IFComp 2020: Doppeljobs

You are a doppelganger, a shape-shifter from Reverse World who can take on the appearance of humans by biting them. Fascinated by the human concept of entrepeneurship, you move to the big city to start a business renting out your services as a double for consenting humans, taking their place in situations they’d rather not deal with personally. The story gives you a sequence of four choice-based cases to work (the fourth apparently being optional), and awards you cash on the basis of your performance — clients will withhold full payment if your impersonation causes them inconvenience or embarrassment. You spend this money on little improvements, or you hoard it to pay off your small business loan. That is the game’s structure.

The content has a lot to do with guesswork in unfamiliar situations. Doppelganging someone doesn’t give you their knowledge or memories, and, although questioning the client before the mission eases this somewhat, it’s never enough to cover everything you need to know. And on top of that, our protagonist is new to the human world, and has a nonhuman perspective, which is played for laughs — for example, if you have advertising leaflets printed up: “At night, you sneak into people’s homes and leave the leaflets on their tables. It’s the only way to make sure they get them.”

So it’s basically a fish-out-of-water story, except creepy, in a humorous way. OK, but how do you make that work interactively? Surely the player knows what’s up even when the doppelganger doesn’t? This game’s solution: Make the human world a little off-kilter too. Your first client is a sandplumber, a person who maintains the pipes that deliver sand from the city’s central sand mine to all over the city. The fourth puts you in a clandestine meeting at the snake races. Snakes are a recurring motif, in fact; an optional subplot sees the player character becoming obsessed with the snake god said to be sleeping underneath the city. The point is, this is a quirky world. I suspect the quirks would feel a little precious if presented on their own, but the context grounds them by keeping your attention on moment-to-moment minutiae most of the time.

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