IF Comp ’12 – Ethan Rupp’s Fish Bowl!

October 27, 2012

Ethan Rupp’s Fish Bowl sounds like, oh, what kind of bar does it sound like?  I see vinyl booths, pink neon, laminated menus boasting inscrutably-named cocktails with which business casuals drink away the daily indignities of their lives.  I may have to do some heavy drinking myself, given that this is a horror game and I’m playing it alone, at nearly 4 AM, like an idiot.  Maybe the apple cider in the fridge has fermented by now?  Nope, seems fine.  How ’bout you, coconut milk?  No?  Well, dammit.  I don’t even have any nutmeg.  I have, let’s see, salt, pepper, cinnamon, cumin, rice vinegar, sesame seed and peanut oils, fresh basil, and South African smoke spice, which is delicious on cucumber sandwiches.  I wish I had a cucumber sandwich.  I have one tortilla and no vegetables of any kind.  I am the worst foodie ever.

Yes, dammit, I’m hungry.  I am going to quick make some onigiri or this review will be even more about food than it’s already going to be.

[spoilers begin om nom nom]

As with all horror games, I reserve the right to stop playing once they freak me out.

You’re master of your own destiny, Larry Wyndham. Another day, another dollar, Larry Wyndham. And above all remember: Time and tide wait for no man. You aren’t just a drunk beachcomber – you are Larry Wyndham the drunk beachcomber.
I like this opening.  “Drunk beachcomber” sounds like something you’d get from a fictional profession generator, doesn’t it?  Like “piston cowgirl,” or “quick-draw heretic.”

Wow, this shack is shittier than most of the shitty apartments my PCs have lived in.  If I weren’t waiting for my stock options to vest, I would quit my drunk beachcomber job and find something more lucrative, like teaching or bitcoin mining.

Pieces of glass glint in the sand. Some of the larger pieces come from broken bottles. You look affectionately at some of the more familiar pieces.
Larry Wyndham’s life is very sad and he is very lonely.  That is what I am picking up here.  (I am not picking up the glass, because it won’t let me.)

Blue-grey glimmering filaments of sticky rot crisscross its matted black fur like a lattice.
This is the most beautiful description of a dead cat I have ever read.  No, scratch that; it isn’t strong enough.  I have seen people describe their lovers less attractively than that dead cat.  (Most egregiously, as “that whore Lois.”)*

This reminds you of playing in the sandbox when you lived in …
… said that he no longer belonged aboard ship, and threw himself over the side, quickly disappearing beneath the black water. God have mercy on him.
You have always lived here.
Whatever you say, Larry Wyndham, you most reliable of narrators, you.  I’m going to start referring to you as Admiral Nutbag.

>bury cat
You shovel some dark sand over the body of the cat. Its tail and a stiff paw emerge from the ground like roots.
Also, you suck at burying cats.

Time and tide wait for no man, Larry Wyndham.
But they wait for me.
Oh!  Oh!  I know this one!  The doctor is a woman!

Hm, the book I lost in the ocean showed back up on the dresser, and I suddenly have an answering machine.  With a message.  Still no phone or electricity.  Getting kinda creepy.  How do people write horror games without skeeving themselves the hell out?

The tape begins to play. There is a muted crackling noise, and then the message starts:
       “… You have no new messages. They have gone into the sea.”
That… is creepier than it has any right to be.  I’m lining up coconut milk shots.  OH GOD THIS COCONUT MILK HAS A BEACH ON THE CARTON


The twist ending to this game is going to be that I’m not really Jenni Polodna, teetotaling IF reviewer, and these coconut milk shots are actually human blood.  Which we all know does not go with onigiri at all.

Huh, this game was doing a really good job of leading me along, and now I’m not sure what creepy-ass thing I’m supposed to be doing next.

It is not wrong to carry around a fish bowl. You would be breaking no laws.
I like this.

Um.  There are not a lot of things in this game.  What am I missing here?  Damn, no hints.  Oh, I need to fill the fish bowl with water?  That makes a certain amount of sense, I guess!

You are getting more exhausted.
You aren’t feeling especially drowsy.
This is problematic.

This five-dollar bill says the dead fish and cat are my fellow crew members.  This five-dollar bill tells me lots of things.  Abraham Lincoln’s eyes glow purple and his mouth opens up real wide and he makes the secrets vibrate through my skull.  Boy, am I ever crazy.

Oh, I guess I, Larry Wyndham, am turning into a monster.  It is weird that knowing that makes things less creepy.

It’s almost time to go to the sea. But there’s something to be done first …
You’re going to make me guess what that is, aren’t you, game.

>take fish
(the dead fish)
      You grab the fish bowl, noticing as you do that your hands look different than usual …
       Before you have time to think about this, though, the fish bowl shatters in a clean shriek of glass.
       The fish bowl is gone, replaced with the body of Janice. The body is still fairly fresh, and the wound in her throat glistens where someone bit out her esophagus.
       You can still taste the memory of blood in your mouth.
You don’t want to do that.
Another little implementation blip.  Was this game tested?

Well, that was… I have got to stop saying “Well, that was a thing.”  Not only is it ridiculously lazy, it makes me worry that I’m losing the ability to react properly to stimuli.  Like, when my daughter and daughter-in-law* proudly place my first grandchild in my arms, I’ll say “Yup, that’s a thing.”  Like, when I am the only one to survive the apocalypse and I am dragging myself on my elbows past wrecked buildings and piles of ash that once were people, I’ll say “Huh, yeah, that certainly was a thing, all right.”  On the plus side, it is getting easier for a robot to do my job for me.

attention_in_beginning = grabbed
implementation_issues = light_to_moderate
ultimately_anticlimactic = yes
clueing_present < clueing_needed
creepy = sure

*  Kidding.  “That whore Lois” is a thing my friend Rachel likes to say.  I think someone in her family ran off with that whore Lois, who was from then on referred to as “that whore Lois.”  Have I told you about my friend Rachel?  She is real.  She introduced me to South African smoke spice on cucumber sandwiches.  I think she is great.

**  If I’m having an imaginary child here, I’m making her a lesbian.  If I have a real one, it can choose its own sex, gender and sexuality, because I am a motherfucking liberal. ***

*** I include “sex” in that list because the joke is that of course the child will not actually get to choose these things, and the idea of it sitting there in utero with an options list and an Ikea pencil is funny to me.  Please do not leave me comments about how gender and sexuality are not choices.  Or, wait, is the point of gender that it is a choice?  Porpentine, come explain this to me.  Preferably with cartoons.


  1. Having to go to the walkthrough to find out that you need to fill the bucket and then the fishbowl saved you from having to go to the walkthrough to find that you need to fill the bucket and then the fishbowl by typing FILL BUCKET and then FILL FISHBOWL. PUT WATER IN BUCKET doesn’t work.

    While I’m being too lazy to post reviews on my own damn blog, I should say that this was pretty OK, though it could’ve used testing (a lovely way to find out about synonyms!) Auto-1 for something bad happening to a cat.

    • But nothing bad did happen to a cat. Also I just realized how weird this alien species’ reproductive process is (step 1: wait for astronaut to crash on your planet, step 2: give him drunken beachcomber hallucinations.) They must be very long-lived, ’cause that doesn’t seem viable otherwise.

      Ah, xenobiology.

      • Well, sure, it just turned out that you had gone all alien monster and murdered and buried one of your human friends. But there was a depiction of something bad happening to a cat, and that’s an auto-1. I hadz a sad!

        (In case you’re reading this, Rupp Brothers, I’m not actually going to give the game a 1.)

  2. Jenni, I read this review and chuckled, causing people next to me on the commuter train to look at me strangely. Then I started reading all the way through the archives in reverse-chronological order. It’s now about 90 minutes later and the chuckling has escalated to full-on laughing hard enough that I temporarily cause distress to my respiratory processes.

    So basically: your writing is awesome, and I think that if I were you I would like hearing people say that to me, and so I am saying to you that your writing is awesome (see above).

    • (You can tell when I think someone’s writing is good when I start talking and/or writing blog comments in a style that shallowly mimics theirs. I’m sure I was really damn annoying to everybody around me for a good solid week or so after reading Dune.)

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