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Strip ’Em All – The Self-destructive

The Egocentric - Strip Ém All - Logo


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 the helpful 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 to 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 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 we nevertheless fail to make a meaningful comic out of them.

Clicking the girls seems like a good way to proceed. Hmm... Clicking the blonde girl does have an effect but not in every panel. In the transformed panels, she turns to a ghostlike and slimmer 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 fatter version of herself.

After a bit of experimentation we conclude that there appears to exist (at least) three versions of every panel.

Strip em all - the self-destructive - click path

The three versions and their click paths.

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.

Strip em all - the self-destructive diet pill version

The diet/sugar pill version. The sugar pill is clickable but useless.

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 blonde 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.

Strip em all - The self-destructive vision of slender girl

The blonde girls is now depicted as the imaginative vision of her imaginative vision ... huh? Two hotspots have been marked out!

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.

Strip em all - The self-destructive depressed version

If the lecture in the third panel is giving you a headache, how do you think the blonde girl takes it? Luckily there is an escape route in the next panel ...

If this comic has a punch line, it can be found in the third panel rather than in the fourth and last one. Perhaps the fourth panel really isn’t the last oneafter all? Well, we press the publish button and as we get a somewhat informative message, we take that as a verification that the order is correct.

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 mouseover 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.

Strip em all - extended version

The escape route going too far! Or for you, the player, the bridge to a brand new panel set.

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.

Strip em all - The self-destructive - overdose

The new panel set is at first concealed but an investigation brings up some strong hints on how to proceed.

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 blonde girl but the dark-haired girl 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-haired 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.

Strip em all - The self-destructive - blurry girl

Finally having realized that she was always standing in our way and blocking our view, the blonde girl has placed herself flat on the floor.

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 blonde 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.

Strip em all - The self-destructive - The Light Switch

The magic switch is the magic key to this game!

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.

Strip em all - The self-destructive - Daniel Ahlgren's letter

I would not bother looking for that comic if I were you. It’s a plain copy of an old Peanut strip but made unreadable by the self centered change of topic.

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.

Strip em all - The self-destructive - Fading make believe friend

The spooky transformation of the dark-haired girl.

Let’s turn our attention to the dialogue. The dark haired girl is talking to her unconscious 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 blonde girl. The tragic story is comically convoluted. The blonde 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 comics’ over the top representations of a narcissist and an egocentric individual.

Strip em all - The self-destructive - death of make believe friend

The peculiar speech bubble.

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 and 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-haired girl should be fading away as well!

The dark-haired 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 blonde 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 an 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.

Strip em all - The self-destructive - Final comic

The Self-Destructive.