GOGathon: The Devil Got Overindulgent Here

So, we’ve come to the end of our reviews of the Devil Came Through Here trilogy, and as with all the reviews in the series a ton of content warnings apply. I’m not going to give an exhaustive one for the game, not least because I can’t 100% guarantee that I’ve seen all the content in the game, but this review has content warnings for suicide, abuse, abuse, abuse, more abuse, abuse and abuse.

Lorelai is the story of, well, Lorelai, an 18 year old who arrives home from her job at a nursing home to bear the stress of her hideous family life. Lorelai’s father died of cancer when she was 12, and whilst Lorelai’s a survivor by instinct and has by and large kept it together in the intervening six years, her mother has largely gone to pieces.

In particular, she’s struck up a relationship with John Doe, our antagonist for the game. John’s an Afghanistan war veteran who hasn’t remotely adjusted to civilian life, especially after his job at a brick factory vanished when the factory shut down, and he divides his time between violently abusing Lorelai’s mother and being extremely creepy towards Lorelai. He’s glued himself into the family fabric in part by siring a child with Lorelai’s mother, little Bethany, and Lorelai’s intent on keeping her head down and earning enough money that she can move out and take Bethany with her, since it’s evident that her mother just can’t bring herself to leave John.

This dreadful night, however, Lorelai becomes concerned when her mother locks herself in the bathroom and won’t come out or respond. With the aid of the boy next door, Zack, who has a very obvious crush on her and who she may or may not have a crush on in turn, Lorelai forces her way into the bathroom to discover that her mother has hung herself. John shows up, laughs at the situation, and then ends up brutally assaulting Zack and slashing Lorelai’s throat open with a broken bottle.

That’s when the Queen of Maggots gives Lorelai an opportunity much like she offered to Susan in The Cat Lady: a sort of immortality which would allow her to come back and keep trying until she can defeat John and, if not save her family from him, at least stop others suffering at his hands. Lorelai’s processes of resurrection will prove to be a bit more involved than Susan’s, however, for the Queen is grooming Lorelai to one day succeed her…

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GOGathon: The Devil Checked In Here

Joe and Ivy Davis are a married couple whose relationship is on the rocks. In a bid to get away from it all, Joe’s arranged for them to have a lovely seaside holiday at a quiet coastal town, where the only accommodation on offer is from the Quiet Haven Hotel. Once Joe and Ivy arrive, however, they find that the hotel is a bit of a shambles – and Ivy’s behaving and talking in an incredibly strange manner, alternating between total silence and incoherently talking about things only she can see. To make matters worse, a terrible storm has blown in, so strong heading out into the downpour to seek help isn’t a sensible option.

Joe and Ivy go up to their hotel room and have a tense conversation about their problems, before going to sleep. When they wake up, Ivy’s nowhere to be seen. When he goes down to the hotel restaurant to look for her, thinking she might have gone to breakfast ahead of him, he finds the hotel manager standing in the midst of a bizarre tableau. She informs him that Ivy made the mistake of angering a certain Sophie, another guest in the hotel, but that if he hurries he might be able to persuade Sophie to let Ivy go.

And it’s around then that things go full Eraserhead. (With additional content warnings for issues of murder, mental health, eating disorders, and utter tripped-out mayhem.)

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GOGathon: The Devil Meowed Through Here

Harvester Games is an indie development studio whose efforts are largely driven by the efforts of main game designer, programmer and writer Remigiusz Michalski, who’d cut his teeth producing Downfall – A Horror Adventure Game using the baseline Adventure Game Studio development environment before attempting more ambitious works. The main crop of Harvester so far has been the Devil Came Through Here trilogy – named for a phrase that recurs throughout the series – consisting of The Cat Lady, a spruced-up remake of Downfall with some plot and writing tweaks to make it fit the themes of the overall trilogy better, and the recently-released Lorelai.

Just lately, I finally got around to giving The Cat Lady a proper try, having bought it for cheap in a GOG sale a while back and forgotten it was there. As far as setting the tone for the rest of the trilogy goes, it certainly makes a powerful aesthetic statement: eerie, often-monochrome graphics paired with a soundtrack from Remigiusz’s brother Michal makes sure that what the aesthetic lacks in polish it more than makes up for in atmosphere.

It also really aggressively pushes themes of suicide, nihilism, murder, death, depression, and general misery at you from the beginning. So, you know, content warnings for all of that apply to the rest of the review.

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GOGathon: Third Time’s the Charm… Or Seven Years’ Bad Luck?

Fans of the Black Mirror series of point-and-click adventures (not to be confused with Charlie Brooker’s “Oh no, technology!“-themed Twilight Zone knockoff) had to settle in for a long wait between the first two episodes of the series; the original The Black Mirror was released by Czech developers Future Games in 2003, but it wouldn’t be until 2009 that German outfit Cranberry Production served up Black Mirror II. Fans did not have long to wait after that for Black Mirror III, however, with the final game in the original trilogy coming out in 2011, also through Cranberry.

The signs that we should expect another sequel were right there: the previous game ended on a bit of a rushed cliffhanger. The action here picks up in the immediate aftermath of that. Darren is the prime suspect in the grim events that concluded the last game, and the police have little patience for his story; however, they don’t quite have the evidence they’d need to bring him to trial. After three weeks cooling his heels in a cell in the local police station, Darren has his bail paid by a mysterious benefactor. He’s warned not to leave the Willow Creek area, and he’s feeling the occult consequences of the end of the previous game; if he’s to rid himself both of his legal troubles and the Gordon curse once and for all, he needs to resume his investigations of the area.

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GOGathon: A Second Reflection

It’s the mid-1990s – 12 years after the nightmarish events surrounding Samuel Gordon’s return to Black Mirror Castle shocked the world. Across the Atlantic, Darren Michaels is spending his break from college visiting his mother, who has recently moved to the sleepy seaside town of Biddeford in Maine. Darren earning a bit of extra money by working in the town’s photography shop, run by the boorish Fuller; in the course of this Darren meets and feels an instant attraction to Angelina, a charming British tourist who seems to reciprocate this attraction.

Before Darren can get time off to get to know Angelina better, however, he has a range of errands to perform – and in the course of this, he becomes aware that there’s a shifty individual apparently stalking Angelina. Or is Darren himself the target of this snooping figure’s attention? Darren’s worries only become more acute when his mother suffers a fall at home which leaves her in a coma… a fall in suspicious enough circumstances to make Darren think she was pushed. Resolving to investigate, Darren uncovers evidence of a wider conspiracy – a conspiracy that’s somehow connected to the English village of Willow Creek, from which his mother’s been receiving mysterious payments.

How was his mother involved in all this? Who in Willow Creek has been paying her? And what does this have to do with Willow Creek’s main claim to fame… the mysterious Black Mirror Castle, and its former resident Samuel Gordon?

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A (Moon)Missed Opportunity

In the pantheon of game developers specialising in text adventures back in the golden age of the genre, Infocom’s name looms large, and with good reason. By heavily pushing the line that their products are “Interactive Fiction” – and going out of their way to cover a range of genres from classic videogame fare like SF/fantasy to less traditional subject matter for games, they not only presented their products as refined pursuits for elite gamers who are too good for games which involve hand/eye co-ordination or actual game mechanics, but they arguably also set the tone for the IF fan community who beaver away producing new games to this day.

The “Interactive Fiction” label is still used by those who want to hype up the artistic potential of the medium or who otherwise find “text adventure” to be an embarrassing term – something which rather bugs me, since I think the more effort you put in to make the things you like seem less embarrassing to others, the more obvious it is that you are a bit embarrassed of them, and therefore the more embarrassing it seems. (To take an example from a very different field, the famed Gimp Man of Essex seems to be mostly regarded as a national treasure rather than a weird pervert, largely because he’s very casual about it and doesn’t go out of his way to make it weird; if he acted all embarrassed about his activities then I think he’d have a much more negative reception.)

Another beef I have with the term “Interactive Fiction” is that it’s horribly imprecise. Any videogame with a plot is interactive fiction. A gamebook is interactive fiction. A pantomime is arguably interactive fiction, at least in the sense that the characters acknowledge the audience and respond to their calls. Lots of stuff is a) clearly presenting fiction and b) clearly offering interactivity of some form. “Text adventure” pins down the medium far more precisely, and if it’s got some embarrassing and unfortunate associations you do the work to decouple it from those associations and promote text adventures which don’t go there, you don’t make up a new word for the stuff you are doing to try and set up some sort of elite divide between the text adventures you approve of and the ones you disapprove of.

More positively, the Inform family of languages, which are probably the most common ones used in the field, were developed to let home coders produce games that would run on Infocom’s Z-machine – a virtual machine which lets Infocom games be played on any computer system with a suitable interpreter.

Infocom’s development of the Z-machine is a happy historical accident which has been a real boon to the modern-day text adventure community. Infocom, it should be remembered, were operating at a time before personal computer architectures and operating systems had ossified into the major standards we have these days. By writing their games for the Z-machine, Infocom effectively only had to write each game once – then all they had to do was make a Z-machine interpreter for whichever computer platform they wanted to publish for, and then they could put out all of their games on that platform, which is obviously massively cheaper than having to rewrite each game for each operating system you want to adapt it to. (It even led to major price savings when it came to the packaging – Infocom games of the classic era came out in the same box with the same handouts and inserts for all platforms, and they’d just stick the appropriate disk or cassette tape in the box and put a sticker on the front specifying which operating system the contents worked on.)

This, of course, has also been very helpful when it comes to running classic Infocom text adventures and brand new Inform-based homebrews on modern computers, because the exact same task applies: simply write a Z-machine interpreter for whatever new platform comes out, and then once you have that working everything written in Inform or by Infocom can be played on that platform.

The fan community has also followed Infocom’s lead in recognising that there’s two things which are really key to a good text adventure: an interpreter which is easy to engage with and can understand a broad range of commands, and really solid writing. (After all, if the sole means a game has of delivering content consists of text, it may as well be really nicely polished text that is a pleasure to read.)

It’s fair to say, then, that whilst the homebrew adventure game scene has made some very important contributions to the genre – making a range of interpreters for running new and old text adventures on modern computers, smartphones, and more or less anything with a computer chip in it, as well as expanding the versatility and hence the user-friendliness of interpreters by widely expanding the range of verbs understood – they’re very much standing on the shoulders of giants, and Infocom is by far the largest giant. Usually, I would say that this position is well-earned; of the 1980s-era text adventures I have played, Infocom ones have almost always had the richest and most flavourful prose, the most forgiving and user-friendly parsers, and the most interesting stories and puzzles.

There are, of course, exceptions…

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All The World’s a Text Adventure, and All the Men and Women Merely Players…

It’s January 1603, and it’s a Plague year in London. You are struggling printer Richard Fletcher, and you receive an invitation to dinner with an old friend of yours, John Croft. After you arrive at Croft’s home, however, you find all is not well – and it stems from Croft’s relationship with Christopher Marlowe and a curious unfinished Marlowe play that Croft had been trying to complete with help from William Shakespeare, entitled The King In Yellowe

Adapted by Jimmy Maher from a Call of Cthulhu tabletop RPG scenario by Justin Tynes (the original adventure was published in Strange Aeons, a set of scenarios set in time periods not typically addressed by the game), The King of Shreds and Patches is a remarkably accomplished text adventure, with several important strengths. The first is the extremely high standard of writing; the descriptions are vivid but also to-the-point, and usually succeed at making sure that important matters are highlighted. More or less anything which the text draws your attention to in the area descriptions is something that can be usefully examined, for instance, and each and every description contributes something to the atmosphere.

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