IF Comp 2013: Moquette (Alex Warren)

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Moquette is a choice-based slice-of-life story about a man fighting some sort of existential crisis. It’s executed in Quest, with a number of image and typographical effects I haven’t seen in that system before. Review after the jump.

The basic premise of Moquette is that the protagonist is a guy with a boring, repetitive job, who is living his life on autopilot. One day, hung over on the London tube, he decides he wants to make a change, so he takes a different train from the one he’s supposed to, and rides around.

What follows is a rather impressive implementation of the Underground, with its various lines and junctures. The protagonist can get off trains and make connections, or change direction, more or less at will. I tried, experimentally, trying to get to various stations I know, and it did essentially work. Other characters get on and off the tube, fidget, get off again.

There are some nice typography tricks here: text slides, changes shape, fades in or out. As a demo of potential Quest tricks, it’s rather cool, though I’d be curious to know how much of this is stuff that Quest supports natively and how much requires hand-rolling with a knowledge of CSS or HTML 5. Still, it’s not bad: it feels more dynamic than the majority of Twine pieces and considerably more polished than most of the parser games.

At some point, though, one begins to wonder what is the point of all this riding around. I tried riding to Green Park, to Oxford Circus, to Paddington, to St Pancras. But it’s not allowed to go upstairs and participate in the life of London, lie on the grass, feed ducks, go shopping in Piccadilly, visit the British Museum, have a curry, catch the Eurostar to Paris. The game hasn’t provided any real goals of its own and the exploration is somewhat limited (that is, one can go to loads of Tube stations, but they’re mostly alike and their individual description is minimal), so the experience starts to feel directionless. This mirrors the lack of direction in the protagonist’s life, but even for that rhetorical purpose, it drags on longer than I think I would have preferred.

Then some twists do occur.









The protagonist on the train runs into a woman named Heather, about whom he has apparently been fantasizing fruitlessly for weeks, since he met her at a party and then totally failed to follow up or ask her out.

In her presence, he faints (effect of the hangover, presumably?) and then wakes up again later. She has abandoned him. He rides more, and thinks he sees her again, and gets off the train to pursue her, but finds himself having a conversation with a man in one of the Tube’s many strange support rooms. It transpires that the protagonist is being trained to be able to make decisions for himself again, and that the voice-in-his-head player is actually part of a problem he has, and needs to grow past.

Other stories have played with the idea of the player character/narrator noticing the player as a separate entity, and beginning to react to or against that input. Moquette’s variation on the theme is workable, but it didn’t really hit me very hard emotionally, I think because the protagonist started out as such a dull cipher. This is part of the point — he wants to escape his routine of tedious work and drinking too much and failing to make any kind of connection with another human ever — but I had a hard time feeling deeply about someone whose chief personal characteristic is a tendency to editorialize about other people’s hat-wear faux pas.

So. A respectable piece of work with a lot of interesting things going on at the craft level — a lot of work must have gone into the Tube simulation, the typographic changes are cool, and so on. The writing is also a notch above comp average. Nonetheless, it didn’t completely succeed for me as a short story, because what happens to the protagonist feels too emotionally distant and too arbitrary.

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