IFComp 2016: Quest for the Traitor Saint

My first Twine pick this year. Spoilers follow the break.

This is a heavy world-building game, and seems to be a sequel to something I haven’t played, part of a series called “The Saints of Horses”. Neither “saints” nor “horses” is used with its usual meaning here. The “Horses” are a quadrupedal alien race; according to the illustrations, they look like scruffy approximations of the cartoon ponies from My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, but don’t much resemble them in culture or behavior. Their planet is a place of alien whimsy and danger, with an imaginative array of flora and fauna — beaches covered in slippery pea-pods, ghost cats, apparitions that only Horses can see and that may be more cultural than physical — all described in a built-in bestiary menu. As the protagonist observes, “Nature doesn’t behave right here. Nature doesn’t behave right anywhere, but it’s at least a consistent wrongness. Here, you can get the distinct sense that a flower could just decide to be a tree and it’d just happen. It wouldn’t even turn into a tree as that would make too much sense.”

The player character is a human who’s come to seek the Horses’ help with a crisis, only to run into a profound communication barrier, not of language (which seems to be a solved problem), but of understanding. While the Horses don’t exactly have a hive mind, they share their thoughts in a way that makes it difficult for them to even perceive things that no other Horse has encountered before, let alone understand them. Well, you’re on a diplomatic mission, and bridging cultural gulfs is what diplomacy is all about. But the Horses don’t even comprehend the concept of diplomacy. They’ve apparently collectively forgotten what it is, and you need to find a way to bring it back into their collective memory. And that’s where the Saints come in.

Most of the piece is spent in a sort of investigative travelogue of an island containing geoglyphs representing the Saints — or perhaps they literally are the Saints; it’s hard to be sure what is and isn’t symbolic when you’re talking to beings whose minds work differently. You’re looking for the lost Saint of Diplomacy. Most of the choices in the game are choices of where to go and where to direct your attention: Explore the plains or climb a hill to get a better view of the geoglyphs? Stop at a local rest stop and talk to the locals or keep moving forward? While there are a number of optional branches, everything seems to ultimately filter down to the same ending, where you succeed in your quest but don’t actually get what you wanted. It’s an ending that demands another sequel.

Now, usually when a writer wants to communicate a sense of an alien mind, they do it by making it sound foreign, weirding the syntax and combining words in unfamiliar and uncomfortable ways. This piece is different. The Horses we encounter talk with a chatty and colloquial and extremely normal cadence, as if to encourage you to forget how their perspective differs from yours, so that the author can keep springing it on you as a surprise. And let me just quote a song that one Horse sings to herself:
“Tin-thing grue, my heart is my basin,
one little praline, my heart is my basin.
Oh hey, it’s gonna rain today!
Oh hey, the shadow play,
the shadow play is a ripe banana.”
Nonsense, yes, but instead of inhuman-flavored nonsense, it’s more like two-year-old-flavored nonsense. But what is more incomprehensible than the mind of a two-year-old?

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