Detective Jay Schilling has been hired to solve a mysterious kidnapping in this entertaining parser adventure that combines the best of Robb Sherwin’s wit with Mike Sousa’s rock-solid programming skills.
Imagine ordering the world’s most delicious pizza only to be told you’ll have to wait an entire year for it to be delivered. Exactly 365 salivating days later, the pizza arrives at your front door. Giddy with anticipation, you grab the box from the delivery driver and run to the dining room. As you open the cardboard lid, billowing steam sticks to your glasses as the smell of your favorite toppings tickle your nose. The first bite tastes so good it hurts the hinges of your jaw. You don’t fully appreciate how delicious the first slice was until you start on your second, which somehow tastes even better. Unable to stop yourself, you reach for a third slice and that’s when you see it — a lone hair, resting on top of the pizza.
Now, some people might stop eating right then and there. Others might call the restaurant and demand a replacement pie, even with the knowledge that it won’t arrive for another 365 days. Me? I’m flicking that hair aside and diving directly into slice number three. We’re talking about the world’s most delicious pizza after all, and I’m not going to let one stray hair ruin the experience.
In a way, that’s how I’ve come to view many of Robb Sherwin’s works of interactive fiction. His plots are so unique, his worldview is so cynical, and his writing is so pleasantly sardonic that when I come to those occasional hairs in the matrix, I don’t stop playing. I merely flick them aside, refusing to let them ruin my meal.
In Jay Schilling’s Edge of Chaos Sherwin teamed up with fellow IF author and coder extraordinaire Mike Sousa to leverage the best of each other’s talents. I don’t know if there’s an official breakdown as to who did exactly what, but each bite of the game tastes as if Sherwin’s deliciously chocolate humor has been poured over Sousa’s peanut-buttery solid framework, creating the world’s first Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup of interactive fiction development. Depending on your previous experience, you might describe the game as either one of Sousa’s funniest, or one of Sherwin’s most polished. Either way is a win for gamers.
In the game players become Jay Schilling, a down-on-his-luck and internally-flawed detective who schedules meetings with potential clients late in the day at the local petting zoo not because it’s good for business, but because he’s so sure they won’t show up that he doesn’t care much. Things turn around for Schilling when a potential client not only arrives, but offers him a single Bitcoin to help find a missing person. What the client doesn’t know is that Jay Schilling lacks even the most basic tools most detectives possess (a computer, a cellphone, a gun, a bed, empathy…). What Jay Schilling doesn’t know is what you, the player, will spend an hour or two uncovering.
Jay Schilling’s Edge of Chaos is designed for beginning-to-intermediate interactive fiction adventurers. Despite enjoying text-based games I’m notoriously bad at completing them, and I only got stuck twice. (A walk-thru is provided.) For the most part, the game plays nice and errs on the side of simplicity. The surprises come not in difficulty of the puzzles, but in the narrative itself.
Despite the game’s potentially large setting, Jay Schilling’s Edge of Chaos never lets players stray too far off course. Goals are clearly presented for each scene, and once they have been accomplished, a new one is revealed. I personally love this style of gameplay. While everyone has their own tastes, I would rather spend my interactive energy figuring out what to do and how to do it over guessing where I am supposed to go next and what I’m supposed to be doing. While fans of sprawling game worlds and ultimate freedom may not enjoy the game’s linear progression, I enjoyed knowing what I was supposed to be doing at all times, and how that task fit into the game’s overarching story.
By the conclusion of the game, I deemed Jay Schilling’s Edge of Chaos — and the Sousa/Sherwin partnership — successes. Sousa’s experience with the TADS programming language shows, with no instances of “guess the verb” or wonky loops popping up during my session. Sherwin’s never-ending stream of pop culture pokes (in the petting zoo, the peacock ponders whether or not it should cancel “Community” again) makes every morsel of text enjoyable. Not everyone loves Sherwin’s biting zingers, but those who do will find themselves examining every object and talking to every NPC (human or otherwise) just to find more of them.
At the conclusion of Jay Schilling’s Edge of Chaos, players are presented with a list of amusing actions to perform at different points throughout the game. Of the 20+ suggested actions, I had only tried two during my initial playthrough. It’s the perfect way to build replayability into a genre not typically designed for it, and I immediately restarted the game with the goal of overturning every rock to find what lies beneath.
That’s how much I enjoyed this Sousa and Sherwin combination pizza.