IFComp 2020: A Catalan Summer

Here we have the story of a wealthy European family in 1920, when the Great War is a recent memory and Catalonian independence is a hot issue. It’s told in brief vignettes, like a storylet system except not randomized, and the viewpoint shifts from vignette to vignette, giving us control of different family members. The interesting thing about this is that, depending on the player’s choices, they can wind up keeping secrets from each other. The mother has an affair with a boy from the village; the father sleeps with the daughter’s fiancé; the daughter befriends a dangerous ghost; the son throws in with anarchists striking against the father’s factory. That last one even leads to the different player characters working at cross-purposes. You can hire a detective as the father and then get beat up by that detective as the son.

This inconsistency of character goals leaves open the question of what the player’s goals are. In my first playthrough, I basically went with every opportunity to amp up the drama, with the result that the family fell apart and lost everything. There’s a climactic scene, the only one where you can switch characters on purpose, where everyone’s naughty secrets can come to light if you want. But if you want to preserve the family and its fortune, that’s not hard either. All you have to do is make everyone act dutifully. That’s the story’s central conflict, I suppose: whether people should sacrifice their interests to the interests of the family. But it’s notable that doing so just results in less story. It’s like choosing the Genocide route in Undertale that way, and as such, is clearly the wrong path to take.

The interactivity is peculiar. You have two and only two sorts of actions: moving from room to room, and engaging other characters in choice-based conversations, both of which are accomplished via hyperlinks. The act of room-to-room navigation makes it feel a little like an adventure game, but there’s no inventory or puzzles. The old mansion, with its ballroom and its artificial cave and its historical origins, reminded me a bit of the board game Clue, and, as in Clue, it all seemed a bit pointless at first. In the opening scenes, you’re basically just instructed where to go to advance the story, and moving about manually seemed like mere busywork. Eventually, though, it starts using the rooms to represent choices. You see the father sneaking off to the chapel; do you spy on him, or do you just go back to your bedroom and forget about it? The real function of the opening tour was to familiarize the player with the house and grounds, so you could navigate the later sections more easily. It would be easy to hide secrets this way, putting special encounters in places the player is unlikely to visit at a given moment. But if this game does that, I haven’t seen any sign of it. It’s fairly minimalist, content-wise.

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