IFComp 2012: Spiral

Spoilers follow the break.

Actually, despite the standard warning, I’m not sure how much I can spoil something I don’t really understand. This is an enigmatic one. It starts with two people bound and gagged in some sort of carriage, with a bunch of dead wasps on the floor between them and some kind of gas pumped in at regular intervals. You can switch control between the two people at will, but all they can do is examine stuff and go to sleep. In sleeping, they dream. Helen dreams of islands in a pit of fire, of being judged and found wanting by religious figures. Ross dreams of a vast machine attacking the Earth, sucking up everything good and beautiful and grinding it up for no reason. As we explore these two worlds, we get hints of the characters’ backstories and what the particular dream elements represent. We figure out the rules that the dream object operate by. We discover that that two dreamworlds are connected, capable of affecting each other, even of passing objects back and forth between them, altering them in the process. Helen collects seven diary pages, Ross collects seven soul crystals. In both cases, the seven objects fuse into a sort of gateway that lets both characters access the same location: the wreckage of a bombing in the London Underground, where you have to take drastic and unpleasant action to make the story advance.

And then, just when you’re expecting the game to end, because you’ve been everywhere and done everything, you run into the game’s one major design flaw: further progress, as well as detailed information about the character backstories, seems to be contingent on waking up and using the THINK and REMEMBER commands back in the carriage where you’re tied up. This is actually less unreasonable than I’m making it sound, because the game tells you up front when you first start it that the THINK and REMEMBER commands are important. But they don’t actually work when you first start. I’m pretty sure that you regain your memories as a result of collecting the seven objects in the dream. So the intention here is to use the dreams to space out the backstory and divide it into chunks: every time you find a crystal or page, you can go back to the carriage and learn more. But once you’re making enough progress in the dreams to find these items, why would you go back to the carriage, where you seemingly can’t do anything? Every once in a while I’d wake up involuntarily by dying in the dream, and my immediate reaction was always to go right back into the dream again. My progress in the game was thus “look around think remember dream HEY! Concrete goals to pursue! Dream dream dream solve puzzles find stuff do everything stuck stuck stuck wake up remember MASSIVE INFODUMP.”

After that, I’m just confused. It really seemed for a while like everything was getting explained, but at the end I have no idea what’s real. Suddenly there’s a live wasp in the room in addition to the dead ones, and you can switch control to it just like you switched between Helen and Ross before, and it can kill Helen and Ross but they come back to life after a while, but only one at a time? And maybe you’ve really been dead the whole time, killed in that Underground bombing, except if you do things right a rescue team shows up and lets you out of the carriage, and also your past is different? Does the author even have any idea of what’s really supposed to be going on here? I don’t know. I liked the dreamworlds, though.

1 Comment so far

  1. Greg on 21 Nov 2012

    I only figured out how to pass things between the dreamworlds by dying while carrying them. That made for very natural breaks to “remember”.

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