Monday, October 10, 2016

IF Comp 16: Black Rock City

Black Rock City, by Jim Munroe

"Black Rock City" is a CYOA with a couple interesting interface designs. It's set at a fantastical version of Burning Man where things like flying carpets exist. You have six turns before a dust storm hits and the game ends. For each turn you can grab one of two verbs and then drag them to one or two nouns in the body of the text to make a choice. This strikes as an odd mechanic at first, a bit of busy work for the sake of busy work, but I discovered that I liked how it hides the choices until you grab a verb. Only then do the operative words turn into links. One thing I dislike about Twine and other browser based CYOAs is the hyperlinks distract from the text. So often you're confronted with a hyperlink in the middle of a paragraph and if you're anything like me this pulls you out of the emersion or even the understanding of that body of text. In "Black Rock City" you're allowed to digest the section before having to engage with the choices. I admire that a lot.

I played through the game four or five times exploring different avenues (the six turn limit makes replaying easy), and while the prose is nicely written, nothing about the game or setting really engaged me. It's got a surrealist quality and leads to some pleasant images but there's nothing concrete about setting or character or purpose or goals. I never felt like I had agency within a story. Even the impending dust storm isn't written as a threat or an event of consequence, it's just an excuse to wrap things up.

"Black Rock City" works as a series of ephemeral vignettes, but I found myself wishing for something with a bit more substance. However, it does make a good case for a different type of CYOA interface and that's worth something.

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