It is 2000 A.D. A war rages between the people of Earth and the Moon, a conflict that seems to have raged on forever. The title image for the game presents a fight between people of the different planets, the B-movie like tagline helping you gear up for what seems to be a retro action game.
However, while the conflict is important to the setting, it’s not the main focus. It’s not some action-y game as the image may lead you to believe. Instead, it’s a Twine game that explores life on both planets.
Tonight Dies the Moon is a Twine game made by Tom McHenry, made for Antholojam, which was organized by Zoe Quinn and Alex Lifschitz. The jam was basically a game version of those anthologies that have a bunch of short stories based around a unifying theme or genre. In this case, Tonight Dies the Moon was part of a good ol’ sci-fi anthology.
Starting up the game, you’re given the option to play as a human on Earth or a moon person (referred to as egal with “ger” pronouns). There’s actually a substantial difference between the two, not just in perspective and story but gameplay-wise.
On Earth, you play as a character by the BirthName of Lee Cathcart (though you can change it – which is actually a plot element) during their last day on Earth, planning to move to the Moon.
The Earth scenario plays as a linear Twine with branching paths to give exposition on certain topics. There’s an old adventure game score counter onscreen as well as a continuing option to change Lee’s ChangeName, though the former seems to be cosmetic. There are scenes in both paths that calls for more interaction than the standard Twine by asking you to type stuff, which makes it feel more engaging.
Before heading to the Moon, Lee does some mundane Earth things. They drop by their parents’ place one last time before heading to work, just chatting it up with parents while trying not to get anxious in light of their future plans. Their volunteer job is treated as if it was a 9-5 office job in spite of what it actually entails. While plenty of exposition revolves around the Earth and Moon conflict, there’s also exposition on some mundane things, such as male nurse sitcoms.
While the full circumstances of Earth life is unclear, it’s very much American-centric and boy is it a condemnation of America. Income inequality is an issue, with Lee’s father thinking that Lee’s generation is just looking for handouts. Lee themself has to room with four roommates, with money being a concern. This Americanized Earth has its own version of drone strikes against the Moon, but it’s so commonplace that volunteers do all the work, with paperwork required afterward as if it was just a mere business transaction.
If it weren’t for the whole war thing, the Earth route of Tonight Dies the Moon feels like a slice-of-life in the sci-fi genre, one that’s a bit close to our reality. It isn’t what I expected going in, but it’s pretty nice and an entertaining read.
On the Moon – or, Selene, as its people call it – life is much different. Communities of egals are gathered in domed structures, with various commissions overlooking aspects of life. As for you, you’re mostly going to be dealing with the Agricultural Commission, who you cooperate with for the sake of the community.
Instead of being a narrative-driven Twine, the Moon-route is more of a simulation game with occasional scenes happening. You’re in charge of a 100-acre land, with 90 acres dedicated to growing crops mandated by the Agricultural Commission to fight back against shortages while the remaining 10 are for your own personal profit. The Commission making money off of 90% of your labor isn’t a bad thing, however. In contrast to the capitalist Earth (labeled as “Before” by the egals), Selene embraces more socialist ideals. Education on the moon is said to be completely free, the player character never struggles outside of when they can’t afford personal crops and hey, people from Before are moving in for a reason.
Nothing’s stopping you from advancing in society, either. You can make some profit off of your own crops, with the grand goal of buying a ticket to Before as an apparent end goal. You can purchase more acres to use as well as improve the quality of your land. The latter is important, because quality affects how many of your crops can actually be harvested and keeping on top of that is a big deal. I didn’t pay attention to this the first time and I got stuck in a cycle where I was unable to raise enough money to ever improve land because the quality was bad enough that I could never sell anything. Also as a result of this, I could never grow crops in other areas, which led to multiple shortages that led to the game just telling me that there’s no way I can get any further without seeing things get worse.
Is getting to Before possible? I certainly tried to work my way up. I was around the 3000 range when it happened. The game had an abrupt game over as a strike from Before destroyed my domed home, killing me and all the other egals just trying to lead ordinary lives. Such is war. I’m not sure if this event is destined to happen and that I needed to buy my ticket before that time (assuming that it’s possible) or if it was random chance that decided the event that killed me.
Tonight Dies the Moon is an interesting Twine game and a nice take on a sci-fi concept. If I had any complaints, it’d have to be the fact that the game is restrained to a certain resolution; all that free space around the game just kinda bugs me.