IFComp 2010: Gigantomania

Spoilers follow the break.

Four vignettes about life in the USSR during the 1940s, from four perspectives, ranging from a starving farmer to Comrade Stalin himself. This is more story than game, fairly linear, with much of the play-time consumed by dialogue menus. But it uses game-like elements in service of the story — chiefly repetitive actions and unachievable goals.

The strongest part, and the one part where it really seemed to be using the strengths of the medium, was in the third scenario, where you’re a bureaucrat of some sort, high-level enough to have access to decadent pleasures like Lucky Strikes and Ella Fitzgerald recordings. A missing document prompts a search of the offices, so you have to get rid of anything that might cast doubt on your sincere devotion to Communist principles. So you gather up everything you can find, and dump it all in the broom cupboard or whatever, but the investigation finds incriminating evidence in your office anyway, in the form of items that seemed perfectly innocent to you — probably the worst being an official encyclopedia, which, it turns out, still contains some pages that you had been instructed to remove. It hardly matters anyway: searching your office was just a pretext all along, a way to pressure you into testifying against someone else. But the point is that at this moment the game is being unfair to you, and it’s doing it in order to directly communicate the experience of living under an unfair system.

The least effective segment is probably the first, where you’re a farmer struggling to produce your day’s quota of grain or potatoes, to be handed over to a fat and greedy supervisor (who can have you arrested if you’re short) instead of sharing it with your starving neighbors. I can see this working better if it were iterated, if you had to make the decision about what to do with the remains of your dwindling crop supply each day. As it is, you can easily just harvest enough to satisfy everybody. You can apparently bribe the supervisor with rings, which he’s fond of — there are at least two available — but there doesn’t seem much point. And that’s not getting into the weird unrealism of the farm, something covered better in Emily Short’s comments, but also something that kind of slid past me, because I hadn’t yet decided at that point what kind of game I thought this was trying to be.

The fourth segment is a little strange: it’s Stalin’s internal monologue, as he decides the fate of millions on the basis of whims and grudges, but it’s presented as a dialogue menu, with choices — not that your choices affect things for you particularly, but that might well be part of the point, that he’s insulated from the consequences of his decisions. Or it could be that the author just didn’t feel like going to the effort of making this part meaningfully interactive. After all, this is one role where the player with enough agency might decide not to cooperate, might decide that Stalin just needs to die or something and refuse to play out the scene as written. Every choice and every response is followed by an inscrutable angle-bracketed tag, like <d4> or <Nf6>, and at a certain point, the dialogue disappears entirely, leaving just the tags. I thought at first that this was a glitch, some sort of markup that I wasn’t supposed to be seeing, but on getting the tag <0-0> I realized that this was chess notation. Not all players have made that connection, though, even after the game ends in the word “Checkmate”, so I can’t call this successful.

Rating: 6

No Comments

Leave a reply