What do you get when you strip an RPG down to its most basic elements? A story narrated via a linear procession of events which a player will inevitably force himself through, much like that in The Linear RPG, a new "art game" by Sophie Houlden.
The Linear RPG is exactly what it sounds like: Straight-line movement through a series of unchanging events that weave the tale of Kliche and his battle against the forces of evil. Controls are simple: The right arrow key advances players through the game while the left arrow moves back, affording gamers the opportunity to grind for XP. And believe it or not, it will be necessary; battles occur automatically as the player progresses, inexorably whittling down hit points, while experience points accrue and levels are added.
It's an amusing story, featuring rainbow-farting pegacorns, a shampoo dungeon, a bad guy in a leather bikini and alphabet spaghetti with the power of second sight, but more interesting is the way Houlden has managed to nail down the purest essence of the RPG: A relentless grind to the end of a simple tale. Even the writing, a bit dodgy throughout, is an appropriate if unintentional metaphor for the RPG experience.
Comparisons to Progress Quest are inevitable but while both are satire, The Linear RPG offers a more engaging experience because it is, by a loose definition at least, a "real" game. Nothing happens without player input, and players are free to move back and forth through the game as they see fit, fighting enemies and building up their stats to allow them to advance more easily through the later sections of the story.
The game was developed for the RPGDX 48-Hour Jam, a two-day effort running from "whatever time you wake up on Friday the 27th to whatever time you go to bed on Saturday" in which participants create a playable RPG based on the theme of "Lo-Fi." Interpretation of the theme was up to individual creators and collaboration was encouraged; with no voting and no winners, the jam was not a contest but a chance to indulge in some short-term, anything-goes creativity.
I achieved level 47 by the end of the game. How high will you go?