IFComp 2023: Citizen Makane

This one’s something of an insider’s game. Before I even attempt to begin to describe it, I need to cover the history of The Incredible Erotic Adventures of Stiffy Makane and its significance to the IF community over the last quarter century.

The original Stiffy Makane, written in AGT in 1997, was never a sincere attempt at making an erotic game. It was deliberately stupid and low-effort, the entire plot being “walk into a house and have sex with a woman there”, minimally implemented and yet still buggy — possibly its most famous feature is that it represents the player character’s penis as an inventory object, with the result that you can drop it on the floor. It’s also infamous for its horrifying ending: to complete the game, you have to shoot the woman, an act motivated by nothing more than the fact that you have a gun in your inventory and there’s no one else to shoot with it. When IF review sites (such as my own Baf’s Guide) started appearing on the early web, this was one of the games to consistently earn the lowest possible rating. And so it became somewhat legendary.

The IF community being what it is, this inspired not just mockery and derision, but in-jokery in the form of referential games. It was only about a year old when it received the MST3K treatment (the addition of a humorous and sarcastic commentary track), and Stiffy Makane: The Undiscovered Country (2001) began a tradition of putting the character in other settings, such as outer space and ancient Rome. Stiffy became something like a public-domain Leisure Suit Larry, but with less personality. The games themselves acquired more satirical bite: turning the mockery of one game into a mockery of “adult IF” in general, filling it with metacommentary on the idea of a game about sexual conquest and not shying away from the more uncomfortable implications. All while maintaining a sense of humor about it. These are not erotic games — frequently, their sex scenes are deliberately off-putting. But they’re just about the raunchiest games I’ve ever played.

That is the tradition that this game draws from. But it also manages to wring a surprising amount of value from the original game. It starts with a brief but embellished recap of the the Incredible Erotic Adventure, presented as a recurring nightmare: “Maybe this is your purgatory. Maybe you deserve this.” Dropping your penis is a critical-path action this time, described as “like unplugging a USB cable”. The ending, though? Stiffy can’t remember how the story ends.

This is soon revealed to be because he’s been stuck in cryogenic storage for three centuries, and has lost most of his memories. The unfamiliar society he wakes into is, perhaps predictably, one consisting entirely of hot women — men having been exterminated in a war. The faction that revived Stiffy is eager to regain the benefits of natural reproduction and the male perspective, but we’re told that there are those who fear sliding back into the darkness of the male-dominated world. Stiffy is something of a test, then, an ambassador for his sex. And the player who knows his past has a bad feeling about that.

To advance the plot, you have to complete three raunchy subquests for the mayor, as well as level up your sexual prowess for the purposes of scientific research. That last part takes the form of a sort of RPG minigame with CCG elements. As sex minigames go, it’s actually not bad — it’s just complicated enough to support a little strategizing, and it rewards the player with extra XP for bringing your partner to climax multiple times before you’re done. But it’s still made somewhat horrible by context. You see, there aren’t many featured NPCs that you can have sex with, so the main way you level up is through random encounters. You’ll walking down the street and a woman, with a description generated by a randomized template that quickly fades into meaninglessness, says something equivalent to “Hi! Want to have sex?”, and after you’re done you never see her again. It’s so pointedly similar to grinding by killing monsters in a more typical RPG that it becomes another reminder of the close association between sex and murder in Stiffy’s origin.

Spoilers for the ending: Ultimately, the game doesn’t carry this into as dark a place as it could. Instead, it defuses things with the revelation that the player character isn’t actually Stiffy per se — he’s just someone who played the original game repeatedly, with the effect that he kind of automatically stepped into that role when he couldn’t remember who he was. Which is also pretty dark, really, but at least it means that you’re not bound by Stiffy’s guilty past. I felt the ending took advantage of this in a quite clever way: by means of a power-mad/sex-crazed rogue AI invading your mind, it justifies putting the final confrontation into the unreal and underimplemented setting of the original Stiffy game. There are (as far as I could tell) three endings, each linked to one of the three fundamental actions that defined the experience of that game. You can have sex with the AI, giving her what she wants. You can shoot her, defeating her at terrible moral cost. Or you can drop your penis on the floor, refusing to play the game on her terms. It’s the last that produces the best possible ending.

1 Comment so far

  1. The Reverend on 11 Nov 2023

    Thank you for your review! Your legendary “Guide to the IF Archive” was invaluable to me around 20 years ago when I started to discover modern IF, so you reviewing my game makes me kind of giddy.

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