This is the sixty-ninth entry in the Scratching That Itch series, wherein I randomly select and write about one of the 1741 games and game-related things included in the Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality. The Bundle raised $8,149,829.66 split evenly between the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund and Community Bail Fund, but don’t worry if you missed it. There are plenty of ways you can help support the vital cause of racial justice; try here for a start. Lastly, as always, you may click on images to view larger versions.

Once more, the random number generators have picked something from the Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality: Hope’s Peak, by KalleMacD (AKA Kalle MacDonald). Its tagline in the bundle reads:

A mystery told five paragraphs at a time.

I considered writing this post five paragraphs at a time, but couldn’t figure out how to make that work. You win this round, KalleMacD.

Hope’s Peak is a work of interactive fiction, made using Twine for the Mystic Western Game Jam. Curious about what exactly Mystic Western means, I read the jam’s description and found examples instead of explanations: things like the 1995 film Dead Man, which I vaguely recall the Netflix algorithm trying to get me to watch years ago, and which I now regret not watching since it’s not on Netflix anymore. Other examples include Alejandro Jodorowski’s famously weird 1970 film El Topo, and a short film I’d never heard of called Canyon Candy. The latter has a particularly impressive musical score, and a little further research revealed that the film is actually a companion piece to the music, which is all taken from the Canyon Candy EP by the band Javelin. So, now I have a new band to check out! If the the idea of some country and western cowboy music sampled and cut up in imaginative ways sounds interesting to you, definitely give Canyon Candy a listen. Here’s an example.

But back to the Mystic Western Game Jam: the theme struck me, basically, as the classic Western genre mixed with the surreal or supernatural. A selection of the entries were to be shown at the Marfa Film Festival, in an actual desert in west Texas (I presume this actually happened, but I am not certain). All entrants were given a “secret ingredient” that should be included in their entries: the constellation. Developers were free to interpret this however they wished.

Hope’s Peak opens with a simple message: “The Constellation brought me back to life. The Constellation made me undying. Why?” What follows is a narrative mystery of sorts. Set against an impressionist painting of the red hills and plateau near the titular town of Hope’s Peak, with the ever present sound of the wind, players pick from one of three keywords in order to read a short paragraph of story, before being given another choice of three. After making five choices, Hope’s Peak ends, but players may restart to search for more clues. At first, I found this structure odd, because the paragraphs were unrelated to one another. I wasn’t so much following a story as I was reading five disconnected vignettes. Then I realized the the point of Hope’s Peak is to cycle through many times and look for more clues among these short chunks of text. Essentially, to find all of the paragraphs.

Once I got used to this, I came to like the structure. I wanted to learn more about the mystery of the Constellation, but most of the time the protagonist is just dealing with daily life in Hope’s Peak. The residents have it hard, struggling to farm crops in the arid soil, or taking up ranching instead while trying to fend off cattle rustlers. The sheriff has his hands full with bandits and barfights alike. Sometimes the protagonist is helping the sheriff track down bandits, or sometimes they’re just helping out on someone’s farm, or playing with some kids. Each paragraph is short, often just a few sentences, but each reinforces a wonderfully cohesive tone and sense of place. I felt I knew the town of Hope’s Peak and the mysterious protagonist of this story after a short time with the game.

Eventually, cycling back through brings diminishing returns, and since the paragraphs I’d already read are not marked in any way, I ended up repeating a lot of them (especially if I’d forgotten the paragraph’s title). Often my choices were all paragraphs I’d read before, and sometimes the same paragraph showed up twice among my three choices. I think I’ve now found every paragraph, but I’m not certain, and I wish I’d been able to unravel more of the mystery. Those looking for clear answers from Hope’s Peak will be disappointed, but those coming in looking for a specific mood and atmosphere will find it in spades. The fact that I went through so many times searching for more tidbits of narrative is a testament to how much I enjoyed the writing. If you fancy a bit of mystical Western, Hope’s Peak is worth a brief chunk of your time. If you missed it in the bundle, it’s available for any price you wish (including free).

That’s 69 down, and only 1672 to go!