Untitled Small Games Club - A Bewitching Revolution - February 2020

This is the February 2020 thread for the Untitled Small Games Club, see this thread if you want to see more details about the club.

The short version is that for the month of February, we’re going to play and discuss A Bewitching Revolution as suggested by @alicerulerofwater

Price: Free / Pay what you want.
Length: Less than an hour, according to How Long to Beat
Platform: Windows/Mac/Linux

Please be liberal with spoiler tagging. Very small mechanical things can easily be a spoiler to others, even if you don’t think they are.

And if you enjoy the game and have the means, consider paying some to support the creator.

Also, have fun!

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I played this last year and it was one of my favorite games of the year. It’s very easy to play and was elegantly designed imo, the dev has some other games about communism too that I want to check out sometime soon

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FYI, spoiler tags are created as follows

[spoiler]This text will be blurred[/spoiler]

Or by clicking the gear above the text box when making a post, and selecting “Blur Spoiler”

Gonna try to get to the game this weekend, the premis alone is very, very good so I’m excited!

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I played this a few days ago now, been sort of letting it sit. First thing I’ll say is it kind of got me interested in Tarot Cards - I really liked how they acted almost as “story beats” or like narrative turning points?

I found the tree planting very evocative. A lot of the world interactions were evocative; playful and symbolic of the game’s conception of revolution.

(I guess I’ll spoil tag this?) Final thing I’ll say is I found the socialist rhetoric extremely clear and pointed, which made it feel so obvious and correct. It kind of rejuvinated my spirit. It made it so clear what must be done and also reminded me of end goals in the real world.

In summary: I liked it!

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I played through this yesterday and liked it quite a bit. It’s cute and very pointed against the systematic injustice inherent in capitalism, showing how a society can change to improve our lives. It comes off as an interactive manifesto and is good at it.

As a negative, its simple rhetoric is not written to convince anyone who has not already accepted its message. This is not all bad* but I came out of it wanting more complexity. Instead, it acts more as wish fulfillment, which doesn’t give me very much to engage with.

*In a video essay on it that I watched a few months ago, Sarah Zedig liked how it shows that some solutions are simple.

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I just played through it: I’m probably the least excited about it over all of the commentators - mostly my critiques are toppform’s - the rhetoric is incredibly simple, and the plot is also of course hyper-reductive: The people are all good and oppressed by the State, and the revolution produces an unambiguously positive collectivist society, with the only people being harmed the Police/faceless masses of the State. It is, as toppform notes, pure wish-fulfillment.
(Edit to add: of course, my being aware of all of the principles the game wants to tell you probably means that I am a poor audience for it.)

Now, there’s probably nothing wrong with that - and there are far more games, with much more in the way of resources thrown at them, which have a similarly unquestioning and reductive response to the Status Quo, so maybe it’s fair to let communist utopia have at least one go at it - but it does mean that it feels super lightweight. (And speaking as someone on the far-ish left / socially liberal side of politics, it’s unconvincing even to me, who should be sympathetic, to have no internal critique at all.)

Gameplay-wise: I wasn’t sure precisely what the game was trying to signal some of the time I think more cracks opened up for trees as you progressed in liberating areas, but I only noticed this halfway through, when there were already a bunch open, and several of the spells seemed to really have only one use for example, the locked door spell, which as far as I can tell, only really has a significant effect in letting the homeless wizard/witch get a home/set up a revolutionary zine. For at least some parts of it - including the last thing you have to do to “complete” the game light the bonfire by interacting with it, I ended up aimlessly wandering and clicking on stuff until something happened. I found I got “lost” surprisingly easily in the warren of ramps, as well, and not being able to jump at all was frustrating.

That said, visually, the message was very effective if a little on the nose with the trees sprouting and adverts becoming solar panels.

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I just played through this morning and I liked it a lot. It’s was a perfect rainy Sunday game but also a great example of what I wanted to do with this club.

I’ll just spoiler all this, but with notes about what each is.

Aesthetics

I think the simple blocky look worked quite well because of how it allowed the dev to create a fairly rich town around you. The palette was used well too because of how flat it mostly was with bright pops of colour to accent certain things. The acoustic music gave a light atmosphere too and I just really loved the guitar strumming sound.

Interactions

I liked the simplicity of how you moved through the world, just having 2 buttons for “use” and “magic”. Though some of it didn’t communicate that well. I think that blasting spikes to replace them with owls was meant to help me identify where the cops were. But I’m not sure what the cops did or mattered for? I only zapped them once, and it didn’t seem that necessary. I also liked the tree planting side objective, though at one point I grew a tree to burst a pipe and make a puddle for some ducks. I’m not clear what happened there fully or if I was required to do that. I don’t think it all needs an explanation, but some better grounding would’ve helped parts of it. I enjoyed planting trees regardless.

For the tarot game, I like the concept and it felt like a good witchy way to convey some messages. Though the first time I was disappointed to realise that they’re set scripts I’m following. I thought there might be some randomisation or response to my actions. I understood after that the thread of the game requires they be fixed this way, but it made the interactive part of these sequences a little flatter since the interaction felt a little “fake”.

Also a major thing that I think this game lacks is a direct interaction with the NPCs. You can talk to the cat and the owl, but you only really monologue at them with tarot cards. There is good work with changes to the world and how the NPC behaviour changes. (Eg. When you radicalise the fast food workers, they take breaks to go on the roof) But the lack of conversation undermined the story for me a bit (more about this below).

The world changing as you go is my favourite thing. It’s a really well used storytelling tool for advancing things and developing the narrative thread. It’s a strength of the simple models and constrained world space that’s works great.

Narrarive/themes


I’ll echo what people were saying above about the story being quite simplistic and straightforward, but I didn’t take that as a negative honestly. I think for the short time the game has, complex nuance can be limited and is easy to deploy wrong or misread. Describing it as a manifesto makes sense to me, as it’s not supposed to be a realistic depiction of events as much as a conceptual way we can affect change.

I still think a lack of incidental NPC dialogue harms it overall. In a game about socialism, I learn about people from the objects and environments. I wish I got lines from the fast food workers before and after their radicalisation. Give them some humanity while showing some specificity to what change you’re affecting.

I was caught off guard by the turn, where the police come out in force. I wasn’t expecting that kind of escalation from the game, and the way it materially blocks you from certain areas too. Its funny The resolution is quite simplistic in a sense, but it does basically reflect the manifesto the game is presenting.

What’s funny is that I didn’t realise I had to do something with the bonfire. So I walked through the whole revolution, got to the end and briefly thought that was the game’s end. In a funny way I could imagine that as another way to end it, where you start the wheels turning and then your job as a witch is done.

The actual ending where you can tour through the town that’s been bettered is a good capstone to the manifesto story. Things can be better and it’s all within reach, it just requires a change.

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This was one of my favourite games of last year! Lovely to see y’all giving it a go. :blush:

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Glad people have been enjoying this month’s game. Please consider rating/reviewing the game on itch.io, talking about it to other people or supporting the developer with a purchase/patronage! He has just recently released a demo for his new game, you can check that out here:

His twitter is here and you can support him on patreon here which can give you access to early builds and devlogs on his ongoing work.

Over in the main thread, voting for the new game is underway, head there and weigh in on what you’d like to play for March!

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I played it yesterday, pretty sure it took less than an hour. Strong, hopeful political message, as has been said.

Liked the focus on environmental storytelling. It kind of reminded me of Blendo’s games(Gravity Bone/Thirty Flight of Loving). Not so much the cinematic shorthand those used, but the blocky graphics definitely make me think of those, and also the wordless nature of all the interactions and the use of specific set piece-y scenes.

This did sometimes require a bit more interpretation about what was going on though. A bit of wandering, some confusion with, for example, what the graffiti people were doing, when to brew potions, the employment agency not being a church as I first thought… I did definitely also get stuck on the bonfire bit like others did too.

The tarot cards were a bit weird, in that they weren’t really telling fortunes at all; they’re pointed arguments on cards, and because of the fuzzy nature of some of the early encounters I didn’t see for a while how some of the early readings actually applied to the people I was giving them to (I didn’t recognize what those people represented: workers, or the unemployed). It took until maybe the prison one that I realized these were maybe arguing against specific facets of capitalism that those people were suffering under. Audio-wise, found the guitar strums for a lot of actions a bit out of place for either the surveillance state dystopia setting or in a magic witch vibe. The actual arguments were thoughtful, especially the one about unpaid types of labor, and made me want to read some Sylvia Federici whose writing this game was based on.

My sometimes fumbling, sometimes a bit confused experience playing it did seem at odds with what the game and story seemed to want to be and was, which was completely assertive and decisive. There was a plan, and I wasn’t always in lockstep with it. But I liked exploring the city and seeing how it changed, and there was some cool uses of mechanics in there.

POST/CAPITALISM was another game from this dev I played before, and I think that one sort of gave a clearer illustration of structural change, but that was also more about underpinning issues and hidden consequences, and this one’s more about praxis and what we can do on a more street level. This also presents the concepts in maybe a more actionable and approachable way, so it might be more effective overall.

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This was also my experience. While the paper boats served as useful guides to points of interest in the environment, I still often found myself scouring every corner for anything to interact with to advance the game.

And while I doubt it was intentional, in a way, I suppose it mimics the frustration and halting progress that political/labor organizers encounter in the real world.

Still, if the game were presented as a visual novel or a piece of interactive fiction, it would’ve greatly streamlined the experience for me.

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I’ll be honest, I wasn’t super thrilled going into this because I’m not too familiar with a lot of political theory or concepts and I assumed the game would be filled with dense rhetoric that it expected me to be familiar with and I’d just bounce off of it.

That ended up not being the case though, since I was able to understand most of the ideas presented (except for the concept of “reproductive work” which, thankfully, the game does offer a brief explanation of) but I think it ended up being so surface level that it didn’t end up leaving much of an impression on me.

Most of my knowledge around this sort of stuff primarily comes from hanging around spaces like this and not any deep reading I’ve done myself. I was expecting this game to be, at the very least, a potential learning opportunity for me but to see that I already had a solid grasp on the ideas presented was… disappointing?

Other than that, I found most of the interactions with the people in the city to be impersonal and unengaging. I spent most of the game gliding from reading to reading without much of an understanding of who exactly I was helping. I think even just a sentence or two before each reading or other interaction like the one with the homeless witch would’ve been enough to alleviate that for me.

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