IF Comp 2010: Gigantomania

As 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.

I’m also pursuing an approach I came up with a couple of years ago: I’m playing and reviewing games that have listed beta-testers, and skipping those that don’t. In 2008 that turned out to be a pretty fool-proof indicator of which games were going to end up scoring 4 or less on my personal scale, and it made my reviewing process a happier one in 2009, so I’m sticking with it. I’m hoping this will mean I have more time to devote to the remaining games, which in turn will (I hope) be of higher quality, and you, dear reader, will have fewer rants inflicted on you.

Next up: Gigantomania

Potentially interesting game with vignettes of life in Stalin’s Russia, showcasing various situations and viewpoints. Could use quite a bit more polish.

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The game sets a serious tone from the outset: it’s going to let us know about the unhappy lives of people living in Stalinist Russia, the lies they told themselves and each other, and the way the system was stacked against them (demonstrated by the way that the game itself sometimes plays unfairly with you). This is not a terrible notion.

The game then undermines itself a bit through lack of polish.

The language is often not quite right, substituting a similar-sounding word for vocabulary that would have made sense: “the converter turns upside down and slowly dispels the liquid steel into the moulds below” where it means something more like “dispenses”; “I try to expound on how Russia’s old way of food distribution was fundamentally faulted” when “faulty” would make more sense and “flawed” is probably the word we’re really looking for. At other times the writing does work, and demonstrates the author’s interest in voice and style; but it could have used a vigorous editing.

I also found myself looking dubiously sideways at the opening scene in which we’re simultaneously harvesting grain and potatoes from the same patch of land, at the same time that we’re plowing that land and Comrade Sergei is watching over his sprouts. Does farming work this seasonless way in any context other than Farmville clones? Surely in Russia — not exactly the tropics — we do not have all these agricultural stages happening at the same time? Am I wrong? It didn’t feel plausible to me.

Later in the game, the implementation also weakens. Of the game’s four sections, the third contains an awful lot of unrecognized scenery, even though the situation is one that prompts extremely focused attention on one’s surroundings, and there are some odd proofreading errors.

The fourth section breaks down totally seems to break down totally, with a menu-based conversation in which all the quips display some sort of numerical tag and many of them consist only of the numerical tag, no dialogue at all. Subsequent conversation with another judge reveals that these tags were actually representing chess moves for the game I was in the middle of. Which makes sense, I suppose, but it’s communicated extremely poorly for those of us who aren’t up on chess, and by the time I got to this stage in the game, the lack of polish earlier on made me distrustful, so I assumed “bug” instead of “weird, inexplicable feature”. Certainly as a fictional element it didn’t accomplish much for me. (Maybe spell out the moves more fully the first few times?)

So. This was a moderately interesting piece, never very difficult, but exploring multiple viewpoint characters and a real-world issue. “Stalin was crazy and evil” is not exactly a controversial or surprising stand to take, but the game was at least about something.

More polish and some better discipline in the writing (especially in the early sections) would have helped.

3 thoughts on “IF Comp 2010: Gigantomania”

  1. I agree with you about the unrealistic quality of the farming scene. Apart from the agricultural inaccuracies you mentioned, though, what bugged me about it was how easy it was. The land freely gave up as many bags of grain and spuds as I cared to harvest, and the game didn’t do much to give a sense that what the PC was engaged in was hard physical labour. The people around me were obviously suffering, but my character had no difficulty performing the job that seemed to have worn them down.

    The scene in the factory, I thought, was much better at this; it was clear that the simple repetitive task the PC was asked to perform was taking a serious physical toll.

    1. I didn’t find the realism issues of the agriculture in the first section quite so jarring, in part because that section had such an obvious debt to a certain style of videogame that a certain degree of symbolic shorthand seemed acceptable. (If you zoom in on the workers in Tropico, they’re often doing on-the-face-of-it nonsensical things like building entire power stations with a hammer and nails; this doesn’t matter much, because the details of power plant design are not what the game’s about.)

      In my first couple of playthroughs, the time constraint seemed sufficient to make the point — I suspect, though, that with efficient play it should be possible to get enough food for all the things that need it, which would undermine the point rather.

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