IFComp 2016: Screw You, Bear Dad!

Spoilers faollow the break.

As you’d expect from the title, this one is in Wacky mode. It’s a choice-based work that starts with a bear in a bowtie falling from the sky, through a skylight into some sort of mid-ocean complex. You don’t have context yet, but it’s easy to come to the conclusion that you’re on some sort of commando mission, and the game gives you the opportunity to wreak havoc. It eventually comes out that you are on no such mission, but any havoc you committed is excused on the basis that you’re a bear and you’re disoriented from falling out of the sky. This is a good example of the thing this story does best: it keeps surprising you, veering in unexpected directions.

The narrative fequently switches the point of view back and forth between the bear and the complex’s few human inhabitants, who are clearly just trying to defend themselves from this unexpected bear attack. They don’t have much in the way of defenses, but one of the few things they do have is a large tank of hallucinogenic gas that they can pump into specific rooms — which may not be the best defense against a large animal that’s already lashing out due to disorientation. What the complex is for and why it has a hallucinogen delivery system are things that the story delves into, but it all basically comes down to “the person who built this is insane”, and before we get there, we get so many incredulous reactions from the humans that it gets stale.

It takes a while, but eventually the two sides reconcile. First, though, the hallucinogens make the bear relive some family drama and resolve some psychological issues concerning his relationship with his father. And I found this boring, and felt it just needlessly put the brakes on the story’s real drama, the conflict in the mid-ocean compound. I guess the use of anthropomorphized bears was supposed to push this whole plot thread out of the realm of the boring and into the wacky, but it really didn’t work for me.

But such complaints are dwarfed by my larger issue with the work: the way it uses hypertext is just really, really annoying. You know how some hypertext-based works have long noninteractive sequences where there’s just one prompt on each page that takes you to the next page? This takes that even farther. Some pages — most pages — have a hyperlink at the end of each line that just reveals the next line. There was even a page with an elongated “Yaaaaaaaaaaaaaay” where each letter was a hyperlink to reveal the next, although in context that one could easily be a matter of the author deliberately punishing the player for refusing to cooperate. There are also a number of cases of flashy effects like text that appears after a pause and text that vibrates on the screen, which are kind of annoying too, interfering with my reading for no good reason, but nowhere near as annoying as asking me to click on a hundred pointless, choiceless hyperlinks.

There’s one other repeated gimmick I find less annoying: at multiple points, there’s a hyperlink on a word that simply replaces it with another word, also a link. In fact, the very first link in the game works like this: it says “You are a Bear”, and clicking on the word “Bear” turns it into “a cool Bear”, then “a really, really cool Bear”, “the coolest of Bears”, and finally back into just “a Bear”, at which point it lets you proceed. This, I think, is more tolerable to me because the process at least conveys meaning: the repeated replacement of the text represents the bear re-evaluating an assessment. What does a hyperlink at the end of one text snippet to reveal the next text snippet tell us? Just that the author is in love with hyperlinks and doesn’t care much about their effect on the user experience.

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