February 24, 2013

Review: Bad Sister by Another Wannabe

Bad Sister by Another Wannabe (with graphics by GoblinBoy) was released a few days ago. Since the discussion on aifarchive has been well and truly derailed by a couple of trolls, I thought I might offer my opinions here. This isn't going to be a full-scale review, but it is going to cover the same subject areas as I usually do.

Plot
The set up for Bad Sister is extremely straightforward. The PC goes to his girlfriend's house for dinner and meets the sister she's been keeping very quiet about. Over the course of the evening he has the chance to unravel the dark secrets they're been hiding, or not.

The advantage of making the game CYOA is that such a format is very good for telling a story. The author can control the pacing, and ensure that on any playthrough the player has learned all the relevant information. The disadvantage is that it achieves all that by restricting what the player can do, so there's a risk that it might feel like the author has tied the PC to a chair so that he can shout the plot at him, as Graham Nelson so colourfully put it. Fortunately, Bad Sister is flexible enough to avoid that, thanks in part to the various traditional AIF interactions that are still available.

There are seven different endings that could be considered good. As you might imagine, there is a 'best' ending that allows the PC to end up with both sisters, as well as different ways for him to end up with either Annette or Taylor. Ending #6 (Taylor the Pornographer) was far and away my least favourite of the endings. Not only does it depend on the PC doing something that's not only unbelievably stupid but simply unbelievable (uploading photos when intending to delete them), but it also connects Bad Sister to the Meteor-verse. I don't know who decided that this 'homage' was a good idea, but in my opinion Bad Sister is good enough to stand on its own merits. It doesn't need to drag in another game to support it. It's distracting and it invites a comparison that's going to be unfavourable. More personally, I didn't particularly care for the depiction of Jenny (one of my favourite characters from Meteor) since it suggests that one particular ending is 'canon'.

Characters
The PC's aim in Bad Sister is essentially to discover why the two NPCs behave in the way they do. All of the conversation options, together with the handful of things the player can discover are directed towards fleshing out the backgrounds of Annette and Taylor, so it's unsurprising that they come across as believable and well-rounded characters.

Somewhat unfortunately, the better endings (where the PC learns the most about the NPCs) are achieved by means of an exposition dump. It would have been better if this information could have been conveyed in a more natural fashion, although that might not have been possible given the size of the game.

While I'm not opposed to the inclusion of 'darker' subject matter in AIF, I did rather feel as though Annette and Taylor's backgrounds (which include death, betrayal and sexual abuse among other things) could have been toned down a bit. As it is, they have so much baggage that it seems unbelievable that they could shed it so easily and in such a short amount of time. Of course, having Annette and Taylor spend months in therapy wouldn't have been a particularly exciting ending, so it's easy to see why the less believable option was chosen.

Writing
I'm even more ambivalent about the presence of pictures than I usually am. While graphics are nice, the risk is that Bad Sister will be remembered as 'that game GoblinBoy did the graphics for' rather than 'Another Wannabe's first game'.

The other problem is that the presence of graphics tends to distract from the writing. Without the graphics, Another Wannabe's writing is well suited to interactive fiction in that it's concise and easy to digest. I would have liked a little more detail in places, but not very much more. However, because of that brevity, in the sections where there are a lot of pictures the writing is a bit overwhelmed.

Gameplay
That fact that Bad Sister is a CYOA game limits the gameplay somewhat, since the player is seldom called on to exercise their brain very much and the endings can be discovered by simple trial and error. The player does have a few extra options they can use, but it's either obvious when they're supposed to be used or there's no drawback to trying them at every opportunity.

The sex scenes are for the most part fully interactive in traditional AIF fashion (although thankfully without any arousal mechanics). However, and this is purely subjective, I didn't find any of the scenes to be especially erotic due to the dark hints that are swirling around the NPCs. Before too long it becomes obvious that the PC is merely another pawn in their ongoing struggle. Therefore there's no eroticism to Taylor offering herself to the PC in the bathroom, because the player is aware of her ulterior motives.

Technical
Perhaps because of the choice to make it CYOA rather than interactive fiction, playing Bad Sister was a bug free experience for me. There is the odd spelling mistake, such as using "Nevermind" (which is an album by Nirvana) rather than "Never mind".

I would quibble slightly with the choice to use Inform though. Although Inform does the job, it doesn't feel ideal. The player will sometimes have to type 'look' in order to see what their options are, for example. Also, Inform does not seem to be especially good at displaying pictures inline with text, resulting in the player having to press a button to see the next page whenever a picture is displayed. There are a couple of authoring systems specifically for CYOA that might have been better choices.

Conclusion
Bad Sister is a fun little game and possesses a stronger story than most AIF. Although the use of CYOA limits the player's interactions I wouldn't be averse to seeing more of it in AIF since it obviously makes it a lot simpler for the author to tell the story that they want to tell.

As a first game, Bad Sister is particularly promising due to the quality of the writing and plotting. There were a few missteps in my opinion, but despite that when the game was over I was left wanting more, which is a good sign. Hopefully there will actually be more and Another Wannabe won't be another one-game author. No pressure.

10 comments:

  1. Thank you kindly for your review. I'm pleased with the positive feedback of the game and I only hope my second one is just as well received. I can't say when a second game might come, but I'm working on it.

    If I do make another CYOA, it probably won't be with Inform because of the memory problems I was beginning to run into. At the same time, using Inform allowed me to do some fancy tricks (i.e. the sex commands). Still, that means if any future game were to be significantly bigger (and I plan on writing a significantly bigger game) then I would simply have to find another system. To be honest, I find TADS a little hard to wrap my head around, and Twine seems very limited, so the hunt continues.

    As for ending #6, it was sort of both our ideas. I called for a random girl, so Goblinboy used the same model as Jenny, and I asked Goblinboy if I could write it in as Jenny. That's how that happened. It was intended to be something cute and a nice little reference to Meteor, rather than establishing any sort of canon or continuum with Meteor.

    No one seems to have run into this, but actually if you use FIND too many times it secretly disables itself, and you can't FIND anything anymore. This was especially to prevent people from spamming FIND every page. But... it looks like no one actually ran into this issue, so I guess either I was too liberal with it or it broke in the final game.

    Anyways, thanks for the kind review.

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  2. You're very welcome. I enjoyed playing the game, and I was a little irritated that the discussion of it on aifarchive had been derailed, so I thought I'd offer my thoughts here.

    "I find TADS a little hard to wrap my head around, and Twine seems very limited, so the hunt continues"

    Other CYOA systems I'm familiar with include QML, StoryHarp, and DreamPath, although I've never actually used them so I can't tell you if they're any good.

    "No one seems to have run into this, but actually if you use FIND too many times it secretly disables itself"

    I didn't notice this, but that could be because when I first searched the house I saved and then restored once I'd searched each room until I knew where everything was.

    "As for ending #6... It was intended to be something cute and a nice little reference to Meteor, rather than establishing any sort of canon or continuum with Meteor."

    Perhaps I read too many comic books, but when I see a character who looks and is written the same as a character from another story, I assume it's a crossover. I was also kind of primed to see it as a crossover after Jenny's appearance in Tesliss Equation as well. But overall, my main objection is that it was distracting and unnecessary. YMMV.

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  3. Was this written in Inform 7? I've made a small amount of study of Inform 7; I keep thinking of writing a game of some kind myself, but get distracted by other projects before getting really into it. If so, I'm curious: why are CYOA-style games more of a problem, memory-wise, than "normal" games?

    I have to say: nice work. This game as a good combination of well-written sex and pretty interesting story. I did notice a few typos or other linguistic errors, but they were pretty minor. I hope we see more from you.

    I do want to say, as well, though, that I too am ambivalent about the use of graphics. They're well-done, of course, but I'm not really a fan of this tendency of all AIF games to have graphics now... and especially since I think it's turning into an expectation from players that all games *need* to have graphics. I'm concerned that otherwise excellent games will be overlooked and ignored if they lack pretty pictures.

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    1. It was written in Inform 7, although I don't know specifically why there would be memory problems with CYOA.

      I do know that Inform 7 has a problem with large numbers of pictures though. Peril in Pleasantville had to be split in two (leading to all sorts of bugs) because the Inform 7 compiler couldn't handle the large number of pictures.

      I'm slightly less ambivalent about pictures in a CYOA game, at least for depicting the NPCs since there's no way for the player to examine the NPC (and thus be reminded what they look like) after they first meet them. It would be pretty easy to get around that though. In this case though, I think the writing could have stood up without the pictures.

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    2. Hey Brian,

      This was written with Inform 7. To expand on the memory issue I was running into, the extension I was using (Edward Griffith's Adventure Book extension), each page and choice were considered "objects", and so took up a lot more memory than they would if they were simply "values". Bad Sister contained several hundred objects. Some of these objects were actually Taylor and Annette and their respective interactive body parts who could be moved in and out of a scene as needed. At several points, I had to expand the memory allotment for the game to allow for more pages and choices, and the game actually began to run relatively slowly. I mean, the pure-IF game I'm working on right now works much faster than Bad Sister even with the very complicated world model that I'm working with.

      It might interest you to know that I'm working on an extension that I hope will resolve my issues with writing CYOA with inform. For one thing, it will be able to exit in and out of CYOA mode and should be able to handle much larger CYOA projects. I'm probably going to use it for conversation systems in my new game.

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    3. By the way, you might want to check out the thread at the Lagoon (http://www.the-new-lagoon.com/) if you haven't already. Bad Sister is getting quite a bit of feedback, nearly all of it positive.

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  4. at first i wasn't going to play this because i saw the name goblin boy but then i saw he did the pictures and not the story so i might give it a try you mention trolls in your review if you don't mind me asking how did people derailed aif

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    1. The discussion about the game turned into an argument about the use of ROT47 coding for spoilers. It got derailed even further by one person signalling his lack of interest in that thread (even when it was renamed) by replying "BORING!" to everything and becoming abusive.

      All of which was pretty unfair on AnotherWannabe, as discussion of his game ground to a halt. Hence the review above.

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  5. Recently went to the Archive to find the game but the google link you had no longer works just wondering if there was another way of obtaining the game?

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    1. It's available from aifcommunity.org, which is where the AIF Game List links to.

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