IFcomp 2016: Eight characters, a number, and a happy ending

Last on my IFcomp playlist is “Eight characters, a number, and a happy ending”. And that’s it! I might have to go back and change a couple of breakfast orders (just did it for “500 Apocalypses” and “Inside the Facility”) after having digested them some more, but that’s all 58 IFcomp games done this year. And what’s this last one?

It’s another game with an excessively long title, enumerating some key elements of the story. One wonders how those elements figure, and whether they will be delivered….

The premise is that we are the captain of a military spaceship, off to deliver a declaration of war from the Earth Alliance (abbreviated throughout the game as EA, and I keep reading it as “Electronic Arts”) to an alien civilisation. There’s a room with eight stasis pods, accounting for the “eight characters” in the title: we are one of eight clones, and each time we die, we start the game again as the next of clone in line, until all are gone.

There’s quite a lot to take in, in the beginning. There’s a file documenting all the stuff in the ship and how to interact with it. That’s quite a bit of static exposition. I suppose that makes things easier for the player in the sense that one isn’t bungling around trying to figure out how things should work despite having been, presumably, trained to use them; but, I don’t know, in some cases maybe it would have been fun to bungle around and poke at things. There’s a reason some people don’t bother reading the instruction manual before trying to put stuff together.

Then again, it’s a choice. One could have the documentation and choose not to read it. But … it’s right there, and one can’t help but feel there might be something there that you couldn’t find via experimentation.

One of the first things we’re told is that there’s been an error in the reimplantation of our memories, so part of the game is in exploring and rediscovering things about ourselves, our masters, and our mission. And then we can choose what we want to do about it. I liked this exploration and discovery aspect.

The world, as presented, is also quite interesting. The EA is an expansionist empire, and its army is drawn not from the ranks of its supporters, but from its detractors: these, if they protest/riot hard enough to draw attention, are forcibly conscripted and brainwashed. Our protagonist therefore has two identities: one pre-conscription, one post-conscription. I think it goes without saying which identity we are to regard as the better, and who the game believes to be the real enemy here.

The game itself is relatively short, considering how thoroughly realised the background feels. It’s like a compact package of richness, a bento box breakfast with a note from home at the bottom. A thermos of hot coffee slides into a slot at the side of the box, making it a single, neat, easily-portable package, once you figure out how it all works.

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