IFComp 2015: Kane County   1 comment

By Michael Sterling and Tia Orisney. Played to completion using Firefox.

The late-80s-early-90s included what I might call the Great Sierra-Lucasarts Rivalry, where one of the debates was on player death.

Lucasarts games tended to be Nice, with many of them not having death or even a way to get stuck. Alternately, death was set on a loop that returned the player to right where the death occurred (for example, in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, failing to pass one of the deathtraps guarding the Holy Grail simply returned the player to the start of the deathtrap).

Sierra tended to have death early and often. Small errors led to an untimely demise and it was all part of the experience. In some cases — especially in the Space Quest series — amusing death was a highlight of the game.

The main argument in the pro-Sierra camp was that removing death also removes stakes; any sense of danger or tension is undercut by the lack of consequence. Lucasarts proponents cited overall frustration, but also the fact the save/restore cycle made everything moot anyway. Causing a habit of hitting Save like a hyperkinetic rabbit is not the same as creating story tension.

These days, with good reason, the Lucasarts supporters have won; not just in adventure games, but pretty much all gameplay genres. Still, the counter-criticism sounds, tinny but audible: a lack of consequence destroys tension.


The flame of Death is kept alive by the old-school gamebook. Kane County is a choice-based game thoroughly in that style. You have crashed your Jeep in the desert, and need to make your way back to civilization.

When your Stamina reaches 0 you are dead. This can happen in any part of the story Stamina is reduced; there is no attempt to sacrifice the simulation for a cleaner story arc.

At some point you collapse facedown in the sand. You can’t bring yourself to move another inch.

Unfortunately, tomorrow doesn’t come for you.

Want to try again? Reload your browser.

The effect on my own gameplay was to have me angst over each decision. I tried to think like a survivalist and winced whenever my Stamina or Water was reduced unnecessarily.

Minor spoilers ahead.


I especially liked how carefully the sleeping conditions were weighed to determine if any stamina was gained by rest.

Night 1 Results:

Chose Cave: no stamina loss.
Chose juniper: -1 stamina.
Made a fire: +1 stamina.
Didn’t have a fire: -1 stamina.
Insulated with grass and sticks: no stamina loss.
Dug a shallow pit: no stamina loss.

Dug a deep pit: +1 stamina.
Didn’t improve shelter: -1 stamina.
Had the space blanket: +1 stamina.

I’d like to say my winning run was due to superior observation, but unfortunately it hit the other standard gamebook trope: luck. I happened to pick a route that netted multiple boat parts, so when I reached a river I was able to fix a broken boat to enough an extent I was able to float all the way to the end of the game. I suppose my decision to go the water route was at least somewhat logically motivated by my inventory, but I still didn’t feel like I earned the win in the same manner as solving a puzzle or finessing my way through a tactical battle.

Posted November 3, 2015 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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  1. Pingback: IFComp 2015 Summary | Renga in Blue

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