Gigantomania: Short on Giganto, Long on Mania

Next up, we have Gigantomania, a glulx game written by Michelle Tirto and programmed by Mike Ciul.  I am always excited by joint writer/programmer-team games, because it seems to increase the odds of a game being quality.  I have met a large handful of programmers who can write, many programmers who believe they can write, but very few writers that can get past a “Hello World” tutorial without doing a passable and unintentional impression of the pivotal scene from The Exorcist.

For the remainder of this rss buffer text, I’m going to share a very important lesson which is completely unrelated to the game.

Do not, under ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, try to eat Peanut Butter Crunch Berries with almond milk.  Never.  Never ever ever.

For you see, Peanut Butter Crunch Berries cereal has been scientifically formulated to pair with something that comes out of a cow.  Using almond milk instead makes the cereal taste like it came out of a cow, to be sure, just not the right part of the cow.

However, I also learned that if you spit the terrible stuff into the sink while cursing all the gods, and then go outside and light up a Camel Filter, your mouth will taste like roasted apples for a moment.  Either this is a huge scientific mystery, or else it was a precursor to a petite mal seizure brought on by eating Peanut Butter Crunch Berries with almond milk.  I know not.

Okay, story time is over, and I hope anyone rss-ing this is satisfied.  To the game!

Well.  That intro text sure is brutal.  On the Metric Brutality Scale, I’d rate it somewhere between “Cormac McCarthy having a good day” and “The puppy fell into the well.  They didn’t find him in time.”  No, I’m not sure which one of those is higher on the Scale.  If the game keeps up like this, I am not going to be able to continue my humorous chatter, which is a good sign for the game.

> work
I didn’t understand that sentence.
The other people in this field sure do.

> work plot
I didn’t understand that sentence.
Oh come on, parser.  Help me out here, before someone kicks my teeth in and I get dragged off by the secret police.

Okay, what’s Sergei up to?  Answer: he’s looking like a shell of his former self, and also plowing.  Oo, plowing!

> plow
What should I plow, the unharvested grain, or the unharvested potatoes?
There we go.  Figured that was more likely to get a response than “be a shell of your former self”, which the PC seems to be doing a fine job of already.

Well, funny enough, I tried to do a good deed (expecting no answer from the parser), and accidentally stumbled over what appears to be the main mode of interaction here. Sergei, I hope your wife survives.  Game, you just got my attention.

And then I punched a beggar.  That probably makes me a bad person.  In retrospect, I shouldn’t have done that; the poor bastard was starving like everyone else, and starvation can turn the best of us into serious assholes.  Not that it matters, since I was just lynched for it.  Does that make me no longer a bad person?  Gonna undo that.  Given the tone of this game, I’m almost glad it just resulted in a lynching.  I mean, god, what if I’d punched him and he folded over like a burlap sack full of loose twigs, and then someone patted me on the back and said “It’s okay, nobody liked him” while they threw the body onto the compost pile?  I don’t think I could’ve taken that outcome.

Whew, I think I managed to keep anyone from getting killed.  For now.

Now I’m in a steel mill, presumably a new person. The intro text to the Steel Mill is great.

Definitely a new person.  The change in internal parser voice is somewhat subtle at first, but well done.

> x anatoly
Don’t you mean *Comrade* Anatoly Chuychenko?
Best. Error Message. Ever.

One bread line later, I’m in my apartment.  It is only now that I realize I’m a woman, but I like being surprised by the revelation of my character’s gender.  I end up trying to talk to Yulia, and get killed by thugs again.  Dammit.  To be fair, the conversation only resulted that way because I was curious and have an “undo” function (score one for that on-going conversation about how the “undo” function paired with conversation breaks mimesis).

I get the feeling that as soon as my character goes to sleep, I’m going to move up the Soviet food chain to a new character.  I’m guessing… Politburo.  What do you have to say on that, Magic 8-Ball?

Magic 8-Ball: “It is decidedly so.”

The Magic 8-Ball is never wrong.

I’m kind of confused about what I’m supposed to be doing here.  Hiding something?  Memos?  What?  I shall resort to what I always do when I’m confused:

> smoke lucky
Not now. Puffing like the bloated trains on the trans-Siberian railroad wouldn’t cut a very “socialist” feel, now would it?
But goddammit, I want to be in flavor country!

Ah, thank you, hint-y message which is cleverly disguised as an in-character thought.  Now to search for all the capitalist shwag I own.  Fuck, I own a lot of capitalist shwag!  I’m a TERRIBLE communist!

I have a few books here, however, to maintain some shred of respectability. The Great Soviet Encyclopedia is to one side, and Murky Passions, a tale of daring and explosive romance on choppy seas, is to the other.
Just between you and me?  The Great Soviet Encyclopedia has better sex scenes.

Capitalist shwag has been dumped into the Janitor’s closet. I feel bad for him, but I have a hard life, what with all that Lucky-smoking and boss-daughter-sexing, so I deserve a little survival from time to time. Aw crap, thugs again.  Christ, you’d think we were in Communist Russia, all the thugs in this game.

Oh, come on!  That painting showed a butterfly landing in a field of red!  How can anything with red paint on it be anti-Communist?  The verboten Encyclopedia entry I didn’t know was there, sure, but that butterfly was one hardcore-Lenin-lovin’ Lepidopteran.

I’d like to note that I have died like five times trying to find some way not to implicate my father-in-law to save my own nutsack.  I know, I know, it’s not in character at all with this Politburo shmuck, but if you cannot show your true principles when you’re about to be killed by leather-gloved fascist thugs, when can you?

2) He feels boxed in by his boring white collar job, and he tries to make little things askew, like a broken pencil, or a window left open during the rain. But he wanted to expand his spirits more and more, because he just kept digging his existential grave.
If I didn’t know better, Mr. Politburo Man, I’d suspect you of confessing to your own issues here and foisting them off on your doomed father-in-law.  That’s almost worse than falsely implicating him.  For shame.  Also, go take a trip out to the home of the first character in this game and spoon-feed his dying wife some stolen mashed potatoes, THEN come back and tell me all about how your stallion-like spirit was born to run free.  Douche.

And now… now I am Stalin. Damn it, game.  I swore a blood oath to my mother that I would never, ever Be Stalin.  Now I will have to commit ritual suicide in the manner of my people.  If there is any justice at all, thugs will come out and kill this character, just as they have to every other frikkin’ character I’ve played in this game.

Man, Stalin is batshit insane.  Man, I like this game.  It is over now.

Part The Second:  The Rundown

The Good: I liked this game a whole lot. Granted, I’ve only played three games so far, but it’s currently jockeying for Spot #1 in my head.  For a start, the writing is fantastic.  At first it felt a bit… “overly-rich” isn’t the right word, perhaps “weighty”, but it very quickly hit a stride which matched the content perfectly.

It offered a good number of choices which felt important (a thing I’m a rabid fan of in the right game), often in tough situations, and at a couple of junctures I was totally unsure what the “best” way was to proceed.  Not because of bad clues or anything on the game’s end, but because I (or my character) wanted no part of the “obvious” answer.

The characterization was very strong.  Strong enough that, particularly in the second part, I found myself making choices based on what the character would do.  Important distinction here: I did not say “because it was the obvious answer to progress”, I said “it was what the character would do”.

On a personal note, I’m always glad to see people raising the issue of Stalin’s regime, as opposed to (or alongside, as is probably correct) the more common exploration of Nazism.  This is not to trivialize Nazism at all (obviously), it’s just that Stalin was a fucking crazy sack of shit who indirectly and directly destroyed millions of lives, and it’s nice to see that brought up in an intelligent manner.

And the little things.  So many tiny little things.  The way the story was bookended by the farmer’s dying wife and Stalin’s conversation about his own dead wife (also a fantastic, fantastic way to remind people that Stalin was a human, not a fairy-tale monster, after the horrific internal monologue).  The one I already mentioned in the playthrough, about the Politburo member confessing his own need for freedom as an excuse for his father-inlaw’s supposed treason.  The tiny, vastly important things like that.  So easy to miss, and yet they are the secret bones of the stories we tell.

Oh, and the implementation was great.  I figure that goes without saying given the rest of this review, but I should throw it out there.

Nit-Picky Little Things, Because I Am Never Satisfied:

There were a couple of parts where I felt unclear about why things were happening, but that rapidly passed thanks to the little in-character reminders that would pop up at intervals.

In the first part, I don’t know whether I just got lucky by giving the bag of potatoes to Sergei right off the bat or what (Well, that’s what I’d do…), but it almost felt like there was too much time to accomplish what needed accomplishing.  No one was killed, although the Collector was pretty pissed at me, and I never had to give him my ring.  I assumed that in at least one chain of events, you’d have to, either Sergei’s or your sick wife’s (a fucking tragedy, that last one).

I’m sorry that punching the beggar didn’t let me keep playing (not because it was right, quite the opposite).  Maybe they were there and I missed them, but I wish there were more places where you could make a wrong choice and your character is forced to live with that choice (i.e. keep playing).  The third part was entirely that, granted. But again it did not give much time to reflect on your character’s actions, or see the results of that choice (except in a tiny mention of Stalin’s at the end, which was still powerful).  Possibly a wise choice for keeping things moving along at a good clip, but still…

On that note, the second part… I felt like her choices there were not “character’s beliefs versus character’s other beliefs”, they were “character’s beliefs versus the player’s beliefs”.  You could make a case that, underneath the dogma, the PC-comrade *knew* her beliefs were poison, but if so that was not clearly communicated (at least to me).  For some people, cancer isn’t enough of a reason to change.

Alternately, I found myself wishing that, after I spouted the anti-Stalinist words to Yulia, *I* had been the one who called the guards, who turned her in.  Perhaps after the conversation prompt, it could have said “(lying)” or something similar.

Maybe that would have run over the territory of the third section, and yes, finding out Yulia was a snake was a good turn if you go that route.  Maybe I just feel like that conversation needed… something, to make it more clear what the protag’s intent was.

On the subject of endings, I’m curious as to what the game would have felt like if, every time a character made  wrong choice, and died, it just bumped you to the next character rather than ending the game.  Would the impact have been equal?  I don’t know.

Anyway.  Great game.  I hope it provokes a lot of juicy discussion, because it deserves it.  If there is justice, the star-ratings portion of wurb will finally be updated, and this will get added to the hallowed list of five-stars.  In the meantime, I’ma be voting this one up everywhere else.


5 Responses to “Gigantomania: Short on Giganto, Long on Mania”

  1. a suggestion Says:

    See if you can get some bread without talking to the baker.

  2. Huh, I’m guessing this wasn’t horribly bugged on your Mac, then.

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