Spring Thing 2014 continues, and you can play and vote here if you like. Brief reviews of The Price of Freedom, Surface, and Through Time follow.
Surface (Geoff Moore). Surface is a Twine piece, somewhere on the border between horror and science fiction. Like Hallowmoor, it captures many of the world model features of parser IF. There’s an inventory. Geography is consistent, with illustrated maps that highlight as you move around. There were a few points where I thought I might be stuck — parts of the story seem to involve randomized movement of creatures in the world space, and I looped through useless activities for a while before I figured out how to progress.
In content, Surface reminded me by turns of Changes and Coloratura. For me the effect wasn’t quite as powerful as the effect of Coloratura because I didn’t find the aliens as alien or the acclimation to their world view quite as startling. I also found the very opening sequence a bit off-putting, though I think this was a very subjective call and possibly I just wasn’t in the mood for something so biologically alien.
Overall, though, this is pretty solidly constructed. I would have liked to have dug a little bit deeper into the details of the protagonist’s past and relationships with other characters, but the story does grow in heft and emotional power as it goes on.
The Price of Freedom: Innocence Lost (Briar Rose). The Price of Freedom is a fairly substantial CYOA set in the Roman Empire. You play a young Greek boy who has been sold into slavery and has to train for the arena. The overall design feels somewhat reminiscent of Choice of Games pieces: the story adheres to a consistent central concept and doesn’t branch much in the early or midgame. Instead, you have stats including speed and strength, as well as affinity with many other characters, which depend on your choices. These in turn can apparently affect the outcome of later choices. Those stats are explicitly folded into the narration, though, and there’s a Go Back option that allows undoing a turn, which encourages play to maximize stats.
The story itself is fairly pulpy, with big melodramatic events; the writing serviceable and straightforward. It depicts a number of things that are horrific, but doesn’t really dwell on their nuances enough to make them unbearable. That, and the fact that the protagonists are all children, makes it feel like The Price of Freedom is written for a younger audience. While it does end with a “To be continued,” it also feels like a reasonably complete book 1 in itself, in contrast with Bear Creek.
There are a few flaws. It arguably introduces more characters than it really needs, given its length. By the end, we haven’t had an opportunity to get to know most of these people well, and perhaps have only had 1-3 occasions to change or test our affinity scores — not enough to make those stats really meaningful. The Price of Freedom also builds up the idea that the protagonist doesn’t want to have to murder anyone in the arena, but when my character finally does have to kill someone, the event passes with very little fanfare, quite casually. Moments like this made me think the author was trying for a level of emotional depth that the story doesn’t currently support.
Through Time (MC Book). Through Time advertises itself as a dating-sim-alike, and certainly it feels that way, complete with a girl with pink hair and characters who hint mysteriously at their feelings towards you while apparently being angry that you haven’t already guessed. I had the same difficulty with it that I have with some of the Ren’Py dating sims I’ve tried: it takes a long time for the story to get moving, and there’s a lot of rather inconsequential dialogue on the way, while early choices seem to have little or no effect on the path of the story, so that even if I’m initially interested in the premise, my interest peters out as I get frustrated that the story refuses to advance.
Through Time also suffers a bit from dodgy proofreading and odd formatting choices. There’s a lot of dialogue split from its attribution, like this:
…which makes the long, conversation-heavy passages considerably slower to read. After twenty or so pages I gave up. It may be that I just have the wrong set of genre expectations here; I think this might be more appealing to someone thoroughly immersed in the dating-sim visual novel genre.
As a side point, it intrigues me that the three ChooseYourStory games I’ve tried in this competition are so different in their design and style. I suppose it’s still possible that ChooseYourStory has a “house” style the way Twine, ChoiceScript, and StoryNexus all seem to — it’s possible that there’s a common flavor of CYS work and this competition just happens to feature some outliers — but at a first glance it looks as though that’s not the case.