Following my customized playlist, I can see that this story falls into the same category as the previous one: parser-based epic fiction based on a Scandinavian saga. I guess that’s a category now. So be it.
This game has an inconsistent feel to it — some parts are really excellent, but other parts seem neglected or play poorly.
The game opens strong in a well-implemented room, which provides some understanding of the game’s setting, of the main character’s place in that world, and about what has just transpired. Most players will probably look in detail at everything in the room and collect everything not nailed down before exiting the hut. Once they are outside, though, the level of detail plummets.
It is understandable that the game plays out using a limited number of locations, but if the world is so limited in terms of geography, the existing locations should have some detail. In particular, I felt hemmed in by the generic-sounding responses I received walking in any direction towards the borders of the map.
[Some spoilers follow beyond this point]
I appreciated that the game allowed some open-ended exploration at the beginning without a time constraint. However, moving to the next phase of the game hinges on the player taking a fairly specific action, which I almost missed. In my case, having explored for a while, I decided to examine the birds nests seen in the distance from the Cliff location. Because of varying level of implementation in the game, I thought that they would probably not have a description, or if they did, they would just be a backdrop. However, getting past this bottleneck is essential to unlock the rest of game. There are other ways of phrasing this — I think the walkthrough says “look down” and “examine rocks”, but it still seems like a brittle step in the game design. The pace really picks up after this point, so this is a point where a designer could consider some sort of progressive hinting or other prompting event based on turn count to spur the action onward.
When Lenne returns to the village, she has some words with Chief Arvet using a menu-based dialogue system. As is often the case, this mechanism sometimes means that the player has to just run through the list of possible topics until they are exhausted, but the content of the dialogue is central to the story. Arvet emphasizes protocol and their relative positions in the tribe’s power structure: he is chief, she is merely young Lenne-that-would-be-the-witch. She must walk a fine line between self-confidence and insubordination. To be taken seriously, she needs to maintain a tone of authority, but is there any basis for her to do so?
Does she know what’s she’s doing? It isn’t clear. She’s been a witch in training for some time, and at one point says she knows the words, but when it comes to performing the ceremony, she seems to be winging it.
It would be a very different game if Makke had left behind an instruction scroll with detailed instructions about the ritual. The tension and excitement that the player experiences as Lenne gathers the storm is closely tied to performance anxiety — will she get the process right and will she be powerful enough? The personal stakes are high: if she fails, she will not be village witch, just a girl — which may be moot since the whole village will be slaughtered.
In my initial play through, I enjoyed the description of the brewing storm, but was disappointed as it all fell apart and fizzled over a few turns, despite my best efforts. I assumed that the point of the game was not to teach a lesson about over-reaching and pride, but to actually have the ritual work, so I looked for the walkthrough… and did not find it. My usual practice is to play the original distribution of the games from the beginning of IFcomp, and no walkthrough was provided.
Normally, I don’t look at other reviews before I write mine, but I did peek to see if other people had gotten any further and I saw comments critical of how the ceremony is implemented, particularly use of non-standard verbs. To the game’s credit, these verbs are listed in the game’s help system. Nonetheless, I don’t see why the game chose to use unusual verbs when the built-in ones already cover the actions. For example, “rub” is typically synonymous with “clean” and could pull double duty in this game with “anoint”. Similarly, do we really need “stab” if we have “attack”, which could entail “cut”? Does the game really need to differentiate superficial lacerations from penetrating puncture wounds in a game about medieval witches?
The game insists that as an initial step in the ritual Makke’s limbs must be straightened out. The game wants the player to warm her by rubbing to generate friction; then, her clothes can be removed as part of the ceremony. Assuming that Lenne had any sort of EMT training, the obvious course of action would have been to cut the clothes off using the ceremonial dagger, however the game blocks this. I only got past this part of the game because I rubbed the witch not to generate heat, but because I thought I was following the ceremony’s requirement to rub her with oil. I am surprised these road bumps made it past play testing, since this is the most dramatically crucial part of the game.
I did manage to make it through the rest of the revised version of the game (time stamped October 8) on the website by following the walkthrough to guide me past the specifics of the ritual. I enjoyed the rest of the game, and even though I had some difficulty playing it, I thought the game’s overall structure, writing, and atmosphere were strong.
Preliminary Score: 7.2
tuuliScript (first session; original release)
revisedOct8script(second session; Oct 8 release)