Review – A Rope of Chalk

I’m sure it isn’t necessary, but it probably helps to have played some of Ryan Veeder’s games before, and perhaps to have listened to a few episodes of the Clash of the Type-Ins podcast. The podcasts, so you can hear the whole story in your head as read in Ryan’s own voice. That helps. And the former so you will trust the author to payoff a series of events that becomes more and more disjointed and bizarre as the story progresses, only to be wrapped up with a bow by the end of the story, or a few bows, for those who are really into bows, by the end of the epilogue of the story.

I see no point in going into the details of the story — I really enjoyed this game and would put it in the top five percent of IF Comp games that I have played, so I don’t want to risk any spoilers, but I will remark on a few items.

Don’t peek at the walkthrough until after the game, but when you do complete the game and have replayed to whatever degree suits you, I recommend giving it a read, so you can appreciate the underlying structure of the game, which as Veeder says, is very linear.

The thing is: it doesn’t feel linear at all while playing it. The game has a silky smooth flow. There was no point in this game where I felt like I was spinning my wheels and going nowhere. There was always something to do, some place to go, or someone to talk to.

At points, I found myself taking actions that I thought were creative and unlikely to work, but that turned out either to be the required action or, maybe more impressively, just gave me the impression that I had done the right thing. As a player, how would I know? This effect is a combination of very deep implementation of objects, customized and context-sensitive responses, and the author anticipating likely as well as less likely inputs. Also, there is probably an element of built-in fail-safes that prevent the player from going too wrong, but not being heavy handed about it.

At one point in the game, I was trying to figure out what to do, poking around at various objects, trying things out, and a bit of help appeared in the form of an in-story character interaction. Help was offered if I wanted it, I assume because I was taking longer than expected to make forward progress. I really appreciated the subtlety and unobtrusiveness of this mechanic, which let me as the player know that I could have as much or as little help as I wanted, without the least insinuation that I was leaning on a crutch.

At the end of the story, there is a bit of epilogue, which is a good bit of fun and circles around to tie up the framing story; it is offered optionally, but really should be played.

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