Friday, August 8, 2014

Party Crashing

Invisible Parties is a ShuffleComp entry authored by its seemingly-tireless organizer, Sam Kabo Ashwell, who has re-released it, correcting a lot of technical problems of the type that can arise from organizing a comp and implementing a small but complicated game simultaneously.  

The primary cast are all badass female interdimensional entities.  Three of these are known to the PC as "The Rebeccas" - an ersatz "Heathers" clique with unlimited fashion sense and fabulous cosmic powers.  They have organized an uber-party by creating a "weave" of about sixteen connected earthly spaces where a buffet of different mortal get-togethers are simultaneously taking place.  Most other characters are the kind who like to inflict emotional or physical scars since they can't outright kill you, and you are more than happy keep up your end of it.

The PC is afflicted with a mad case of the emos because this whole Frankenstein floatilla hovering outside of space and time seems to have been planned and created to steal away and occupy her (ex?) girlfriend Jave, who gallivants around the various locales like Doctor Who, blending in with the crowd and pretty much enjoying herself until the PC locates and flushes her out by destroying each individual party and ultimately the entire weave that holds them together.   As the player you have four abilities, and Jave has a rotating arsenal of three that you deploy to impede the overarching party-mood by causing bloody chaos, wanton destruction, violent death, or just harshing the mellow so everyone leaves.  The abilities are kind of cool and unusual, but boil down to ATTACK, SEARCH, READ all disguised with a thick paste of stylish verbosity.

It's possible to fail by not escaping as each party falls, or by tearing the map in two so you can't reach Jave or another location you need.  Little of this is explained, and not a whole lot is clear without extensive experimentation. Discovering how to interact with the world can be a legitimate puzzle.  The inventory doesn't quite work how the player expects, and messing around with scenery is implemented and usually helpful to the situation.

The main attraction here is Ashwell's writing, which never falls beneath his own high-bar standards.  Each new thing you read about is interesting, textured, and anachronistically fantastic despite being familiar and firmly rooted in recognizable reality.   When stuff goes down it's brutal and viscerally written without overstepping.  While there is no outright comedy to be found (except some zing-bitchy retorts), the text is laced with a cinnamon-dry wit.  I especially enjoyed turns of phrase such as "the least-hijab-est hijab" and the pastoral party where "...evidently someone decided that the only thing that could possibly improve this was an accordion."  It's high prose that never breaks meta and barely acknowledges the reader with stylistic indifference that could only come from an exceedingly well-read and literate and traveled author.  I somehow won the game by accident, not seeing even a third of what is packed in there.  Luckily the source code is available and I enjoyed reading that as well.

I still feel a little left-out of this party.  Not because it's at heart a pack of immortal lesbians with battle-axes destroying the universe, but because the game never really invites you to have fun doing all this crazy inventive stuff.  I'm probably a bit broken expecting Armageddon by microcosm to be fun like Douglas Adams; that's not the scathing nihilism Ashwell is going for.  I do appreciate the writing in the same way I do a Bret Easton Ellis novel in that he seems not to really give a shit whether you read it or not.  Perhaps I'm just thinking this because the title kept reminding me of IMPERIAL BEDROOMS, and the "End of the World" party from THE RULES OF ATTRACTION would have fit right into an adjunct branch of the weave.

That's just me, though, and I am a pedant who will always enjoy the less highbrow thrills of a JURASSIC PARK over a LESS THAN ZERO.

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