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Visual Novel / The Bottom of the Well

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The Bottom of the Well is a Visual Novel. Within the Framing Story of explaining a dream she had, the protagonist has to survive a nuclear attack and its immediate aftermath. The game is short, and is designed to be replayed — the game reacts to doing so, and you can't get the "true" ending without it.

The game was released in 2016 by Red Nettle Studio, and originally arose from a "Write a Game" challenge arranged by the IGDA Game Writing Special Interest Group (where it won first prize in the amateur category). It's currently available for free on Steam, and Google Play.

The game contains examples of:

  • Action Girl: Alice, potentially; it depends on where players put their skill points. If necessary, she can knock someone out with a crowbar and disarm gun-wielding bandits. Try this without the right specs, though, and it may go differently.
  • Artistic License – Nuclear Physics: The game is towards the realistic end of the spectrum; a lot of the tropes commonly wheeled out for nuclear apocalypses are absent. For example: no glowing green stuff (but plenty of grey radioactive ash); electronics being affected by an EMP; harm from prolonged radiation exposure rather than people immediately melting; no Nuclear Mutants.
  • Electro Magnetic Pulse: Near the start of the game, the nuclear bombardment causes electronics — such as Alice's laptop — to stop working. If players haven't already used the laptop to find the location of a nearby bomb shelter, it's too late to do so.
  • Framing Story: The game is basically a conversation between the protagonist, Alice, and one of her online friends. She describes a strange dream she had of her future, which was remarkably realistic and long-lasting. However, the framing story is played with — after multiple playthroughs (which the game is designed for), Alice gets the feeling that she's already told the story. Towards the end, the framing story becomes recursive — the Alice in the dream also had the dream (and had dreamt of a future self who had dreamt of a future self who had... etc...).
    Mad H: You retro-ante-actively re-remembered in your dream that you had this dream and therefore changed your life in order to have the real keys when you had the dream again? Or when it happened in real life?
    Alice: Exactly.
    Mad H: This is the weirdest goddamned dream.
  • Gainax Ending: The "true" ending — the one where Alice doesn't say she thought the Framing Story dream was "wrong" somehow — is also the strangest. It directly addresses the dream of the future by introducing a character who talks about Mayan prophecy artefacts, government cover-ups, and the like — but we still don't really know what's going on, or why Alice is involved in it. The conclusion of Alice's recounting of the dream to her friend — which has already changed as players finish and restart the game — is completely different, and ends with her realising that "the Rabbit" is free and logging off without further explanation.
  • Multiple Endings: There are different ways that the game can end. Besides the numerous ways that Alice can die without getting to the evacuation site, there are three different things that can happen there — she can find that she's been exposed to too much radiation and die anyway, she can be safe and yet have the feeling that it isn't the "right" ending, or she can find out (sort of) what's going on with the dream. The game encourages you to replay for different outcomes — in fact, you can only get a vital piece of information (a code for a keypad) for the "true" ending by having gone down certain death-causing routes in past playthroughs. (Certain numbers flash across the screen in their correct positions as Alice notices them in the dream; it's up to players to realise what they're for.)
  • No FEMA Response: Averted. While the authorities aren't on hand immediately, they do show up. For example, there will be vigilantes-slash-looters blocking a bridge if Alice gets there early, but if she gets there later (or can afford to wait), the military will run them off. If Alice survives long enough, there's an evacuation centre where people are treated — although they can't do much for people who've already received too much radiation, which (depending on player choice) may or may not include Alice.
  • Replay Value: The game is intended to be played through multiple times (and initial playthroughs will generally end in death — one of the achievements requires you to "explore the many ways you can die during the post-apocalypse"). The game knows how many times you've played, and changes in response — there are some things you can't do until you've already completed a playthrough in which you couldn't.
  • RPG Elements: While basically a Visual Novel, there are RPG-like systems like character skill points. Some of these reflect abilities (like fitness) while others indicate character history (like how strong a relationship the protagonist has with her boyfriend). The game uses a dream of the future as a Framing Story, and player customisation choices are integrated into that future (so if players invest skill points in fitness, Alice notes that she must have taken up running at some time between "now" and the time of the dream).
  • Safe Zone Hope Spot: A comparatively mild version. Alice can learn of a bomb shelter which would provide protection from the impending nuclear attack, and presumably contain supplies, but there are two problems. First, it's under the control of a self-appointed leader and her thugs, who aren't happy to share it. Second, sheltering there leaves Alice trapped by rubble after the bombs hit, with attempts at escape being potentially lethal (one of them involves digging through piles of radioactive ash, for example). Later on in the game (or quicker, if players don't go to the shelter at all), Alice gets word of a government-run evacuation site further towards the edge of town; this time, it turns out to be exactly as advertised, perhaps surprising more cynical players — although just because Alice gets there, doesn't mean she hasn't already been exposed to enough radiation for it to be too late.
  • World War III: The start of a nuclear war (apparently between the United States and Russia) is the cause of the story. The city in which the protagonist lives is hit by nuclear detonations, and she needs to survive both these and the aftermath — radioactive ash, looters, and such. (It isn't quite a full-blown After the End, though, since it doesn't stretch past the initial emergency response phase, and civilisation doesn't actually collapse.) There's no background as to how it happened — there's brief early warning of the attack, but no explanation of it.