IFComp 2020: Quintessence

It’s been pointed out that one of the advantages that choice-based games have over the parser-driven stuff is the ability to easily vary the scale of the action. Inform defaults to what’s been called the “medium-sized dry goods” model, where the focus is on moment-to-moment physical interactions, because that’s what the system understands. Whereas in a choice-based system like Twine or Ink, you can wind up choosing “Pick up the amulet” one moment and “Spend the next month negotiating a truce” the next.

Here we have that capability taken to an extreme. The scale is an entire universe; time, when it exists, ticks forward in increments of billions of years. The player character, to the extent there is one, is a “quanta” (which is clearly plural, but that might be deliberate), a sort of disembodied mind that can survive the repeated growth and collapse of the universe and occasionally, depending on your choices, can be born into the world, as a cat or a dog. Cats and dogs figure big in the story’s cosmology; the entity responsible for the entire cycle of the universe is called “the Forever Cat”.

It’s all rather abstract, though. Much of the text is cosmic vagueness along the lines of “The spreading distance grows the space within us. Gravity’s range is infinite, but our bonds weaken. Always ahead and behind, time without comfort surrounds us. We race apart.” Followed by a choice where you don’t have much of any basis for choosing one thing over another — except that in a lot of cases choosing wrong ends the current cycle and starts you over from the beginning. So a lot of the reader’s attention is on remembering what choices to avoid. I’m not convinced that that’s the story the author wanted to tell.

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