Oct 052010

Choice of the Vampire is a text-based ChoiceScript game for browser and iToy by Jason Stevan Hill.  Interactive fiction games put all the focus on the story, without the distractions of graphics and mechanics, and CotV uses this advantage to create a world covering several decades in several cities.  This is an incredibly ambitious game, beginning with a long list of possible characters to play, personal characteristics and goals, and potential sires.

CotV asks players a lot of questions about their goals for their, uh, un-life. Do you want to create lasting art, find true love, rise to the top of the vampire society or accumulate power? This helped me feel like my character had actual motivation, but I was frustrated by the lack of progress towards my stated goal. Choice of the Vampire is the first of several planned installments, so hopefully I’ll get another chance at rocking the undead art world.

Certain choices were greyed out, which was a lovely reminder at first of the widely varied world of possible vampire story arcs. Later, though, it frustrated me to see a choice that would match my player goals or character concept perfectly, only to see it was unavailable to me.

In one playthrough, when asked what type of prey I prefer, I picked animals only, for the tortured Edward Cullen or Angel vampire. In the next scene, my questioner asked if I was lying, and the only available option was Yes. Apparently I’m no good at tortured, sensitive vampire? I couldn’t choose a new prey, so instead of defining myself as veggie vamp, I defined myself as a liar. And a pretty bad one at that. No wonder Edward and Angel get all the girls.

At times, the game was moving me from A to B, and really all I could do was decide to follow along heartily or reluctantly. I suppose all linear games do this to some extent, but the whole game shouldn’t unfold like a cutscene. The narration also told me how I felt about things, which added to the feeling that I was just reading a book and clicking Next. It was a bit like a tabletop game with an inexperienced DM or a romance novel.

Because there are so many possible storylines, my chosen path sometimes felt uneven. A detailed description might follow a bare-bones introduction, or I might try to interact with a character who was really more setting than possible friend.  The narration clearly sets out that vampires can’t and shouldn’t interfere with the course of human history, which made me view descriptions of battles with casual undead detachment, a perfect in-character way to read the excellent settings.

At times, there’s also a bit of bleedthrough from paths not chosen. Although I’d already chosen to spend my free time studying vampire lore, when my Confederate soldier boyfriend wrote me a letter, it turned out that I couldn’t actually read. In another playthough, I avoided the Chloe storyline completely but Guidry still shot me a dirty look, blaming me for Chloe’s death, even though I’d never spoken to either of them in that playthrough. (Avoiding Chloe is not easy.)

These are World of Darkness-style vamps, filling their immortality with backstabbing, power struggles and gossip. There are plenty of ways to play this: heartless, well-meaning, manipulative, kind, but if playing a social vamp isn’t for you, then Choice of the Vampire isn’t for you.

I also felt like there were trick questions. As a young nerdy girl, one frustration I had with Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books was the dead-end choice. You hear a sound in the woods, do you investigate? You do? Oh no! It was bandits! They kill you and take your stuff! Or, you don’t? Too bad, it was a wizened old man handing out magical baubles.  (The other frustration was that the books were a hundred and something pages long BUT your story was barely a third of that! False advertising, man!)

Blah blah blah, time for my usual complaint about midgame saves and ChoiceScript, blah blah. Just to clarify, you can stop playing and then pick up again where you left off, but you can’t return to a savepoint and play from there again. So, if you’re interested in two different paths, you’ll need to start over and remake exactly the same vampire in order to try the second.

But, the fact that I felt like my character was rushed through interesting interactions or railroaded down underwhelming story paths does say something about how connected I was to my characters. There are so many backstory options, it’s hard not to engage with your vampire. There’s a lot of room to play and replay, choosing new histories or personalities in a well-researched world.

At the end of the game, you’re given a short summary of your success and adventures, and a long keystring, saving all your character information for the second installment of Choice of the Vampire. The summary hinted at other potential paths. After completing the game the first time, I was told I hadn’t fed from any famous people… a goal I hadn’t previously considered. Guess what I set out to do next?

You can check out Choice of the Vampire and other examples of Multiple Choice Games at the Choice of Games blog.

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