IF Competition: Cry Wolf

Another IF Comp review, following my format for this comp. There is a cut, then any spoiler-free comments I have, and then spoiler space, and then more detailed feedback that assumes the reader has tried the game.

But first, we have some obligatory filler to try to make sure that the RSS summary does not accidentally contain any review. Filler, filler, la la la…

Okay. Here we go.

I like the ambition of this story. It tries for romance, and not just a simple hearts-and-flowers romance, but one in which there are significant decisions to make about whether you can accept the other person on her own terms. There’s potentially good stuff there.

I am not so crazy about the implementation. In a sense this is good news, because many of my implementation quibbles could be fixed in a rerelease, leaving a substantially stronger work; whereas a game that has good implementation but no interesting content can’t really be improved. Still, as it currently stands, this has a lot of really irritating passages for the player: guess the verb moments, points where only one action will serve and that action is underhinted, and (I think) one spot where it’s possible to make the game stop working if you do actions out of the intended order.

S

P

O

I

L

E

R

S

To get more specific: I had some difficulties earlier in the game, but the operation on Lady was the real kicker. I’m not a vet, so I don’t know exactly in what order one should do the steps of an operation. I could make some educated guesses, but — well, have a look:

>disinfect lady
What do you want to disinfect Lady with?

>disinfectant
What do you want to disinfect?

>lady
What do you want to disinfect Lady with?

>bottle
Which do you mean, the bottle of topical disinfectant, or the bottle of local anesthetic?

>topical
(first taking the bottle of topical disinfectant)
Taken.

You should shave her skin before you disinfect it.

The door opens and Julia slips in. She busies herself at the sink, washing her hands thoroughly before fetching a mask and gloves for herself from the cabinets.

>shave lady
What do you want to shave Lady with?

>shaver
(first taking the electric shaver)
Taken.

The fur is far too thick to shave. You need to cut it first.

>cut fur
With what, your teeth?

>look
Operating Room
The room is relatively bare and sterile. There is a counter with a sink along one wall with cabinets below. The gas anesthesia machine stands in one corner, to one side of a steel table bolted to the floor. A stainless steel cart is parked in the corner. A door leads to the west, the hall is to the northeast.

Julia, your priceless assistant, is here.

Lady, the Great Pyrenees, lies on the steel operating table.

On the steel cart are a white towels, some cotton swabs, a bottle of local anesthetic, a syringe, some sutures, a needle, a scalpel, a surgical scissors, and a small scissors.

You can also see Andrew and Marissa here.

>cut fur with scissors
Which do you mean, the surgical scissors, or the small scissors?

>small
(first taking the small scissors)
You only have two hands. You can’t hold more surgical tools than you already have.

>i
You are carrying an electric shaver and a bottle of topical disinfectant

You are wearing a stethoscope, a white coat, your shoes, a t-shirt, and a pair of jeans.

>drop all
electric shaver: You put the electric shaver on the steel cart.
bottle of topical disinfectant: You put the bottle of topical disinfectant on the steel cart.

>get small scissors
Taken.

>cut fur with small scissors
You trim the fur as close as you can on Lady’s belly. You replace the scissors on the cart.

>get shaver
Taken.

>shave fur
What do you want to shave the fur with?

>shaver
You gently shave the bitch’s distended belly, clearing away the tiny hairs to reveal a wide patch of pink skin. You replace the shaver on the cart.

>get bottle
Which do you mean, the bottle of topical disinfectant, or the bottle of local anesthetic?

>topical
Taken.

>put topical on lady
Use the cotton swabs.

>get swabs
Taken.

>put topical on swab
You drizzle some of the liquid onto the swab and replace the bottle of disinfectant on the cart.

>swab lady
That’s not a verb I recognise.

>use swabs
They’re not something you can switch.

>rub swabs on lady
I only understood you as far as wanting to rub the cotton swabs.

>rub swabs
You must supply a second noun.

>rub swabs over lady
I only understood you as far as wanting to rub the cotton swabs.

And it went on and on like that until I had finally blundered my way through to the point where Lady was bare-bellied and ready to be cut open — at which point, I couldn’t go on because I wasn’t properly garbed. I tried washing my hands, then taking the gloves from the cabinet, but I kept getting a message that if I took the gloves they would no longer be sterile — I think because I did earlier actions in a different order than the walkthrough intended. At that point there seemed to be no way forward, so I restarted the game and typed in the walkthrough exactly.

There are a bunch of things to say about this. First: the player may not know what she’s doing (sorry) but the protagonist does. An implementation that reflected that fact would have the protagonist just automatically pick up the correct tools, put things down when they’re no longer needed, and just generally resort to sensible defaults. (The game does a little bit of this — it drops tools for you after you’ve used them once — but it doesn’t handle these things consistently.) More beta-testing might have exposed some of these issues, and would make the game not only more fun to play but also a more persuasive representation of what it is like to be Peter, accomplished veterinarian.

Another major, major frustration about the game was how slow Peter was to realize and accept the blindingly obvious Truth about Marissa. I knew pretty much as soon as I woke up in the morning what must have happened, but the conversation tree precluded asking any of the obvious questions. This forces the player to play Peter as a kind of stupid guy. There is a line, late in the game, about how Peter has always been the sort of person who needs hard empirical proof before he’ll believe anything implausible, but in that case it would have been nice if Peter’s internal monologue had supported that earlier in the game.

On the positive side: despite all my struggles with the operation procedure, I thought the actual birth of the puppy-children worked well; I had suspicions about what was going on, but the suspicions were wrong, and the truth was more disturbing (and thus more effective) than what I had anticipated. The story’s best moments are the ones that deal with Andrew and Lady, I think, because they confront the player with the often disturbing alternative morality that the werewolves apply to themselves.

I’m a little less sanguine about the main storyline. When it comes to the end, the story seems to want you to choose to be with Marissa, but on my first playthrough, I chose to refuse her, instead. I didn’t feel (despite my character saying some sympathetic things to her earlier in the game) that we’d reached a point where Peter was actually ready to make such a leap. There wasn’t enough history between him and Marissa; there wasn’t enough support, in his thoughts and attitudes, to convince me that he was emotionally ready to sever himself partly from the rest of humanity and embrace this radically different way of being. The story had provided a little grounding for this (depression about losing Celia, feelings about the lost Bernard), but not enough.

In the defense of the story, one might say, “well, as player you got to choose the ending you wanted, so doesn’t that make it okay?” But here I think the answer is no. Refusing Marissa feels (perhaps because of the way it’s written, perhaps because it doesn’t lead to any new revelations) like a disappointing end, one that doesn’t leave the story with a strong shape or purpose. The only choice that makes the story meaningful (I thought) was accepting her — but I couldn’t convince myself that the protagonist was ready to do that. So I have my pick of one flat ending and one emotionally implausible one.

All that said, I’ve written a lot about this game because there was more to respond to than in many another. There’s some striking imagery here, as well as a genuine narrative progression (one can’t complain that this game is all backstory!) and some interesting ideas.

13 thoughts on “IF Competition: Cry Wolf

  1. Hi Emily,

    Are there any silver implements in Cry Wolf? Given the protagonist’s disgust with the puppy-children, killing Andrew and Marissa should have been an option.

    Applying the disinfectant was also a guess-the-verb for me, but otherwise the surgery was a breeze — I’m not a vet nor a doctor, but I used to play Life and Death and do appendicitis surgery in CGA graphics…

    I agree that Cry Wolf could greatly benefit from a post-comp release; perhaps making Julia more helpful during the surgery scene would solve the hinting problems you mentioned.

  2. It really never occurred to me to try to kill any of them…

    Applying the disinfectant was also a guess-the-verb for me, but otherwise the surgery was a breeze

    It wouldn’t have been so bad except that every wrong guess about the order of actions meant more wasted time picking stuff up and disambiguating; better parser defaults would have hugely reduced the amount of time I spent figuring out how to do the operation.

  3. The game got into a locked loop of unwinnable progress at the end of the first scene for me. I saw another review that said it happened at the end of a later scene to them. Kind of disappointing that apparently I saw the least amount of this game of anyone, and I wish it had been better tested before release.

  4. Kind of disappointing that apparently I saw the least amount of this game of anyone, and I wish it had been better tested before release.

    Absolutely, I really wanted to finish this one. Though I still think even more of a problem than insufficient testing the author just attempted more than she was ready for, programming-wise. It just seems like the complexity of the whole thing was severely underestimated. Maybe she just didn’t give herself enough time.

  5. I managed to make the choice at the very end bug out: answering yes somehow just brought me back to the question of whether I really was ready, this time with only no as an alternative. A bit of an anticlimax.

  6. Don Pedro: I had the same happen with NO, and found that behaving as if I’d said YES produced the NO ending. Something very odd is happening with the way conversations work.

    I did get an ending, though.

  7. Add me to the list of people who got sucked into the infinite loop of wolf-eating-meat description at the end of scene 1. I tried to approach it in different ways several times, from a saved game located quite a bit before that part and always fell in anyway. Too annoyed to start over from scratch though.

  8. I had many of the same problems, but liked the game quite a lot in spite of it all, which I think probably emphasizes your point that there is a heck of a lot of potential here let down by some bad implementation.

    In addition to a hundred little niggles, I got stung by two major bugs. I got stuck in the second to last act when I ran out of conversation options but the game refused to progress. I had to restore and take a different route through the conversation. And at the end of the game I was stung I think by the same bug as Don Pedro. I chose to not become a werewolf but to try to continue my romantic relationship with Marissa. The game actually accepted this, which pleased me greatly, as I thought it would want to railroad me down the path of lycanthropy. However, then nothing ELSE happened, until I either left the apartment (thus breaking off the relationship) or spoke to Marissa again and chose to become a werewolf after all.

    I didn’t have too many problems with the surgery stuff, but I had a secret weapon — I played with my wife, who is in medical school. :)

  9. Jimmy, the same bug got me (fourth act, she’s ready to talk finally, but no conversation options).

    It was a very ambitious game, but not supported well enough by the implementation. I think this is the first game this year I’ve scored a 2 on story but a 0 on implementation.

  10. In the surgery scene, a major prompt to the player should have been made – talking with Julia, your vet assistant, will explain the next step. A “Next I will make the first incision” kind of thing. I stumbled a lot, offhandedly talked to Julia, and then it was suddenly easy.

  11. I would be interested to see this story told from the point of view of Marissa, primarily because it is her story. For Peter, there is a lot of motivation to complete the first scene: the horror element of the wolf in the night, and the mystery of who or what the wolf is (especially given Peter’s back story, which suggests several possibilities). Once the player realizes the truth about Marissa at the beginning of the second scene (which seems to be generally the case), Peter’s role becomes both passive (the only choice being to whether or not to follow Marissa’s lead) and unsuspenseful (in the worst case, this mysterious woman will disappear from his life, so not much jeapardy). Additionally, because most of the interesting plot points are happening to Marissa, Peter must experience them as information dumps during conversation rather than interacting with them directly (and taking an active role in their outcome).

    Contrast this with Marissa’s experience of the story: finding herself wounded in the first scene, getting into Peter’s house without scaring him off, then trusting him to operate on her rather than ripping is throat out. The situation with Lady could then be revealed directly, through subtle clues in the description of Alex and the apartment culminating in the conversation where they decide to go to Peter for help (the PC as Marissa would have to both convince Alex to trust Peter as well as convince herself that the risk of discovery would be worth taking). At the hospital, rather than choreographing the medical steps of the operation, Marissa would take the more interesting role of coordinating the trust among the other characters (as she already does in the existing game). This would bring the player to a final scene where she had twice placed her trust in Peter and seen it vindicated, which, I think, would address some of the motivation issues that Emily mentioned.

    In addition to exposing more of the plot and giving the player a more active role in the story, this structural change would have the happy side effect of simplifying many of the implementation problems. Compared to Peter’s actions, most of Marissa’s actions can be carried out with common nouns and verbs and do not require prior knowledge of medical procedures or the environment. The special knowledge that she does have that is relevant to the story (e.g., all of the werewolf bits) is primarily relevant during conversation, and could be easily handled via the existing menu-based system.

  12. There’s some good writing and ideas in the game but technically and emotionally…there were things lacking…I really hated how you couldn’t save your game during a conversation or undo choices, any mistakes means you have to restore a saved game…I think “undo” doesn’t work here…I didn’t like the surgery part. Eww.
    I wanted to see what happened with the “love” path but at the very end I couldn’t figure out how to get through the window. I tried everything I could think of but every time I tried something, it either didn’t work or it got me the wrong ending. I haven’t gone down the “no” road…but I’m guessing there’s more than two endings since there’s the love path and the betrayal path or outright refusal to accept things and the choice to be disgusted by it all.
    I agree, either certain information about Peter should have been revealed sooner or Peter should have been smarter and asked questions the next day. (when it turned out a woman was there instead of a wolf)
    It bites that the “bad” endings make you feel bad for choosing them but the “good” ending is a failure because they haven’t really known each other for very long. I had the same problem others had…if you don’t direct the coffee conversation in a certain way, then you’ve messed up and have to start over again from a save point because if you take the conversation in a way the game doesn’t like, you’re stuck.
    I thought it was very silly that after you technically had “made” coffee, you couldn’t “drink” it and other things were messed up about cleaning the house, such as despite having already put the dishes in the dishwasher if you try to wash your hands it says the sink is full of dishes.

  13. Pingback: IF Competition: General Reflections and Favorites | Emily Short's Interactive Storytelling

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