IFComp 2020: Deus Ex Ceviche

The premise here is a confusion, a jumble of ideas. It’s about corporations that are somehow religion that’s somehow technology that’s somehow fish, each thing bleeding into the others. But it grounds this flight of fancy in a heavily rule-based and stat-based system. Your temple has three parts: front end, back end, and hardware. In each round, you place a floppy disk in each part, and it affects your stats, granting you Power or Piety, Bots or Bolts or Bytes. Or, if you do things wrong, Brine, which seems to be basically entropy: the sea reclaiming what you own. The thing is, most actions require the assistance of robot clergy. You gain two such assistants, but have to perform three actions per round, so the the third is usually done wrong. The slow brining of the temple is inevitable, and must be fought and/or outpaced.

And here’s the thing: Everything you do yields a short paragraph of output text, describing how NaNette the NanoNun delivered a digital sermon to the robots of Crab Corp or whatever. And to some extent, early on, paying attention to these texts helps you get a handle on what’s going on. But I found that once I was hip to the rules, I tended to just glance at the text and pay more attention to the mechanical effects expressed through the numbers. That is, once my behavior became goal-driven, the text became mere flavor text, attached to the real events of the game but not really relevant to it. And that’s kind of a shame, because the text really is quite clever, mining as many strange juxtapositions and ambiguous phrasings out of the compound premise as it can. I suspect that this divorce between the writing and the player’s attention, together with the GUI presentation, will provoke a “But is it IF?” reaction in some, although to me, it seems no more dubious than a lot of this year’s other entries.

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