IFComp 2012: In a Manor of Speaking, Living Will

Hooray! Time for more IFComp reviews. Here, we’ve got “In a Manor of Speaking”, and “Living Will”. For some odd reason, these sound like they should be the same game, and I suspect that if they were somehow combined, we’d have a comp winner on our hands for sure. Or not. Either way, as it stands, they’re actually very different games. Usual cut for spoilage.

“In a Manor of Speaking”, by Hulk Handsome

Oh look, it’s another wordplay game, this time written by Hulk Handsome, the esteemed author of “Don’t Pee Yourself”. [1] Your plane crashes into the Bermuda triangle and you get stuck in the incredibly pun-filled land of Calembour, in which you must find the manor mentioned in the title so you can deliver a mysterious bag with a cat in it. (But don’t let it out, or you’ll die. Eheheheh.)

It’s an extremely silly game that’s quite enjoyable if you have a really terrible sense of humour, which, fortunately, I do. That said, I didn’t find it as enjoyable as “Shuffling Around”, the other wordplay game in the comp which I reviewed earlier. Puzzles didn’t feel as well-hinted as they could have been; there were points where I was stuck even with the context-sensitive hints, and had to pull up the full walkthrough, which was only accessible from the game by typing in “I’m a cheating chowderhead”. Cute, especially given that the main villain’s head is literally made of chowder (tee hee) but still… insulting the player for not being able to read your mind rubs me the wrong way a bit. Also, “talk to” gave a similarly condescending response prompting me to use ask/tell commands instead, but that led to a few guess-the-noun problems. This feels like an ongoing problem in a bunch of games — I say, if you’re not going to implement conversation in much detail, you’re probably best off not doing so at all.

There are many comedic death scenes that sneak up on you throughout the course of the game, but fortunately, they’re very quickly undo-able, so I was actually able to enjoy them instead of being frustrated, like I normally would be. So, yay for that.

I have to say, I feel kind of bad that my feelings for this game are basically “it’s fun, but not as fun as this other similar game I really liked”. I know I’d be kind of annoyed if, in a parallel universe, last year’s comp featured another longer and more detailed game about theatre performers and all the reviewers wrote things like “well, ‘The Play’ was okay, but it wasn’t as good as Other Theatre Game.” Actually, come to think of it, there were two Australian hide-and-seek games in last year’s comp that I couldn’t help comparing — but weirdly, the one I liked better wasn’t the one that wound up placing higher. Make of that what you will.

“Living Will” by Mark Marino

Ooh, a game in the comp using the familiar-to-me Undum framework! You’re reading the interactive will of a soon-to-be-deceased old white dude who got very, very rich off of questionable means in Africa. You learn different sides to his backstory by playing as four different characters listed as beneficiaries — the son (who isn’t really his son), the daughter (who is implied to be mentally ill but very smart — probably not surprising that I felt the most empathy towards her), the errand boy (who’s actually his son), and the gardener. [2] As you’re reading the will, you can take other characters’ inheritances for yourself, while in the process incurring legal fees. If the total amount of your bequests is higher than all your fees, you have the option of trying to save the old man by paying for his medical treatment, or leaving him to die.

I think I like the idea of this game a lot more than the actual execution; the rambling, florid prose of an old rich white man making excuses for his reprehensible actions in life, though fitting the character, made it hard to get into. Plus, it took me a long time to figure out what all the numbers meant, and even then, I couldn’t figure out how to consistently get satisfying story results with them — I think a lot of the numbers are just randomised. I confess I peeked at the source code to determine that was the case, and also to see all the possible endings. I still came away somewhat unsatisfied.

The concept of relatives squabbling over a dead person’s will is one that can be used to great effect, leading to the sorts of heated emotional conflicts that make for what I see as compelling storytelling. Somehow, reading this story in the dying rich guy’s voice instead gave it a cold, distant feeling for me, removing me a bit too far away from the juicy bits. I guess this voice was chosen because the whole point of this game is that it’s presenting an interactive document, and such legal documents by their very nature are cold and distant, so I can understand the reason for it. I just would have had a lot more fun being right there in the room with all the characters interacting, know what I’m saying?

  1. Hulk Handsome reminds me somewhat of Captain Mostly, creator of the timeless classic surrealist adventure game, Richard Longhurst and the Box That Ate Time. I wonder if they’re actually the same person.
  2. It looked to me that no matter what, at the beginning, you start out as ‘Nigel’, making me confused as to whether, when you change your point of view, you actually are the other character, or you are Nigel posing as someone else.
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