IF Comp ’10 – Jason McIntosh’s The Warbler’s Nest!November 11, 2010
Public safety announcement: I haven’t even opened the folder containing this game yet, and I’m already thinking of ways to work in a “how do you like those apples, McIntosh?” joke. I bet he’s never heard that one before! I bet it will gratify his entire nation and they will throw me a feast. (Guess what they eat! No, really, guess!)
The Warbler’s Nest is apparently another horror game? So that’s, what, five? Six? Which isn’t really that many, in the grand scheme of things. Why do I feel like I’ve spent the entire competition reducing zombies to sludge and avoiding mirrors?
[spoilers begin here]
Hmm, some dude sent me out to find two eggshells,” empty but mostly whole,” for, no doubt, some really creepy and sinister purpose. That’s interesting.
“But what do I do with it then?” you asked.
“Once it’s revealed itself to you? That’s simple,” said the tailor. “Snatch it up, carry it out of your cottage, and throw it in the river.”
You tried to accept this matter-of-factly, but you must not have done well. The tailor only shrugged. “Throw it into the river,” he repeated, “and its own kind will come for it. Then they’ll have to return what they took from you.”
Oh, did they slip me a changeling? I hate when they slip me a changeling. I am excited for someone to invent contraceptives.
Uh-oh, something is wrong in my cottage. I hope my changeling’s okay!
Oh! It’s a stoat! Hi, stoat! And it’s got an egg! Thanks, stoat!
Um, I don’t really want to throw the baby into the river. I think it’s just a particularly colicky baby, and I’d rather hang on to it, if that’s okay. Any way I can communicate that to the game?
Man, I can’t even untie this blanket. Got a sub-par ending, gonna try again, maybe see if there are hints.
I sort of wish people wouldn’t attach progression triggers to arbitrary actions. Like, I run out of shit to search, go north out of sheer not-knowing-what-else-to-do-ness, and am told that I see a reed-bird fly towards a particularly tall stalk, which was not previously visible. Then, later, I once again run out of shit to search, re-examine the stalk to see what it’s been up to (not much, bro, chillin’), and am told that the reeds look wrong, everything is wrong, and I better run back to my cottage.
I dislike this sort of thing for two reasons: for one, it’s generally better to tie progression into the player’s attempt to achieve their goal. If they’re supposed to be searching for something, then it’s the searching that should yield fruit, not the giving up on searching and walking away. (It’s possible I just ran up against a piece of idiot-proofing here, of course. If so, I apologize to this particular game, but my point stands, dammit.)
Also, this sort of thing leads to Invisible Whack-A-Mole gameplay, where you’re just running around visiting locations you’ve already visited, examining things you’ve already examined, to see if anything is different. I’m not saying objects can’t or shouldn’t have hidden interactions, because that is actually pretty bad-ass. What I am saying is that progression should not hinge on the player doing something they’ve already done and have no reason to do again.
So, right, Warbler’s Nest. Are there hints? No, there are not. Cheating.
Reed thing, it turns out, was just nudging. So all right then.
Oh, good, there is a way to tell the game you want to keep the baby. I didn’t notice the shears before, because the game told me none of the stuff in my cottage was important, and I believed it. Hmm. I don’t really want to throw the baby into the river, but I feel as though I should, for science.
Hmm, I’m not sure how to feel about this game. It was effective at conveying how menaced my character felt by unseen fairy antagonists, and made a nice point about the power of superstition, you know, how sometimes it convinces you to throw your baby into a river. The parallel with the reed-bird raising a changeling was a… well, a touch. (I feel a little like I missed something there. I mean, points for having made a parallel, but to what end?) And I’m really glad it didn’t force you to throw your baby into a river. I can’t really say I enjoyed playing it, though, for some reason. I mean, it wasn’t bad. Call it a six?