This piece is an almost purely literary IF short story, to be read mainly for the mood it evokes.
It’s set in a wintry czarist Russia, in the kind of aristocratic milieu you find in Tolstoy’s novels.
The PC is a gentle soul—one of those nice guys that really weren’t made for duels at dawn, at all—who has lost everything that made his life worth living. The main NPC is his much more cheerful good friend, both of them fairly convincingly portrayed, short as the work is.
There are no actual puzzles in the work, though it can end happy or unhappy. However, the unhappy ending is certainly the most satisfying one (artistically speaking),giving the whole work a suitable and very nice closure, while the happy ending leaves things pretty much hanging in the air.
Nevertheless, the piece is worth some replay (or re-reading), even if you’re not hunting for the happy end. After you finish the game, the author suggests some amusing things to try on replay. Actually, though, replay offers more than just a little extra amusement, since the small IF world of this work proved richer than at least I first thought. Also, poking around a little in it can reveal aspects of the plot that may not have been obvious on the first reading.
Since I called the work “literary”, it may be as well to stress that it achieves its artistic effects by means specific to interactive fiction: a transcript of a play-through of the work would not have the same literary qualities as the work has in (inter)action.)
The author tries to tell a very definite story without puzzles, but with full interactivity preserved—even in the flashback scene! Since there are no puzzles to lead you on through the plot, you can, if you wish, obstruct and prevent the story from proceeding for as long as you wish.
In this particular piece I didn’t find this possibility a problem. Why should the player/reader of a (good) work of IF want to be deliberately un-cooperative? Perhaps an IF-author has a right to assume som edegree of “willing suspension of disobligingness” on the part of players, just as an author of non-interactive fiction can assume suspension of disbelief on the part of readers?
This SF piece is definitely worth reading and playing. The PC is a young boy sent on a mining mission on a spaceship under “punishment regime” by his father to make a man of him. (Settlers are much the same, it would seem, whether in 24th century Space or in 19th century Old West.)
Apparently, Wigdahl is a professional programmer and a veteran Infocom beta-tester, though this is his first work as IF-author. And it’s a very well-told and well-coded story, indeed; actually, the telling and coding is rather better than the story itself—which makes the reading/playing experience a curious mixture of satisfaction and (relative) disappointment.
In particular, I found the central puzzle somewhat disappointing, partly because it sins again the degree of realism already established in the narrative—it’s simply unbelievable that the engine of 24th century spaceships would employ a mechanism anything like this—, partly because (Spoiler - click to show)the puzzle is a quite hard and quite old one that many players will have learned from logic and lateral thinking puzzle books already as kids, probably making it virtually insoluble to some and really trivial to others.
At his web site, Wigdahl states that the whole piece was conceived and realized in three months (in time for the IF Competition), so there simply can’t have been very much time left for story and puzzle design. I do hope he got hooked on writing IF, for I would love a long series of works of his with puzzles and stories to match the execution.
By the way, Grounded in Space also has an interesting formal structure: its level of interactivity increases as the story progresses. The transition between these levels never feel contrived or unmotivated; on the contrary, they correspond well to what might reasonably be required from the PC at different stages of the story (so much so that I suspect this formal structure was not intended by the author but dictated by his material).
The story thus begins in ‘linear’ mode: it will unfold very much the same whatever you do. This linear opening serves as an introduction to the rest of the story, just as the first chapter of a book or the opening scenes of a play or a film normally does. In the case at hand, it introduces the player to the personality of the PC and explains what an inexperienced kid like him is doing all alone aboard a spaceship a long way from home.
The linear section is followed by one in ‘hypertext’ mode: i.e. you choose freely what to read and in what order. This hypertext section allows you (and the PC) to become familiar with the environment (the spaceship Marryat) and with your supposed task aboard.
To my mind, these first sequences very successfully sets the mood and premises of the work. (Perhaps, to a die-hard IF gamer as opposed to a willing IF reader, the may seem too long or irreleant or boring or whatever. I really wouldn’t know, since I am the willing reader. and I enjoyed these sections.)
Then finally you enter the properly ‘interactive’ mode in a section that leads up to the peripety of the story and the central puzzle. And after that there are several ways to bring the story to several distinct, more or less happy conclusions