IF Comp 2009: Snowquest

Screen shot 2009-10-04 at 6.16.41 PMAs has been my practice for the last few years, I’ve set my RSS feed to truncate entries so that I can post reviews without spoilerage. Within an entry, there is a short, spoilerless discussion (though the comp purists may want to avoid reading even that before playing for themselves); then spoiler space; then a more detailed discussion of what I thought did and didn’t work in the game.

You are probably already familiar with my policy about tested games. This is an Eric Eve game, which means that I didn’t really feel I needed to check the ABOUT text to find out whether it had been tested, but I did anyway.

Currently: Snowquest.

You too can play it if you download the comp games, or even try it online.

This is distinctly odd, and I’m not sure what to make of it. It’s competently assembled and engaging from moment to moment, but it’s very hard to get a good handle on what’s going on: the story pops the reality stack a few too many times, with dreams, flashbacks, hypnosis and lies all mingling in the protagonist’s head and making it hard to know what’s what. When all was said and done, I didn’t feel like the story meant as much as some of the hinting imagery might have suggested.

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Okay, to get this straight: the story is that you’ve been asked to fly some equipment through a snowstorm into the Rockies to make important measurements. You’re sidetracked by a guy who tells you he’s an FBI agent and your package is drugs. Instead of doing the obvious and actually checking the content of the package in any way, you’re forced to pick a side to trust. Moreover, the faux FBI agent has access to a magical hypnotizing crystal that has allowed you to see a (truthful, or at least correctly-warning) future in which you die in a plane crash… and another future in which, uh, maybe climate change has been responsible for an apocalyptic event. And there were some dreams and flashbacks and visions.

And through all this, in your dreams and your interactions, is an image: a field of white with a strand of gold, recapitulated in the unicorn and the lily and the butterfly, the gold thread in the skeleton, the heronweed in the snow bank. This is evocative stuff, more memorable in some respects than any of the layers of plot (none of which sticks around for long): some metaphor, I had assumed, for death and the soul, the mortal flesh and the unquenchable spirit.

At some point I thought the story might turn out to be about sacrificial action: risking yourself to deliver the package, perhaps, because you’re convinced after all of the importance of the delivery. That might make some little bit of sense out of the nested stories and images.

But instead it’s purely a whom-do-you-trust puzzle (Eric does a lot with that idea), where there’s even less evidence than usual because the story is so convoluted. There is of course the correlation between the agent and the wolf we met in the hypnosis sequence, and between the guy who gave us the package and our hypnosis mentor. Still, I wasn’t clear on what exactly that meant in terms of whom to trust, given that the wolf in the hypnosis did us remarkably little harm, while our mentor appeared to be at the very least severely misguided.

Perhaps the safest thing is to apply Rule 1 of Eric Eve Games: Always mistrust the mysteriously attractive character: she he is lying. Maybe not about everything, but definitely about something.

But this, I feel, means calling on information external to the game.

So… am I missing something?

11 thoughts on “IF Comp 2009: Snowquest

  1. Personally, I hit the magical hypnosis crystal and the agent named Wolf and cracked up. My ability to believe in the story even at a symbolic level never recovered. It’s a pity, because the game was technically well-constructed. But I tried summarizing the game’s events for Joe and he started cracking up too, so it’s not just me. Mr. Eve would have done better to have ended the game in complete incoherence, because then I could have had fun *inventing* some kind of coherent symbol-system for myself. Instead, he gave the player a definite ending and definite reality and that rather killed my ability to take it seriously.

    This is the first Eric Eve game I’ve played, so I had those reactions innocent of any prior exposure.

  2. Still, I wasn’t clear on what exactly that meant in terms of whom to trust, given that the wolf in the hypnosis did us remarkably little harm, while our mentor appeared to be at the very least severely misguided.

    I thought that was because the guy who shows us the crystal was using it to get us to trust him and not the mentor. But that wouldn’t explain why the vision shows us how to defeat him — or where the stick came from. (Though I did like that puzzle, which is partly to say I could solve it, which may be to say it was excessively unsubtle.) Anyway, I agree that the resolution didn’t live up to the setup.

    • There was also a lot of time spent on the stuff like crossing the ravine and otherwise surviving the snowy wilderness, which turned out to be completely irrelevant to the point of the hypnosis.

      I dunno.

  3. If this hadn’t been an Eric Eve game I would have been tempted to bail as soon as the surreal unicorn imagery kicked in. (If there’s one thing in IF I can’t stand, it’s surreal explorations of the PC’s inner state.) I did stick with it and finished it, though, and enjoyed the experience. I was actually very happy to have a practical, real-world explanation for everything, as opposed to all the pseudo-mysticism I experienced along the way to the finale — even if that finale feels more like a joke being sprung on the player than a dramatic revelation. I don’t think this is one of Mr. Eve’s best games by a long shot — it feels like at least three contradictory ideas mashed together, and therefore lacks the sense of thematic wholeness of Nightfall or The Elysium Enigma — but it’s overall level of craft is, as usual for this author, considerable. I thought the descriptions of the snow and cold were also evocative, and perhaps deserving of a more well-developed plot to hold them.

    • “If there’s one thing in IF I can’t stand, it’s surreal explorations of the PC’s inner state.”

      And yet you wrote a 4-star review for a certain game of mine that is little else. :)

  4. I’m glad someone else wondered if the game ultimately made sense. However, it didn’t detract from my enjoyment playing because I didn’t realize it wasn’t going to be explained in a satisfactory manner (to me) until I was finished.

    Matt says”or where the stick came from”. I somehow missed the stick at the end. Which you get automaticaly as you pass through some branches after going from the car to Wolf’s location. But my eye seems to have skipped over that message when I first played, much to my chagrin, or so I suppose. I wasn’t keeping a transcript. I was wondering if that stick always does show up that way or is it possible it sometimes doesn’t.

  5. This ended up being, almost literally, two entirely different games for me. Both were short and enjoyable in their own way, but there is really no connection between the two in my mind, and what connections they try to make between one another end up as incidental and contrived. I feel like I’m doing a huge favor to the game by saying that the one reality was supposed to be symbolic or influenced in any way by the other.

    Still, both games were well-made and entertaining in the moment of play, so I can’t fault it too much.

  6. “But instead it’s purely a whom-do-you-trust puzzle”

    The game never gives you a choice about whom to trust, so I don’t really see how this could be a whom-do-you-trust puzzle? At first there is nobody to trust, then you can’t follow Wolf’s instructions because the game tells you you don’t trust thim, then you suddenly can follow his instructions because the game tells you you do trust him, and finally he points a gun at your head. Nothing like a puzzle seems to be going on here; there is nothing you can solve, no point where you can get ahead by making the right guess.

    • I at least had the option of going in one of several directions depending on whether I wanted to go home, try to fly to the Rockies, or meet Wolf. Was your playthrough more restricted than that? (If so, I wonder why…)

      • Well, I did have the choice between flying and driving home, of course, but none of them really involves trusting someone–merely trusting the weather.

        I don’t think you can ever choose between driving home and driving to Wolf: if the game has decided you don’t trust Wolf yet, you can only drive home, and if it has decided you do trust him, you cannot drive home any longer. At least that was my impression.

  7. Pingback: Facts of IF: What is Agency? « OneWetSneaker

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