What a world, what a world! Recently I read a book called The Appeal, which I enjoyed very much. The framing of it is a couple of junior lawyers going through a bunch of case notes they’ve been sent, and so the book itself is mostly emails and messages between the central cast of characters. You have to figure out the shape of what you don’t have by looking at what you do. It’s very good!
So, inspired by that, this week I’ve got three text-based games for you, but with a twist. They each do something a bit different, maybe in how they play with the format, or how they bring in interactivity. For a bonus, definitely check out the Pokémon parody in a font file that Lauren wrote about a couple of weeks back.
Who’s it by? Cowleyfornia Studios
Where can I get it? Steam
How much is it? £4.80/€5/$6
Like Morse, but without a middle-aged man who is inexplicably attractive to a stream of hot chicks 30 years his junior, Sarawak begins with a mysterious moider in Oxford. Your mum is being investigated for it, naturally, and you follow clues to find out what’s really going on, uncovering family secrets and travelling to Borneo in the process.
Sarawak is very elegant in its presentation, reminding me of the noir puzzle adventure A Case Of Distrust in the mixture of the clean, stark lines in the art paired with conversations and text choices. When being questioned by a police officer, for example, you can choose to stonewall ‘cos you know your rights, or be very open and helpful.
But at the same time, Sarawak throws in interesting interactivity with the images on screen. You often have to click and pull them to focus on something, or find a switch, or mess around with a puzzle hidden in the picture, before you can move on to the next bit of story. One bit early on asks you to help a porter solve a crossword puzzle. It’s really playful and I enjoyed it a lot.
Who’s it by? Lucas-C
Where can I get it? Itch
How much is it? Pay-what-you-can
This is a weird one because I don’t think it counts as a video game, since there is no actual video involved. But what Undying Dusk is, is very impressive, and since I’m in charge of this post I’m saying it counts. Undying Dusk is a PDF with almost 200k images, and each of them is a frame in a weird fantasy RPG. “Surely not!” you cry. “That cannot be true!” Ah but it is, gentle reader.
You play as an amnesiac woman who can cast the occasional spell, who wakes up in a stone cell in a monastary, where she has been secreted for her own safety because all the monks – indeed, most people – have turned into demons. Also, someone has stopped time. So your key goals are: escape, remember who you are, and restart time. Tangential: batter demons to death.
All of this is done in a massive PDF. As you click to turn left or right, or move forward or back, you’re navigated to a new page. Clicking info will take you to a page showing your HP and current orientation on the map. There are sometimes little musical note buttons that have hyperlinks embedded, making a soundtrack play in your browser. It’s pretty staggering (although one can’t help but think that Twine is way easier).
Who’s it by? Gateway
Where can I get it? Steam
How much is it? £4/€4/$5
The vibe here reminded me a bit of Beckett: limited colour pallette, slightly uncomfortable sound effects, and overlapping images and boxes that at times give Inkslinger a collage feel. It’s also one of those games that has a disclaimer at the start (this time to do with descriptions of violence) but that might as well read “warning: this game is well depressing and grim in general”.
You play a titular Inkslinger, a person whose job is to write letters for other people (like Joaquin Phoenix in that film where he fell in love with a Cortana). To do this, you listen to their request and then type a word that you think best interprets what they want – in the screenshot above, for example, your client wants to deliver an art critique for a toddler about to move up to a new school. If I had chosen STANDSTILL the final paragraph would have recommended they not “graduate” from playschool. It’s possible to totally ignore what the client says and biff your letter, too.
As well as this, things your clients say will trigger flashbacks to trauma from your past, partially voiced glimpses of memory. Inkslinger has a lot to recommend it, though I did find it a bit consciously Literary with a capital L. The setting seems to be a non-specific Victoriana miasama, complete with Vaudevillian cock-er-knees having flirtatious disputes with other cock-er-knees, and I find this quite grating at times. But Inkslinger has an indisputable understanding of how language and words can have devastating efffects. The way a message is delivered can, itself, change what the message is. And it is very clever indeed to be able to make that into a game.