Review: Insignificant Little Vermin

This work was written within a development system that weaves together RPG encounters and story generation. According to the info tab within the piece, it is the product of years of development, and it is clear from the code deposited on github that this is a large project and must have taken a lot of work. The stated goal of the project is to encourage reading by making it more interactive and fun. The story excerpt submitted to IFcomp this year is sort of a proof of concept.

[Some spoilers follow beyond this point]

The backbone of this story is escape from an orc stronghold, but various subsidiary goals can be realized along the way. The story begins with rescue of a damsel in distress — Briana is being whipped by an orc overlord. It’s perhaps not as sexist as it sounds, as Briana turns out to be a capable fighter. She also knows more than you do about the stronghold, and most of the backstory is brought to light through conversation with her.

Since the game begins with a fight, the player is immediately exposed to the RPG engine, which lists a number of options including various fighting techniques. There is a small question mark icon next to each option that explains what the option is, so the player can make an informed decision regarding each option’s likely outcome if successful and chance of success. After selecting a maneuver, the random result is displayed after a short animation of an odometer-style counter, which displays hearts for success and x’s for failure. If more hearts are displayed than x’s, the player is successful. In the event of failure, the player can “re-roll” by spending a stamina point from a finite pool.

The outcome from each encounter is described in text that sounds procedurally generated, but less so than in most systems. The result could be game-ending defeat, wounding of your companion, or success. In some cases, you can also plunder your victims; this is how you outfit yourself with weapons that improve your chances in subsequent battles.

The branching structure of the game mirrors the branching structure of the caves — you can run in several directions, intentionally deeper into the stronghold to find treasure or liberate other slaves, or towards the surface and escape. Story outcomes range from simple escape with your life to more heroic achievements, which may have implications for later chapters of this story (but outside the scope of IFcomp).

The prose is well written and copy edited, and the artwork created for this game is far above what is typically encountered in interactive fiction.

I was a little confused by the ending, which seemed to introduce a number of elements out of the blue. First, it was where I learned by own name; I would have preferred to have that worked in earlier in the story, but not a big deal. However, when conversation turned to my special connection to the Dead Prince, it felt like a continuity error. I played through the game a handful of times and I think explored every available direction, but I never encountered material that would have put this in context. I wonder if the story fragment submitted to IFcomp was a later chapter in a larger work.


Story: 6

Voice: 5

Play: 8

Polish: 9

Technical: 9


Preliminary Score: 7.4

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