Strip ’Em All – The Self-destructive
Play Strip ’Em All,
the story building game where you use psychology to solve puzzles and play with comics!
Play The Self-destructive,
the fifth game comic in Strip ’Em All!
Now it is time to ramp up the difficulty a bit! Skilled players were sometimes able to complete preceding game comics in just a few minutes and this was especially true if the publish button was (mis)used. We decided to reduce or eliminate its helping comments. Clues should stay inside the comic itself. After all, one explicit goal of the game was to encourage careful analysis of comic panels (both picture and text) as we felt that comics are often too hastily read.
While we had the drawn panels and an initial story ready since long ago, I was given free reins to make a game out of them. As the comic was only four panels long, it should allow for more intricate problems and game mechanics without getting totally out of the player’s hand. At this time we had also strongly considered the game’s potential for detective puzzles. As a result this game comic turned out markedly different than our previous efforts. There are many more objects for the mouse to interact with and the feel of the game is much closer to traditional point & click adventures. Sequencing panels is still important but the overall structure is also different. There are several comics to form but while only one is correct, the others are not really wrong alternatives but rather preliminary parts.
Let’s start then! While looking over the start panels, we don’t see any obvious misfits but nevertheless we fail to make a meaningful comic out of them.
Clicking the girls seems like a good way to proceed. Hmm... Clicking the blonde girls does have an effect but not in every panel. In the transformed panels she turns to a ghostlike and thinner looking version of herself.
The pill bottle is obviously of central importance to the story. It is visible in all the panels and if we click on it, there is a change to the speech bubble of the same panel. The appearance of the bottle also changes slightly. The pill itself is only visible in one panel and there is a corresponding change in its appearance as well. More strikingly, if we click on a bottle inside a panel with the ghost like girl, she turns back to her solid and fat self.
After a bit of trial we conclude that there appears to exist (at least) three versions of every panel.
Let’s leave out the ghost girl version for now. The difference between the two other versions seems to relate to the content of the bottle. As the bottle is seen from the front in two panels and from the back in the other two panels, it is not possible to pair all four panels solely from visual appearance, but from the text we gather that it holds either diet pills or antidepressants? While it is not always clear to which category a panel in isolation belongs, we should manage to sort them out by trying them together. We manage to make the comic below.
The punch line makes us realize that the bottle does not really hold diet pills. We press the publish button and relish at finally getting an informative response. If the punch line somehow escaped you before, it should now be clear that the bottle actually holds sugar pills! Note that the dark haired girl does not seem to be genuinely concerned about her friend wasting money or failing her diet; it’s rather about being in authority.
Now we click on the blonde girl and this time it is possible to do so in all four panels. We’re not really seeing a ghost but instead the dark haired girl’s imagination of the blond girl after a successful diet. (Note that this connection can be used to sort out the diet/sugar pill set.) We get a coherent comic without rearranging the order of the panels and therefore press the publish button again. The resulting message is questioning the realness (or is that reality?) of the girls’ friendship.
The slim, transparent body reveals reasons to stay around for a while. In the second panel (the one where she is about to swallow a pill), a table and what looks like a letter is now visible behind the blonde. A mouse rollover displays the magnified letter. We can get it even more magnified by right-clicking the panel but still it is hardly readable. Is the letter signed by Daniel Ahlgren, the comic artist? If only the blonde girl could disappear completely, this could make for an entertaining read!
A switch is now clearly visible in the panel that displays a ceiling lamp. We naturally click it and sure enough – the panel turns dark and so do the panels that follow this panel. Let’s make all panel dark to see if anything happens. Not really, so we switch the light on again. But wait, something happened in the dark after all – there is now a note on the fridge. A mouse rollover displays the text: “To do! Remember the magic switch!”. A clue that the switch may come in handy again.
Pleased with all our discoveries, we move on by clicking the bottle in all four panels. The slim vision disappears and we are left with the antidepressant version of the panels. Ordering these does not pose much of problem. From the text in the first panel it is obvious that this story takes part a while after the sugar pill story. Again, the dark haired girl makes a less than favourable impression on us.
If this comic has a punch line, it is rather in the third panel than in the fourth and last. Perhaps the fourth panel really isn’t the last after all? Well, we press the publish button and as we get a somewhat informative message, we take that as a verification of the correctness of the order. If we have not already tried to click on the pill, the message encourages us to now do so. The result is subtle but clear enough. The rough vignette looking border of the panel vanishes - the depression has been alleviated! But the speech bubble also changes and the selfish and insensitive nature of the dark haired girl is on the contrary stepped up a notch. As we click several times she goes from bad to worse to actively cheering suicide by overdose. Considering the title of the comic we heed her advice and finally the panel turns pitch black. If we happen to rollover the now hidden dark haired girl, a speech bubble is displayed with a scornful: “Oops...”. Perhaps we now possess the proper fourth panel? No, the published comic should be able to stand on its own. A reader without your experience would not be able to understand the displayed comic. If we could save the panels from the pill popping sequence and if we were able to make a ten panel comic, we would indeed have a comic that somehow reflects the title.
But that’s not possible and accordingly the sequence should better be viewed as a bridge to an altogether new panel set. Quite likely we have been clicking on the pills before we actually laid any coherent comics and when that pill panel was not the fourth and last panel. If we clicked on the sugar pill, nothing happened. If we clicked on the antidepressant pill, we noticed a change, and perhaps not only in the panel itself, but also in one or more of the succeeding panels. A bit of experimenting would have proven that, quite logically, only panels of the antidepressant set were affected.
Then let’s make an overdose set by placing the pill panel first in a line of antidepressant panels (never mind the order). As the pill panel has been effectively killed, we will first have to start all over again. We do this by entering the title screen and then return to the game. The eventual outcome is four pitch black panels. Every panel, however, possesses a rollover speech bubble. The dark haired girl is seemingly alive and well. She thrives in having the stage all to herself and like a diva she now demands the spotlights.
Remember the magic switch? Perhaps it cannot merely turn dark to light but also switch the subjective perspective of the comic. The blackness reflects the overdose of the blond girl but the dark girl, though, looks on the bright side of life. If we had spared the switch panel, we could have tested this theory. Let’s start all over again and this time we place the switch panel first and the pill panel second. We create three black panels and then make the switch visible by clicking the blonde girl while she is holding the diet/sugar pill bottle. We hit the switch to put the lights out and then hit it a second to put the lights on and - lo and behold – we get three brand new panels. The blonde girl is lying on the floor in one panel and has vanished altogether from our view in the other two. The dark girl remains intact or is she really? There is a vague blurriness to her appearance. We could go on examining these panels but it already seems clear that we need all four panels changed to make a new comic.
This creates a conundrum. The switch is only accessible from the slim girl panel version, which in turn requires the diet/sugar pill panel version, but we need the antidepressant version for it to be affected by the pill clicking. That leaves us with no switch in the end and we will be stuck with four black panels? Not necessarily, behind the black cover the blond girl should already be lying on the floor – i.e., not blocking the switch! We give it another try and once again we place the pill panel first. We also note the position of the panel with the switch (although, of course, hidden at the moment). When all panels have turned to black, we instead place the switch panel first and then start to search its lower, middle section to find a mouse sensitive spot. Yes, it’s really there! We hit the switch and all four panels now belong to the lit overdose set.
It’s finally time to familiarize ourselves with these panels. We cannot help out of pure curiosity to first turn our attention to the letter. It is now clearly readable and it is indeed written by Daniel. If we read between the lines, we gather that the blonde girl has been sending him fan mails with a hint of romantic aspirations (God knows why). Daniels reply is however deeply selfish - almost rivalling the dark haired girl in its tactlessness.
We then click on the blonde girl in the one panel where she still is partially in view. Nothing happens. The bottle is seen in the same panel. Maybe, we can still change it to a diet/sugar pill bottle and awake the poor girl (who is merely a victim of the autosuggestion of her vivid imagination). No, good idea but it does not work. (Author’s note: perhaps a feature worth implementing?). Let’s try the dark haired girl next. Yes, in this panel set she is the clickable one! Clicking her accentuates the dissolving of her contours. After three click she has vanished too. As the sequence can be cycled, it is however possible to bring her back again.
Let’s turn our attention to the dialogue. The dark haired girl is talking to her unconsciousness companion. It may take a few reads to grasp the implication of what she is saying but a peculiar speech bubble in one of the panels finally erases all doubt. The dark haired girl is not a real friend; she is not even a real girl; she is merely the product of the blonde girl’s imagination. The peculiar speech bubble makes it clear that it actually speaks the last words of the blond girl. The tragic story is comically convoluted. The blond girl has self-destructed by conjecturing an imaginary friend who self-destructs by making her creator self-destruct. By any means, to think up an imaginary friend to bring you down is certainly an over the top illustration of the concept “self-destructive” and much in the vein of the previous game comic’s over the top representations of a narcissist and an egocentric individual.
Figuring out the relative order of the three panels that contain a speech bubble is easily done. The panel without a speech bubble could perhaps work both at the first or last position? Let’s return to the clickable dark haired girl. If the blonde girl finally dies in the panel with the double arrowed speech bubble, she must be dying in the two previous panels and accordingly the dark girl should be fading away as well! The dark girl can be shown in three more or less dissolved states and the order of these states should match the order of the three panels. In the panel without a speech bubble, she should fittingly be entirely gone. All that remains is a picture on the wall. It depicts the overjoyed blond girl at her fifth birthday and is intended as an emotional closure. Right click on the panel to examine the picture in more detail and perhaps you will find something that relates to the story. By the way, it would make sense to let the last panel be a unlit & black panel and it would not be totally unreasonable to have the time-of-death panel as the last panel (which would force the speechless panel to the first position). Viable options but not optimal in our view. Note that the resulting comic does manage to stand on its own. Sure, it is not an easily digested four panel strip but that is kind of the point – the story is a puzzle in itself.