Heading East

by Hugo Labrande (as Alex Davies) profile

slice of life

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Number of Reviews: 2
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Searching, finding, and searching, March 9, 2017
by Doug Orleans (Somerville, MA, USA)
Related reviews: ShuffleComp: Disc 2

(Full disclosure: I helped playtest this game.)

A short coming-of-age vignette, evocative and touching. The connection to the song it's based on is tenuous: it ignores the lyrics and is more about the mood of the song and the fact that the band Mecca Normal comes from Vancouver, which is where the game is set. You've just graduated from high school, and it's one of the last chances to hang out with your best friend Jane before she goes off to college.

I found a few things particularly interesting about this game:

1. The game starts out with a texting conversation, with abbreviations and smileys as you'd expect. But later in the game, there are face-to-face conversations, and (Spoiler - click to show)they also have abbreviations and smileys. At first I found it jarring, because they're not actually saying "lol colon parenthesis", but it's a clever observation that the game itself is text, so it's reasonable to use smileys for the same reason that they're used in texting: as a quick way to express an emotion without having to explicitly write out that the character is feeling or expressing the emotion. And it also points out that, for people who grow up with texting, the line between texting and face-to-face communication is pretty blurry, and texting can feel just as natural as face-to-face.

2. The second scene involves looking for change in your dad's car. In order to find enough change, (Spoiler - click to show)you have to examine and search a bunch of places that aren't mentioned in the description. You could call this a "guess the noun" problem, but it's actually more like an information puzzle, where you have to imagine yourself in a car and think of where you might search. Most of the things you can think of are implemented and do in fact contain change, but you need to find a whole bunch of places before you can collect enough change to move on in the game. It's like having to guess all the answers for a category in Family Feud, and I enjoyed this mini-game much more than I was expecting to. I suppose this would be unplayable if you've never been in a car before, though.

3. Once you make it to your destination, you can talk to Jane for a while via ASK/TELL for a whole bunch of topics. (Spoiler - click to show)Similar to the car scene, you have to imagine what sort of things you would ask Jane about, although most of them are explicitly prompted by previous conversations. When you get around to asking her about her music, she plays you a song on her guitar, and asks the PC to help her finish some lyrics. You the player don't actually have to supply lyrics; the PC does it for you, based loosely on which topics you had chosen to discuss with Jane. This is fairly subtle and probably not apparent unless you replay the scene multiple times, but even if you don't notice the mechanism, it provides a satisfyingly apt conclusion to your conversation. I found this a pretty interesting alternative to asking the player to choose lyrics explicitly: instead, you've already been unwittingly making this choice by choosing what topics to discuss.

4. The PC's relationship to Jane is interesting: (Spoiler - click to show)the PC's gender is never identified, and it's left unclear whether the PC has romantic feelings for Jane or not. If you try to kiss Jane, the game says "That'd be weird. It's not like that between the two of you," which is still ambiguous: either you're simply not interested, or you've never expressed your feelings before and now's not the time. You can decide in your head which way to read the story, and the game won't contradict you.

5. The game does a pretty good job of keeping the mechanics in line with the theme: what you're mainly doing is searching, remembering (Spoiler - click to show)what's in your dad's car (a slightly confusing and unfamiliar place), and thinking of things to talk about with your best friend. These all evoke that awkward, uncertain time between high school and college where you're trying to figure out who you are, what you're going to do with your life, and how your relationship with your friends will change. You don't end up discovering any big revelations or coming to any big conclusions, much like life for most of us.