Recently I came across a notice on IndieGames.com about a new IF game called Gun Mute. It was written by Pacian, who had previously authored the IF games Snowblind Aces and Poizoned Mind. I don’t think Gun Mute was part of any of the recent IF competitions, and it didn’t really get much mention on rec.games.int-fiction, but regardless it seems to have garnered a bit of publicity around the net — in addition to IndieGames.com, it has also appeared at places like Gnome’s Lair, TIGSource, IFDB, and Mobygames. Rightfully so.
Mobygames provides a nice one-liner about the game:
Gun Mute is an interactive fiction game set in a futuristic, post-apocalyptic western environment, mixing traditional gunslingers with mutant cyborgs and toxic lakes. The player controls Mute Lawton, a man of few words who wants to prevent Sherrif Clayton from hanging his friend Elias.
I thought I would bring up this game for a couple of reasons.
First, it’s a fascinating little game. It’s short, and can probably be finished in about a half hour, but it seems to do a lot in such a small package. It unabashedly pronounces, “It looks like you’re going to have to shoot some people,” and it is true to its word. But although my first thought on reading this was that it would probably just be a dull translation of a shooter game into text format, Gun Mute suprised me by doing a lot of things right. Even though the game comes across as very simple with a focus primarily on shooting, the game still spends a good deal of its time on characters and puzzles — and although neither is very complex, I was left with a sense of satisfaction about both. The multiple romances that were included added a nice (and unexpected) touch as well. Interestingly, the location structure and movement mechanics gave me the sense that Gun Mute was almost like a text version of a rail shooter, as the player proceeds linearly from one location to the next, advancing once the bad guys are dispatched. That’s something that I hadn’t really experienced before in an IF game, and I thought this game did it well.
Second, I think it’s a timely game given Emily Short’s recent blog about ideas for IF games. In that post, she talks about how new avenues in IF can and should focus on developing new mechanics for gameplay, rather than on new content per se. One way of doing that would be to center the game around new IF actions, or even standard ones that haven’t been explored very deeply in previous games. Gun Mute does this to a certain extent in a few different areas. For one, it focuses on the verb SHOOT as the main mechanism for advancing the narrative. And even though there is no hand-eye coordination involved, unlike what most gamers are used to in games that center around shooting, it makes up for it by presenting simple puzzles that act as “gates” that need to be solved in order to achieve the ability to fire. For another, it presents a variation on the typical IF room structure, in that each individual room (or location) in the game represents an independent, complete puzzle that stands on its own. As such, the game de-emphasizes the typical movement (compass) commands, which are so integral to most IF games, and replaces them with the simplified FORWARD and BACKWARD commands. Initially, I thought this would be a detraction by forbidding exploration, but in the end it makes the statement that the player is on a singular path towards his goal and I found that it worked really well. Finally, by presenting the player character as a mute, the game also eschews any of the common conversation mechanisms and instead forces the player to communicate with physical gestures such as NOD, WAVE TO, and POINT AT. Even though exploration through movement was deliberately left out of this game, this alternative mechanic for communication did, in the end, allow for some exploration of hidden content, and I found it to be clever.
This is not to say the game did not have some weaknesses — I had some trouble figuring out what I needed to do at the end, for instance — but there are few and they are easily overlooked by the overall quality of the game.
Gun Mute is a short, concise game that is cleverly constructed, well-written, and fresh. I enjoyed it, and would recommend playing it even if you’re not a big IF fan, and even if you haven’t played a lot of IF.
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