IFComp 2012: Sunday Afternoon

Spoilers follow the break.

Now here’s a tasty one. It puts you in role of a mischievous young boy in the care of prim Victorians who want him to sit quietly and read sermons when he’d rather go tearing around outside. As a recent conversation reminded me, this is the sort of role that you generally don’t see in games other than adventures. So far from being a power fantasy, it’s practically a powerlessness fantasy.

But it’s also a story that’s congruent with the experience of play. I mean, puzzle-based adventure games are in general about increasing freedom. The way towards your goal is to expand the range of the possible, often by accessing new rooms. So it is with the protagonist here. You start off unable to leave the room you’re in. Even when you manage to evade the gaze of the watchful aunt, you have to tread carefully to keep from being nabbed and deposited back where you started. Freedom is only gained by causing enough ruckus to keep both adults in the house occupied and out of your way.

This limitation in the early game works really well here, in my opinion. Partly because it’s somewhat illusory. The starting room has a wealth of objects to examine and conversation topics to explore without leaving it at all. Mostly this stems from a mantelpiece full of knickknacks (some of them IF in-jokes), implemented in such a way that they’re revealed one by one as you examine the collection repeatedly. This effectively hides the amount of information that’s available to you, keeping it from being immediately overwhelming and reinforcing the illusion of limitation.

The other half of the illusion is that your increases in freedom don’t really gain you as much as it seems like they should. This is supposed to be a house large enough to have servants’ quarters, but the PC is just unwilling to enter most of it, and the rooms he’s willing to enter seem a bit underimplemented, especially in contrast to that first room. When you gain the kitchen, you don’t get an entire kitchen’s worth of interactive stuff, you get just the things you need for the game’s final puzzles plus a little more backstory, even though a kitchen seems like it would afford some fine opportunities for pure in-character actions, such as stealing jam. The final increase in freedom — finally getting outside — is of course the end of the game. But that’s what you get from the Comp format, I suppose. This entire game could easily be the first act of a large game spent rambling around a manor house, but it’s not. I suppose there are plenty of adventure games set in empty manor houses already. This game’s defining feature is that your interactions with the house are shaped and defined by the other characters.

And even though they’re the antagonists, I really can’t dislike the uncle and aunt in this game too much. They really are doing their best, you know?

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