TKoSaP: Variability

(Spoilers ahead.)

The King of Shreds and Patches is pretty good at small-scale variability. There are a number of little choices not just in what order you things happen, but how. For example, at one point I stopped a man from finishing a dread incantation by assaulting him with my bare fists. I later discovered that I could have obtained a wheellock pistol in an area I had already passed through. I’m not sure what the consequences of using that instead would have been. In the story as I’ve seen it, I had to climb up to where the man was with a makeshift grappling hook, and after I interrupted him, he cursed me and ran away. Either of those things could have been changed with a way of killing from a distance. But even if they didn’t, the scene was able to play out to its conclusion with the player either armed or unarmed.

More broadly, much of the game is spent questioning people like a sort of Elizabethan detective, and the number of things you can ask people about grows as you progress. In general, it feels like each person you visit generates one or two new snippets of useful information, but which snippets you learn from whom depends on what order you visit them in. In the story as I experienced it, I got some of my early leads from a patron at a pub frequented by the likes of Shakespeare and Marlowe. I eventually visited him again, for no other reason than that I was temporarily stuck, and found that he had information about the whereabouts of one Barker, the man of mystery at the center of events who I hadn’t even heard of on my first visit. I could have easily not noticed this, just as someone who visited the pub later than I did might not have noticed that the same information could be squeezed out of the illustrious John Dee. The game kind of discourages visiting most characters twice; once you’ve questioned someone, they’re left out of the task list produced by the “think” command 1“Think” to produce minor hints or reminders seems to be rapidly becoming standard; several of the games I’ve played this year implement it. Perhaps this is in part because the verb is included in the standard Inform library, although without modification it just produces a snarky reply. , even if they have more information.

But of course any variability is set within a fixed framework. Despite what I said before about the day/night cycle, I now think that the game doesn’t actually let you miss important plot events. One thread of the story concerns a vanished girl named Marijne, whose cousin, the well-to-do Lucy Henry, was once courted by the player character. It’s pretty much a given that Marijne will be dead by the time you find her, just because a horror story needs a corpse or two by the end of the first act to let the audience know it means business. And when Lucy is in danger later on, and I arrive on the scene just a little too late to prevent her abduction, I recognize that this happens to provide motivation in the story’s imminent climax, not because I was too slow. But I don’t know yet what Lucy’s ultimate fate will be. In a conventional game, this would be the setup for rescue-the-princess, and any failure to rescue her would simply be the player’s fault, and a temporary condition at that. But in a Lovecraftian horror, a happy ending might not even be an option.

Oh, I have little doubt that I’ll be allowed to halt the ritual and banish the monster, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I’ll be able to save the damsel. The author lets the player know when and where the ritual is to occur, which means that the cultists have to keep Lucy alive until then. This explicitly gives the player character hope, presumably shared by the player, but the same knowledge could easily provoke dread, with the time running out while you struggle to reach the appointed place. Either way it goes, it could fit into the story. Which means that this isn’t necessarily just a matter of success and failure, but may even be another matter of narrative variation. We’ll see how it plays out.

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1. “Think” to produce minor hints or reminders seems to be rapidly becoming standard; several of the games I’ve played this year implement it. Perhaps this is in part because the verb is included in the standard Inform library, although without modification it just produces a snarky reply.

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