After our interview with him, I thought the time was perfect to have an in-depth look at Coil, McMillen’s entry into this year’s IGF, which has earned it’s place as a finalist in the Innovation category. It was in this same category that Gish won in 2005, so it’ll be the second time should Coil win it this year. I touched a little on what I thought of Coil in the interview, but below is a far more detailed impressions, along with some rather pretty pictures if you get bored.
The first thing Coil makes me feel is stupid. At least, that’s once I found out just how the menu screen works. I would save the puzzle, but the main problem with it is that it doesn’t really work as it seems it’s intended to. Essentially you’re presented with a few lines of text, and two arrows following each other in a circle. If you mimic their movement with your mouse, you move onto the next section. The fact that this isn’t made clear at all doesn’t help much, and the fact that you can do it entirely by accident really doesn’t help. For a long time I just stared at it, thinking it was a loading screen.
Luckily, that’s really my only main gripe with Coil. The game tells a story of conception to birth, with you following the feotus through highly metaphorical stages of it’s growth, first taking part of the sperm that finds the egg, then sorting out the cells, and then slowly feeding and traveling your way to birth. Each ‘mini’ game introduces a different mechanic, and they relate, mostly abstractly, to the text, and thus, what the mother is doing. It’s powerful, confusing, provoking, and really quite creepy at the same time.
It’s obvious why Coil made it into the ‘Innovation’ section of the IGF. It’s far less a game and much more an experience; it doesn’t seem to be intended to be played more than once. While some of the mechanics of the minigames are entertaining, they work far better in the context the text preceding them provides, and while at first they seem cruelly short, by the end it makes sense; they’re more moments captured than anything.
This is all sounding rather pretentious, and there’s good reason for that; Coil is quite pretentious, but only in the fact that it seems to be made beyond the boundaries that normal games follow. Any progression is entirely linear, and while the experience you garner from it is your own, it is still very much tailored by how the game functions. It’s difficult to describe fully, but there is the feeling more akin to reading a book or watching a short film than playing a flash game, and that’s because your input almost seems not to matter. Each level is solved before long without a huge level of involvement on your part, and some of the levels have no clear goal.
Despite all that, it’s definitely something I would recommend people to play. It doesn’t take long, and it’s not a wasted experience by any count. But if you go into it looking for a fun distraction, you’re going to be disappointed. This is much more thinking man’s thoughtful expression through the medium of game than fun person’s clever mechanic. Or something.
Coil is nominated for the Innovation Award at this year’s IGF awards.