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All Talk, All Action

Exeunt Omnes is a small part of a larger picture. For the characters, their adventures are coming to a close as the curtains begin to fall. But the player has just stepped in, right here at the end... and as the villain.

Already the premise is engaging. Many stories end with the villain trying to talk their way out of the hero's "justice," but no other game that I know of allows you to take the reigns of that conversation in a rational plea to spare your life.

And that's the whole plot. It sounds like a simple story, and it is, but the best part of such small indie games is the ability to look at a situation and say, "How can I represent this mechanically?"

The system is a little complicated at first. You're thrown right in, and that's fine--I don't need my hand held. There's a Help menu that can get you through some of the finer points, but half the fun of an innovative system is to explore it like you would a jungle.

You realize pretty quickly that Villain (a stoic, but not emotionless young woman) has presented her final point and is now arguing, step by step, why her conclusion is true. The conclusion she is advocating is that she should walk away from the encounter with Hero unharmed.

I can imagine what fun the creator had setting up this argument, mapping out every possible branch, then placing them within the game's 2-D space so that only certain points are within reach of each other. And like a true transport from reality to game mechanics, the Topical Zone is what really holds this concept together.

When trying to convince someone that you're correct, it's impossible to sound sane if you scramble from topic to topic like you're picking different flavors of jelly beans from a jar. The Topical Zone (not to be confused with a level from Sonic the Hedgehog's Library Adventure) is a beautiful representation of this fact. It ensures that Villain doesn't try to prove her point by talking about shared memories one second, then talking about what are socially excepted business practices the next.

But the Topical Zone also introduced my first issue with Exeunt Omnes as a game system. Within the circle, it's possible to back yourself into a corner you can't escape from. Unless I'm completely wrong in how to play the game, there are times when you've exhausted every argument within your circle but can no longer move the conversation back to where others are in reach.



I've lost my train of thought. Please don't mind if I stare at you silently for a little longer.

This could be a single bug, or a single misunderstanding on my part. In other parts of the conversation, when I've exhausted all of my arguments, I get "warped" back to the heart of the conversation; it's essentially a restart. But the idea of being helplessly cornered in your argument is actually beautiful! And despite my paragraph on this issue, this "cornering" is not my problem with the game. My problem is what it stemmed from.

Even if you, the player, can predict what arguments you can use to rationalize previous statements, there's no way for the player to predict where that node will appear in 2-D space. Whereas in real life we may make a claim knowing in advance what the next argument is, in Exeunt Omnes there's a touch of memorization to it. You sort of have to remember from failed attempts how the conversation actually maps out.

One of my favorite parts of the conversation is near the southern portion where Villain and Hero discuss how society pivots on a sort of axis. And, brilliantly, four nodes appear that serve as examples to support this. It's truly excellent. But there was no way, as a strategist, I could have predicted that when I said Point X, I would be given Points A-D fanning around Point X to the bottom-right corner. Nor can I know what nodes will appear when I claim Point A instead of Point B.



None of the writing fails to impress. This line in particular is gorgeous, even out of context.

This all wraps to the Topical Zone. If you have no idea where you're going when you are talking to Hero, the Topical Zone stops being a realistic representation of how to converse and starts becoming a prison you can only escape by having had the conversation once or twice before. What should be a planned path of conversation navigation (I nailed that rhyme) turns into trial and error with a few caveats.

And there's really where my complaints on the mechanics end! It's a tough "fix," too, but I can easily see why it's not so much an issue as it is an aspect. The nature of semi-memorizing to win gave the conversation replay value, which is important to get to the multiple endings. That's lovely. But I didn't like feeling as though I was traversing through the conversation blind the first few times. To win by knowing how the conversation was mapped during previous attempts implies that Villain was in some way psychic, and to win by clicking a new node and hoping it opened up better nodes would imply that Villain was a master-class bullshitter (which I could believe just fine).

Everything else about this game is excellent. The UI could benefit from some upgrades to help direct the player, but the way the argument is represented physically is exactly what it needs to be. Furthermore, the two ladies and their accompanying portraits gave the game a touch of worldly flavor that couldn't be done with text alone. It's not visually striking, nor varied, but you don't hire a plumber for their flamboyance or innovation; you want the plumber to get the job done. (Plumbing is an art.)

The writing is the real hero in this story. Every line has been picked specifically to make the system work. Not only can you see how the logic of the conversation ticks, but you're still in that conversation. There is no separation of mechanics and narrative. The "battlefield" simply couldn't exist without this specific conversation happening between these two people with their shared history at this exact time. That's good.

Each subtle persuasion is relevant to the action the player has just taken. And, more importantly, the writing of that action is eloquent and brief.

However, all of that goodness is kind of disheartening for me; I would really love a longer game with an entire narrative that had these arguments as the "conflict system." But, unlike other systems that handle the mechanics of how things should be done, this system requires the what of it. That means that every what needs to be spelled out for every conflict--or to put it differently, you can't structure a new "battle" without fully structuring an entirely new conversation from every angle. It's very much a double-edged sword from a design point.

Exeunt Omnes has what I'd call a "soft touch." There's something subtle in its approach that resonates deep within you like the vibrations of a church bell. It's beautiful in the way that an engineer sees the schematic for a wind turbine as beautiful, but it's also beautiful in the more conventional sense.

The music keeps the tone exactly where it needs to be: somber and thoughtful. There are no vocal clips and that's just fine. The pacing of the conversation would likely suffer if it became audible.

In short, I want this creator to perfect this concept, extend it, and sell it to me. That's all I'm really trying to say here. But until then, I loved what I've been given and I'm absolutely recommending it as one of my favorite games in the Indie Game Maker Contest 2014.

Posts

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Thank you so much for this review. I wish there points with which to disagree, so that I could scoff and throw my hat at you, but your criticisms are pretty much spot on, so I will have to tip it instead.

Improving the flow of conversation is the main thing I will be working on and I welcome all ideas on that matter.
In the original - and future - game concept, you can plan much more ahead of time: your character can learn the main topics on the map in advance (and make guesses about their opponent's opinions on those, so that one can try to estimate the sequence of deductions needed to win), and only smaller nodes, shortcuts and bonuses are to be discovered on the way depending on the character's skill in improvisation.

As for the getting stuck, this is probably something that I should have made clearer, but if there are links leaving the topical zone you can click on the link itself to move toward the argument, and in the worst case wait as the zone centers more and more on the last things that was said. There are still fails when a link crosses the topical zone by 2 pixels so you can't reach it but it prevents the reset to the center. Reset which won't exist in future games, by the way - it felt a bit like a cop out. I'm hoping that more opponent interventions and the possibility of inventing fallacious links will solve that trapping problem, but I'd love to hear other ideas.

In any case, thank you so much for taking the time to review the game in such detail, and for you very generous appreciations on it all! With such encouragement, you can be sure that perfect it I will.
CashmereCat
Self-proclaimed Puzzle Snob
10522
Darn, I'm pretty sure I wanted to create a game like this. Probably means I'll have to play this game. A favourable review from Merlandese means it's actually good. I just hope I don't get too jealous.
Haha well I'm planning on releasing the engine and editor at some point so anyone can improve on the concept, so I'd be glad to see you make a game in that spirit. Since there's no real genre for rhetorical games yet, I see it more as a collective research effort than a competition, so any contribution is more than welcome, from ideas and suggestions to whole new games ;)
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