IFComp 2019: Valand

As usual, this year’s Comp has some noticeable coincidental themes. There are quite a few games about desert or near-desert islands (something I identified as “one of the less-imitated classical adventure game environments”, although I’m feeling like that’s less true now). There are multiple games concerning witches. And there’s Valand, which exists at the intersection of the two.

(I call it “Valand” here, because that’s how it’s listed on the Comp ballot, and because it’s a lot more distinctive than the title it has on its title page and cover art, which is The Island. “Valand” is given in-game as the name of the island, but why the game is listed under that name, I don’t know.)

It’s a simple choice-based piece, written in a simple style with light branching, about a young girl named Sam on a magical island with childish mermaids, at least one menacing tiger, and a household of friendly witches who save her from the tiger. Sam is a witch herself, she learns; she had no idea of this, but apparently witches are the only people who wash up on shore alive, due to the water rejecting them. So she sets about learning magic! Or telekinesis, anyway. But at the same time, she grows suspicious of Sabino, the sole grown-up witch. Apparently he controls the tiger, using it to create the appearance of danger, to keep his charges cowed so he can steal their magic. The kids conspire to investigate his secrets, and then, if you chose the same choices I did, the story simply goes unfinished. I ran into a linkless node that reads “Double-click this passage to edit it”, the default node text in Twine. It’s as if the author ran out of time to finish the game before the deadline but submitted it anyway, and then didn’t bother fixing it, which is a thing the Comp allows nowadays.

The whole thing reads like a children’s book, all very matter-of-fact about its fantastic elements: Sam sputters out a line or two of surprise that things like mermaids and witches exist, then just accepts them. Why is the danger in the night a tiger? Just because the author thought a tiger would be cool, I think, and because kids know what tigers are, so it doesn’t need a lot of explanation. The untrustworthiness of the island’s only adult seems a little more meaningful, though. That says something about this world and the author’s mindset.

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