[IFComp2013] Blood On the Heather

This review was originally published on Livejournal.

Blood On the Heather, by T. Orisney, is a choice-based story written in Twine. (I have borrowed the phrase “choice-based story” from Emily Short, as it describes pieces like this much better than the terms I came up with.) It is available online here.

In this lengthy choose-your-own-adventure story, you are a kleptomaniac American college student on vacation on Scotland with two friends. Before you’ve been in the country for even a day, you find yourself fighting vampires and embroiled in a centuries-old feud.

I’ll get right to it: This was not my kind of thing at all. I never got into the vampire fad, either with the recent Twilight craze or back in the days of Buffy. The plot was a confusing tangle of cursed daggers and minions and oubliettes and betrayals and allegiances. The characters were rather caricatures, from the evil sexy vampire queen to my self-righteous “intellectual” friend.

It was also long. I just re-traced my steps and found that there were 44 pages between the beginning and an ending that didn’t involve my death. Many of those pages were between 500 and 1,000 words, making this like a short novel. (T. Ornisey almost certainly met NaNoWriMo’s goal of 50,000 words in total, though presumably not during the month of November.) The choice-to-words ratio was low, too. Sometimes there was only one option at the end of the page, but even when there were two or three, I felt like I was doing much more reading than playing. Huge swaths of action would happen without any input from me-as-player, though me-as-character did plenty. I found the white-text-on-black-page hard to read, too.

There are a lot of other things I took notes on, but it’s getting late, so here’s an abridged version:

  • Something was wrong with the coding. I have never written a Twine game, but in others I’ve played, the actual text was a hyperlink. In this game, the options were proceeded by things like “E3” and “E4,” which seemed like backend stuff I was not supposed to see. It also made me have to pay attention to which link corresponded with which option.
  • Along with not making choices very often, the choices I did make sometimes had rather random results, like the CYOA books I read as a kid. For example, when exploring a ruin, taking the more cautious route led to me dying, while climbing a clearly-unstable tower turned out just fine.
  • There were plot holes and inconsistencies all over the place, even about trivial things. My shoes were described first as flats with “no traction,” then as sensible, and then as “teetery heels,” though I never changed them.
  • I was rather excited about a game that takes place in Scotland, as I have gotten to visit the country several times. I was, therefore, awfully annoyed at how many stereotypes and how little research the game involved. Yes, it’s a fictionalized Scotland and meant to be humorous, but haggis jokes and sneering at men wearing mini-kilts? (Mini-kilts are not a thing. I’ve spent over a month in Scotland, AND I dated a bagpiper for four years, and I’ve never seen a man wearing a kilt that came to mid-thigh.)
  • The confrontation with the sexy evil vampire queen involved a nice, long “Now, captive, I’ll tell you everything” conversation, breaking one of the rules on the Evil Overlord List.
  • There were typos, such as the tendency towards the end of the game for the word YOU to appear randomly in capitals.

I get that this piece was trying to channel B-movies, and so a certain amount of ridiculosity should be expected. But this felt instead like a slog. Author, you were very ambitious. I think this is a case where less would have been more, though. With so much text to write, I can easily imagine that editing fell by the wayside, and adding even more forking locations would have been unattractive to say the least. Judicious pruning would have helped. For example, the first vampire attack can happen in different locations depending on which friend the PC chooses to hang out with. This could have been trimmed out, saving a chunk of writing.

I only made it to an ending by starting to skim the text a little past what turned out to be the halfway point. Die-hard vampire fans may have lasted longer. I’ll be curious to read what others think.

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