Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Sunburn, by Caelyn Sandel

Sunburn is a brief work about a (likely trans, based on hints) woman who has been locked in an office to die painfully (mentally and physically) in retribution for turning a passive-aggressive "nice guy" down. It has alternate endings, which is a specialty of this author (and something I like to see,) and it fits into a tidy zblorb.

Now, I favor the more escapist games. I like ones that discover nonsense that was in front of our nose, so we can laugh at that, or maybe laugh at people's foibles. That, I think, makes people happy. And it's constructive. And I think there's a place for serious games, and a good balance can open up doors.

I think this is a serious effort and tried not to be too brute-force, but unfortunately I think it failed. And if it meant to evoke a strong emotional reaction, it did.

So I'm waffling here, and the reason is, I know this is being harsh, and I debated what to send privately to the author. The problem is, if a game takes risks like this--well, it risks reviews like this. But I hope the author can picture where I'm coming from.

Technical, first: the puzzles felt wobbly, for their brevity--unlocking the door had me confused, as I wanted to visualize it (a plasteel door. Was it blocked by a plate? When I couldn't turn the handle, I assumed Paul had done something from the outside to lock it in. Maybe even bolted it, if possible. I'm speaking as someone who can break into my own house if I must. So, having the game say, well, it's not bolted or sealed, or right up against the wall, would help. I mean, you want to establish helplessness, but not make the player groan.) Maybe I saw seal/Plasteel--I don't know. But it was my first impression, and it left me feeling even more trapped than I needed to be.

Maybe that's the point. But if it is, I think it's a poorly chosen one. Balancing helplessness versus frustrating the player into doing other things is tricky, and this didn't work here.

I also felt uncomfortable with the antagonist. Setting up an elaborate trap then coming back...with a crossbow? This feels like such a parody of the Fedorian type that I lost a lot of belief, up to the "You were killed by an entitled misogynist" epitaph.

The thing is that I felt this game puts a box over me like (and let's be clear it's LIKE, not AS) Paul put a box over the main character with his "chemistry?!" I had anti-chemistry with this game. The author can contact me with details. But I do not want to force them on anybody. Maybe I'm embarrassed I'm about to say something dumb and there's some CYA here.


  1. I think "With Those We Love Alive" from Comp 2014 is a great example of an escapist game that was also serious and direct about social issues. (I generally think of escapism in terms of SFF worldbuilding, but the comedic meta escapism that you've explored in your games is also powerful and entertaining -- and more inherent to IF medium.)

  2. Thanks--I've tended to go more towards escapism, because I have a hard time knowing if I'm really biased/unbiased for/against political agendas. When things are at a microscopic level I think sometimes you can connect better, or if there's some humor, it helps things go down. For instance, Douglas Adams stays with me even when more overtly moral science fiction doesn't--I remember his writing when I see someone being a jerk about technology.

    I was impressed with Adrift's interface but I still just like having source code I can search through. Maybe it's because I wasn't brought up on GUI, but text can keep it simpler. Also, when I need to change a bunch of stuff (and I do shuffle my games around a lot,) it's nice to be able to use a regular expression. GUI might not allow that.

    However, I think there's a lot of room for GUI to work. Something like Trizbort is immensely convenient for creating a shell of a world & it's nice not to have to type a ton to get started. Anything to cut down fatigue and mistakes.

    1. Also, oops, that second bit about Adrift was meant for the Adventurer's Backyard thread. It's late here & I don't see how to edit my comment.