Spring Thing 2016: Ms. Lojka, Tangaroa Deep, Sisters of Claro Largo

I’ve been playing more of the games from this year’s Spring Thing. (You too can play! And vote! And review, if you wish!)

lojkacoverMs. Lojka is a horror Twine about a beastly supernatural killer in New York City, with some references to Babel and Rasputin, backed by some (I thought) rather effective illustrations, as well as whispery sound effects and music. Meanwhile, the text appears on the screen as though typed. I typically find that effect annoying and slow, and Ms. Lojka was not quite an exception, but it does use the interesting conceit that the narrator’s typing becomes more error-prone as the story goes on and they become less stable. At the end, it wound up in a loop of repeating text that I couldn’t seem to stop, which was narratively appropriate, so I assume that is the intended ending; but it’s just possible there’s an alternative outcome.

I didn’t respond as much to the content as to the presentational effort. Ms. Lojka mingles hints of mental illness and supernatural or mystical powers, and it finds some creepy images to express those ideas, but ultimately felt like a combination of fairly standard tropes to me.

Astrid Dalmady’s Tangaroa Deep tells the story of a deep sea dive, and of the disturbing unknown under the ocean surface. It’s kind of a gambling piece: the deeper you go, the more danger you’re in, but the more interesting your discoveries, so it’s up to you to decide when you want to cut your losses and ascend. (Perhaps we should think of this as an alternate version of the gauntlet: you can bail at any time and get a happy ending for many parts of the story, unless you push your luck too far, in which case…)

Creepy, and with nods to many other works from Lovecraft and Sunless Sea to Lifeline-esque conversation games (except that in this case you’re the Taylor character out in dangerous territory).

Sisters of Claro Largo is a bilingual Twine piece by David Marchand (When Acting As A Wave). I played in English, but there was also a link for Castellano. It takes an expansive approach to storytelling: each time you click a link, that sentence expands with extra detail, growing the story. Sometimes you’re expanding the end, sometimes the beginning, sometimes a bit in the middle; often you’re gaining just a phrase per click. When the narrator remembers an early event that influenced later outcomes, you jump back to fill that event in at its proper place in the narrative. I was reminded of NJ Lowe’s writing on holographic story.

At the end, the situation reverses and you’re removing items instead (a little reminiscent of Detritus, which also inverts its core mechanic). Inventive, but also quite constrained and linear—I didn’t see any points where it felt like the player’s choice could alter the outcome, and very often there was only one link available at a time anyway.

5 thoughts on “Spring Thing 2016: Ms. Lojka, Tangaroa Deep, Sisters of Claro Largo”

  1. As a fast reader, the text thing in Mrs. Lojka was completely unbearable for me. It was conceptually interesting, and it was doing stuff with drawing attention to things, but like… it meant that 99% of the experience was basically me watching an animation of words appearing or disappearing letter-by-letter on the screen. Not even reading, just watching letters (dis)appear at a rate too slow for actual reading.

    Life on Mars sort of had that kind of thing going on, but there were also the PC’s thought-commentary sidebar bits and of course the email-reading wasn’t the *entirety* of the game (though arguably one of the most *interesting* parts). I wonder too if the default speed on that was simply faster than this.

  2. I wasn’t bothered by the “typing” conceit of Ms. Lojka, except that the game appears to be hopelessly broken – I’ve found two different endings, both of them resulting in a inescapable end-state (one looping, the other merely static) that requires me to shut down my browser. There’s evidently no internal test in the game’s logic to identify that the end-state is reached, and no method for backing out of the end-state, despite the fact that Twine supports including such logic. I look forward to more polished future efforts by Mr. Magnuson.

    1. Ms. Lojka didn’t crash my browser; it did reach a state where (IIRC) I closed the window because it reached what appeared to be an inescapable conclusion, but that seemed to me to fit where the story was going. Maybe there’s something specific to the browser, though?

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