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Seven Days
Review by: Emily Short
Game: One Week
By: Papillon

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Papillon's LOTECH game, One Week, fills a peculiar niche in the world of IF classification. In form, it's a choose-your-own-adventure, as required by the terms of the competition. At each stage, you're left to make up your mind about what you'd like to do out of a range of two or three choices, instead of being able to act on a coherent model with a range of dozens of verbs, as we've come to expect from IF.

Unlike much other choose-your-own-adventure, however, Papillon's game seems to have been informed by interactive fiction. One of the things I found frustrating about CYOA books as a child (or at least not entirely satisfying) is how drastically the paths could diverge. Do one thing and you wind up being killed in Mongolia; do another, and you journey to the center of the Earth... the paths branch and branch, rarely recombining at any point, and what you get is not a coherent plot or even a coherent world model, but something vast and intractable. Fun, yes, but not-- ultimately-- something in which the decisions you'd made along the way could be assessed in a pragmatic or moral light. It was hard to look back on what you'd done and say, "gee, that was a stupid move", or "gosh, that was a virtuous thing for my character to have done". The branches seemed, for the most part, arbitrary. And that arbitrariness is more or less what I reproduced in my own CYOA game for LOTECH comp: there's never any clear telling where a given choice will lead you, or what your scope of action is likely to be, a little way down the road.

One Week, by contrast, sticks to a consistent storyline. You have a certain number of choices about what to do each day in your life as a high school senior; no matter what you pick in day one, you will go on to day two, and so on. The game keeps to a much more compact and consistent structure than the average CYOA (at least as I am used to thinking about CYOAs). It becomes more like a multiple-choice test -- except that the answers you can choose later are affected by what you've done before. If you didn't earn the money, you can't spend it on an expensive dress; if you've agreed to go out with one guy, you can't choose to go out with someone else. At the end of the week, the game assesses your various choices and assigns an ending.

There are a few flaws: it's particularly easy to get a certain ending, and one feels that more variation might be in order. Other outcomes are pretty obscure and hard to reach. Some of the outcomes are based (apparently) on a randomizing factor, which means that you can do the same things in two play sessions and get slightly different results. (Personally, I find this slightly annoying; other people might find it a bonus. To each his own.)

What results, though, is a game in which you are allowed to take complex actions of a kind not normally representable in IF, or presented at a scale that ordinary IF does not normally cope with. (Even one scene of being asked out by someone would usually take many turns of conventional IF, unless the author were deliberately compressing the action and railroading the player. The full weeks' worth of activity, with all its work, study, shopping, and so on, would be a mammoth game, and not that much fun to play, necessarily.)

The obvious corollary in recent IF is J. D. Berry's When Help Collides. WHC consists of a frame story and several subsections, one of which is a multiple-choice geisha-simulator. You get to assert some control over how you spend your time, and it is very much (like One Week) a resource-management sort of game. There are more variables facing you at once in the geisha simulator than there are in One Week, and (for some reason that probably has more to do with the writing than with anything else) I found it subtly less engaging. Possibly because the complexity of what one had to keep track of at any one time made it feel more like a word problem and less like a decision point in an on-going plot. I also found When Help Collides quite difficult: it was harder for me to anticipate what the results of my actions were going to be, and I had to play through a number of times in order to get a good handle on this.

Despite their various limitations, however, these games fall in an interesting border territory between what I think of as 'pure' CYOA -- the completely branching tree where the branches never reconvene, where the only state information worth preserving is the number of the node you're currently on -- and what I think of as 'pure' IF, where there is a modeled world with numerous objects all with various states of being, but where the range of action is restricted to what you can express to a fairly simple and literal-minded parser. Fairly clearly, One Week is tracking some variables of a simulated world -- wealth, one's interactions with other people, and so on; they just don't happen to be the same states that the average IF game attends to.

I enjoyed One Week quite a lot. I find myself going back to it in my mind now, partly because I'm reminded of it by resource management games like the geisha simulator (or like the Hell simulator game that also appeared in the most recent comp, which combined elements of resource management with elements of traditional IF). One design challenge that seems particular to these games is the challenge of conveying to the player what the effects of their actions are likely to be without forcing them to play through the entire simulation to find out; this is especially important when the system is complex and has numerous variables, as in the case of the Geisha simulator. One Week deals with fewer variables, and gives the player a running count of information about how much money has accumulated (though other things, like what one's spiritual and emotional state are, don't get fully revealed until the end game).

These games also suggest some interesting ways in which our definition of IF might be expanded, or a new genre developed, adjacent to IF. The possibility of being able to act on a macroscopic level -- not by manipulating single objects, open and close doors, and speak single lines to NPCs, but by choosing larger-scale acts like >STUDY, >BRIBE, >INTERROGATE, etc -- suggests entirely new kinds of story-telling possibility, especially when it comes to stories rich in character interaction and social dynamics. I am eager to see where this might lead.

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