Return to Stephen’s Sausage Roll

A Monster’s Expedition reminded me enough of Stephen’s Sausage Roll that I had to pull it out and give it another try, starting over from the beginning and hoping to finish it this time. And playing the one right after the other, it’s striking how vastly different their attitudes are. AME is the “good twin” here, all gentle and welcoming. SSR wants to make you uncomfortable. Suspiciously tinkly music that occasionally goes discordant, noisy and unclear textures, weird movement rules — in AME, pressing an arrow key always just attempts to move you in that direction, but in SSR, what it does depends on your orientation. Even after playing for most of a day, I still spend a lot of my time fruitlessly pivoting in place.

And when you do move, you have to be careful to avoid smacking sausages into the wrong place with your fork, because you take up two tiles and it’s awkward. The easiest way to avoid trouble is to walk backwards most of the time. You can’t just walk up to a ladder and climb it, because you can’t reach it past your fork; you have to back up to it, then turn and climb it sideways. Once you’re at the top of the ladder, the controls make it impossible to turn to face it, because pressing in that direction will just make you climb back down. An inadvertant flaw? No: there are puzzles based around it. I’d complain about the controls a lot more if I didn’t think they were deliberately alienating.

And when you make a mistake, you can explicitly fail. Burning a sausage, or knocking it off the island, results in a big failure message and the necessity of undoing or resetting the puzzle (although I notice that you can keep on playing while the message is up). AME never did that. That is, it’s certainly possible to render a puzzle unsolvable in AME, but it never tells you that you failed.

1 Comment so far

  1. matt w on 16 Sep 2020

    The controls are so deliberately alienating that the level that introduces the mechanic where you can’t swing the fork over a ladder is called “Cold Frustration”! At least I assumed the frustration involved is that the first thing everyone tries is to swing the fork over the ladder to back up through that little area, and you can’t do it. I may have tried it multiple times. That was one of two levels proper where I broke down and got a hint. (I also got a hint for how to climb ladders.)

    Explicit failure, while part of what SSR does to discomfit you, is in many ways more player-friendly than letting you silently render a puzzle unsolvable; it moves it back a notch on the zarfian cruelty scale. On the aforesaid Cold Frustration I figured out a way to drop the fork (IIRC you also did) and knocked it overboard and got a “Fork Lost” message, and it would’ve been really mean if I’d managed to grill all the sausages that way and learned that you can’t win the level without the fork. Of course there are billions of ways to lock yourself out of victory that aren’t obvious, like turning the wrong way on the first move in some of the earlier more restrictive puzzles, so the game stays cruel really.

    The way A Monster’s Expedition works means it can’t really explicitly tell you you’ve failed, because the goal is often not the goal you might think it is, or there’s often a hidden goal you can accomplish alongside the main one. Which is necessary for an open world game with secrets. The genius of AME’s design is in not making this frustrating, and not giving me constant fear that I’ve locked myself out or that I’m missing something critical. (It does explicitly tell you that you’ve failed once, in the very beginning when you knock all the logs into the water without making a bridge it pops up “R for Reset Island.”)

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