Saturday, July 20, 2013

the banquet is over

Things I have noticed about Porpentine’s games:

She places links at the ends of sentences. When you finish a sentence, a word links to the next sentence. Placing a link on a word in the middle of a sentence means I read the entire paragraph to get the context of the link, then go back and evaluate the linked word. When the link is at the end of the paragraph, I already have the context I need and I can immediately click to see more.

Macros control the rate at which sentences appear. A long, slow pause makes you consider what’s happening, or sentences rapidly appear to induce frantic scrolling. The choices she gives you make you consider “your” role in the story, as in this example from CYBERQUEEN:

flail scream breathe

It’s similar to Planescape: Torment, which gives you multiple ways to say the same thing. A literate player can recognize there’s not likely a difference between these options, so stakes are low. You aren’t going to “mess up” by choosing to flail instead of scream, so you’re free to experiment without consequence and choose the one with the most meaning to you instead of nudging you toward choosing the option granting +5 to diplomacy rather than strength. This nuance encourages role-playing and immersion.

In the above example, after clicking through all three options there’s a second where nothing happens. It’s an inversion of traditional game logic, where every action has an immediate reaction. In this case it has the effect of being a mind game. Surely “the game” (the designer) wouldn’t leave you hanging in this state, would they? It’s a fun example of the game designer making the player sweat a bit, mostly for the game designer’s own pleasure. (See also: Anna Anthropy, GLADOs in Portal)

Many of Porp’s games revolve around coercion, subjugating the player’s will. Howling Dogs and ALL I WANT IS FOR ALL OF MY FRIENDS TO BECOME INSANELY POWERFUL both feature a central hub with mandatory routine activities: drinking milk, eating nutrient bars and drinking water. In both cases, the routine establishes a rapport with the player, makes the player comfortable. And when the player is settled into a familiar routine, the routine is disrupted. The player is unsettled, and the plot catapults the player into a new, less familiar, less safe routine. Until finally the routine collapses altogether, and the setting congeals into something entirely alien. As one ending to Howling Dogs says, “The banquet is over”.