Reviews by Sam Kabo Ashwell
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Related reviews: childhood, setting, spring thing, science fiction, SF, fantasy, make-believe
Citing Ray Bradbury as a primary influence, this feels very much like a SF short story from the 50s or 60s, the sort of SF you could make a movie about without any need for a special effects budget. The protagonist, a child, lives with his parents on an island across the bay from Astro City. Earth is at war with Mars, and the protagonist plays make-believe games based on this distant conflict. But then a rocket-man washes up on the shore, and reality and fantasy intermingle. (There is a general feeling of WW2 fiction here.)
Though capable overall, both the writing and the overall design have some rough patches. The prose feels a little first-draftish in places. Most of the gameplay is quite narrowly focused -- probably too much so, in the make-believe sequence -- but there are a couple of points where the solution is a little counterintuitive. The denouement is rather heavily foreshadowed, the protagonist is perhaps a little bit too much of a Disney innocent. But there are many gleaming moments here, little bursts of rich, world-grounded imagery that make this feel less like a fantastic piece and more like a childhood memoir.
As science fiction IF goes, it's uncommonly good in that it has its feet planted on the ground, it grasps and is concerned about the flight-of-fancy aspect of the genre.
An entry in the horror-themed EctoComp, which requires games to be written within a three-hour limit. The usual SpeedIF qualities apply: synonyms are largely absent, the writing could do with a little editing, and the one puzzle suffers from guess-the-phrasing. Keep the walkthrough handy.
Blue avoids SpeedIF wackiness, aiming for a sweeping SF plot -- a hazily-defined plague of worm-like parasites collapses human civilisation, but the protagonist has managed to lay hands on a rare, stupendously expensive android. He could upload himself into it, or use it to save his infected girlfriend. (Spoiler - click to show)If he saves himself, it turns out that the rest of humaity chose a different way to save themselves. There are some minor obstacles to this, but it's essentially a grim-choice kind of game.
The game tries to avoid Usual SpeedIF Wackiness in favour of grim survival-horror and dark irony. (There are strong overtones of Vonnegut.) It's not wholly successful at this: the writing veers into the vague and overwrought a little too much to be really convincing, and there's so much crammed into a rather limited space that some crucial elements lack the time to breathe. Still, a good attempt at a difficult proposition.
Heliopause looks, on the surface, like far-future SF. It's a veneer. A very good, lovingly crafted veneer, rich with knowledge of astronomy and the knowing evocation of tasty SF tropes; but the heart of the game is fantasy, and this is understood, and it's very adeptly handled.
The framing of the story makes it clear that we're dealing with a tall tale, a reliable signal not just of narrative unreliability, but of entry into realms of Story where versimilitude is beside the point. The threefold repetition, the fisherman's-wife motif of a fourth greedy wish cancelling the previous three, the three gifts whose use emerges only at the moment of crisis -- these are solid motifs of the fantastic, and deftly employed. The protagonist gives lip-service to the idea that he's collecting stuff for its unique scientific properties, but really what's being sought isn't something with a technical application so much as Herodotean wonders.
SF treats space as a rational quantity to be managed in some way or another: an ocean to chart, a frontier to advance, an empire to administrate. In Heliopause, space is the Great Forest of Arthurian knight-errant and Grimm fairytale, or the ocean of the Odyssey: anything might be encountered there, but you won't be able to plot it on a map. The principal controls, which you're given enough time to figure out intuitively but not enough to really master, feed into this feeling, as does the low-level approach to scenery; the standard IF game encourages a rather Aristotelean, sift-through-lists approach to one's surroundings, but this feels more like fable than fieldwork. The problem with this in a game context is that things end up feeling quite linear; the sense of vast possibility in the early stages gets closed down towards the end.
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