IFComp 2016: 16 Ways to Kill a Vampire at McDonalds

Spoilers follow the break.

So, you’re part of a vampire-hunting team of the sort popularized by Buffy. The idea of a group of friends secretly fighting vampires in a modern setting is older than that, going back to Bram Stoker at least, but Buffy is my touchstone, and I’d say this piece is informed by its attitude, particularly its sense of humor (as when it fruitlessly speculates on how to properly conjugate the word “slay”). The player character, Lucy, is the team’s designated bait: her job is to look tempting and vulnerable to lure the vamps out so her teammates can kill them. But in this game, when you unexpectedly find a vampire stalking a McDonald’s cashier, it’s your night off, and you’re alone.

But not unprepared. For one thing, you can easily call for backup. That’s one way to win. But you’ll really want to find all 16, because this is a game for completists, meant to be replayed until you find all the endings and unlock all the extras. Honestly, though, 16 is understating things, because some of the 16 Ways have multiple applications. For example, on my first successful pass, I wound up driving the vampire away by making crosses out of drinking straws, but at the same time prevented him from leaving by hanging a wreath of holly on the door. Being caught in the middle melted him, and because this used two of the 16 Ways, it gave me credit for two endings.

See, even though Lucy isn’t the muscle of the team, the game takes the stance that every vampire weakness you’ve ever heard of, folkloric or made-up, is real. Consequently, killing a vampire isn’t really all that hard. Since the vampire here is just sitting in a booth and ignoring you, this could easily make the player into a bully, repeatedly picking on someone for the satisfaction of seeing how many ways you can hurt him. The author solves this problem by making Lucy’s narrative voice really appealing, simultaneously witty and kind, and making the vampire a real sleazebag. One of the approaches you can take is to use Lucy’s designated bait skills, getting the vampire to ignore the cashier in favor of you. If you do this, you get to see how he beguiles his victims, and it turns out to be through mesmerism-enhanced PUA techniques, including a lot of negging. Vampire or not, it’s not hard to see him as the bad guy after that.

Even though this is an old-school puzzle-based adventure game, with inventory and free roaming between rooms, it’s written in Twine, with a completely hypertext UI. This is hardly the first hypertext-based old-school adventure game — I’ve described a few in previous Comps — but I like how it’s applied here: inconsistently. That is, the presentation varies with the effect the author wants. Sometimes actions that aren’t currently available (because you don’t have the right items or whatever) are not displayed at all, because the author knows you’ll be passing through there again; sometimes all the actions are put in a list with the unavailable ones grayed out, because the author understands that you’ll need some extra help understanding the range of possibility. The very first room has an always-available link to burn down the entire building, which you can’t do successfully at the beginning, but which makes you aware that Lucy considers it to be an option.

One special puzzle UI I think is worth describing specifically: Outside the building, there’s a homeless woman handing out religious pamphlets. Her faith is as effective as any priest’s for vampire-hunting purposes. (It’s intriguing that Lucy’s isn’t. She’s willing to trust her life to the supernatural power of a stranger’s faith — isn’t that a form of faith in itself? And yet it’s a faith she’s unwilling to trust in the same way.) But she doesn’t fully trust you, and admitting that you’re hunting vampires just makes her suspect that you’re making fun of her, so she puts you to a test. You get to choose either 1 Corinthians 13, the Shepherd Psalm, or Saint Francis’ Prayer. Whichever you choose is displayed, but some of the words are wrong. Clicking the words cycles them through several options, some plausible (“He fills/redeems/restoreth/sootheth my soul”), others humorous (“When I was a child, I talked like a larva/chicken/robot/jerk/child”). When you think you’ve restored the proper words, you submit your answer. Now, obviously you could look up any of these texts, but I chose to do things the hard way, and was intrigued that the only one I managed to get completely right was the one I was completely unfamiliar with. Saint Francis’ Prayer is so symmetrical, consisting mainly of paired opposites, that it’s basically a gimme. The author chose to make this the third of three choices so that people like me who try them out in order would get it after failing the other two.

So, yeah, this one is well-made. My one complaint is the lack of the save/restore/undo system I expect of old-school puzzle-based adventure games. With deaths and other failures in addition to the 16 Ways, I wound up repeating some of the game’s possible opening moves a lot. At least it’s willing to skip over the scripture puzzle once you’ve solved it once.

2 Comments so far

  1. malkav11 on 7 Oct 2016

    I liked it a fair bit but I couldn’t figure out 2 of the possible methods. The source of the “sunlight” is obvious, how to get it to do anything at all to the vampire not so much. And the one where you “use any means necessary” to smash his head, the hint didn’t make any sense to me.

  2. Reiko on 13 Oct 2016

    I actually figured out the “sunlight” one first, by accident. It just needs enough time in the right place. The smashing one was the only one I haven’t figured out yet.

    Lots of fun trying all the different things. My favorite combination was rigging the door with a bucket of holy water and then driving the vampire out with running water from the blocked toilet. :)

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