IF Competition 2006 Review #2: Requiem

Name: Requiem
Author: David Whyld
Email: dwhyld@gmail.com
Date: May 2006
Parser: Adrift
Availability: IFComp 2006 Entrant
URL: http://www.ifcomp.org
Version: Competition Version

Plot: 6/10 – Hard to understand at times, however if you pay enough attention, all the connecting threads are there.  Your place in the story/world varies depending on the decisions you make. True multi-threaded story. Main complaint is that it opens at a scene that not each game makes it to.
Atmosphere: 8/10 – The writing managed to evoke hard-boiled noir with a lashing of cthulic creepiness.
Writing: 7/10 – Well written, few mistakes.
Game play:  6/10 – Standard Adrift Parser gameplay.
Characters: 6/10 – Characters were more than 2-dimensional, but fall a bit short of full realised.
Puzzles: n/a – Claims to be puzzleless, although several important moments in the game are almost guess-the-verb puzzles.
Overall: 6/10 – A good game and a worthy addition to the genre.

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Full Review (Warning Spoilers):
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I’ve always had a soft spot for noir – hard bitten detectives and troublesome, though beautiful, dames.  That said, its a genre with a well-earned reputation for pulp and cliche’s, and more than one author has stumbled into the genre and managed to offend anyone who’s even pretended to like noir in the past. Thankfully, this is not one of those.

The story is the focus of this particular game, as it tries to be a puzzleless IF.  I have to say I applaud his efforts in this direction – as one of the many puzzle-challenged IF aficionado’s I quite appreciate not having to worry about forgetting to pick up an object at the start of the game that I’ll need for the endgame.  I played that way anyway, out of habit, but its nice to know that it wasn’t necessary.

Its also good to see we’re finally making advances with multi-threaded stories.  Often a “multiple-endings” story, is just that.  A story where the ending is a result of something you do during the game (such as score.)  For many games this is merely cosmetic, another way to tell you your score.  In Requiem, several decisions change not only the story’s end, but your place in it.  This might be as simple as your job – the events that took place still took place, but who you were in them changed – but it was well executed.  A true “multiple ending” story, though I’m not sure if I would count a lot of the lesser ending. “And everything stopped.” whilst clever, given the plot, isn’t a satisfying ending.

The main problem I found with the plot lies in the first scene.  The story opened with the main character in trouble.  This is a common literary device and can be quite effective. However, depending on how you act in the game, you might never get to that point.  This is important as its a scene that’s happened, you showed it to us already, and by having a character die or fail to reach that point it’s a breach of causality. You’re telling a story from the point you started (it even refers to that point by referring to time as “Seven days earlier”), so the character should, from a good plot sense, always reach that point.

I also found the characterisation a little flat, particularly the female lead.  We’re told quite often that the main character thinks she’s insane, and even shown her diary which would seem to confirm the fact, but she never actually feels insane.  The antagonist does, but even so he never feels as frightening as he should.

Overall its a good game, well worth a go.  Not a lot of games get me to play through multiple times but I did with this, to try and get the optimal ending. The plot was nicely convuluted and, as I said before, I like how it splits into seperate threads.

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7 thoughts on “IF Competition 2006 Review #2: Requiem

  1. Glad to see the reviews are back up.

    I disliked Requiem fairly intensely. I’m not a fan of puzzle-heavy games, but I like puzzles when done well and purposefully. One of the good things about them is they make for effective pacing devices, allowing the player to absorb information as they search for the solution. By contrast, Requiem paces itself purely through scene changes, which is an effective device for static fiction. In IF that makes me feel a distinct lack of agency: The author’s clearly controlling everything, so why are they making me type things?

    Once you strip away the minimal IF coating, Requiem seemed to me to be a thinly disguised CYOA with a few stubby branches ending in failure and just the one path to victory. In that respect it’s not even a good CYOA, since the player doesn’t ever really have enough information available to decide which would be the successful choice in any given situation. The multiple endings seemed more like a guess-the-choice puzzle to me, which I was forced to solve mostly through save/restore brute forcing. The natural medium for such a story is static fiction, not IF.

    I also wasn’t impressed by the plot or writing. The supernatural elements didn’t work with the noir style for me. It seemed more like lazy plotting than clever genre-blending. The writing isn’t terrible, but I wouldn’t like it if it was static fiction and I didn’t find much about the interactivity to mitigate its shortcomings.

    But this is supposed to be a response to your review rather than a full review of the game, so I’ll stop myself there. Suffice to say that I was distinctly less impress with Requiem than you were.

  2. Thats an interesting way to look at it, but I think you really have to ask yourself what you mean by interactivity. If by interactivity you mean, solving puzzles, then no there wasn’t a lot… but we already said neither or us are big fans of huge puzzlefests.

    The ‘traditional’ (for lack of a better word) IF model basically works like this. There are a bunch of puzzles. How well you solve these puzzles, determines how you do at the game. Solving badly leads to you getting stuck, or dying in a myriad of interesting ways, whilst solving well, wins the game. For a lot of IF thats as far as interactive goes and there is nothing wrong with that, its fun, its a game, its a fun game.

    When I think interactive though, I think -change-. Not many if actually give you any true way to change the story, and thats what I was saying was the biggest strength of this game. In some places it may have felt out of control – the first scene in your apartment is a good example. I busied myself searching the kitchen until the author finished his spiel and we automatically move on to the next scene, and in some ways it might be a little CYOAish. But in the end, a decision you make determines whether you are a bystander who was shot in a bank, living in a feverish coma-dream, or a detective who managed to save the day by killing off the maniac bad-guy.

    This isn’t the first game to provide multiple endings, but it did manage to take it above the stock standard by providing, what I considered at least, two seperate deep endings, both of which make sense (logic wise and plot wise.). Which one is true is -entirely- up to the player.

    To me, thats pretty interactive. The book i’m reading at home is going to end with the hero winning regardless of what I think about it 😉

  3. You’re right – traditional IF is very puzzle focused. I like my IF to lean more to the fiction side. Better works in the modern age of IF use the techniques of traditional IF in order to more effectively shape the experience of the player. I dislike puzzles that are there for the sake of having a puzzle, but puzzles can have a purpose that affects the way I experience the story.

    Story-branching is certainly one axis of interactivity, but in order for this interactivity to be meaningful for me, I have to experience agency, or at least the illusion of agency. It’s not enough for a decision to effect change – I have to have some idea of what I want to accomplish by my actions and the result of my actions has to live up to that idea (not necessarily exactly how I expect it, though). With Requiem, I felt that the results of my decisions were generally fairly arbitrary. Straying from the author’s set path leads rapidly to a non-optimal ending in most cases. And, importantly, it’s difficult to predict which option will do so. For example, there’s no way to tell whether shooting the villain in the warehouse, or walking away will be a more successful choice.

    Our approach to IF might be a bit different, though. 😉

  4. You’ve picked the obvious pivot point there, the decision that really decides which of the two endings I discussed you get.

    I think it’s also the point where our personal tastes diverge as well 😉 You say your problem with the story is that theres no way to tell if shooting the villain, or walking away will lead to the optimal ending. However, if the story is to be truly interactive, and for us to truly have agency, we have to get rid of the very idea of an optimal ending.

    At that point in the story, we have the same information as the protaganist does. We know that the bad guy is meant to be invulnerable. We might be more inclined to believe it than the character (we know we’re reading a story) but we’ve got not more proof of the fact. We also know that he beat the leading lady up, and she’s a bit mental.

    We’re in a similar headspace to the protaganist too at this point. It hasn’t been written well enough that we actually identify with the character, but other constraints give us similar feelings. We’re not as emotionally attached to main character’s life as he is, so we’re more likely to shoot out of curiousity, but I didn’t feel any of the emotions the main character did for the girl, so i’m less likely to shoot just because she got beaten up.

    Lots of thoughts and possibilities around one decision. Shoot or not shoot.

    I think its laudable that we’re not given any information that the character doesn’t have. If you can easily see or predict which decision is the right one, then you’ve given up the agency you wanted in exchange for the illusion of agency. You wont make a decision you know is the wrong one (unless you’re on a second play through looking for humerous things.)

    The decision had long reaching consequences as well, that determined not only the ending, but the second half of the game. -There- is your agency. It may be the root decision that determined the ending, but it was far enough removed from the ending that you are able to see the ripples of change throughout the second half of the game, should you go back and try the other path.

  5. First of all, thanks for the nice review. Always refreshing to know people are playing your humble efforts. 🙂

    I was a little surprised by the comment

    James: “I disliked Requiem fairly intensely. I’m not a fan of puzzle-heavy games“

    Was Requiem a puzzle-heavy game? I wouldn’t have said so. A few puzzles here and there but very little of the gameplay involved puzzle-solving to any great degree. One of my testers commented on the scene in the kitchen where you’re tied to the chair being a little guess-the-verb, but I’m sure I fixed that. What parts did you feel were puzzle-heavy?

    James: “Once you strip away the minimal IF coating, Requiem seemed to me to be a thinly disguised CYOA with a few stubby branches ending in failure and just the one path to victory. In that respect it’s not even a good CYOA, since the player doesn’t ever really have enough information available to decide which would be the successful choice in any given situation. “

    The original version of the game had one path through it (the one which ended with the player being shot) and depending on how you played the game, you either died at that point or lived due to what you had discovered. I decided that I wasn’t too keen on that idea, though – too linear – so extra paths were added later to give the player a little more control over what he could do. So yes, some of the decisions the player is called upon to make are presented in a way that doesn’t really give the player enough information to decide which is the best route to choose. But I felt it was either do this, or drop hints all over the place trying to steer you towards the correct choice… which I think would have spoilt what I was aiming for. You’re supposed to be playing the part of the main character, the detective, who is expected to make decisions based not on one he knows for certain but on gut instinct. If too much information was given away to guide him towards the correct choice, it would have a) spoilt the game (as far as I was concerned) and b) given him the illusion of knowing things that he couldn’t possibly know. In real life, we often have to make decisions when we don’t have all the facts to hand or the facts we know might not necessarily be correct.

    Saying that, the intro to the game (the player being shot by Cairns) was a subtle hint towards the fact that Cairns *is* a bad guy. While you don’t know the circumstances behind the intro – the player could well be the bad guy and Cairns simply defending himself – it nevertheless ought to clue people into the fact that Martin Cairns isn’t exactly a friendly person. (Of course, it also flies in the face of the “player knowing things he shouldn’t know” theory, but I needed something to start the game off that gripped peoples’ attention from the beginning and didn’t make them think “oh, the game starts with me sitting in my office. Wow” and move on to something else instead.)

  6. David: You seem to have misread my comments about puzzle-heavy games. I was leading in to a point about puzzles/scene-changes as pacing mechamisms and the effect of these techniques on player agency. Puzzles present a greater feeling of agency than scene-changes do. My criticism isn’t about Requiem being a puzzle oriented game (it’s not), it was about the lack of agency involved.

    You’re quite right that the player’s knowledge is equivalent to the PC’s (at least on the first playthrough), but while this is a reason for the effects of the choices not resulting in something that reflects the player’s intent, it doesn’t change the way this affected my experience of the game. It impacts on how the piece works as interactive fiction. In structuring the game this way you sacrifice agency for realism and in doing so you abandon what I consider to be one of the defining features of IF, and the thing that makes playing it (rather than just reading a story) worthwhile.

    Your game from the last IFComp had what I’d consider to be similar flaws, so I’d guess that our opinions on how IF should work are somewhat different. Requiem seems fairly successful in acheiving your aims (which is more than a lot of the games in this comp manage). It’s just that those goals don’t make for a game I enjoy playing.

  7. Fair enough. Requiem isn’t necessarily the way I think IF should “work” as such, just an attempt at writing a serious detective game where the player is, for the most part, in the dark and has to make decisions based on gut instinct more than anything else.

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