IF Comp 2015: Darkiss – Chapter 1: the Awakening (Marco Vallarino)

The 21st annual Interactive Fiction Competition is currently on, through mid-November. Voting is open to the general public; the only prerequisite is that you not be an author, not vote on games that you tested, and submit votes on at least five games. (You emphatically do not have to have played them all!)

If you are looking for other reviews, this ifwiki page contains a list of places currently carrying them.

Cover art for DarkissDarkiss Chapter 1 is a puzzly parser game in which you are a vampire. You’ve partially recovered after an attack of vengeful villagers, but your strength is still low, and you need to gather your possessions and regain your powers before you move on. The puzzles are mostly of a fairly straightforward and traditional kind, though there were one or two outliers. I played through the game with occasional recourse to hints over the course of about an hour.

Darkiss is a translation of a game originally in Italian. I’m excited about this because translations of IF are comparatively uncommon, and this means that English-speaking IF enthusiasts are often fairly unaware of what is going on in the French, Spanish, and Italian communities. I count myself as guilty of this as most, but it is not easy to keep up with games in languages one doesn’t speak well. In any case, it is only a fairly recent change in comp rules that allows such translations to be entered without running afoul of the “must not have been previously released” restriction. So it’s terrific to see that rule change bore some fruit, both with Darkiss and with Hugo Labrande’s game Life on Mars?, translated from French.

The translators of Darkiss have, I think, done a decent if not quite a native-seeming job. There are bits of the text that sound unidiomatic to me, and places where adjectives and nouns are sometimes used in place of one another. For example (and this is admittedly a case chosen for demonstrating these characteristics more than most of the sentences):

Struck by her beauty and her rebel attitude, you spent a lot of nights drinking her blood and torturing her endlessly, pulling out of her every kind of shriek.

But from my perspective this idiosyncrasy of language added to the charm of the game. The vampire is supposed to be hundreds of years old and a creature of the old world; for him to speak entirely idiomatic modern English might have been surprising. I never found myself in a situation where I wasn’t able to understand what the text was describing. It was always clear enough to interact with, which can be a challenge with translated IF. I might have wished for some of the larger paragraphs to be broken up into several, but that is a relatively small point, all things considered.

Indeed, it is mostly the peculiar personality of the protagonist, and his narrative voice, that elevated the game over a very standard style of old-style short puzzlefest. The vampire Martin Voigt is vicious creature who tortured his victims for pleasure and called up demons from hell to assist him in his goals. He plans a brutal revenge against those who attacked him, even though of course he himself had been doing just as terrible things to the villagers before they came after him. But he is incredibly matter-of-fact about this, so much so that his torture chamber and the cell of his departed prisoners are robbed of any real horror. The game doesn’t seem to intend us to empathize with Voigt’s victims, even though it mentions many of them.

Meanwhile, there is another side to his personality which goes beyond “villain with snobbish aesthete sensibilities” into outright playfulness. We discover that he has decorated the walls of his chambers with painted creatures, making a sort of trompe-l’oeil bat cave. There’s almost the air of a child playing dress-up about his vampiric trappings here.

Finally: I gather that at one point this piece included some stereotyped references to gypsy servants of the vampire, but that the author has responded to feedback about the prejudices underlying that portrayal, and replaced these in more recent releases with minions of unspecified ethnicity.

In any case, this is a solidly made and often entertaining short puzzle game of a kind that may appeal to traditionalists. There were one or two puzzles that I think I would never have gotten on my own without recourse to the walkthrough, but most were reasonably clued, assuming one has examined the right objects.

4 thoughts on “IF Comp 2015: Darkiss – Chapter 1: the Awakening (Marco Vallarino)”

  1. I really liked your paragraph about translations and the different goings-on in non-English communities (though, not that it really matters, you may want to add the German community to the list). Unfortunately translations will never really suffice – Spanish games are purely Spanish, Italian games are irrevocably Italian, French games are unredeemably French, English games are unavoidably English. :)

    That’s the bane of translators everywhere. Ah well. The next best thing to learning three or four extra languages is definitely translations. There’s quite a few Spanish translations of English games – Photopia immediately springs to mind… PataNoir was also translated to German… this is, all in all, a wonderful if time-consuming practice (so it’s not everyone who’s up for the task of releasing a translation), and as you say it is thrilling to see not one but TWO games by non-English communities in this year’s Comp.

    It is, hopefully, a sign of good things to come!

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