not just that my character would die, but I'd have to retrace my steps with a lot of mouse-tinkering!
So I don't know if this was fair, or if it was intentional, but it worked well in the end. It's possible I missed things in the introduction and what you were going to the graveyard to do. But suffice it to say chickening out is a bad idea.
After the death-trap gauntlet, you wind up meeting spirits who need help. They're disappointed. They may even believe bizarre things. Talking with them is not so tough, and perhaps just having two options, one that feels contrary to the spirit of investigating stuff, cuts across what I already mentioned with the quick deaths. It feels either too easy or too tough to make the right choice.
But that's just the mechanics. The stories are rather good, with ghosts unable to quite remember things, or even believing wrong things, and there's a nice pet, too, because why not?
Even without any potential player deaths near the end (I didn't have the heart to check) it was a surprisingly harrrowing experience, but nothing to leave me permanently freaked out. Certainly I needed time between finishing and writing a review to think of things. There's a feeling of helping people who most say can't be helped, and how much can we do for them? And is it worth it? And if there is an afterlife, can we change, and how much? It's been asked before, but there's always a new way. Most times, a living person brings back a talisman to put a spirit at rest. Here, there's a bit more dialogue. As a dedicated source-checker, my not seeing how much you could've done immediately is a positive suggestion of immersion.
The final ghost you help does feel like a good one to end on, too, even though the progression to them feels like it has some holes. I didn't mind that jump much. Perhaps adding one more ghost would work here. You dealt with stuff and helped others deal with things finally. That's a good feeling and an unexpected one given the deaths early on, and it had more suspense than I thought it would. So GS is a bit bumpy, especially early on, but I enjoyed the fantastical elements combined with just trying to connect.
Adapted from an IFCOMP22 Review
This one feels like an anthology of sorts. The protagonist is walking through a graveyard, interacting with unconnected stories of spectral apparitions. Initially, I didn’t approach it that way, but ultimately, that’s where I landed.
The presentation suffers some issues, one much bigger than the others. A smaller one is palette choice. The opening screen spends some time talking about the greyness of the location (incidentally in a way that could definitely use some better word choices). But the game is presented in tans and browns! That is a real missed opportunity to use the presentation to reinforce the mood of the piece. It does integrate a single picture in one thread, but because it is the only picture ever used it kind of jars. Even graphically, its blue clashes with the tan in a way that gives the page a slapdash look.
The biggest presentation issue by far however was font sizing, an apparent artifact of the Texture engine. As you make selections throughout the game, text gets added to the screen. Distressingly often, the entire screen font size shrinks, often more than one size, to accommodate the additional words. I cannot overstate how intrusive this was to the experience. At first it wasn’t clear that you weren’t seeing an entirely new screen. Then you had to parse an entirely unfamiliar block of text to find the new stuff (which was not always at the end). Then next choice, BAM, new screen of much larger font. It was distracting and off putting all at once. I’m calling this Intrusive. Though not a bug per se, it had the effect of one.
Gameplay was also uneven. I got two end screens in maybe three clicks by choosing not-obviously-wrong paths. This is a personal points-off for me - if I can ‘die’ due to not-obvious choices within two minutes (and there doesn’t seem to be an artistic reason why), I’m already not on the game’s side. It's punishing me for something I have no way of knowing is ‘bad.’ I did dive in again, and trained to go a different way, I did. That’s where the anthology approach opened up for me, which does kind of partially mitigate the quick-death thing. There isn’t really a through line to worry about.
The engagements were uneven. Some felt arbitrary, some pulled with unearned emotion, one dark and personal. All of them peppered with the font sizing issues. But one was notable - an encounter with a spectre who had… niche beliefs… in prior life. The decisions for this encounter seemed varied and impactful, and the decision path I took through was surprisingly nuanced, generous and touching. Definitely more nuanced than the other encounters. If that font hadn’t kept jumping in my face, this could have been a Spark of Joy.
As it was, I found this entry mostly Mechanical and unpleasantly Technically Intrusive.
Playtime: 30min, 4 different endings
Artistic/Technical rankings: Mechanical/Intrusive
Would Play Again? No, experience seems complete
Artistic scale: Bouncy, Mechanical, Sparks of Joy, Engaging, Transcendent
Technical scale: Unplayable, Intrusive, Notable (Bugginess), Mostly Seamless, Seamless
I initially misinterpreted this game quite a bit. I found 2-3 bad endings early on and thought that was the whole game, and was pretty disappointed.
But it turns out it's actually a 'gauntlet' structure game, with multiple binary choices, one leading to death/failure, one leading to success.
If you find the right path, the game leads you through several different ghosts, each of which are very distinct from each other. The 'failure' text actually gives a lot of background you can't get from just succeeding; fortunately, the other coded in mini check points for these parts of the game.
I enjoyed this the most out of the texture games I tried during this competition. It had some interesting themes about grief and those who may or may not deserve it, as well as the fun cast of characters. It is polished and descriptive and has interesting interactivity, but I didn't feel a strong emotional connection for some reason or another. Worth checking out.
This was my former review:
This is a tiny game written in the Texture language, which involves dragging verbs onto nouns.
When I say tiny, I mean it's only 3 or 4 screens, with 1-3 possible actions per screen and a couple paragraphs per page.
Tiny isn't necessarily bad; I love the Twiny jam games, which had < 100 words each, and even made some of my own games inspired by them. But this game and story don't have any features that benefit from brevity, like branching or innovative twists.
What is here is entirely competent: nice artwork, interesting writing, some fun action design. It could be a fine story/game if expanded.