IFComp 2010: The Blind House

Spoilers follow the break.

Now, here’s a story that knows how to create a sense of apprehension from the very start. At the start, we see the player character, Helena, apparently after some kind of unnamed trauma, being taken in by a friend, Marissa. Helena is afraid to go outside, can’t go to sleep without locking her bedroom door first, carries a kitchen knife with her everywhere, and gets an unbearably sinister vibe from mirrors. I suppose the fear of mirrors is the first hint that this is going to be an anamnesis story, where the point is to learn the the terrible secret that the protagonist refuses to face. But instead, she insists on snooping into her host’s privacy, conspicuously confabulating as she does so, convincing herself that Marissa is in some kind of trouble and needs her help. Like the best horror stories, it gives you enough information to guess what the coming revelations involve, but still makes you dread their approach.

Progress in the story often depends on rather arbitrary actions, such as observing Marissa’s paintings again. (They change several times over the course of the game — or, at least, your perception of them changes over the course of your nervous breakdown.) To compensate for this, the top of the screen contains a one-line summary of what’s currently on Helena’s mind, which is often a prompt to let you know what can be profitably observed. This is an interesting approach to hints. The player’s gaze tends to fall at the bottom of the screen — this is particularly true in IF, where the bottom is where the new text comes in, but it’s true in general anyway, probably because noticing what’s on the ground in front of you is usually more important to you in real life than noticing what’s in the sky. This is why action games tend to put information that’s important to be constantly aware of, like health and ammo levels, at the bottom, and less crucial information, like the score, at the top. By putting a gentle hint at the top of the screen, The Blind House keeps it out of the player’s face, so that you have to consciously make an effort to look at it, but it’s just about the least possible effort that’s still conscious; it’s always just a glance away, and because of this, feels more legitimate than asking for help. Meanwhile, the bottom of the screen holds a simple schematic of your current room, showing the locations of exits and major furnishings — keeping that information constantly in your ambient awareness, just like it would be if you were actually in that room. It’s a very nice design.

Rating: 8

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