IFComp 2020: Where the Wind Once Blew Free

A tale of war, grief, and spirituality in the American southwest using anthropomorphic animals. I don’t think I ever really got into the right mindset for this one, because the whole aesthetic is a little bewildering. Most of what I saw was structured around digressions that return to the same scene, with the same words and sometimes the same cosmetic choices, as if repeating things for emphasis, or illustrating the inevitable point that the character’s thoughts keep returning to. It wants to be taken seriously, but it’s also a fantasy about furries. It has an emphasis on the details of guns. Apparently there’s gore, although I didn’t reach that point. I did see a video montage in the third chapter that attempts Lynchian horror and comes off as ridiculous, but I don’t doubt that there’s sincere emotion behind it.

The blurb says it’s only an hour long, but I was unable to finish it — my first playthrough ended in premature death, my second in a bug. So I never made it past chapter 3. Regardless, what I saw of it feels like the start of something much longer. Largely, I think, due to the world-building. This is a work with an entire lengthy menu for unlockable lore, like you see sometimes in RPGs.

And, like RPGs, it starts with a character creation system, where you assign points to stats, including agility, book smarts, and two distinct stats for noticing things, active and passive. Choices are sometimes contingent on stat checks, unless you play in god mode, an option offered at the beginning. The peculiar thing is that the story doesn’t stick with one character. The first chapter follows the apparent main protagonist, Silver Bear, a veteran with a dead friend whose voice he still hears sometimes, as he follows it off the highway and into the desert. The second chapter switches to a young snake on a ranch with no obvious connection to Silver Bear, the third to the ranch owner, a gila monster. And no matter who the viewpoint character is, they have the same stats and inventory.

The UI, too, is baffling at first. It’s slickly designed, but for beauty rather than usability. There are glowing, pulsing words in the text that are clearly hyperlinks; there are decorative elements that glow and pulse in exactly the same way, with the same rhythm, which makes them look clickable, but they’re not. When I encountered my first page without inline links, it took some effort to identify what I had to click on to continue. Compounding this, it often takes up to three seconds to visibly respond to clicks on legitimate links, creating momentary confusion about whether you’ve clicked on the right thing or not.

The thing is, I feel a little uncomfortable even complaining, as if I don’t have the standing to judge this work. It’s like the social discomfort of encountering someone who doesn’t realize that their entire world view is completely alien to you.

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