Review – Into The Dark

This is a medium-length swords and sorcery story written on the Twine platform. Unfortunately, I don’t think most players will stick with that game beyond the first screen or two. I say this for two reasons: first, at least in my browser, the black text was difficult to read towards the periphery of a radial gradient that is white at the center, but dark grey near the edges. I at least have a quick fix for that issue: go into a text editor and delete the CSS that sets the background:

body {
background-image: radial-gradient(White, Grey, Black);
height:100vh;
width:100%;
}

The other game stopper for this story is the rate of spelling errors. It’s almost like the story was spellchecked in reverse to assure one error in every paragraph. I know that some reviewers stop when they find a game that shows no signs of beta-testing or even spellcheck. Next comp, I think I’ll follow that practice, particularly if the number of entries is on par with this year. Since I had given full review to other poorly edited games, though, I decided to keep going with this one, but skimmed the text.

[Some spoilers follow beyond this point]

I’m not exaggerating. Here are the opening paragraphs:

Jacobi stared back at the stone walls of the city Mayazar. A hulking grey fortress standing as the capital of Magia, it was a walled city known to all inhabitants as impenatrable. For safety and comfort is the greatest treasure of the weaklings of this city, thought Jacobi as he guided his horse South and away from the city.

Ahead of him lay a 2 day’s ride toward the small village of Toreal, where word of a beast hunting in the woods had attacked villagers. The long ride there gave Jacobi time to think how he had been practically forced into this situation.

Impenatrable? Why capitalize South [it isn’t a hyperlink]? Is it too hard to spell out “two”? A word had attacked the villagers?

Maybe I put too much emphasis on the first couple paragraphs, but I think that they are critically important. The author needs to connect with the reader, establish some rapport, and convince the reader that this is a story worth reading. As an entry in IFcomp, where reader equals judge, this is where you want to make a good impression. It’s much easier to start out on a good foot than to dig out of a hole.

Despite these quality control issues, the overall visual framing works well. A collapsible side panel provides a way of saving game state. There are some nice graphics as each chapter is introduced. The game includes some musical accompaniment. Further, the author tries some things that didn’t work for me in this medium, but were interesting experiments nonetheless. Finally, if you can bushwhack through the spelling, there is a story here.

I gave the story middling marks. The main character, Jacboi, is introduced as a gruff mercenary, but in later chapters, he turns out to have more relatable motivations and in the end shows some moral fiber (at least, in the ending I reached). The writing is largely descriptive, but includes both dialogue and, in italics, Jacobi’s thoughts.

The game play alternates between story and exploration modes. The story sections are relatively linear for exposition, branch a few ways to explore a pre-adventure staging area like a town, and then lead to the zone to be explored. Activities in the staging areas include gathering background and clues about what will be encountered in the next segment and shopping for adventuring supplies (weapons, medical items, torches). The shopping and inventory systems seemed a little clunky as implemented, but the number of items in each is limited.

In exploration mode, the screen resembles a rogue-like, with stats on top (health, torch turns remaining, etc.), then a monospaced XY character grid showing the area to be explored, and finally, text at the bottom. On my laptop, that’s about two screens worth of real estate. The player moves the character in cardinal directions by clicking hyperlinks under the map. Since the screen has to refresh for every click, I also found this clunky.

Yes, I will admit to doing something not too dissimilar in last year’s PogomanGo! entry, but there the intent was at least partially ironic; I also thought it was insane to recast a graphic game in text. Here, I think the twine-abuse was a more sincere effort.

Walking around the grid, I encountered various monsters and slew them one after the other. There wasn’t too much to the fighting mechanic. After a couple encounters, I recognized that for the weapon I had selected, my optimal strategy was to alternately click “dodge” and “attack”. I did that over and over and essentially suffered no damage, so there was not much tension to these fights, nor need for all the salves and dressings that I had purchased out of paranoia back in town.

The overall structure is an intro, three locations, an epilogue, and a summary. The summary indicates which ending was reached, how many monsters killed, and how much silver collected. Finally, there are credits, which not surprisingly do not mention any testers. Maybe that’s the take home for this author – the writing is good, but for the next project consider hooking up either with a partner that will exert some editorial oversight or find some a couple testers and listen to what they say.

Evaluation

Story: 4

Voice: 6

Play: 3

Polish: 2

Technical: 5

JNSQ: 0

Preliminary Score: 4

 

 

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