IF Comp ’10: Gigantomania

Whew! I’ve been overloaded with paying projects this month, and what with the whole newborn thing, I’ve barely had time to spend with Comp games. Not cool. But one of those projects is the cover for GameSpite Quarterly Issue 6. This issue’s topic is the most underappreciated games of all time (as voted on by members of the Gamespite forums). I’ve got to say, the articles in this issue are unbelievably good. I drew a lot of inspiration from them while working on the cover.

This image is a little small, so you can’t see all the details, but you get the drift. While all the issues of GSQ have been super great, this one is especially good. It will be available around November 1st. If you don’t rush to buy it I will hate you forever.

Alright, enough self-promotion. On with the review:

Gigantomania by Michelle Tirto and Mike Ciul

Blurb: Living under the Stalin era, in four parts.

Expectations: Not really sure. I don’t know much about the topic but it’s not one I’m super interested in. But I have seen The Hunt for Red October and Enemy at the Gates so I’m not totally ignorant. Dsvidaniya, baby!

Wow, I really liked this. Gigantomania is how you do both linear and historical IF right. You play four different characters in post-revolution Russia, starting at the very lowest in the social order and moving up to Stalin himself. Each section is short and fairly linear. Maybe there’s a “puzzle” or two to solve, but really they’re about experiencing the different character’s perspectives. What makes this work is that you do have some freedom. Unlike East Grove Hills, where you might as well just hit “z” the whole time, Gigantomania gives you the freedom to effect the outcome of each character’s situation. While there’s not a lot of choice in how the story progresses, it’s not like there is no choice. That’s an important distinction. I felt like I was still playing a game, not just reading a story in chunks. The sections are well implemented. I didn’t find any bugs or uncoded objects. That went a long way towards making the few locations more robust and took the edge off of the linearity.

I don’t know if I’m making this clear. I have no problem with linear IF, as long as there’s a reason for the story to be in this format. Both East Grove Hills and Sons of the Cherry didn’t have anything significant in them that justified the interactive medium. Gigantomania does. One of the strengths of IF is that it can really put into the mind of the character. Gigantomania does it four times over. Consider when you refer to another character while playing the steelworker who is very much intrenched in the ideals of Communism:

>x Anatoly
Don’t you mean Comrade Anatoly Chuychenko?
That’s brilliant. Of course this particular character wouldn’t refer to someone else as anything but “Comrade.” That’s using the medium to tell us something about the character. It’s this kind of thing that justifies IF as legitimate. Full marks.
It helps that the authors are passionate about the subject. According to the about text, they were inspired to make the game by a class, presumably one on Russian History. That’s heartwarming. It must have been a great class. And it gives Gigantomania something that Sons of the Cherry lacked: the little details that make the setting authentic. While playing I was off to Google or Wikipedia a half-dozen times, looking up a term or reference I didn’t understand. I learned things from Gigantomania. I feel more knowledgeable having played it. That alone is the highest recommendation I can give.
The last section deserves special mention. You play out a conversation that Stalin is having in his head, and by doing so the game gives up any pretense of interactivity. You select dialog choices (sometimes from a list of one) until the game is over. But… it works. I’m not sure why, but I was completely enthralled. Maybe because Stalin has played such a large role in the lives of the other three characters and here we’re given insight into his mind. It’s interesting that we’re not controlling his actions, but dictating the direction of his thoughts. I’m not sure if this has been done in IF before. I want to say that it has, but I can’t think of any examples off the top of my head. In any case, it was enlightening.  The characterization of Stalin is overplayed, and borders on the cartoonish, but then, in just a few lines, he is humanized. Very well done.
Best game of the Comp so far, I expect this one to rank high.

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