IFComp 2010: East Grove Hills

And now, the last game on my docket, submitted by someone going by the pseudonym “XYZ” — very fitting for the end of a sequence of 26. Spoilers follow the break.

I know only one thing about XYZ for sure, and that’s that he or she really wants to be like Adam Cadre. This game has a Photopia-like structure, a linear series of vignettes, not in chronological order, in which you don’t really have the power to affect anything. Except it takes it to an even greater extreme. Photopia at least held out the illusion of choice (to the point, in one chapter, of redrawing the map on the fly to guarantee you’d see things in the right order), but East Grove Hills basically doesn’t let you do anything other than execute the actions it tells you to, much like Deadline Enchanter. Most of the actual choices you make are in dialog menus. This is a work that would be more comfortable in CYOA format, except for certain aspects to be described below.

It bears an even greater resemblance to Cadre’s (non-interactive) novel, Ready, Okay!: it concerns an attack on a high school, as told in flashback by an awkward, introverted, and sarcastic student. The flashback is used as an excuse for not fleshing out the environment: the default item description says “There are some things that I forgot, or never noticed in the first place.”

Similarly, the default response for picking things up is changed to “Why would I take random things around me? I’m not a kleptomaniac, like some adventure game protagonist.” There’s a lot of that self-awareness in this game, repeated mentions of IF, generally contemptuous, as when the protagonist, Thomas Wu, blames “stupid text adventures” for making him see his environment in terms of compass directions. One more example: the default syntax error is “I’m sorry; English is not my first language. Try either a simpler phrase. Or a command with a verb. Because I love to be enslaved to hierarchical systems of command.” So the author likes Cadre, but hates IF? That would certainly explain the minimally-interactive style, but not the use of IF in the first place. It could easily be a pose, an attribute of the character rather than the author.

At any rate, the first scene in the game, mere minutes before the bombs go off, involves protagonist Thomas Wu and his friends giving a presentation for their AP Literature class, a powerpoint presentation about some unnamed book. It’s mentioned that one of them wanted to make a computer game instead. Later in the game, we’re told point-blank that the game was in fact made, and you’re playing it. We’re still not told what book it’s based on, but Ready, Okay! seems like a reasonable guess. We’re left with the question of how much of the story is true. Presumably there was no real East Grove Hills bombing/shooting, as such things make the news, but was there a real Thomas Wu, a real AP Literature class that this game was written for? I’m not sure I want to know the answer. The ambiguity is pleasantly tantalizing. It’s been speculated that the mystery author here actually is Adam Cadre. I don’t find that likely — it’s not up to his standards, and besides, he’s already told this story. But I do like the fact that it supports such speculation.

So, even though I don’t care much for this work’s form, I give it some credit for content. I like the way it’s willing to criticize IF as a medium, and I think there’s some real emotional honesty in the story, even though the characters seem implausibly self-analytic (another attribute possibly imitated from R,O!). And it does fit at least a little into the paradigm of IF as riddle.

Rating: 4

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