I mentioned a while ago that I might upload the prompts I wrote for the Imaginary Games Jam, the jam I created OBAWCATRVOS for. For this jam, we were asked to review games which either did not exist or could never exist. I invented a few impossible hardware platforms (augury, interactive bathroom mirrors), genres that never existed (Japanese cowboy games, games where you lie completely still and pretend to be a corpse), and a prompt even I cannot completely understand now (what the hell was I thinking the editing game would play like?)
Someone picked Sub Way to inspire their work for the jam; the rest were passed over. Anyway, here they are:
Sub Way (Sam Guss) (Resultant game here)
Heads up: this is not an entry-level augury. Guss has provided the setting details and code necessary to get the game started, but you’ll need to provide your own sheep and duck. All told, the start-up costs for this title ran me over $400, in addition to the game itself. Of course, Sub Way also requires a certain familiarity with standard oracular procedure– die-casting, leaf-reading, livers, cards, and dream-interpretation all make an appearance. Anyone with at least a high-school-level of forecasting skill should be able to get to the end of the game.
Because, let’s be honest: Sub Way isn’t doing anything exciting with the form. The actual augury gameplay is pretty routine, and if you’re looking for some really tricky and thrilling predictions to execute, you’ll be disappointed. As a mood piece, though, this is sublime. Guss eschews a “realistic” fictional future in favor of a highly-stylized one where everything seems to exist barely outside the realm of the possible– a really weird feeling to have in a genuine augury. Everything’s a little too dark, a little too apocalyptic. Prussia doesn’t exist. People use buttonless cellphones. New York has below-ground tramlines. Divining such a profoundly false future feels really, really odd. I’d love to know more about how Guss pulled it off.
If you’re looking for a chance to play, Guss will be releasing a patch that updates the game for next month’s lunar calendar. Though the forecasts are a little boring, the story is great, and anyone with the luxury of eight free nights in March (and some extra budget for livestock) should give it a shot.
This mirror install is one of the better ones I’ve played over the last year. It runs on Samsung and Google bathrooms (sorry, Apple die-hards) and any model from those brands with eye-tracking should do the trick. You don’t need to actually be capable of growing a beard to play.
Told over the course of fourteen mornings in St Petersburg in 1998, Shaving swaps your reflection for that of Ivan, a 14-year-old whose father has been threatened by the mob. Each session lasts about 15 minutes, which is about how long it takes Ivan to shave. You could technically play it all the way through at once, if you can bear to stand up in your bathroom for that long, but I spaced it out over two weeks.
Did I love it? Well– I loved what it was trying to be. It’s probably the buggiest game I’ve played this year! The razor-tracking was horrible– the blades kept clipping into Ivan’s skull, and I had to restart one day after this caused Ivan to cut his ear off. I encountered another bug on Day 8 that made it impossible for me to actually get the hairs to come off his face, and on Day 11 the game failed to load Ivan’s model and made me play with just his voice in an empty bathroom– which made shaving extremely difficult. The story, though, is gripping– some of the tensest shit I’ve seen in a while. If you ever wanted to play a thriller in your bathroom, this is probably the best (only?) one that currently exists.
Slick Willy (Taharbrand)
Okay, okay: it’s another corpser. The usual critics are calling Slick Willy totally tasteless, but I’m an apologist; there’s honestly more going on here than most people are willing to acknowledge. Yes, ‘Willy’ has no skin. Yes, you’ll spend most of the game in a morgue refrigerator. But this time, the focus is on what’s outside the refrigerator, not what’s in it.
Slick Willy is really more like Jane Eyre than last year’s Dead Jane. Taharbrand have crafted a bizarre and extremely fraught, melodramatic love-triangle romance catastrophe between the three young lab techs who admit Willy’s corpse and take care of the morgue. At normal volume levels, their conversations will be dimly audible just outside the refrigerator. Players must lie very still and quietly in the real world in order to hear the things Clarissa, Bryan, and Robin are saying to one another in the game. These listening sections are interspersed with more traditional corpser content on the dissection-table, but the real guts of the tale– ha, ha, ha– are the refrigerator sections.
I think this probably deserves to be the game that brings corpsers to the mainstream, but given the outraged backlash this title got even before it was released, I don’t think it will be. But if you’ve got an extra ten bucks, a pair of really good headphones, and an open mind, you should give Slick Willy a shot.
The Life and Times of Virginia Stennig (Diane Crisp)
Virginia Stennig’s been billed as a ‘interactive editing experience,’ but let’s be honest: it’s a bad shooter. You’ll be spending most of your time shooting. Crisp released the game alongside an ebook explaining that we are only supposed to be shooting the parts of the text we don’t like, but I’m worried that so many people will be shooting so many sentences that she’ll assume we’re all trolling her. But really: no sentence in the story is good enough to spare a bullet.
I usually enjoy games which allow me to play at shooting things I don’t like, but the shooting in Virginia Stennig is awkward, buggy, and unsatisfying. When you shoot a sentence it only turns a slightly lighter shade of grey. The shots lag considerably after each click, and the gunshot sounds are canned and unrealistic.
And worst of all, of course, is the book itself. It’s one of those sprawling alternate-history family epics that are absolutely swamping the market right now. Look: I am totally done with bildungsromans where the hero travels abroad to find their lost Soviet rocket-engineer grandmothers. I am so done with them. And now that I’ve had to edit a bad one with a gun, I’m done-r than I’ve ever been.
Laredo Tale (Choice Choice)
I assumed that this modern sequel to 1995’s Dodge City Tale would suck, but god, was I wrong. If anything can be called a true revival of the classic Japanese cowboy game, this is it. This has gotta be it.
You’ll be spending most of your time out on horseback on the prairie with the cows and the other cowboys, but there are plenty of town sections, and a few action sequences both in-town and in dramatic natural environments. The game can’t properly be said to be ‘open world,’ but the environments are big enough to disguise this. The game certainly benefits from a largely linear focus.
It also benefits from major changes to the character-customization system. The game no longer limits you to playing a straight white man: you can now play a cowboy of any race or gender you please, and dude cowboys can romance the other dude cowboys on the trail. It seems like series creator Tetsuya Highsmith has been reading the fanfiction.
Finally, fans of the classic cow-organization gameplay will be absolutely thrilled with Laredo Trail. Pasture simulation is better than it’s ever been, and the game makes use of the same ‘MASSIVE’ software used to simulate battles in Lord of the Rings to simulate cow movement and clashes between rival cow herds. All in All, Laredo Tale is an absolute triumph, and possibly heralds new life for the entire genre.