IF Comp 2010: Rogue of the Multiverse

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, if appropriate.

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: Rogue of the Multiverse

Those familiar with Pacian’s previous work will not be surprised to hear that Rogue of the Multiverse is a fun, wacky SF game set in a universe whose rules are never fully explained, with plenty of action sequences and a wickedly memorable main NPC. It’s solidly programmed and funny; worth a look.

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I spent many turns in the first portion of the game attempting to GIVE SLISS THE FINGER — or cruder things — because I was pretty sure that if my character was a hardened criminal confronted with Slissesque levels of condescension and rudeness, she wouldn’t be just kind of skulking obediently from her holding chamber to the antechamber. No. I rather think she’d be pantomiming some activities that Sliss could perform with one or more bananas.

This reaction is both good and bad. The good is that the game evoked enough feeling in me that I wanted to have the pleasure of improvising my character. I wanted to play her doing some things, having some emotions, in response to the feelings that the game was creating for me. It helps that Sliss’ dialogue is hilariously written and communicates an instant sense of specific personality.

The bad is that the premise (you’re a resourceful criminal and also have access to the means to travel to other worlds) suggests a lot of player-directed adventure. I was expecting that I’d be gathering up outfits and tools to take with me into other areas of the multiverse, where I (not the sluggish worm in the toilet) would set myself free. I was not expecting to be duped, manipulated, and led around by the nose until I finally wound up back in London. I’m always happy to wind up in London, mind you, but I wasn’t expecting this game to lead me there in quite such a forced way.

I think the extremely barebones treatment of the places we go scavenging is actually a necessity: it’s boring, but it also discourages the player from trying to invent solutions here that aren’t what the author intended. It only takes one or two trips to realize that you can’t expect to find consistent help and succor on some other planet, and defeat Sliss that way. So I think this was a design choice that reinforced another design choice (make the game very railroady and the story mostly driven by NPCs), and in that sense I can understand it, but I think I would have preferred the game where my player character did more and where the wonder of alien worlds was presented a little more richly.

Several reviewers have mentioned their ambivalent feelings towards Sliss and the Stockholm-y way the player character may be drawn to side with her even though she’s locked us up and performed experiments on us.

This is partly because she’s funny, true; it’s also to a very large extent (I think) because she’s the real protagonist of this story. She’s the one with a plan and ambitions. She’s the one who mostly makes things happen. The player character not only is a cipher in personality but has very little agency. So from a readerly point of view, I don’t want to be separated from Sliss any sooner than I have to be: she’s the source of all the interest here.

…So. Hm. I enjoyed this, but I also found it subtly unsatisfying.

7 thoughts on “IF Comp 2010: Rogue of the Multiverse”

  1. I think that the point of this was, on the positive side, “Yes! You can have fast-paced, action-scene stuff in IF!” and on the negative side, “But only if you abandon a huge pile of the things that you like IF for in the first place.” It’s very tempting to read the whole thing as an argument — not a wholly successful one — about whether illusory agency is as important as the genuine article.

    1. Isn’t Gun Mute kinda sorta a counter-argument to that, though? Or, for that matter, I thought Shadow in the Cathedral had some successful action-scene stuff. It’s mostly about setting up a situation where the player has a limited range of options and a sense of urgency about executing them; no?

      It’s not clear to me that the whole game has to be this stripped down to achieve that effect.

      1. I suspect the 2-hours target for the IF Comp might have played a part in it. The game looks like it wanted to be much, much bigger but didn’t make it.

      2. I think it’s more to do with the short development time: only a month, including beta-testing. Maybe Pacian will go back and flesh it out a bit more after the comp finishes.

      3. If that’s the issue, then my answer is “ARGH! Don’t mutilate your game in order to put it in the comp, and DON’T SUBMIT UNFINISHED GAMES.”

        I am going to pretend that’s not why, because if I thought the game was just submitted intentionally incomplete, I’d have to lower its score.

      4. I’m not suggesting that it was “submitted intentionally incomplete”, exactly. As far as I can tell (just from reading his blog), Pacian thought that the idea was small enough to complete in a month. But, of course, the development timeframe limited the design options. I do think that Rogue of the Multiverse‘s focus on the bones of the experience leaves it feeling a bit too thin.

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