Squared in the end

[SPOILER ALERT: This article contains several spoilers.]

You’ve probably noticed that most of the games I’ve been writing about here have been created using Adventure Game Studio (AGS). No doubt, it is very popular among amateur adventure game authors, and it’s become especially so because of the games that have been crafted using it. Though other authoring systems exist that are as freely available and powerful as AGS, having very few games made out of them which showcase its capabilities can sometimes spell the difference.

Coffee table from Sofia's Debt

Take for example the Spanish mini-adventure Sofia’s Debt, which was written using the Wintermute game engine.

In this game, one plays as Ana, a soon-to-be single mother who worries what would happen to her pregnancy given her tragic family history: both her mother and grandmother, having been mentally ill due to a rare form of schizophrenia, committed suicide shortly after giving birth. Ana has just come home from university, seeking to get some rest and relieve some of her boredom. This is where the game takes off.

As the game progresses, the player is provided a glimpse into Ana’s life through her belongings and her phone conversations with her friends. The player also learns the tragedy behind her grandmother’s life and death through an almost realistic written diary, filled with her thoughts as she went through the stages of her supposed mental illness. The game ends in a crescendo when Ana determines what she needs to do after learning all that has happened in her family.

Sofia’s Debt is a first-person game similar to Myst and most of Jonas Kyratzes’s games. The inventory is shown by right-clicking, and the objects may either be examined or used by moving the cursor over them and right-clicking to rotate between a magnifying glass and a gear wheel.

Surreal painting from Sofia's Debt

The game’s graphics, except for the Dali paintings and the “Rafaelesque” head painting, seem to have been rendered using Terragen, given its 3D-like quality. Though examining the lamps reveal that they provide dim lighting, I did not get that impression – Ana’s room looked sufficiently bright (there is, of course, another lamp on the ceiling) that all the corners of her apartment were fully lit.

The background music was haunting, enhancing the undercurrent of fear running throughout the game. It even featured soundbites of songs from famous plays such as Miss Saigon and Les Miserables as soundtrack CDs that can be played over the radio. There are times when the music can be a bit jarring (such as when reading the grandmother’s diary); nevertheless, it did help in reinforcing the game’s mood and tempo. The various sound effects (the phone ring, the weird sound from the door) also helped in building up the suspense.

Sofia’s Debt is, in the words of the author himself, a mini-adventure. The game is short, and what makes the experience fleeting is the fact that there’s not really much to do in a one-room apartment. Ana’s room is very spartan, consisting only of objects that are necessary for a working university student. Talking on the phone involves reading an entire bulleted conversation – no choices are provided to try steering it towards another direction, which leaves the player little choice but to plod on.

What I liked in Sofia’s Debt is Sofia’s story itself – it was surprisingly fleshed out and believable. Sofia’s characterization was even more fleshed out that Ana’s, though there had been only hints on this from her phone conversations. Another thing I liked is the suspense – the “Twilight Zone” feeling I went through was close to the one I felt after playing Andrew Plotkin’s IF piece Shade.

If you’re ever in the mood for a short somber adventure game, try Sofia’s Debt. If you’re looking for something scarier or more terrifying, try renting a horror movie instead.

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