La Grand Guignol is the section of Ectocomp in which games made in over 3 hours are entered: a whole meal of horror in contrast to the delicious morsels of La Petite Mort. After playing the games of La Petite Mort, I was even more excited to play these, and I was not disappointed: the bar for polish and art has really been raised, and all the games are well worth a look. (Beware: I had a nightmare after playing Going Down and The Elevator Game, two coincidentally lift-focused games in the comp.) Here are some thoughts on my favourites:
The Rats in the Bulkheads – Bruno Dias (Ink)
Something has gone terribly wrong on a derelict ship, and it’s up to you to uncover it via journal entries laden with hubris, and the abandoned, decaying environment. Between rats, gore, fear of death, and a visceral response to the Ship of Theseus thought experiment, it’s a very effective take on a familiar setup. Sounds and visuals work seamlessly together to create creeping, grimy dread.
On a sidenote, it’s fascinating to see more graphically ambitious work being produced in the IF sphere. Ink has had a strong influence in that respect, and I’m interested to see where the trends go in the future.
dripping with the waters of SHEOL – Isak Grozny (Ink)
In a second-world fantasy setting with a strongly Jewish feel, two lovers live in a cluttered but homely apartment. One night, one wakes to find a ghost nearby.
A beautifully produced and laid out work, the look of this reminds me of a fancy book frontispiece. Descriptions can be accessed through tooltips, neatly dealing with the perennial issue of not knowing whether a click will take the player away from the page.
Gentler in some ways than other Ectocomp entries – I didn’t come across death or gore – it nevertheless packs a punch when delving into the characters’ psychology. While the writing is rich and gorgeous, it is also an unflinching depiction of the effects of illness and trauma, and complicated feelings about the characters’ trans identities.
The Boot-Scraper – Caleb Wilson (as Lionel Schwob) (Inform 7)
The lone survivor of a shipwreck, Horatio Slyme, is stranded, injured and sick, on the shore of St. Stellio.
The game works as a standalone, but it shines in tandem with Lime Ergot: the island of St. Stellio will be familiar to players of the earlier work, there are hallucinatory fruits that aren’t what they seem (more sinister than it sounds), and they share an overwhelming, inexorable claustrophobia. Trapped in his memories, all Horatio can do is go over and over the events leading him to this point.
Where The Boot-Scraper builds on Lime Ergot is in its sharper, more venomous depiction of the horror of colonialism and layers upon layers of exploitation. Horatio Slyme is a nasty piece of work, but as we discover more snippets about him … well, best to find that out for yourself. There’s none of the occasional whimsy found in Lime Ergot: instead we are faced with stark, sometimes grisly, beautifully-written ruin.