IFComp 2015: Life on Mars?   2 comments

By Hugo Labrande. Started on Android tablet using Son of Hunky Punk, finished on computer using Gargoyle.

It’s warm in here, almost too warm. The Martian soil is cold, harsh, and the plants that are trying to grow here need to always be humid enough, which is accomplished with the drip irrigation system, constantly monitored by the central computer. The handful of plants and the few vegetables you’re supposed to eat try their best to survive under those conditions, far away from their natural ecosystem. They look weak and tired, almost depressed; you wonder if, despite all the computer’s efforts, they will last for much longer. You can exit the greenhouse by going west.

Life on Mars? is a short parser game about Charlotte, a survivor of an expedition to Mars where an accident kills all the rest of the crew.

Charlotte blames herself for the accident, and one of the significant open questions is she is imagining this responsibility or not.

A lot of the gameplay is dominated by an email interface I have mixed feelings about. Rather than straight up displaying all the text, it gets displayed on a time delay of the player’s choice, and the main character’s thoughts sometimes respond in italics off to the side. I unfortunately need to report that the email system completely fails on an Android tablet. Rather than a timed advance the interpreter only moves on when hitting a key. I needed to tap my screen repeatedly like I was playing Track & Field one character at a time. Eventually (after doing an inventory of food) returning to the email just led to an interpreter crash.

When I eventually replayed on a computer I cranked the speed up to maximum but it led for reading the email-response to be a disconcerting experience, since the layout is confusing if everything gets displayed at once. Still, I preferred the max-speed option much to waiting for text, which has been one of my big nemeses of the competition.

I liked the interplay of text and Charlotte’s internal thoughts, and I liked the feeling of dread near the latter part of the story, but things cut off too early to explain any of the open mysteries. I can understand leaving one thing open, but nothing at all is resolved and the impression I got was more of a narrative with a cleaver applied than a careful use of ambiguity.

It isn’t even clear that Charlotte is suffering delusions. Based on the subtext of the emails it is equally likely the military are lying to Charlotte — that she actually was responsible for what happened — and they’re trying their best to salvage the situation without their only person on the scene totally getting unwound.

The final scene (implied by the “Life” in the title) again could just as easily have been a delusion as not. It’s like the last page of a book which reveals all the events just witnessed were a dream in the head of an autistic boy … or were they? (Question mark decorations follow.)

Posted November 12, 2015 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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2 responses to “IFComp 2015: Life on Mars?

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  1. Hey! Thanks a lot for the review! :)

  2. Pingback: IFComp 2015 Summary | Renga in Blue

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