IFComp ’12: Sunday Afternoon

Another good one! In Sunday Afternoon you play a young boy in the Victorian era trapped indoors reading scripture while yearning for the freedom of a summer day. It’s a fairly short puzzler, well made and enjoyable. I liked how all the puzzles involve manipulating people rather than items. That made for an interesting approach and defined just the type of kid the PC is. The writing invokes the feel and language of the setting without getting bogged down in particularities. The game is exceptionally well clued, providing just enough of a push in the right direction to make me feel like a big smarty without giving away the puzzle solutions. This made for a smooth and enjoyable experience. One of these though, completely changed the breath and depth of the game and I was left wanting more along the same lines. Spoilers follow.

The game begins with the PC trapped in a parlor under the attention of his Aunt Emma. The solution is to get Emma to reminisce about an old flame thus giving you the opportunity to scuttle away. However you only have two or three turns before she snaps out of her reverie and comes to get you. To escape again you need to merely mention Captain Davis again she’s lost in her memories again. This is a very gamey situation. Get Emma to reminisce -> escape the parlor. This turns Emma from a realistically drawn character into a simple game object. Unfortunate, but a common conceit of these text adventures of ours. However, when pulling this trick for the third time the game suddenly jumps to 1916 where the PC is a solider in the trenches of World War 1. It’s revealed he and his fellow soldiers are playing a storytelling game to pass the time and Sunday Afternoon so far has been his recollection of his youth. One of the other soldiers doesn’t believe Emma would be so foolish to fall for the same trick over and over. The PC admits that no, she wasn’t, but since they hadn’t figured out the trick he used to avoid recapture they would just have to deal with a little unrealism. This both clues in that there is a way to get Emma off your back as well as justify the gameyness of the situation.

But it does more than that. Suddenly, the game isn’t just about a boy escaping a stuffy afternoon indoors anymore. Now there’s context to his life. How does the meaning behind his childhood escapades change with the revelation that he goes to war? What is so important about this particular sunday afternoon that he chooses to tell his mates years later? Is Captain Davis fate and Emma’s comments about war portents of the PC’s eventual fate? Is being trapped in the house a metaphor for being trapped in the infamous French trenches? I felt like the game was revealing its true face and was a bit disappointed when the game didn’t revisit 1916 again. Maybe the war buddies pop back up again if you get similarly stuck on other puzzles but it didn’t happen to me. And in the end when the PC simply ran out into the sunshine I felt like there was a wasted opportunity. It appears to me that author Virgil Hilts simply used the 1916 flash-forward as a way to justify Emma’s gamelike behavior. But in doing so he inadvertently gave Sunday Afternoon unexpected depth. If he had capitalized on this and expanded those found themes it would have raised his game to another level. As it stands Sunday Afternoon is a lot like Guilded Youth, well made and pleasant, but somewhat lacking in its center.

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