[IFComp 2015] Scarlet Sails

My first game up is Scarlet Sails by Felicity Banks.

Cover art for Scarlet Sails by Felicity Banks. (c) Felicity Banks

Scarlet Sails is a web-based CYOA-style game that combines action with a little bit of relationship simulation:

A rollicking pirate adventure with plenty of swordfights, magic, rum, betrayal, and maybe even true love.

You can find it through the IFComp website or directly here. I recommend playing it with the soundtrack from Pirates of the Caribbean in the background!

A review with some spoilers after the cut.

In Scarlet Sails, you play an ambitious young pirate, newly promoted to first mate and setting sail on what becomes an eventful voyage. Along the way, you make choices about what skills to hone, whom to ally yourself with (both professionally and romantically), and what actions to take when danger arises. A stats system tracks your personality qualities such as morality and drunkenness, your skills and health, and your rapport with the other characters. Depending on what options you chose, your stats make some actions more or less likely to succeed – and even make some future choices unavailable to you.

I found Scarlet Sails a lot of fun. The story was exciting and well-crafted, with twists and surprises along the way. I also appreciated how the choices I made shaped my character’s personality. I found myself getting inside my character, making choices I would never make in real life. (Should I betray my boss and run her through with a sword? Well, maaaybe…) This mechanic made the game feel more interactive than an old-school CYOA where choices are just the equivalent of picking paths through a maze. It was well-constructed, too. I encountered one minor bug when the captain referred to a former event that hadn’t happened, but generally the plot adapted to prior choices without such inconsistencies sneaking in.

Scarlet Sails isn’t a piece of cake, or I’m a rather bad pirate. I played through the game twice, the second time a little faster, and died epically both times. I don’t feel done with the game – I’d like to see how the story ends – so I’m putting this on my list of games to revisit after the comp. It seems that the odds of dying early on are small, which is nice and forgiving. Once you die, though, you’re dead and have to restart – no saved games, no undo. I respect that stylistic decision; it makes the player more invested in the choices they make. However, depending on how hard it is to figure out a way to survive the battle with the sea monster, that could wind up being frustrating. I can see it getting old to repeat the beginning of the story again and again to reach the part where I’m stuck. I’ll reserve judgement on that until I actually get frustrated, though.

Minor negatives: It would have been nice if my stats could have been visible as I was playing, instead of having to navigate to a separate page. I don’t know if DashingDon.com (the platform the author used to host the game) supports that kind of thing, though. I also think it was a little of a mistake to have two longish pages of text (one page of credits, one page of help text) before the game began. It made for a bit of a dull first impression, though when the plot did get started it made up for lost time quickly. The help and credits might both have been better as separate tabs so the player could instead get tossed into the story right away.

Overall, an impressive game. An auspicious start to the competition!


2 thoughts on “[IFComp 2015] Scarlet Sails

  1. Thank you for a detailed and helpful review! I really appreciate it. Your temptation (…or decision) to murder your boss made me laugh. I usually play “nice” with games, but I had exactly the same experience while play-testing. I just wanted that gold…

    Felicity Banks

    • You’re welcome! I actually didn’t murder my boss, but the decision not to was partly due to me calculating that I was better off with her alive. This is not how I think about my real-life boss!

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