Icepunk is a browser-based game by pageboy (alternately, page13oy). You can play it here.
Spoilers behind the cut.
In the blurb for the comp, the author describes Icepunk as “an experimental work combining a procedurally generated world, prefabricated content, non-linear exploration, public domain literature and social media excerpts – to probe the possibilities of Interactive Fiction.” While the game does contain all those elements, I’m not convince that they add up to something cohesive and revolutionary.
In Icepunk, you play the sole human survivor of some catastrophe. You have been raised by a computer on an icy cylindrical world, never meeting another human. However, by gathering sufficient data for your computer parent, you can somehow reboot the world.
The game incorporates ASCII art heavily. Gameplay is very straightforward: you explore a randomly-generated ASCII map to select a location, enter it, observe it briefly through selecting one of two options, and potentially gather data. This gameplay became pretty repetitive, actually – as the PC can only carry a small amount of data at a time, you must repeatedly trek back to your Habitat (home base) to download it – ten times to complete the game. This quickly discouraged me from traveling any farther than necessary, since each step on the map was actually clicking a link and downloading a new page. My home internet connection isn’t all that slow, but it started to feel that way. Without this limitation making me repeat the same steps over and over again I would have been more inclined to explore the world. Alternately, if I did have to go back home over and over again, more should change in the text description than simply updating the progress bar from 20% to 30%.
The world was a strange one – everything icy, but seemingly alive, inhabited by creatures of data who endlessly acted out excerpts from The Jungle Book or Alice In Wonderland or the like. Once I stumbled on a forest full of birds who, when I listened to them, spouted some seemingly random tweets from Twitter. I’m not sure how gathering fragments of a couple public-domain books and some 140-character musings of random people was meant to add up to enough information to reboot humanity. Nor did it add up having to much of an emotional impact on me for its own sake. Walking into a real library and reading a random page out of every seventeenth book wouldn’t create a satisfying story – no more did these snippets hold together.
An additional point of vagueness was around my character. Before even the introduction to the story I was asked to choose my character’s name, gender, and preferred pronouns. Personally, I would rather character creation happen after I’ve gotten to know a bit about my character’s situation. However, even odder was that the character creation didn’t actually seem to have any impact whatsoever on the rest of the game. Though I had the opportunity to specify five separate pronouns, the entire game was told in second person and therefore only ever used “you.” I’m not sure if this was a result of something the author intended and never implemented, or if it was an attempt at a message of some kind about inclusivity in gaming… I’m just bemused.
I think this is a game where, as I’ve seen before, the author’s vision didn’t really get fully realized. There are some clues that maybe it didn’t get a lot of beta-testing: some of the ASCII art was misaligned (at least in my browser), and the text needed to be run through a spell-checker. All in all, an inoffensive game with a couple interesting ideas, but not one I’ll recommend.
Edited to add: After finishing my review, I read Liz England’s, and found her thoughts both interesting and completely on the nose.