IFComp 2019: Enceladus

Enceladus is Robb Sherwin (author of Cryptozookeeper and Necrotic Drift) in one of his sillier moods. It starts with a werewolf loose on a spaceship, a scenario that I think I last saw in an issue of Scud the Disposable Assassin. This leads to an emergency landing on one of Saturn’s icy moons, where there’s some antics involving hot sauce and a trip into the mines, culminating in a second encounter with the werewolf and his partner before you can take off again. The tone is bubbly and banterous, despite some extreme violence. Characters have stupid arguments about petty things. Nearly every object has a humorous description, incorporating either absurd space lore, or running gags, or just incongruous and unexplained details. That’s really the essence of it: humor through details. It all reminds me a bit of Douglas Adams, but with the wacky turned up a notch, even as the setting becomes more grounded — no aliens or interstellar travel here. Just werewolves. And even those are just humans who have had some elective genetic modification done.

Even though the interaction is parser-based, events are extremely linear. At any given moment, there is one thing, or two at most, that you need to do to move the story forward, and sometimes that one thing is just staying in a location for a few turns while a conversation goes on around you. When it isn’t, it’s usually just a matter of following the captain’s orders. You can talk to people, but only when you’re at a point in the story where it’s necessary. If it had a hypertext interface instead of a parser, it would be exactly the sort of hypertext work I don’t like particularly, where nearly every page has but a single forward link. But at least it gives you control of the camera, so to speak, letting you examine things as you please, and rewarding you for doing so with more delightful prose.

At one point, you’re trapped in a cave with the captain, and she turns introspective and tells you the story of how her husband died. It’s fairly gruesome, but it’s still presented in about as light-hearted a fashion as possible for such a story, much like the werewolf murders earlier. It just seems like being trapped in a cave with someone is somehow the appropriate time for characters to get confessional.

A note about interpreters: The game is written in Hugo. I at first ran it under Gargoyle, which is normally capable of running Hugo, but at a certain point, it became unresponsive and I had to kill the process. Running it under Hugor instead did not produce such problems.

One last thing: About halfway through the game, I learned that it has music. By that point, I had been through so muck of the game without music that its addition seemed strange and distracting, contrary to the feel of the piece as I had come to know it. So I turned it off again. A plea to authors: If your Comp entry has music, please let us know beforehand.

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