The yearly Interactive Fiction Competition is here, and open for judging until November 15. This year I’ve had time to play and judge about twenty games, and want to squee about one I particularly liked: Please Sign Here by Road.

This is a game that tackles some pretty ambitious themes: racism, compassion, and police brutality. It manages to pull them off into a slick and polished 1-hour-visual novel.

You play as Jackie, a white girl barista being interrogated by the police after a series of murders, all truck drivers found delivering a package with your signature. The game flashes back to the last few days in the coffee shop you work at, reliving events and trying to see if there’s anyone suspicious who might have tried to frame you. Playing the game, you get to experience being stalked and harrassed and frightened at work; the player character has every reason to be jumpy and paranoid. And yes, you can throw a random POC under the bus and the police will happily arrest them instead of you.

It’s not the sort of subject matter I usually see in games. It’s also rarely handled this well. There are about a dozen endings. It’s disturbing enough to make the game worth playing (I didn’t figure out the mystery on my first playthrough).

It’s not perfect (there’s at least one minor bug where a flag is checked but never set if you open a certain package), but the music and visuals are stunning and add to the game’s mood (the contrast between the cozy coffee shop and the creepy suspense sequences is especially nice) without dominating the game. This is still clearly interactive fiction. Mechanically it can feel like you have little agency, but how Jackie behaves– how rude and judgmental she is to others, how diligent she is in investigating what’s going on– affect the game and plot significantly. It’s a game that stuck with me for a while and I’m very glad to have played it.

It reminded me a bit of Sierra’s Dagger of Amon Ra (designed by Josh Mandel, who I worked with on Hero-U, with the themes of racism/police corruption/framing. That game, in the context of Darryl Gates getting hired as a Sierra designer, holds up differently now. But that’s another long story.

Some other games I liked were:

  • Barcarolle in Yellow. A parser-based text adventure evoking Italian thrillers/sexploitation. Buggy (there’s not a lot of redundancy with the parser commands), but creative.
  • Xanthippe’s Last Night With Socrates. A choice-based Ink comedy, mostly a fictional dialogue between Socrates and Xanthippe the night before his execution.
  • To Sea in a Sieve. My favorite puzzler so far this year; dump pirate treasure off a sinking lifeboat.

IFComp is open for judging until November 15th.