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About the Story
The Tin Mug is a short illustrated children's story of around 10 minutes. Meet the Tin Mug and his friends, Colin the colander, Silvia the spoon and Stu the stew pot as well as several others. Find out what happens in the magic of the Mug's birthday!
51st Place - 28th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2022)
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Number of Reviews: 3
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Adapted from an IFCOMP22 Review
Tin Mug presents as a children's book IF, though less like a picture book and more like say Winnie the Pooh. There is some disconnect between the subject matter, text, and presentation that made it hard to conjure a consistent imaginary child-co-pilot. Which is the perfectly normal and understandable thing I do when presented with kid lit. Winnie the Pooh, for all its young child appeal, notably invests in its characters, and is as much character as plot driven, maybe more so. The characters are all quite distinct and relatable to all ages. There are a few very distinct characters in Tin Mug to be sure, but there are as many kind of interchangeable ones. This choice feels younger than the piece’s presentation.
Too, there are narrative choices that skew older. In a world of sentient dishware, the story opens with what feels like a casual murder. (Spoiler - click to show)It is undone at the end, but since it was left to ride the entire time, it can only partially undo the lasting impression. Also the mechanism of its undoing was way younger than a lot of the narrative. I’m not here to poke at ‘plot holes’ in a child-targeted work, that’s a dick move. But I am highlighting that these presentation and plot and character choices feel like they target slightly different maturity levels in a way that keeps the work from coalescing.
Even gameplay has inconsistent notes. There are many points of exclusive choices in the game - A OR B. Choices that determine a course of action or character reaction seem perfectly fair. Choices that force you to choose to only interact with one of two characters, without narrative justification for the exclusion, that feels like it doesn’t reward a child’s natural curiosity. Even though I couldn’t get my child co-pilot to materialize into a specific age, nevertheless I clearly heard a whine in my head “why CAN’T I go talk to the bread basket now? I’m done with the… [other one that I can’t remember right now.]”
I can’t stress enough that these are not ‘broken’ story choices in any way. They just seem less crisply focused.
There are technical issues too, the most notable of which is screen management. Very often, a choice will produce a large block of text or oversized illustration that pushes huge chunks of text outside the window. You need to actively scroll upwards to read the text you missed. In many cases the illustration is too large to be seen in the window, and you end up panning across its height. This intrudes further into the experience in a way that would try a child’s patience, I think. It did mine.
Without a (virtual) child co-pilot, and because I am dead inside, I couldn’t wring Sparks out of this, though I could theorize multiple children could get different Sparks at different times. For this curmudgeon it was Mechanical.
Playtime: 10min, finished
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
This is a game intended for kids about a magic cup that comes to life, written with the Strand system, which is the system used for the Magnetic Scrolls memorial and several IFComp and ParserComp games since then.
A lot of stories intended for kids end up being too inspid for either kids or parents to enjoy. This game was 'corny', but it was a kind of corny I liked and an imaginative one as well, with its own internal logic and, to me, compelling arcs, even in its short playtime. I found the writing detailed and vivid.
You play as a tin mug that has the ability to affect the world around it, especially on today, its birthday.
Choices were usually binary, often with one clearly better choice, which would make sense when teaching a young child about how choice-based games work. I guess my only thought about possible drawbacks would be that the breaks between choices are fairly large and it would be difficult to hold a child's attention that long if they're excited about choices.
The Tin Mug is a short game about working together to pull off a celebration. The protagonist is Tin Mug, and today is its birthday.
The gameplay is broken into chapters and usually focuses on dialog or other basic character interactions. There are never more than two options for every decision which keeps it from overwhelming younger audiences that have little experience with interactive fiction.
The setting in The Tin Mug is a house of what seems to be a modest but reasonably well-off middle-class family. The family has a cook who is also a main NPC since she spends a lot of time in the kitchen and using the items inside it. I would not describe this as a puzzle game but there are areas where gameplay choices directly influence the immediate situation. I could, however, only find one ending. I am not sure if there are more, but if that is the case the one ending is a fitting conclusion.
Teamwork is a prominent theme in this game. As physical objects the non-human characters are used to being manhandled by humans but being manhandled by rebellious children who have not yet mastered proper etiquette is a whole new struggle. Turns out, the household is having a dinner get together that feature two children, one who has a knack for overworking the cutlery. Tin Mug and the NPCs work together to minimize contact with rowdy children. This poses a challenge when you have to, you know, act like a nondescript salad fork. But teamwork carries everyone through.
The characters are basic in design but still lively and interesting. I think that the authors did an effective job in giving endearing personalities to otherwise ordinary objects. There is also a touch of magic involved that explains a bit on the animated nature of Tin Mug and the non-human NPCs. This whimsy may appeal to children interested in a light touch of fantasy.
The Tin Mug is made with Strand, a parser/choice-based hybrid that seems to be relatively new in the IF landscape. In this game, it is almost exclusively choice-based which makes it straightforward and user friendly. Kids and first timers of interactive fiction do not have to worry about learning the rules of parser to enjoy this game. I also like how its appearance is customizable to make it easier to use.
I remember playing the author's other game, Roger's Day Off, which is also made with Strand. It had the coolest 3D (if that is the right term) graphics of its characters and settings. I especially liked the sci-fi ones. The artwork in The Tin Mug is much simpler. Instead, they are flat drawings. While they are not as sophisticated, they work well for a children's piece since they conjure up the feel of reading a children’s picture book. It is probably more appropriate for this of game.
In conclusion, The Tin Mug would be a fun game for young children, perhaps third grade in elementary school (that may mean something different depending on where you are) or lower. Seven years old or younger, let's put it that way. The action is comical, the characters are upbeat, and the story is creative but not too complex so that it is easy to follow. I may not play this game again, but I did enjoy it. If anyone were to ask for a children’s game this would be one of my first recommendations.
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