At the moment, there are four comics available for everyone to have a go at, as well as a tutorial panel that will help explain the basic mechanics. The idea is that you rearrange the panels of a comic strip so that they match the title of the comic. Not only that, but you also have to click on certain areas of the panels in order to radically change the dialogue, and sometimes the entire pictures, so that they fit into the narrative and reach the desired result.
Conceptually, the idea is pretty fantastic, but there are some pretty obvious flaws in how its been executed. For a start, its not made obvious which parts of the panels are clickable, and so you have to meticulously scan them until your cursor indicates to you that something is clickable. Theres really no need for this to be a challenge for the player, and it makes the whole experience drag.
Spatiality, speed and abstract thinking play a major role in most computer games, while comics rather invite to close reading and psychological interpretation. Ola Hansson, of the game design company Athletic Design in Lund, has spent much time ever since his novel Kameleont Killers (1994) on thinking about ways for computer games to include also the strengths of comics.
When the core gameplay involves trying to find out what version of each panel you need and what order they go in, the last thing the player needs is to be finding out where they click on the picture to find all of the available versions of it. Not only is this unnecessarily laborious, but it means that players can get frustrated if they missed one of the clickable areas on a panel and cant figure out how to solve the panel because of it. This happened to me a couple of times and could easily be resolved by making it clearer, perhaps with colors or bold outlines, just what has to be clicked on the picture to find its other versions. The interface shouldnt be an issue in a game like this.
That aside, Strip em all is actually very, very clever. The first three panels are quite similar to each other and will give you some decent puzzling for a while as you ponder what order the panels go in and what versions you need to match the title. You can abuse the Publish button during these panels too, which basically gives you a hint as to whether youre on track or not.
The fourth panel, on the other hand, is utterly flabbergasting due to how clever it is. But theres a problem: its hugely complicated, and no one could probably ever work it all out without this walkthrough.
Im serious. Athletic Design have managed to make a comic panel have its own multi-tiered narrative by breaking down the limitations of normal comic strips and discovering what game design can add to it. In fact, its one of those games that keeps getting deeper, and what emerges is something that could totally blow your mind in how it twists the narrative inside the same four comic panels. And thats why its such a shame that, at the moment, its near darn impossible for anyone except the creators to work it out without someone guiding them through it. Somewhat ironically, this panel is called the The Self-Destructive.
Several new mechanisms are introduced, and the many different strips that can be formed contribute clues to both the creation of the final strip and to a larger story that encompasses all the possible strips, including the tragic ending.
Theres too much reliance on the player seeing the most tiniest change up in visual details, and none of it is helped by the fact that its not made obvious what you can click on to change each panel. Sometimes, the interactable areas of different clickable things merges, so youll probably just believe its all just part of the same thing when, in fact, there are two, and you need all of them to be able to progress. Much more play-testing and tweaks adjusting to that needs to be made; I dont know why theres an effort to try to hide whats so clever about Strip em all behind obfuscated interfaces and far too many easily missable changes that are vital for the player to find the solution.
Thats a shame because with the right user-friendly design, this would be absolute genius, and everyone could recognize that.