Deus Ex Ceviche

by Tom Lento and Chandler Groover profile

Piscespunk
2020

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Number of Reviews: 5
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1-5 of 5


1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A fishful of dollars (plus the fish is the Pope), December 7, 2020
by Mike Russo (Los Angeles)
Related reviews: IF Comp 2020

I keep wanting the title here to be a pun but can’t figure out how to make “ceviche” fit to “machina”. That feeling of not-quite-rightness is perhaps representative of how I felt about the game. I’m not sure what words to describe the setting – it’s like a Jorodowsky comic book about a sentient virus attacking a capitalistic R’lyeh, maybe? But that doesn't given the full flavor, and I'm unclear on whether I've got the sense of who’s trying to do what to whom (or to what). All this to say the game is enticing and disorienting (in a good way!) off the bat, and the odd interface, atmospheric pixel-art, and punchy text vignettes are grabby and drew me in.

Ultimately, though, that grabbiness wore off for me, I think partially a casualty of the age-old crossword vs. narrative war, and partially because of how the instructions are presented. There’s some in-game help, with a helpful goldfish offering tool-tips when you mouse over bits of the interface. But there’s also a file that comes with the game – the Holy User Manual – that goes into some detail, in out-of-world voice, about the mechanics, goals, and a bit of the strategy of the game. When I played the game, it looked like part of the instructions, and it clearly laid out the mechanics. (Spoiler - click to show)In effect, the game is played in rounds – in each, you’re shuffled a hand of five cards, three of which you must play into three different slots, and then allocate two (differentiated) worker-units to the played cards. Each card gives, or takes, or exchanges resources based on the slot to which it’s played and whether, and which, worker it gets. When you accumulate enough of one of the resource types, you get a special ceremony card – do that three times and you finish the game.

Now, there’s definitely narrative flavor on top of this dry recital – the workers are members of a robotic clergy, each card pops up a unique vignette when it’s played, and the resource names and types paint an interesting picture that fits nicely into this strange, skewed world. But when playing, I found that I mostly focused on the board-game aspect of making the numbers go up, and skimmed the text. Partially this is because the narrative vignettes don’t seem to have much continuity, or impact – they’re really just flavor for the numbers. Partially I think the interface is to blame – you click “submit” on the right side of the screen, then just to the right of that is where the mechanical results are stated, then just to the right of that is the next turn button, so it’s sort of against the flow to move your eyes left to read the text. And partially I think it’s because I had read the instructions so I knew exactly what to do, and was therefore more in goal-seeking than exploration mode.

It does appear that there is some exploration to do – it seems like there may be multiple endings depending on how well you play the board game, and I think there was some interplay of the card and slot mechanics that I didn’t fully suss out. But it’s possible to reach a perfectly satisfying ending without getting into any of that. I wound up wondering whether I might have enjoyed the piece more without that instruction file – which, after subsequent posts from one of the authors, turns out was more of a walkthrough. I probably would have engaged more with DEC and its fiction without having seen the mechanics laid quite so bare – so if you’ve got this one on your list, perhaps try playing it without reading the file first, and see how that works?

Lastly, I can’t leave this one without flagging two great jokes: (Spoiler - click to show)”Davy Jones Industrial Average” and the fact that the last line of the game is “FIN”.


3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
I Got Schooled, December 6, 2020
by Joey Acrimonious
Related reviews: IFComp 2020

There were many ambitious entries in the IFComp 2020. This is the only one I’ve played that goes so far as to stake out a new aesthetic school of its own. The bizarre, alien world of Deus Ex Ceviche is inextricably steeped in the unmistakable flavor of this so-called Piscespunk: a marriage of artificial life and marine biology, here examined at the intersection of religion and for-profit enterprise.

The whole experience is packaged with a visually-stunning backdrop of netted fish, rendered with distinctive colors and bold lines that evoke a vague impression of stained glass and its tracery, bringing an ecclesiastical flavor to the table. Against this, the game’s interactive elements are rendered in pixel art that adds a palpable artificiality. The visual design elements of this game are thoughtfully-constructed and I cannot overstate how well they work together to sell the radical new Piscespunk concept.

Gameplay consists of putting disks in slots and seeing what happens, with each input yielding a narrative description of a resulting event, plus a change in your resources (of which a certain amount must be collected for victory). Both the story and the mechanics come off as weird, surreal, and possibly confusing at first. Why is the GUI gooey? How exactly does brine accumulate as a result of accidentally censoring important passages in the holy text? Nothing makes sense according to the logic of reality as we know it.

But much of the pleasure of playing Deus Ex Ceviche is in keeping at it, gradually discovering that this world has an internal logic of its own, according to which everything makes perfect sense. Trial and error (and the advice of a helpful goldfish) will reveal that the strange results of disk-insertion are in fact quite predictable, and one can easily achieve a desired outcome.

Meanwhile, as one becomes more acquainted with the setting and its characters, the weird language and inexplicable causal relationships of the story’s events will gradually decode themselves into something that’s actually quite coherent.

The travails of the faithful as they struggle to perform their duties in the face of a malfunctioning temple apparatus; the underdog tale of an obsolete abbess seeking to fulfil her duties while painfully aware of her own shortcomings; the desperate hope of the congregants to find some kind of comfort or meaning in a corrupt, pay-to-pray religion. From these poignant beginnings, the Section B-2 Temple will spiral into a crescendo of mounting tension, as constructed systems transcend their intended purposes. All aspects of reality - social, ontological, and architectural - will be revolutionized by one’s apotheosis, and one’s faithful will experience the terrible ecstasy of union with one’s divinity. It’s all on display in a series of rich, evocative vignettes. There’s real, human emotion here. It’s the kind of stuff that could be described in terms of heartbeats, smiles, and tears… if it weren’t already described in terms of databanks, replacement fingers, and salt instead.

If that doesn’t already have you hooked, then frankly, I don’t understand you. Just know that my meager review cannot possibly do justice to the raw power and majesty of Deus Ex Ceviche. Without a doubt among the most unique and memorable games of the comp, it definitely deserves a playthrough (or five).


2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Entertainingly weird/weirdly entertaining, December 1, 2020

This entry is a richly designed experience guided by a clear artistic vision. My attempts to describe that vision — it’s running a business that operates a church for seafood robots — will fail to do it justice.

The main mechanic resembles a card game where "disks" are placed in three fields that guide the story, and modifiers can be added to change their effects. Different variables are tracked on the side of the screen, and a pixel-perfect advisor offers help.

It's quick to figure out what will happen when various disks are submitted, but it's unclear whether you want those things to happen. You gradually gain awareness as you spend more time with Deus Ex Ceviche, developing conscious control over the proceedings. This mimics the experience of “you,” the central character in the story.

At first, I couldn't tell whether I wanted to restore things to normal or create a new order. In Deus Ex Ceviche, that might mean a religious order, a sequential order, or a restaurant order.

Wordplay is a major component of this entry, but they aren't quite puns. In the real world, people share imperfect metaphors when they’re trying to describe the workings of finance, theology, and computer programming. Deus Ex Ceviche blurs the edges of those concepts and freely substitutes nautical terms, business concepts, programming ideas, and spiritual dogma.

In a dizzying feat of logical consistency, those substitutions are consistent throughout the story. The three fields of play are front end, back end, and hardware, and each has an equivalent marine creature that is thematically linked with the rest of the work.

(In one of my encounters, it noted that you can translate "serpent" as "python" to create a new religious paradigm.)

Your choices to invest power and piety can result in rituals that reveal mysteries and draw the game to its conclusion.

...although pickling is always an option.


1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A game about fishy religious computers, October 17, 2020
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

In Contrast to much of Chandler Groover’s earlier work, this game is written in unity, with Tom Lento providing art and programming.

As someone who’s been working on a Chandler Groover-themed amusement park parser game for years, my initial thought was ‘Where do I fit this in?’ (maybe the food truck?)

Beyond that, though, this game definitely fits into the pattern for Groover’s recent IFComp entries, which tend to be much more experimental and less formulaic.

In this case, we have a complicated UI system that involves dragging and dropping tiles while a Clippy-like goldfish provides helpful tips in the corner. Doing so unlocks additional tiles with additional features, which raise and lower stats by various amounts, with the goal of reaching an arbitrary number for three of those stats.

Having played through most of the comp by now, my mind brought up umprompted comparisons to other games. The drag and drop visual system reminded me of Saint Simon’s Saw and its unity card system, also involving dragging rectangles into rectangles. The complex mechanics and arbitrary number goals reminded me favorably of Ascension of Limbs. The fishy religion reminded me of Call of Innsmouth. And the overall elaborate strategy guide and overly helpful fish reminded me of the controversy surrounding Amazing Quest.

So maybe this game lies at the core of the whole comp in a weird sense that oddly ties in with the game’s own themes. The main idea here is some kind of bio-mechanical-theological construct that is malfunctioning and emitting brine, and which you must patch up through various rituals which have an unintended transformative gestalt effect (just throwing random words together here and hoping they mean something).

Is it a good game? Is this complex combination of art, interactivity, words and design actually fun?

Well, it really annoys me how the top 2 boxes are almost the same color, and that on the little save disks the colors are switched. I finally realized that I could hover something over the middle box and if it looked ‘transparent’ due to the colors matching then it matched. I’m not sure the little disk’s middle color was the exact same shade as the big stack’s top color or not.

I don’t know, you can throw together all sorts of things and little UI decisions can matter more than all your careful preparation. But after I got over that hump, and once I realized that brining could be good, I enjoyed the game and actually quite enjoyed the ending. I was assigned a specific ending style (dominant), but since there’s no guide to endings and I’m not sure how I could play differently (except maybe brining myself to death or completing the rituals in a different order?) I think I’ll leave it right now. This isn’t my favorite Chandler Groover game if, for nothing else, the fact that I admire quick text games that can be resized in any window and allow blindingly-fast play (some of my reasons for preferring parser and non-timed Twine games), and this game doesn’t have those things. I don’t view moving from text to unity as a positive progression for my own personal interests, but I can 100% say that this is the best use of Unity I’ve seen for telling a narrative.

+Polish: Eminently polished
+Descriptiveness: Many, varied and unusual micro-stories
+Interactivity: By the end I liked it
-Emotional impact: Not really; the game structure and UI mechanizes the gameplay and alienates the player from the story, I believe intentionally.
+Would I play again? Not till I'm done with the other games, but I want to see if there are more endings.


4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Absurdist game about a computer made of fish... I think..., October 2, 2020
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: Less than 1 hour

Oh man. I almost held off reviewing this one because I wanted to see what others had to say about it first, in hopes other reviews would help me understand it better. But this isn't the first Chandler Groover game I've played and so my guess is that I'm not meant to understand it fully, so here we go.

This game is really more a statistically based puzzle game than interactive fiction. There are plenty of words to read, but I'm pretty sure they would only make sense if you lived in the absurd world of the story. The puzzle itself involves accumulating fish or tech related stats, like brine and bytes, by putting religious-themed "disks" into processing slots, sometimes accompanied by what I think is an AI, and clicking submit to see what kind of stats you get. After hitting submit each time you get a few lines of text adding color, but a really weird color like Smaragdine, to the world. The rules of the game are barely explained to you, so it is just up to trial and error to figure out how to accumulate the necessary stats fast enough to win the game. I was starting to notice the pattern towards the end of the game, but I wasn't into it enough to keep playing and fine tune it.

Because all the text was so weird and I wasn't able to pick a story out of it, it quickly devolved in to me just clicking as quick as I could to try different combinations of disks and slots to reach the end of the game. I love Groover's game "Eat Me" and it was the first of his I played. Since then I've always played his games early in each IFComp, hoping for more greatness, but mostly finding weird mood pieces. I'd love to hear from someone that really enjoyed this game to help me understand it better.



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