IFComp 2015: To Burn in Memory   8 comments

By Orihaus. Played using the Chrome browser. Not finished.

While I was stationed with the colonial forces near the Namib, a visiting British officer had told me that the whole project of colonialism functioned on the same mechanism to a weapon they had, called the Maxim Gun. A beastly thing that could tear a man in half, it cemented their rule in terror — and fired with a unique mechanism: each shot would power the action of the next, an eternal cycle of violence. A machine that fed on blood, where the greatest effort on the part of the operator was to release the trigger.

At the time I considered him an old fool, but here I am — finger on the trigger, hesitant to fire.

-Marcel III : August 2nd, 1907

A confession: I’ve been playing off a randomized list (using this website) and my To Burn in Memory review should have occurred quite some time ago. I kept loading it up, plodding through a few moves, and finding something else to be busy with instead.

I think the issue was I had trouble getting a hold of the genre and setting. Here’s the blurb:

Explore a city that never existed, and uncover its secret history through the memories of a woman that lived its darkest moments.

Ok, fine, we are in “mysterious exploration” mode, but what time period? Is this fantasy or modern or historical or quasi-historical or futuristic or retro-futuristic?

Normally the blurb is not a problem, but then the game starts with:

Behind, paved pathways connected the cardinal points of the circular structure, and at their intersection rose a delicate white tower, starkly contrasting the silhouetted black spires of the horizon. Arcades accentuated the circumference of the terrace, as the sun fell on the water like a scar.

Sharp prose touches, granted, but I still have no idea how to visualize what I’m reading. This description could easily fit any of the settings I listed above.

This state persisted until roughly when German artillery circa 1908 get mentioned, but still I don’t have any concept of what type of architecture is going on and I had to suffer a muddled state of imagining the superimposition of the architecture of ten different cultures without getting to decide on one.

There were watches that seemingly did not tell time. A nice thought abstractly, but what were those watches doing then? I’m reminded of the reflective setting of poetry, but I don’t have to walk through poetry like a room.

In any case, I gave up and just let the mood carry me. I especially liked the mechanic many rooms had to activate a memory — which invoked some sort of personal anecdote about war or the city or some random moment of the past. These were fascinating as vignettes in themselves (see the top quote), even though I often had no idea of the overarching action.

Still, the gameplay got wearying. Even though everything is delivered in a delicious-looking interface involving simple clicking, the entirety of the plot seems to be finding keys for doors. In a way, I’d prefer the keys to be gone to allow pure exploration; as things went, I had to keep backtracking in circles because it was not obvious when I found a key if it went to a door I’d already seen. The lack of a map meant I also ended forgetting which areas I had yet to explore.

Eventually I ran out of my 2 hours of judging time. There’s a lot of prose, and some of it is nice to muse over. I presume there is some sort of ending, but perhaps this is the sort of game where it doesn’t matter; the journey is the point.


Posted October 27, 2015 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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8 responses to “IFComp 2015: To Burn in Memory

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  1. Pingback: IFComp 2015: In the Friend Zone | Renga in Blue

  2. Pingback: IFComp 2015 Summary | Renga in Blue

  3. Hey, author here!

    I’m planning on entering IFComp 2020, so I’m going back to old reviews of To Burn in Memory to see what stuck with people. I’m sorry you had such a hard time navigating! In 2018 I went back and made a much improved interface for the game, including cardinal movement and indications on locations you’ve already visited. It’s a commercial release on Steam, but I can send you a key if you’d like?

    As for your confusion on the setting, I have to say this is completely intentional, for better or worse? There very much is an exact time and place this is all set, but the explanation for that is essentially the ‘key’ for the game. Once you have that, everything else will fall into place. The intent is to have the player piece it together from the memories and world. But uh… I think I overdid that. I felt there was enough hints in the game, but to this day only one review (In German?) I’ve seen has cracked it. So I made it a tiny bit more explicit in the new edition. And as for why the game isn’t free exploration, it’s actually more of a structuring thing than anything. By having you unlock more of the game as you progress I can restrict the order you see the memories, actually quite rigidly fitting a 5 act structure. Which, of cause is no help if you end up stuck in act 2 due to the awkward navigation system. Sorry about that!

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