Couple more IFComp reviews today. “Murphy’s Law” and “Escape From Summerland”. Have at ‘em, folks.
“Murphy’s Law”, by Scott Hammack
You’re a paunchy, middle-aged, and rather sad workaholic  whose one saving grace in life is to make the last mortgage payment on your house. You used to live with a woman named Caroline, who has since left you Forever Alone. You go about everyday tasks in a highly meticulous fashion: you don’t just sign a cheque, you pick up your pen, pick up your cheque, write on the cheque, put it in the envelope, and seal the envelope. It was probably one of many characteristics of yours that Caroline found difficult to deal with. And you’re also prone to lethal papercuts. How inconvenient.
I like slice of life games like this, but this one felt a lot more generic than it could have been. Having a more developed character and injecting their inner monologue with actual personality goes a long way towards having a game that feels less like me performing mundane tasks, which I don’t enjoy because I have to do enough of that in real life as it is, and more like I’m entering another person’s mind, which is basically what I enjoy these stories for in the first place. As it stands, though, we have someone with enough defined characteristics not to feel like me, but who feels “everyman” enough not to be terribly interesting. I get that some schools of thought in writing favour the everyman approach, in that they feel more people would empathise with such a character than they would with someone more defined and quirky, but for many reasons, that just has the opposite effect where I’m concerned.
So, a lot of the gameplay involves meticulous, multi-step behaviour of the kind satirised in “Don’t Pee Yourself”, which, as I implied above, could have been an interesting descriptor of character but didn’t feel deliberate to that effect. Still, I wonder what it says about me that after parking in the bank parking lot, I made a point of closing and locking my car, because I was positive someone was going to steal it. (The walkthrough tells me this wasn’t necessary.) And that I actually put the dirty dishes in the dishwasher? For that matter, why couldn’t I honk my horn at that annoying kid playing out on the street, or just slow down instead of slam the brakes and swerve?
“Escape From Summerland”, by Jenny Roomy and Jasmine Lavages
A ghost, a monkey, and a robot escape from a bombed-out circus. Creative puzzles ensue, using the unique strengths of each of your characters. The ghost is the only one who makes any sense, but of course, he can’t touch anything. The monkey is adorable up until you discover that her inner monologue is filled with ALL CAPS and EMOTICONS @(^_^)@ and the robot speaks in technical jargon and is nigh incomprehensible. Ow ow ow, my brain hurts.
I like the idea of this game. Multiple perspective writing, especially when using such distinct voices, is interesting and challenging and, I’m sure, not easy to implement. But the tonal shifts from, say, the sombre musings of the ghost to the OVERLY EXCITABLE mind-chatter of the monkey were just… grating and strange, and took me out of the narrative quite a bit. The ghost, being the most human character, seems to have actual sentimental reasons for rescuing his favourite monkey, but neither the monkey nor the ghost seemed to be aware of much beyond their immediate surroundings, making it hard to really empathise with either of them, or to figure out solutions to puzzles without reading the walkthrough. I guess maybe that’s sort of the point, where non-human characters are concerned, but when I’m spending the whole time wishing the ghost would just take off and leave the other two creatures alone, it’s probably not a good sign.
There’s hints of backstory signalling that we’re in a fantastic future with robot wars that still has old-timey circuses and people who say “oh my giddy aunt!” in it. I think I might have really enjoyed a game that explored that premise a bit further.