Something intriguing about IntroComp is that you have no idea what any particular entry will be about, or like, until you download and try it. There are no cover graphics or blurbs to lure you in, or to cue you, or to falsely cue you – just the titles of the entries.
These thoughts revisited me when I tried Pre-Marie, an entry from Dee Cooke. This is a parser-driven game made using the Adventuron system. While I feel I've encountered numerous blog posts about Adventuron development over time, I don't think I've ever played an Adventuron game before. The system's page on itch.io shows many games sporting a ZX Spectrum graphic aesthetic, surely indicating a UK-based heritage. In Australia where I am, we didn't have the Spectrum when I was growing up, but we did have the Commodore 64, so in buying UK-published gaming magazines for Commodore 64 reviews, I also read all the reviews for the Spectrum games and saw their screenshots.
|The rain beats down on Janette's Crossley flat in Pre-Marie|
Marie (the 'pre' referring to the fact this is a taster offered for IntroComp) is set in contemporary London. The PC is a woman about to sneak out to investigate some unspecified mystery that she doesn't want her currently sleeping husband to know she's going to investigate. It's a compelling set-up delivered in a generally old school manner. This means: the parser is simple and doesn't understand a lot or too well. The graphics are pixellated pastels that vaguely remind me of some of the first graphic adventure games from the 1980s, and especially the propensity of those games to present different streets in a town in ways that made them seem disorientingly samey. The font is channelling both ZX Spectrum adventuring and Sierra's various 'quest' games. Finally, the game has a mildly punitive design outlook. I think this last effect is just down to some of its oversights reproducing what we now perceive in older games to have been an absence of helpfulness, and not to any intent.
For instance, reaching for a wet newspaper spied on the ground prompts a 'Leave it alone, it's wet'-type rejection message. But really, the game wants you to READ the newspaper. So there's a kind of needless misdirection there. The prose is also a little misjudged in giving overall direction. Early on it presents the heroine's internal dithering as to whether she should hasten to get on a train or keep exploring her neighbourhood, but the game is really about doing the latter. Her dithering is too dithery re: what's important to the game. New location descriptions sometimes scroll partly out of view, meaning you have to mouse back up the first time you enter a new area.
It took several plays for me to apprehend all of this, and the first play felt especially open ("What's going on? How does this game work? What does it want? What can it do? What should I do?"). I certainly enjoyed the intrigue of trying to make out the game's aesthetic over those plays, its suburban London setting and the mystery of its plot. I barely dented that plot. I do ultimately find the game curious. There's something non-transparent to me about how this particular story's being delivered – with this old font, with these graphics, with its mystery plot versus its simple parser. It may be transparent to the author or Adventuron folk; it might have become clearer to me were the game to have continued. I also confess I don't especially like the graphics overall, though they have their moments. The pastel colour scheme leads to a kind of non-differentiation that I find hard to interpret at times. I also find the PC's notebook contents, presented via the graphics, pretty illegible.
On the excerpt of Marie given, I don't quite get it, but my curiosity does prompt me to give the IntroCompish verdict of, yes, I would like to see more of this game. And I like that IntroComp allows me to have this kind of totally unheralded game experience.