Have You Played… A Wolf In Autumn?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day, perhaps for all time.

David Szymanski makes short games that experiment with interactive storytelling in ways that are usually fascinating and often creepy as heck. On the rare occasion I meet someone who has played through his back catalogue, The Moon Sliver is usually the game we spend most time discussing. I find my mind returning to A Wolf In Autumn more often though. It’s a very strange game and I don’t think it’s entirely successful, but it’s a beautiful and thoughtful thing well worth playing.

Szymanski makes games that raise questions. The stories are sometimes vague – in fact, I think part of his process is to create interactive stories that are mostly about searching for meaning and sometimes failing to find it – but there’s a beauty and a sadness to his best work. It feels odd to call them horror games in a way, even though A Wolf In Autumn is definitely unnerving and occasionally goes right for the jugular, because for all of their sometimes violent and frightening processes, they often have something gentle at their core.

The same is true of some of the best horror fiction, of course, and perhaps I’m being cautious about the term ‘horror’ because that so often means jumpscares and hide-and-seek. The horrors here are often unseen and you have to really squint to even see their shadows and silhouettes. But they are very real.

There are free games as well as commercial ones on Szymanski’s itch.io page. I haven’t played most of the interactive fiction but Fingerbones is a good starting point among the free stuff.

6 Comments

  1. Jalan says:

    He’s also making DUSK (I realize this is obvious by the Twitter username, but still).

    That said, I enjoy his games (probably not to the depth he wishes, but what can one do in that regard) but his public responses don’t necessarily make me enjoy him as a person (again, what can one do I guess – thankfully there’s no mandate that says I have to like a developer to like their games).

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  2. quasiotter says:

    Yes, I love his games, but I prefer The Music Machine by far—one-bit-ish colours, silly dialogue between the two main characters, and some lovely scenes. I guess I had a difficult time with The Moon Sliver due to the obvious Unity terrain, and it was quite confusing (ought to have more than one playthrough). I like A Wolf In Autumn because it doesn’t always use the “find this one particular item to advance.”

    I’ve e-mailed him and he said play the games in this order: Fingerbones, The Moon Sliver then The Music Machine (these last two are connected), then A Wolf In Autumn. He was really generous with writing back to me, and I love his interaction with the public, so I’m at odds with Jalan above. Maybe there’s things I haven’t seen? Oh well.

    • Caradog says:

      That red coloured, “skyscraper” level in The Music Machine is genius; it still lives somewhere in my imagination.

    • Jalan says:

      Person-to-person interaction with the man is/could well be a different story (full disclosure on my part – I’ve never contacted him directly for any reason). My having mentioned some of his less than agreeable comments made at various points (YouTube channel videos where his games have been subjected to review, forum posts, etc.) also wasn’t meant to otherwise paint him as some insufferable git like some developers tend to be.

      While I don’t have total recall of his responses, just trying to go back and recollect some of them do suggest (to me, at least) that he was making knee-jerk responses to criticism against his games. Having been in a similar position in the past, I can understand where he was coming from. That said, whether his responses are more measured now or not (though I hope they are), it isn’t exactly the type of thing that welcomes people into trying out his games if he’s taking the “you just didn’t get it” route (similar to the one developers like Tale of Tales like(d) to rely on) when those people are being honest in their experiences of his games.

      • quasiotter says:

        I see, thanks for the clarification. I’ve only seen his interactions on the Steam forums of his games and his Twitter page. I avoid YouTube playthroughs and such so maybe I didn’t see what you saw. That’s okay, I feel happy about what I know about him :)