With Those We Love Alive Analysis


With Those We Love Alive is a twine game crafted by interactive fiction master Porpentine. It’s short and good.

Ah, but let’s dig a little deeper.

Porpentine’s writing is short, punchy, and emotive, giving the game a dreamlike quality that reflects its themes nicely. Color, music, and some clever delay timers are used to powerful effect to enhance the quick sentences and eldritch descriptions. The game does have a bit of a second-act lag that I think is intentional, but nonetheless can be a bit of a slog if you can’t stop exploring.

Most of the game is spent alone, in an unwelcoming and mundanely horrific world, but the game picks up steam when you’re interacting with NPC’s – the great and terrible Empress, her attendants, or the friend who comes in at the start of Act 3.

Lesson 1: Aimlessness is OK

Much of the time in my games, I’m focused on giving the player incentives to follow the narrative through-line, to get them to act as the character would. In worrying about hooks and drives, I’ve lost a little bit of the fun of exploration, which is well-suited to quiet moments where your goals aren’t explicitly set out by the game.

While being generous with the aimlessness, I should also keep an eye on play time and juicy interactions. If I repeat an action over and over again, is it at least a little fun each time? Or does it get grindy and repetitive? Is the change something easy to see and interact with, or is it hidden?

Lesson 2: Cheap, but Effective

The music, color, and timer shenanigans that Porpentine uses in With Those We Love Alive aren’t exactly rocket surgery, and would be pretty cheap to reproduce. Maybe nothing like the quality and intimacy of Brenda Neotenomie’s soundtrack here, but a little bit can go a long way.

Lesson 3: Grabbing from a List

One of the ways to help aimlessness feel full and voluminous is to have a lot of different possible results from a few simple interactions (the telescope in With Those We Love Alive is a good showcase for this, as is the item-construction sections). It’s cheap, but effective, to generate a list of possible results for one action, and then code them in. They needn’t be elaborate or load-bearing: a little context and flavor is enough there.