IF Comp 2012 – Living Will

Now to try my hand at a web-based game. I suppose that almost all the games are now web-based in the sense that some excellent online interpreters are now available.

The first one I tried was Living Will, and reading the fine print at the bottom of the browser window, I see that it is written in Undum, a client-side (i.e., in the browser) engine for presenting linked text, keeping track of state, etc. I’ve played a bit with Inkle, and it sounds like it has some features in common.

My first impression of this work is that the graphics are top notch: a textured leather background with a gradient runs down the page in the background, while text is presented in several boxes with lighter backgrounds with classy typography.

And now for some spoilers beyond this point…

The story is itself a mutable, interactive will (literally, a Living Will in that sense), and the player is one of the putative heirs to the will. The player traverses the will by clicking on hyperlinked text, which reveals additional details, fills in backstory. The player can choose to challenge parts of the will, going for a bigger share of the inheritance, putting the other heirs out of their shares. A tally in one text box keeps track of your inheritance versus legal fees, medical fees, taxes, etc. Presumably, one goal of the game would be to maximize your bottom line.

This is an interesting exercise, but it doesn’t have much of a narrative “from here to there” feel to it. There is advancement towards the final state of the will, but the range of options is limited.

It took me a while to stop trying to navigate like I ordinarily would within a browser — hitting the back arrow, for instance. It’s tempting to try to go back to an earlier state, as you would with “undo” in parser-based games, but this backs out of the story entirely. It might have been preferable to hide the standard toolbar, but I can also see why this would be undesirable.

Similarly, at first I tried to open some links in tabs, but that did not work. The text was talking about Congo, and I assumed that the hyperlinked Congo word would take me to some factual info about Congo, but that I could go back to the main story by closing the tab. This is not the case — every hyperlink advances the text, sometimes replacing it, sometimes tacking onto the end.

Without the ability to backtrack, I felt nervous clicking on some links because there is no guarantee that earlier links will still be present after doing so. This feels unnatural to someone who has been using hypertext for the last 20 years. When I see links, my tendency is to plow through all of them, and I assume that I can freely traverse forward and backwards.

This presentation system could work with certain stories or interactive displays, and I think that this particularly story was carefully chosen to exploit the system’s strengths.

Story: 4
I did not find the story compelling, and at points was not clear what to click to advance the story in a willful direction. This undermined my agency, and I felt I was along for the ride. The ride was enjoyable, as the writing was good, but it detracted from the interactivity.

Voice: 7
I do feel like I understand the relationships between our late benefactor and his children, errand boy, and gardener. Some personality does shine through, and playing these characters, the background plus some ability to direct actions also imparts to them some individuality.

Play: 4
By virtue of the hyperlink interface and limited options available, I didn’t feel that the game offered much in terms of play.

Polish: 7
The graphic design was excellent and the text was well-written and edited. I did not give this work a higher rating in this category because the amount of text and the variability of the text is limited — there is less to go wrong than in more programmatic IF.

Technical: 7
I played this in a Chrome browser on a Mac, and it worked flawlessly, although I found some of the interface counterintuitive. I would bet that the author spent some effort on assuring that the story (or the system) worked this well across browsers.

Average: 5.8

p.s. The picture is a surface mount tantalum capacitor. Capacitors made with tantalum, a transitional metal, are particularly useful because they hold a large charge relative to their volume, and have other desirable properties. The story makes reference to our benefactor’s mining company, which extracts this element in Congo (presumably, the DRC).


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