IF Comp 2013: Final Girl (Hanon Ondricek)

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Final Girl is a StoryNexus game about classic slasher horror. It is replayable, and may well take more than two hours to reach a good ending (certainly I didn’t get there), but a single playthrough is more in the 30-45 minute range.

Final Girl is essentially riffing on the same joke as the Scream series, playing with the player’s expectations about slasher fiction. There’s a framing story, to the effect that the player is watching a horror movie, but then we’re actually cast into the story as well, controlling the actions of the protagonist. (Shades of Downtown Tokyo, Present Day? But you have to have been around the IF scene for a while to remember that one.) The protagonist is the last girl living in the horror movie, and she has to wander a scary lakeshore cabin setting, collecting useful possessions and managing her degree of terror and breathlessness in order to figure out who the murderer is.

I like this idea, and there is a lot about it that’s pretty well executed. The writing is sometimes on the cheesy side, but in a way that suits the genre. There are some genuinely creepy bits of imagery, and hints of an extensive backstory. The stalker turns up at some expected times and some unexpected ones, so you’re basically never completely safe.

I think the tuning’s off, though, especially for a comp context. My own experience, at least, was that I played, and died, and played and died, and played and died again, and so on, until I’d run out of the two hours allotted for judging comp games. Each time I was able to incorporate some information from the previous playthrough — in particular, the all-important task of collecting the pliers. (If you get to the point of exploring freely and you don’t have the pliers, you’re likely in trouble.) But I think I’ve now learned as much as I can learn, and I’m now dying just due to bad luck.

There are a couple of places where I think the author was on the right track, in terms of making the game replay-friendly, but the design didn’t go far enough.

One nice touch is that the story does track whether you’ve played before (through the conceit that you’re watching sequels to the original movie each time you replay), and offers a means to fast-forward through the very linear first moves of the game. But there’s still quite a bit of the opening to play through in a fairly specific way in order to optimize your assets: as far as I can tell you basically always want to make sure you get the pliers and collect supplies from the medic’s van before you get thrown into the gameplay proper. So that has to be done over each time you play. It would have been better either to have a way to fast-forward here too, or else to be able to keep some skills from a previous game, or (to go another direction) to make it so that there was no best path through this section. But as things stood, I felt like I had to go again through the same motions each time I restarted.

Another issue I had was that I did once manage to find Dwayne’s corpse, which let me get into the toolshed and find useful materials; but on subsequent playthroughs I couldn’t find it again, and I’m not quite sure why not. I think the deal is that when you find a dead body, which body you’ve found is randomized using a set of three cards with question marks on the back. I can see how this might seem clever from an authorial point of view, but from a player point of view it’s kind of doubly frustrating. First, it’s frustrating picking a random card when you don’t fully know what that card is doing or why you’re picking it. The first time I encountered this I thought the game was broken, and I think from other players’ reviews that they might think this as well. And second, it means that information gained in replay stacks poorly, so it’s hard to capitalize on what you’ve learned last time — and that wouldn’t be such a problem if it weren’t that the game is otherwise really slanted against winning.

That part’s a tuning issue. But I found, at least, that the stalker showed up a lot, and that even when I was armed with stuff, it didn’t seem like I was able to deal him any significant damage. And so I died, over and over again.

So assuming the author wants the player to be able to win the scenario within a reasonable number of sequels (and before giving up in disgust and/or running out of comp judging time), there are a couple of options here:

1) make it so that there are more ways that replays accumulate to the player’s advantage much more strongly. Allow tools or qualities to carry over, or make sure that information gained in one playthrough is more likely to be useful in the next.

2) make the stalker less frequently-attacking or less dangerous when he does attack.

(2) feels like it might detract from the experience that Ondricek is going for. (1) might be a good deal, though.

Anyway, I did enjoy this, and if it hadn’t been for the comp judging time limit, I would probably have continued to play more iterations — though, as mentioned, I’m a little worried that I won’t be able to make significantly more progress from here. I would be curious to know how if anyone did succeed in unmasking the killer, because most of the reviews I’ve seen make it sound like the player did not get to a positive ending.

6 thoughts on “IF Comp 2013: Final Girl (Hanon Ondricek)”

  1. I played this early in the competition, and I’m under the impression that it’s received significant tuning since. At the time, encountering the killer was completely safe if you avoided attacking: rolling repeatedly and fleeing would always eventually get you away safely. This meant I was able to explore quite thoroughly. Some clues can only be found by drawing the right card at a fairly specific latitude and longitude, so when I had a couple to go at the end of the two hours, I just guessed.

    There are some other good and neutral endings. Violence leads to one of them, though I’m not sure how viable — when I played combat difficulties were behaving strangely because of a divide by zero error. I think you can also hide out in a canoe, or even take a bath without dying under certain circumstances.

  2. I never found the pliers in the medics van, although I’m not surprised to learn there were some there. I eventually found pliers at another location around the lake. This was one of my favorite comp games.

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