IF Comp ’13 – Andrew Brown’s The Cardew House!October 9, 2013
Okay, I’m back from the Portland Retro Gaming Expo where I had a great time and bought a sweet t-shirt featuring Q-Bert big pimping the soft drink Mello Yello. Had never been to Portland before. If you haven’t either, your imagination is correct, except you need to put more plaid shirts on people. Up to seven a person if necessary. They don’t mind. They love it.
Anyway, let’s get back to comp games! We were on The Cardew House, yes?
Thought I’d give Inform7 a try for this comp… it can be a pain in the butt though, can’t it?
anyhoo… here’s my game… after two other abortive attempts…
This blurb is irrelevant and inappropriately chatty with a tendency to overshare. That’s my schtick and I want it back!
(Inform 7 really can be a pain in the butt though. What is it the kids say, I am feeling your feels? Also congratulations on having finished a game! Finishing things is hard.)
[spoilers begin here]
This game uses all the ellipses. If you go to the ellipses cupboard to fetch a set and find that the cupboard is bare, it is because someone took your ellipses and put them in this game. Should you be angry? That is between you and your god…
Okay, lemme see if I can parse this intro… Old Man Cardew had a daughter named Betty with his wife Samantha, who left him for a younger man… Cardew took up the study of magic, was found dead from a shotgun blast, and no one knows what happened to Betty… Got it… We are good here…
(Okay, yes, that is terrible, I am very sorry, no more ellipses for the whole rest of this review. Sorry!)
(Well, maybe a couple wouldn’t hurt…)
The Cardew house sits back from the road behind a scruffy looking picket fence. The path leading up to the front door lies between two patches of dead grass. A gibbous moon shines through some wispy clouds lighting up the front door of the house. There is an air of sadness about the building. A light seems to sigh around the old building.
You can’t see any such thing.
You can’t see any such thing.
You can’t see any such thing.
You can’t see any such thing.
Currently, the moon is gibbous…
This room clearly only exists to provide us with the standard Spooky/Mysterious House Initial Vantage Point: right outside the front door, after we have taken the initiative to approach the house, but before we have gone inside. We don’t start at the airport, nor do we start in the creepy haunted bathroom. (Well, okay, back in the day you could start at the airport; I think Lovecraft has some stories that begin with a sense of foreboding the main character had twenty years ago, but fortunately we’ve evolved as a species. And by “we” I mean the Nameless Ones.)
It kind of bothers me that this game is not giving this room more of a purpose (even scenery descriptions would help), but I’ve seen worse. This is my sixth rodeo, which means I’ve turned into that person who collapses in the teacher’s lounge with dull bits on her chassis where the shiny idealism has worn off, gasping “Oh my God, you were right about those kids!” and everybody else deigns to nod smugly and hand me a Pepsi. (I don’t know why a Pepsi, Pepsi is certainly not giving me any money. Just, I feel like it would be a Pepsi.)
There is a strong smell of damp hanging in the air.
Points for describing smells; a lot of people forget to do this and it’s a nice touch.
For a moment you see the image of little girl looking back at you.
This game is not doing a very good job of being creepy so far — it’s passionlessly reciting horror tropes at me, spooky moaning, flickering lights, slamming doors and all that — but I am always a sucker for the somebody-else-in-the-mirror trope, because that is what I am afraid is going to happen every single time I look in a mirror, and then I will have to never stop screaming and die insane.
Also, wow, this isn’t about the game, but I just got an email notification from Tumblr. The subject line they have started putting on these things is “Adventure awaits!” which is a damn sight hyperbolic when the body of your email is “Check out these Tumblrs!” Anyway, the very first one it wanted me to check out was the White House tumblr, the blurb for which says:
Things going around the White House that we just had to share with you. Have something you’d like…
And I was all WHAT THE FUCK, do you mean like how someone TURNED OFF THE GOVERNMENT and now people are not going to get their FOOD STAMPS and other people have to WORK FOR FREE so that PLANES DON’T CRASH INTO EACH OTHER and our NATIONAL PARKS are going to get EATEN BY BEARS, is that the thing you just had to share with me that I’d like, or is there a new Ze Frank True Facts About the Animal video out or something? (If it’s the latter, then by all means tell me about it! Those videos are awesome.)
[US-centric rant over with; apologies for catastrophizing from a position of privilege. Yes, I’ve been reading Metafilter.]
Anyway. You know how you do creepy? You can’t use well-worn tropes; those are about as scary as papier-mache vampires and other Halloween decorations that have long since passed into harmlessness. (The flickering lights thing gets a pass if you are working in a visual medium, though, especially if no lights have been flickering for the entire game and suddenly you pick up a mysterious object in a strange hallway and gaaaaah.)
With a text medium, you’re gonna have to be more psychological, because shocks that work by visually engaging our basic human sense of this-is-not-rightness do not translate well to text. Take goatse. It’s a guy with a wedding ring spreading his anus apart. Did you read that sentence and leap back from your computer (or mobile device I guess) demanding that someone, your cat even, fetch the eye soap? Of course you didn’t. Do not even front, because I will know, and I will come to your house and describe tubgirl.
If you are good at selecting the right colorful word for the job, there are things you can do to make things more disturbing. The more detail you put into painting the word picture (dear God did I really just say “painting the word picture?”), the more vividly the reader is able to see it and get squicked out. Inherently disgusting words like “glistening,” “moist,” “engorged,” and “man-gravy” work well here if you’re not afraid to get a bit sexual. (Sex is death!)
But that’s not creepiness, that’s grossness. You can have both, but they’re two different things. Creepiness is the uncanny valley where things are almost normal and all right but then oh God they’re really not. Creepiness is the moment when you finally succumb to the temptation to steal some of your roommate’s Chinese leftovers and discover that the box is full of your hair, hair that has been made into little dolls, and the dolls are holding hands, and there’s a fortune inside with all the lucky numbers crossed out. (The Learn Chinese word is “betrayal.” You are just about to turn it over to read the fortune when your roommate comes home and oh man this is too scary for me to keep writing at 1:30 AM.)
Condemned did a really horrible effective thing where there is a situation you are desperately trying to avoid, and you try to flee to your bedroom, but the game won’t let you. (I am still traumatized by that game. This is not me being overly dramatic: if you sneak up behind me and whisper something that reminds me that that game existed and I played it, I will probably reflexively go apeshit on you with the nearest blunt object and then I’ll really be traumatized when I have killed you. So don’t do that, okay, kids?)
My point is that it was SUPER CREEPY. That game definitely had its issues, but you could do worse than to study it for creepiness pointers. Warn the shit out of me if you are going to do that. I am serious.
Hey, remember like twenty pages ago when we were playing a game? Let’s get back to that!
A thud echoes through the house…
Okay, this last thud kinda got me. Maybe everything I said just now is bullshit and you really can creep people out through the repeated application of time-worn horror tropes! Although ha ha wait I’m afraid of everything! I am hardly representative of humanity as a whole!
There is also a toilet.
If the toilet is creepy, I’m going home.
The toilet is an old fashioned toilet with a ceramic cistern and a metal handle…
I bet it’s one of those toilets that won’t flush properly unless you jiggle the handle and then when that doesn’t work you open it up and fish that weird little suction thing out of the tank water and then when that doesn’t work you masturbate at it and cry.
Bathroom taps are implemented, because of assholes like me who check that shit. Points there I guess!
The cistern empties and flushes into the toilet bowl.
Something is scratching…
Okay that one creeped me out. It is maybe too late at night for this game.
Back days later at 2:17 PM in the Arizona sunshine. Let’s get our spooky on.
As you look more closely at the mattress, you notice that there is something hidden underneath it…
It’s a diary…
Finally! Some exposition!
The diary is empty…
Wait, no, I just had to take it to get it to start working! Now I am reading all of Betty’s secrets. Why am I here investigating these people, incidentally? Are they distant relations? Am I some sort of paranormal detective? What is my motivation?
My name is Betty and I am 9 years old. This is my special, secret diary… Hope daddy never finds it… He doesn’t like anyone else to have secrets…
This is all it says. Maybe as I continue to explore, the diary will vibrate at certain points and its contents will change? That would be pretty cool. Hey, yup! Or, at least, the diary entries are progressing as I wander; not sure if they’re triggered by the environment or purely chronological. Still, beats a blank diary!
This stool is too heavy to carry for long (more than three turns), so instead of putting it down before that happens, I wait until it falls from my useless puddinglike fingers and clatters to the floor every which way, scaring the wall scorpions. (Y’all have wall scorpions other places, right? No?)
>stand on stool
That’s not something you can stand on.
THEN WHAT THE FUCK IS THE POINT OF IT
You stand on the stool and pull yourself up into the attic.
Oh. Okay, so in Inform 7, you want to make the stool an enterable supporter, then you want something like:
Instead of entering the stool:
say “You stand on the stool and pull yourself up into the attic.”;
try going up.
This will make me not hit you in future. By which I mean this will make me not take a time machine into the future and punch you in the nose when you’re right about to die.
(I need to finish playing this game before the Unsolicited Advice Police break down the door and start giving me exercise tips.)
Oh dear God what’s in the trunk…
There is a flurry of movement as a large grey slug like creature leaps out and fixes itself to your neck. You open your mouth to scream but the only sound that comes out is gurgling as your throat fills with blood…
PRESS THE SPACE KEY…
Well, that was not what I was expecting at all! Is the space key supposed to actually do anything?
Um, yeah, I guess we are done here! No further comments.
(Well, okay, I will just mention that probably in the ideal version of this game, the space key would have done something just there.)