IFComp 2020: Academic Pursuits (As Opposed To Regular Pursuits)

Oh, this one’s delicious. I think this is the first time in this year’s Comp that I’ve laughed out loud with delight. The game starts with a university’s new hire moving her things into a cramped office, and, well, that’s really all you do as the player. Once all your stuff is unpacked from boxes and squared away, it’s over. But the story is more than that. Every box is full of revelations about the player character, her relationship to someone she calls “the Professor”, and her secrets.

I won’t reveal those secrets here. Suffice to say that the game is a bit like 9:05, in that there are tons of little hints that you only notice on a second playthrough — just from thinking about it to write this, I’m remembering details that seem more meaningful now. But where 9:05 used a big revelation at the very end, this game staggers it in snippets throughout, letting you piece together the truth bit by bit. It’s clever how it manages it, too, organizing the story through those boxes, which you have to go through in the order they’re stacked, from least to most revealing. It even doubles the number of stages by putting two layers of stuff in each box! But the approximate linearity is disguised by low-level interactivity, keeping your attention on decisions about how to best use your limited space and which items to throw away — which also serves as a small distraction from what the objects are telling you. It’s all an excellent example of using the parser and world model to manipulate and misdirect the player.

This is a gem. I haven’t been talking about the ratings I’ve been assigning in the Comp, but I’ll make an exception here: this is my highest-rated game so far this year. (Mind you, I’m only about a third of the way through…)

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