IFComp 2014: With Those We Love Alive   Leave a comment

I remember when I was younger being boggled by a part in the gamebook GrailQuest 4 (circa 1985) called “The Wallbanger Ritual”. Enacting the spell (in the book) required wearing a peaked cap (for real), burying a paper with the word WALLBANGER on it (again, in real life) and eating some soup (seriously).

Of course, nobody ever got the real soup, but it made an impression a on me that an interactive narrative would somehow require actions far outside the space of the book. I never have found anything comparable until now: Porpentine’s new work With Those We Love Alive.

Before living this life, have a pen or sharpie nearby, something that can write on skin.

Leave room to draw. Like you were drawing a path.

Purple links change. Pink links move forward.

Also, headphones are very important.

Yes: you are supposed to draw actual pictures as you play. For practical reasons I didn’t use my arm, but I did break out a paint program.

My "icon of insight".

My “icon of insight”.

I’m going to avoid discussing the plot of With Those We Love Alive — it’s best approached by surprise. Disgusting and beautiful and disturbing and romantic things happen. The elevator pitch might include this quote:

“The Empress’s larval stage is almost complete. We invite you to reside in the palace and share your talents.”

The writing is flat-out amazing. Porpentine has a singular talent for invoking strong images and settings with minimal prose.

Pale, shriveled humans sleep forever on the floor. Pipes run from their heads into iron barrels.

"Icon of Pain"

“Icon of Pain”

The interaction is somewhat more mixed. The rules of interaction are made very clear from the start (“Purple links change. Pink links move forward.”) so there’s no mystery clicks, but the structure involves a number of days in the palace which end by choosing to “Sleep”. The problem is, past the first day there’s no incentives to go exploring the palace and city; very little changes. There’s a telescope to craft, but the process of making it is mechanical and after it’s done there’s no new items to craft. I ended up hiding in my room and hitting “Sleep” repeatedly while on occasion something new would happen in the plot.

(Mind you, there are small touches — at one point you make a weapon for the Empress which you’ll see if you return to the throne room, but but that’s more a nod to continuity rather than an interesting bit of exploration.)

Because of the low interest in exploration, the second half of the game became for me essentially a long cutscene. A long cutscene with compelling plot and opportunities to draw art, mind you; this is still a top-notch work.

"Relation to the chasm"

“Relation to the chasm”

My apologies to the composer (Brenda Neotenomie) — for reasons of circumstance I was not able to play with sound. There’s sound, apparently? Try it yourself.

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Posted October 1, 2014 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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