Reiko's Ramblings and Writings

What I'm reading and writing about lately.

IFComp 2016 Review: Labyrinth of Loci

Posted by Reiko on November 28, 2016

This is a review of a game from the 2016 Interactive Fiction Competition. Scoring criteria can be found here.

Labyrinth of Loci
Author: anbrewk
Format: Windows – Unity

Given an executable, I thought at first this would be another homebrew parser or something, but no, it’s a polished and rather extensive choice-based game made with Unity. The game opens with a few choices about the character’s origins, from which are derived three characteristics or skills that can help deal with certain situations. From there, it offers a series of choices between two doors, each of which leads to a different room or scenario. Many rooms are very dangerous. Some offer treasure or useful items. Many choices are simply arbitrary, without foreknowledge of the results. So this game feels very old-school, with a high degree of artificial difficulty.

The choice of format is interesting given that the game doesn’t appear to be doing anything very tricky. I think I could do nearly everything I saw by using Twine, including graphical links, background music, and choices controlled by certain qualities and limited inventory. But the Unity package is very polished.

I played a few times, dying to different hazards each time, and eventually started taking notes so that I could remember which rooms were more dangerous and which skills were useful where. I started finding connections between rooms, with an item retrieved from one room being useful in another. Finally I found an exit to the labyrinth, although that particular time I had been infected by the Sopp and so the result was still death in the end. I played through quite a few more times and eventually reached another ending where I had retrieved one magic ring for another, which ended up protecting me after I returned home. I’m sure there are more endings. The deadly and varied nature of the labyrinth combined with the limited skills made it very difficult to investigate leads systematically, as I might not even see a certain door during a given playthrough, and if I did, I might not have the right skill that time to survive it.

There’s a lot of content and lore in this piece, even if it’s all disjointed. I found over two dozen different rooms split into four stages of the labyrinth. A given room would always appear in the same stage, if at all. I think the first two stages each offered three choices of pairs drawn from sets of 7-8 rooms and the last two stages offered two choices of pairs drawn from sets of 5-6 rooms. So each playthrough could only pass through up to ten of the 25 or so rooms. One room contained a library with ten different books of lore. Several rooms contained NPCs that would carry on rather extensively branching conversations. A key from one room could be used in a few other rooms to unlock chests or the like. A sword from another room could be used to fight creatures in a few other places. But it’s the luck of the draw whether you find those things early enough to be useful, or at all.

It just feels so vast. You can’t see it all even in a dozen playthroughs because so much is blocked off by various skills. Many puzzles have multiple solutions, but some rooms can only be survived by having exactly the right skill, and many combinations of skills are impossible. Many rooms seem to have long-term effects, but it’s hard to know what those are since it’s tricky to survive the labyrinth at all, nevermind after finding a specific room. I played for the full two hours and I’m not sure I even saw all the rooms. I know there’s at least one room in the last stage that I never entered, since I only even made it to the last stage a handful of times.

The atmosphere of the piece is fantastic. The prose could use a bit of editing, as I saw some dangling modifiers and other grammatical glitches. But I hardly minded, as the descriptions are vivid and colorful, and each room and character has its own distinct feel. The background music also contributes to the eerie and lonely atmosphere. I would highly recommend playing through this one a few times, or a dozen, and getting lost in the labyrinth for awhile. But let it all sink in, first. It doesn’t start to form a picture without more of the content, unfortunately.

Time: 2 hours+
Scoring: base 7, +1 for atmosphere, +1 for multiple endings, -1 for arbitrary choices
Score: 8

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