Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Bear Creek by Wes Modes

Bear Creek is by a new author, but if you check his website, he's not new to Creating Things --> http://modes.io has a list of what he's done, and it's impressive.

From the tester list, it looks like he's worked with Aaron Reed, and it's good to see a new author trying out Inform 7. It's also planned to be one in a sequence of stories, though it doesn't feel incomplete, and it stops at a good point. It's pretty linear, but there's enough to do anywhere that you never feel forced along.

It's one of those games that feel differently from anything I'd write, yet I enjoy looking at it without imagining the Well-Roundedness Police looking over my shoulder and nodding their approval. This indicates the game has a high level of immersion, and once I got out of playing mode, I said, I'd like to do this sort of thing in any future game I might write. But I think you will like it whether or not you have intentions of writing.

In Bear Creek, you are an eight and a half year old girl (I assume--your name is Jody, and the story says at one point 'she can take care of herself,' but your sex doesn't matter. The game could be imagined either way) in an undefined rural area which could be Southern or Appalachian--I'm not sure. It sort of reminded me of Where the Lilies Bloom, and I based my guess off that. But like the protagonist's gender, the geography doesn't seem to matter, and I think that works well.

Jody goes wandering after picking berries with her grandmother and grandfather. They're some of several adults she meets as she walks along--and the game subverts compass directions nicely with GO TO (X)--which can be a location or a person--so the game never feels mazy. You can imagine it pretty much any way, with forest paths winding etc.

I'd never really considered how directions in text adventures fix the way I see them, and that's not absolute, but not having directions in BC helped me visualize locations differently. This becomes even more relevant when Jody gets lost in the forest near the end--in this case, directions would feel very artificial. You wind up looking for landmarks in an effort to get back home, but fail.

Along the way there's a trailer park, which can be open to a certain amount of abuse, but it's handled sympathetically without being overwrought. After a run through a forest, you can ask various adults about your family or even you, and they invite you in and give you small gifts.

Eventually a dog that's almost dug through a fence comes into play and forces you to the other side of the creek (which provides the story's name) and you wind up trying to find the way back and failing.

There's a relative lack of puzzles here, and while I'm a puzzle fan, I really don't mind at all. It's sort of about stuff I know, and it isn't, and while that seems a truism, I think it's the best way to expand a reader's horizons without the reader feeling the work is trying to Expand Their Horizons.

For instance, I remember being eight or so and visiting a berry farm and my family paying for the strawberries we picked. But we went home to a nice middle class house. I didn't see a lot of relatives. Trailer parks were some place you shouldn't go, and yes, they got looked down on in a college town, and it was way too far by bike anyway. But I was definitely curious, and this game jogged some of my memories while building its own world. It captured Getting Lost quite well near the end.

As for when it stops? On the one hand, I'd have liked to see a little more, but on the other hand, big projects can bog you down & you wind up doing nothing. This game feels about the right size.

Since text adventuring isn't a Big Enough Thing, I think it's a good idea for the author to put his work out right now when there's enough to make people want more. Other people's reviews will hopefully cue him as to what there needs to be more of, what's very good, and what can go. I think it's fair that a work with this much substance can indulge in a bit of crowdsourcing to make sure it's on the right track. And I think Spring Thing would be significantly less without Bear Creek.

1 comment:

  1. I played most of this one -- a very atmospheric slice-of-life. I imagined the player character as a boy; I must have missed the line that referred to the character as "she."

    This is definitely a nostalgic piece -- the emphasis on the current songs, the golden idealized youthful summer, etc. To me, it reflects an idealized "trailer-park hippie" lifestyle of the past. I feel like I've been forced to accept a stereotype of what life was like back then from media portrayals. Bear Creek seems more authentic, but it also seems to support the stereotype.

    But I'm just an ignorant angsty millennial. ;)

    Good review!