Ruiness is a Porpentine game, and as such is typically difficult to summarize. It takes place in an evocative post-apocalyptic wasteland in which people have roles like “scavenger” and “dustrunner”, as well as apparently belonging to different species and riding various creatures.
Most of the gameplay is exploratory and concerns uncovering new places to go, or else new kinds of character to be — in this regard it reminded me of Contrition. Both Ruiness and Contrition take some concerted work to explore fully; they don’t feel like puzzle games, precisely, but they are more demanding to navigate than the average Twine. (In fact, I’m reminded a bit of Toby’s Nose, here.)
I’m not sure I could summarize what happens here at a plot level, and sometimes the descriptions become more prose-texture than denotative. One of the curious things about Porpentine’s work is her ability to make worlds and stories that are navigable even when they take place in an utterly alien environment. This effect is fully in force in Ruiness.
Through both mechanics (the replacement of one protagonist with another and another) and content (the endgame), the story suggests that the experience of individuals is relatively unimportant, that their culture and history is being shaped by supervising forces far beyond their comprehension. I found this simultaneously bleak and comforting: bleak because it was hard to enter into any one character’s life in any depth, comforting because the supervisory force seemed to at least desire positive outcomes such as a reduction in war.
Missing Since ’77 was entered in the Back Garden because it’s a demo of an unfinished game. The results were certainly polished enough to have made this a reasonable contender in Introcomp, and I’m glad to see the Back Garden option used for a variety of purposes.
The game identifies itself as fantasy, but most of what we see in the setup is set in the real world. This appears to be a portal story in which a character has gone missing in an alternate fantasy universe, but it’s told from the points of view of those looking for him, namely his wife and the young detective she’s hired. The game starts out in the detective’s view, then switches to the wife’s and retells the same events (some of which depend on what the player did the first time around) with an alternate perspective. Like KING OF BEES IN FANTASY LAND, it uses a change of typography to indicate when we are seeing through new eyes.
This is an ambitious approach, uncommon if not absolutely unknown in other IF: Stephen Granade’s Common Ground did multiple-perspective retelling in the form of parser IF, and a handful of time travel puzzle games record what the player has done and repeats these back to allow the player to collaborate with other selves — Fifteen Minutes being a notable recent example.
To work, this kind of design requires rigorous state tracking (though possibly this is less fiddly in Twine because there’s less state to worry about) as well as good enough writing to make a second pass through the same scene interesting to the player. Missing Since ’77 did pull this off, at least for me.
I enjoyed this and would be curious to see more.