Friday, April 26, 2024

On "Sudden Death" by Cecile Richard, nat_pussy, and isyourguy

As a fellow gay Australian Rules Football gamemaker, I am honor bound to write about Sudden Death by Cecile Richard and nat_pussy with help from isyourguy -- a 30-45 minute "romantic sports fiction" interactive fiction / visual novel about an underdog Aussie footy team doing crimes and gayness. Yet beyond matters of honor and gayness, there's still plenty more to recommend about it.

Sudden Death was originally released for Domino Club, an occasional month-long game jam with anonymous submissions. Eventually you're allowed to out yourself -- turns out the now-revealed Cecile Richard and nat_pussy have made lots of Bitsy and Twine-like works already, and all that experimental queer storytelling experience shines through here.

SPOILER WARNING: vague spoilers, nothing specific.

First, a mild content warning: may contains some traces of Australians.

Non-Australian readers may have a little trouble parsing some of the slang and context here. Much like one of those old-timey serious printed novels for adults, it's not going to tutorialize itself, and sometimes you'll just have to figure it out. Mercifully, the text does unpack some Aussie Rules mechanics, though even the most loyal US Bluey fans won't know what a "speccy" is. (Noun. A "spectacular mark", an especially acrobatic catch when jumping off the back of another player.)

But it doesn't take an Irwin to understand the core premise here:

On a low-tier loser pro sports team, there's these two players Mitch and Jordan. Mitch is the honorable captain of the team, while Jordan is a trickster hotshot star. They want to win, but they also want to fuck. Can they have it all??

Overall it does a lot in such a short runtime. There's some funny worldbuilding around the fictional Unlimited Football League and its own club system replete with thirsty fan commentators, as well as some apt sports-anime philosophical musing on the nature of luck and legacy. This story isn't just about the team, but also about how society has shaped athletes' lives and expectations. Later the narration even slips into a sort of metatextual screenplay mode, exposing its ambition and cinematic scope.

The interface and overall presentation are very well done, contrasting with a visual novel genre that often just reskins the same menu button layout over and over. Instead this feels like a grungey photocopied Metal Gear Solid zine, with clever use of audio and photos that climactically explodes into a stark Universal Paperclips Evangelion dashboard parodying a second-screen sports fan app. Again, very well done and very smart.

If there's any area to critique, it's the ambiguous ending act, where some key events are left more to the reader's imagination. Winks, even charming gay winks, aren't quite enough to distract from wanting to know what happened.

At least it's a good problem to have. The ambiguity works in its own bittersweet way. You'll get over it. Life sucks (you off) and then you die (suddenly).