Untitled Small Games Club - Where the Water Tastes Like Wine - April 2020

This is the April 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 April, we’re going to play and discuss Where the Water Tastes Like Wine by Dim Bulb Games, as suggested by @Forrest

Price: Was available free for a period (but not currently), is part of PC game pass which is €1-€4 if you have Windows 10, otherwise is $18 on itch, €18 on Switch.

I’m happy to buy a code for someone who’d like to take part, just DM me if you’d like to avail of this. If anyone else wants to offer this too, feel free to post here or DM me about it.

Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux, Switch, Xbox One, Playstation 4

Length: in total, 17 hours, but completion is not really required to discuss the game. From my understanding, the non linear storytelling is divided up so you’re getting smaller discrete stories as you go. So you can finish a part of the game in much less time and have enough to talk about here. (please correct me if I’ve misunderstood)

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.

Also, have fun!

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I played a couple hours last night (on Switch) before bed and got to the first… significant encounter I guess would be the spoiler free way to say it?

I was rather jarred by the intro cutsceneI have all the cards in a scary setting and it turns around on me in a flash and then the scary wolf is actually a nice wise wolf wizard? Not quite sure what to think of it.

I do like the main task of roaming for the stories although I think I have a bit of fomo when I get to choose how the stories go. Maybe I just need to put myself in the Kentucky Route Zero mindset instead of general RPG check-every-line-in-the-dialogue-tree mindset. Once I get there though the stories are great and the collect-a-thon-y aspect appeals to me.
However, in the first ‘encounter’ I didn’t yet have many stories to choose from and it wasn’t really clear to me which ones they would like form their description and requests. I only had just enough type categories to fill the night as the type is locked after you choose a story from that type. I just picked what I had and I got the Eye open, but they didn’t seem to really respond positively to the stories that made Eye progress and actually got rather upset and offended by them. The stories that didn’t land they just glossed over and asked for more thrilling adventure stories. I guess it’ll become clearer as I go or maybe I’ll just get better at reading the characters and what they ask for.

Obviously the soundtrack and voice work is terrific.
So much so that I like walking around so much that I haven’t tried hitchhiking or trains yet.

Very much enjoyed my sleepy, before-bed session last night and look forward to seeing how the mechanics develop. Already worth the money as far as I’m concerned for the atmosphere set by the music and stories.

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Completely right. I’d go as far as to say that if you’re thinking (or hoping) the opening with the Wolf is setting up some grand conclusion, you’ll probably be disappointed. It’s not what this game is. Journey > Destination, etc.

Glad to see more people get into it. The ways in which the stories develop, twisting and bending, as they leave your hands and take on lives of their own–it’s really special.

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Oh man, I don’t think it’s available online but this was the first game I reviewed (for now-defunct british mag GamesMaster)

Been meaning to check back in on it. Had a few rough spots early on, but it was a wonderful travel companion - dipping into a few short stories as I took my own cross-country adventures

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I stopped playing this a while ago, no good reason why, I really enjoyed what I played. Maybe I’ll pop back on it and see where I was at :o

I’m streaming this today (Thursday 4/9/20) just for fun and also to check out more stuff to talk about for it.

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So after playing another few hours I’ve kind of come away with some more thoughts I wanted to post on this here forum.

I really enjoy the breadth of stories in this game. There are so, so many, and they’re really diverse. I think it manages to evoke walking across this whole big country and seeing and hearing so many strange things. I feel like they tend to lean tragic, but that could just be the run of stuff I saw or my headspace - the game’s themes feel especially prescient right now. Still, the breadth is just staggering and I feel like very little of it is uninteresting.

If I had a tip for anyone, it would be for those who live in the United States to try and travel to your home state, maybe your hometown if it happens to be on the map. Traveling to Tennessee and going from east to west, ending in Memphis, was a nearly religious experience for me, and brought me so much joy in this game (if you want to read about that more check my profile for a comment I posted about my Memphis-feelings). I understand not everyone will feel that way or may not have that kind of connection to a place, but if you do, I implore you to travel to it in-game.

The game does have its faults, especially in UX. I have, numerous times now, selected a story during the conversations with special characters unintentionally because I guess the game read my stick or button input too “hard” - I would shift my stick towards a category, press A, and then never see the list of stories in that category, as the game had selected one automatically. It was unpleasant. I also wish it was a little easier to know what “type” of story a given story is, because after being away for too long, I can’t really remember if “The man making molasses in the Southeast” is sad, happy, funny, or what. Others are really obvious, but plenty fall into this category where it’s hard to say what kind of story you’re about to tell your campfire companion.

I’m really curious to hear what others are thinking of the game as they go, and if they visit any especially memorable places. There’s been some rather recent conversation about Americana-type games after Kentucky Route Zero finished up, and I think this game is really in conversation with KR0. I think they both focus on the material lives of people and how little one can feel, and they also both serve up healthy portions of weird and supernatural occurences.

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I’ve played a small bit!

The set up seems promising. Although the mechanical explanation at the start basically spelled out what I figure the overarching themes are going to be. Power of stories, blurring of truth and fiction, how stories spread and change… We’ll see where else it goes. I started by heading down the eastern seaboard.

I’ve met two “important” seeming travelers with special intros, and I didn’t really have enough stories to tell them what they wanted. I’m feeling like I could just avoid these people and keep going around the country for a while until I have enough of each story type before approaching them, because it felt bad not being able to offer them anything. Although honestly nothing outside of these travelers has really grabbed me yet.

The game told me that the stories I choose to tell (to these travelers?) will get spread around, and I think I was starting to see a bit of that. It’s feeling like a lot to track though; I’m having trouble just trying to memorize all the story type symbols, so I can choose story choices that give me the ones I don’t have enough of. How’s everyone else handling all that?

About one of the stories: I feel like I’ve read more than one short story before about women with ribbons around their necks. Is this a really popular folk tale? It must be right?

Reading everyone else’s experiences, I think I hit some of the same confusion about story types that AirsickLowlander and Forrest did. So it’s not just me!

Yeah I don’t even try to memorize story types. You will naturally collect a broad array, and should relatively easily have one of each type? It’s just a matter of playing more. I do have a few categories that are fuller than others, but by just playing and collecting stories you will fill out the types.

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I started this just yesterday, but it’s already kinda interesting. I’m looking forward to seeing how some stories evolve. Minor complaint: wish there was a button to hide the UI and text and be able to look at the full art in these scenes, because they look great

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Been putting more hours into this lately, and it is quite a nice game. I’ve now traveled across the US and hit California, met all of the cast except two that I missed on the east coast. Haven’t yet finished any of their stories.

Not being from the US I can say that these stories at least are quite different than the traditions where I live. They’re fantastic(al) and tinged with a bitter humor. They feel drenched in the angst of folks who bet their lives on that promised land, only to be met with lies, hard work and injustice. It took many hours until this theme started clicking in my head, which does make the often tedious routine of setting off in a direction and after a few minutes get a snippet of a story, often similar to one you’ve already seen, mostly worth it. The amount of short stories, while individually often very mundane, start fitting into this greater whole. I feel like I’ve gotten a better understanding folk stories from, and the modern myth of, the US. How it all comes together in the title “Where the Water Tastes Like Wine.”

Not having finished any of the larger stories yet I can’t tell how I feel of them. What I’ve seen so far is well written. They’re a bit archetypical, although I know that’s by design and that it’s difficult to build entire lives in 200 lines of dialogue without relying on the reader to bring some of their own experience into it. On the east coast it was also funny to hit one story after another by games journalists that I know of.

Storytelling aside, there’s some good things about the presentation and some things that I had issues with. I generally like the aesthetic of the game. The 2D art is overall top notch, from the interface, to the individual cards for the shorter stories and the beautiful camp fire scenes. The 3D map is not quite as good but I like what they’re going for in terms of style, with a painted look. It’s just slightly too rudimentary to fit together with the story art. Maybe some more elevation could work? But representing huge stretches of land in a nice way is a problem that even massive games like the Civilization series struggle with, and this is a satisfactory look. The skybox here is particularly nice, if static.

The music is nice, but a bit too, uhmm, hoppy? given the amount of time you’re listening to it while walking. I’d often wish for a bit more mellow tune than something that wants to make me dance. It’s nice that it shifts as you cross state lines.

Finally, I want to say that I appreciate the amount of work that it must have taken to put all of this together. 237 short stories (outside of the larger ones), even if they are just snippets, with minor variations is a lot to put into a game. I’d be tempted to say that it’s too much, given that not all of them are super interesting, and quite a few of them much shorter than others. It’d even be tempting to suggest that they cut the number in half or, more realistically, a quarter, and focus more on those remaining, which fits with modern game design. But I think that’d be a mistake. The sheer amount of stories that move around common, large themes serve to reinforce them. Making fewer individual stories could make the moment-to-moment game more exciting, but remove this feeling of walking through a wide portrait of a country.

I appreciate that they went about it this way. It’s an impressive feat. After the initial hump I’m happy to have spent a lot of time with this game.

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