IFComp 2023: All Hands

This year, there’s been an unusually large number of games written in Texture — or maybe the system has been gaining in popularity over the last couple of years and I just haven’t noticed because I’ve been sitting out the Comp. Regardless, when I say “unusually large number”, I do still mean a number that can be described as “several”. I’m mainly just surprised to see any at all.

To review: In Texture games, interaction takes the form of dragging actions (listed at the bottom of the screen, separate from the output text) onto things within the output text, a UI specifically designed to be mobile-friendly. The default way to conceive this is that the actions are verbs and the things you drag them onto are the objects you’re applying the verbs to, but since the system doesn’t really have a world model with a concept of objects, this conception is a matter of habit rather than constraint.

I don’t know what it is about this UI, but it seems to either encourage hauntingly poetical writing or attract authors already inclined to it. Maybe it’s the way it enforces the use of… let’s not call them objects but foci, things that take the place of objects in a more simulationy game, but makes them as temporary and situational as hyperlinks in Twine. But then you have a piece like this, where a whole bunch of foci are repeated throughout the bulk of the game, a list of rooms that you can visit and which therefore have to be mentioned in the text of every node that gives you the option of leaving. It still winds up pretty poetic. The player character is called by the lure of the sea, and finds a mysterious ship that seems to also be a circus somehow, and it’s clear that the whole thing is unwholesome, a devilish trap for the foolish, but you still can’t keep exploring it. It put me in mind of Toby Fox and Itoki Hana’s Greatest Living Show, except more nautical.

One other thing of note about it: Remember how I said that Texture allows the action list to vary from node to node? This piece doesn’t do that. Apart from a couple of heightened sequences where your options are limited, the action list is always the same — Reflect, Approach, and Take, where “Reflect” essentially means “Examine” — even if one or two of those actions aren’t actually applicable to anything in the current node. It gives the whole thing a feel kind of like an old point-and-click graphic adventure, and the reliable semantics greatly facilitates systematic exploration. I’m not saying that all Texture games can benefit from kind of consistency, but it’s a technique worth bearing in mind.

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