IFComp 2011: The Play

Spoilers follow the break.

Dierdra Kiai hasn’t entered the Comp before, but hers is a familiar name to IF fans nonetheless. She’s written several silly-serious graphic adventures, such as Life Flashes By and Chivalry is Not Dead, that, unlike most indie graphic adventures, don’t hew to the Sierra/Lucasarts model. Instead, her style emphasizes conversation and choices — choices which affect how the rest of the story unfolds, even if it goes through more or less the same sequence of events regardless. With The Play, she brings this approach to the “Choose Your Own Adventure” interaction model, specifically to Undum, a newish HTML/Javascript CYOA system. And it’s an amazingly good fit for her. Interaction is entirely reduced to the choices she cares about.

Now, I should make a couple of things clear. First, although the game is browser-based, isn’t web-based: it requires something capable of displaying HTML and executing Javascript, but it doesn’t use or need HTTP. This is a good thing, and I’m glad that we’re finally in a position where this is an easy choice to make. We’ve had Comp entries housed on remote servers before, with the result that we can’t play them offline, and then, after the author stops caring about them, they disappear from the web, rendering our archival of past Comps incomplete, which saddens a completist like myself. Second, although I describe the interaction as CYOA, I don’t mean that it’s just a tree structure, implementable in static HTML. You act by clicking on hyperlinks, but what these links do is execute code. As in the few other Undum games I’ve looked at, there are a few variables displayed in a column to the right, allowing the player to see the lasting effects of actions.

The content, now. You’re directing a production of a rather silly drama involving a talking statue, a gladiator, and an ostrich (the latter referred to but not seen, and probably beyond your budget anyway). The entire game is a dress rehearsal, and your job is mostly to manage the egos of the cast. Keep them enthusiastically involved and the play will be a success, but if they’re nursing grudges against each other instead of concentrating on their performance, you’ll get panned. The difficulty is that their desires are often in conflict, necessitating compromise. In particular, Erica, the actress playing the part of the Statue, actively dislikes the play, and wants to ad-lib a new ending, while Brock, the actor playing the Artist, is a purist who looks askance at such amateurish attempts to improve on genius. But this conflict is essentially a proxy for deeper and more personal concerns. Erica dislikes the play because she finds it sexist, while Brock is bristling with enmity towards anything remotely feminist, largely due to your involvement in a production in which a friend and colleague of his, one Langdon Godfrey, was all but destroyed by allegations of sexual harassment. We’re given reason to believe that these allegations and worse were richly deserved, and that Langdon was a terrible human being, but siding with one cast member over another isn’t necessarily good for the play, even if justice is on your side. You need them — all of them. If even one person storms angrily off the set, that’s it for the play. And this means you have to give them all a little bit of whatever it is they really want, right or wrong. They’ll all push you as hard as they think they can get away with, though. (Langdon’s story serves as an illustration of this tendency taken to a greater extreme.) Again, it’s all about compromise. Not just in the sense of negotiating a mutually acceptable arrangement, but sometimes in the sense of lowering your moral standards.

I’m making it sound all serious. It’s not. Much of the game is spent on slapstick antics involving collapsing props and wardrobe malfunctions and the like. This stuff largely falls flat, if you ask me; gags of this sort never work as well in prose as they do in a more visual medium. But it does succeed in masking the underlying tensions for a while, letting the climax sneak up on you.

1 Comment so far

  1. IFComp Scores « Saucers of Mud on 14 Nov 2011

    […] Love had written it it’d probably be a 10. (Well, that’s true of anything.) As Carl observed, the slapstick doesn’t really work in the medium; slapstick can work in IF (more in […]

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