The opening paragraph of Aunts and Butlers immediately sets the tone for this game: silly, jolly punniness played off of British stiff-upper-lipness.
The first part of the game succeeds in keeping up this atmosphere. You play an impoverished young man from a wealthy family. Your filthy rich aunt is coming to visit and you will have to jump through hoops to have a chance to get some money from her so you can pay your debts.
The puzzles are not difficult. The game pretty much tells you what to do, in a polite and British way. The implementation might give some troubles: when trying to interact with something, the game does not differentiate between an unimportant object or an object that is simply not there.
Up until here, I had great fun trying stuff out and breathing in the fresh British air.
Unfortunately, after solving the bottleneck-opening puzzle at the end of this first part, the game loses its ambiance and slides off into oldschool incoherent silliness (the bad kind). A medieval knight and a starship are involved, among other things.
In the hints for one of these rooms, the author writes that this room was coded at 11pm the night before IF Comp's deadline. I suspect that he turned to unfunny random madness as a last resort, pushing himself to get something finished to enter in the competition. Pity. I would have loved to see what this game could have been if it stuck to its first-paragraph principles.
"You can't judge a book by its cover."
Yes, you can. I judge books by their covers all the time. And by the size and type of font, the colour of the ink, the amount of whitespace on the page, the texture and smell of the paper, the illustrations if there are any, and any number of sensory details that influence my feeling about a book.
I wasn't able to ascertain the smell nor the texture of Harmonia's pages, but I found it an aesthetically pleasing work in all the other areas.
It has few but beautiful graphics that look like charcoal or leadpen drawings which complement the "old" feeling of the game perfectly.
Specific to the beauty of a mouseclick-driven text, the new paragraphs fade fluently into view, giving the eye half a blink's time to adjust and expect the coming words just before being able to legibly pick them out.
Perhaps my faux-tactile experience would have been even better if my cursor arrow were the nib of a quill pen, or the relaxed finger of a hand following the lines. Small nitpick, to be sure.
But of course, the saying has a point. No matter how prettily clothed and wrapped, the story must stand on its own when abstracted from all these adornments.
Harmonia surely can stand on its own. It is a SF steampunk time travel story looking back to the past. It makes excellent use of foreshadowing to heighten the suspense throughout, and adds a small twist in the end. The main character is a clearly drawn young woman with a strong voice. To talk more about the content of Harmonia would be to tell too much. Let the reader do the reading.
I do want to speak of the craft the author shows. It is considerable, especially in its pacing. As I was reading the first paragraph, I pressed "restart" after only a short while, having been tickled by the text. I sat down properly, took a deep breath and settled into a slow and focused mode of reading.
It's a treat to let the languid, comfortable sentences come over you at their own tempo; they have a musical rhythm that invites mumbling along or even reading aloud.
I should also like to dwell a short while on the form the author adopts in writing this story. In keeping with its inspirations, the late 19th century Utopians, Harmonia reads as a first person account of supposedly real events. In the principal narrative line, several other sources are found, read and discussed. Each of these in turn takes the form of an eyewitness account or a journal entry. Again, first person singular. These accounts are commented upon and annotated by other characters, or in the case of the main line, by the main character herself. The effect is that of a nesting or layering of first persons in dialogue, creating an intricate web of story threads.
Now, all of the above could as easily have been said about an ordinary, "static", work of fiction. Wherein then lies Harmonia' interactivity?
For one, it has choices. At my leisurely but concentrated pace, it took about two hours to complete one reading. In this time, I encountered but a handful of defining choices. (Beware, reader, for these are not accompanied by bells and whistles. Pause before you press.) As is my habit with these choice-based games, I only played it once through. I therefore cannot tell how far the other paths may diverge from the one I travelled.
Far more importantly in my impression were the annotations in the main text that come into view as mere scribbles in the margin upon a press of salient words. Because they are not present at the first viewing of the page before the reader, but only become apparent as one actively presses, it feels as though the character scribbling the annotation is reading along, and, at the click of a word, whispers side-thoughts and elaborations as one moves a finger along the lines.
This technique invites a deep engagement with the text, where the interactivity takes the form of discovering more profound meaning in a joint reading of the story with the characters that feature in said story. A vivid reading experience indeed...
This game written as a first person account contains excerpts of eyewitness novels and scraps of personal journals and annotations in the voices of the characters and whirls around and around... until the game recedes from view and one is truly immersed in the experience.
A superb piece of interactive writing.
Hi, I'm Jacqueline Beautemps. I'm a Canadian journalist working on a temporary visa for the Bolivian Herald. Until now, Ive been mostly interviewing the lovely Bolivan people and writing articles for the lifestyle, media and cooking pages. This morning however, our star political reporter seems to have gone missing. I feel the urge to investigate...
I could just as well have been Randy Froomes from the US of A or Miss Topsy Turvy from England. The game would have remembered these bits of information from the short application form to be filled in at the start, and numerous details and customized responses would have been altered in the game-text. Rarely have I come across a game where entering "personal" information at the beginning had such an impact on the feel of the experience. Most of the time I semi-forget who my character was and just keep playing as "me-in-game". Here I was reminded at numerous small instances of who my character was. This helped in feeling truly immersed in the game world.
The deep implementation runs throughout. There are paintings and photographs and murals and billboards to look at (many with an actual picture embedded in the game), books and newspapers to read. Very few of these are vital or even important, but they add up to a vivid world.
Bolivia by Night is not a puzzle-oriented game. Although there are puzzles, and a few clever and surprising ones at that, they are never meant to be brainstakingly hard. Instead, they are meant to make the player engage with the surroundings more deeply while never stopping the story from rolling forward. Indeed, the game actively nudges, nay, pushes you toward the solutions. By the third chapter, these nudges are given by a certain charismatic Communist leader on your t-shirt...
That is not to say that Bolivia by Night does not pose obstacles. The main challenge is sifting through the huge amount of information about the history of Bolivia and the relations between the characters to find out where the investigation will lead you next.
Who should I ask about what? Where did that character say she was going to be? How does this fit with what I know already?
During the five-chapter-long investigation of the disappearance of your colleague where you learn about ancient and more recent Bolivian history which is sometimes quite depressing, the game alleviates the darker context with many, many jokes (try walking into a Burger King with said charismatic Communist leader and see what happens...), and many beautifully written evocative references to the beauty of the land, the culture and the history of Bolivia.
While the game has a definite happy end (and a bad one), the story in which your adventure takes place concludes on a more open but still hopeful message.
What touched me most about this piece is the obvious care and love of the author for Bolivia that shines through the entire text.
A beautiful, exciting and moving game.
Opening up The White Bull, I was immediately drawn into the setting by a short musical score that helped set the mood. Important turning points in the story are similarly backed by an atmospheric musical piece.
A very promising intro: your girlfriend, a student of archaeology, wants to test her hypothesis that Minos' Labyrinth is not on Kreta, but on another small island in the Aegean Sea. Funded by her rich best friend, she has set up a private mini-expedition to investigate.
The White Bull is firmly divided in two parts: free exploration first, then a linear end-rush.
The first part has everything I adore in text-adventures. A large map which rewards careful exploration with wide vistas and seaviews. A diverse set of locations (beach, village, scrubby forest, rocky ridge,...) that still feel connected and natural. A few historical flashbacks/hallucinations to more clearly paint the context. And a few easy puzzles ((Spoiler - click to show)except DRINK FROM POOL to summon the Naiad; that was really underclued that give the player an early sense of accomplishment.
The objective in this part is gathering all the equipment needed for the next part. There is ample time to poke in all the nooks and crannies, get to know your fellow amateur archaeologists and enjoy bathing in the mythological atmosphere.
Having found all the requisite pieces of equipment triggers nightfall, the abduction of one of your friends and the switch to the second part (cue music).
Here you must enter the famed Labyrinth in search of your friend and rescue her. This part is mostly a linear series of one-room puzzles where you need the objects and the knowledge you gained from your previous exploration of the island. There is some truly exquisite and evocative writing here. Several rooms left a lasting visual impression with me. ((Spoiler - click to show)Ikaros Bound and Weeping.)
Despite all these great points, I found The White Bull to be disappointing. Partly, this is because my expectations were perhaps raised too high by the archaeology theme (Ancient Greek Mythology. Lemme at it...) and the game didn't quite deliver.
I also do think that there are several more objective criticisms.
The characters are underdeveloped. They remain hollow and flat. I had a hard time telling their voices apart. What depth the author tries to give them is through telling the player that they may have unseen qualities, without ever showing this in their actions or dialogue.
There is one brilliant puzzle in the Labyrinth-run ((Spoiler - click to show)The Cavern of Catwalks). The others are mostly straightforward applications of the objects you found in the first part. I felt almost as if I had been searching the island for a collection of coloured keys to unlock a series of coloured doors in the Labyrinth.
Disappointing puzzles and characters.
But also: very strong atmosphere and tension. Adventurous exploration of a great map. An interesting potpourri of Greek myths.
And some memorably vivid, evocative location descriptions.
Uncle Alky has invited you along for an initiation to some religious mystery stuff. There's supposed to be free food and drink at the party after, so why not?
The longer I was playing Eleusinian Miseries, the more I got the impression that a theatrical comedic play was unfolding before me, where I got to guide the unwitting protagonist through the unexpected ordeals and shenanigans of the story. Each act has its own storylet-arc, with its own obstacles and tasks for our hero. Once these are completed, the story is moved to a new stage with new scenery for the continuation. The geography of the game fits this interpretation nicely: each act plays in a very limited number of locations (where there is lots and lots to see and do).
Right from the get-go, the game hits the tickle note. Not laughing outright, I felt that readiness to laugh in my cheek muscles, an amused and expectant smile under the surface.
The room descriptions are delightfully elaborate and detailed. Their poshly cultured and high-brow tone is finely offset by the player character's self-admitted ignorance and casual disinterest.
The tickle note, once strung, reverberates throughout. The mood of giddy curiosity is sustained by the author's obvious joy (and sweat and tears, I presume...) in spit-and-polishing the details of the game. Practically all default responses have been customized to fit with the overall tone and the specifics of the game-state. Depending on the situation the protagonist is in at the time, the same command may have different responses, , regardless of the actual importance of the command.
The room descriptions remain funny in a restrained, understated way, delighting the player with a glimmering detail here or a surprising turn of phrase there.
The frequent intermezzoes turn it up a notch or two. In between the acts, when all present objectives have been met, the results of the hero's actions are shown in topsy turvy action-comedy scenes, not infrequently involving a mob of toga-clad ancient greeks toppling over and under each other or the accidental or voluntary dismembering of holy statues.
Finally, there are the instances where author and player work together to deliver the joke. Because of the involvement of the player, these are the funniest and most satisfying moments of the game. The author sets the stage and makes sure all the props are in their rightful place. The player goes about the preparation of the audience (herself) by exploring the setting and gathering the necessary resources, all the while increasing the tension. Then, at last, comes the release, where through careful experimentation and restoring or through a sudden flash of insight, the player puts it all together and delivers the punch line... to herself.
Many puzzles in Eleusinian Miseries are quite straightforward adventure-fare. Good, engaging, sometimes surprising. And some are of the variety described above. Very, very satisfying.
To cap it off, the finale is a hilarious (and impossibly hard) optimization game. (Be sure to SAVE the moment you arrive in the Bedroom). I spent about thirty restores and I still couldn't get rid of that one last thingy! Fortunately there's a very good gradual hint-system included. (And then I palmed my forehead...)
Wodehouse in Ancient Greece. Lovingly crafted, great atmosphere, immensely funny.
Being trapped ina single room with a bunch of puzzles is not normally my preferred cup of IF-tea. Lord Bellwater's Secret however managed to draw me in by the exquisite writing and the intruiging backstory.
The old Lord Bellwater has died and his estate has been taken over by his only son. Soon after your beloved Elsie took a suspicious fall out of a window while she was cleaning the study. You, an aspiring groom of the household, sneak in at night to investigate and clear up the muddy circumstances of your sweetheart's death.
The gameplay consists mostly of thoroughly examining everything in the room, gathering clues and piecing together the true happenstances surrounding Elsie's death, and the peculiarities of the young master's take-over.
I was amazed at the depth of implementation of the library, with more than a thousand books you can supposedly read, and the detailed backstory that is revealed in a large number of letters, texts and diaries there are to be found in the room. There are three code-cracking puzzles that require thoughtful handling of the written clues. The solutions should become obvious to the player who does the work and carefully investigates the entire room.
The game very believably breathes the atmosphere of the time-period it is set in, the middle of the nineteenth century. There are hints all over the place to the relationship between the privileged upper class and the "downstairs people".
Coincidentally, just a week before I played Lord Bellwater's Secret I had read the novel The Quincunx by Charles Paliser. I don't know if or in how much the author was inspired by this book, or if he even read it. It did seem to me that I had found a secret door into one of the most suspenseful scenes from that book, where I could place myself in the place of the protagonist. This gave an extra dimension of immersion to the game.
An exciting investigation that is sure to keep the grey cells working overtime for a few hours. Recommended.
Father Leofwine, the King's councillor and Queen's confessor, has been brutally murdered! Somewhat unexpectedly, the King chooses Cynehelm, his Tax Collector, to surreptitiously investigate the matter.
Cynehelm in his turn recruits an accomplice, Wulf, to do the stealthy legwork while he talks to the eoldarmen himself.
I love historical detectives. The (static fiction) books about Gordianus the Finder (Steven Saylor) and Brother Cadfael (Ellis Peeters) have brought me many hours of joy. From the first paragraph, I knew this game was right up my alley.
Father Leofwine is Dead begins with an intruiging "locked room" murder mystery and spreads out through the Castle, even the City. The story has two protagonists, and you alternate making choices for them. The different characters and social stations of the protagonists lets you see the the investigation through two different viewpoints, as Cynehelm is a member of the King's closest entourage, and Wulf is more at home in the backstreets and dark alleys.
I found it very well written and truly engaging. I'm not a completist in story-games, I will not go back and see all the different branches of what-could-have-happened. (I'll go back a page if I die unexpectedly, but I won't replay to see all the text.) This approach immersed me deeply in the story, laying a weight on each choice so it had to be seriously considered. To aid the player in choosing, there are many clues laid out in this story's pages. The mystery of course demands that the player differentiates between important clues and dead-end paths, a tricky but doable task in this game.
The writing is very good. There's a nice rhythm to the sentences and the historical atmosphere comes through without laying it on too thick. The suspense is sustained (even turned up) throughout the story, maybe even a bit too much. Perhaps one or two resting spots would have allowed me to catch my breath before diving in again.
The layout is great, the pages are the right length to draw the reader in while still presenting important choices to signal a new beat.
Some small nitpicks:
-I found it disorienting that the story is told from the 3rd person perspective of one of the protagonists, but that some of the choices inconsistently refer to a 2nd person "you". Either this is a remnant of the 2nd person IF-convention that slipped through, or it is a deliberate breaking of the fourth wall, acknowledging the player as the real decision maker. If the latter, it did not succeed as a style choice for me. If anyhting, it felt jarring to be adressed as player in a story I had been reading "from above".
-The writing is very good. Therefore, the typos are all the more grating. I reckon one per page. Pity.
Very, very intruiging historical mystery.
"Aquavit" is a liqueur that my grandparents would recommend if someone was a bit weak in the knees or fatigued. It means "life-water". A small shot of it would get you back on your feet.
Tex Bonaventure and the Temple of the Water of Life bears some similarities to that liqueur. It's short, strong and it picks you right up.
The entire game is one funny poke at Indiana Jones tropes. The deathtraps in the temple are not any more over the top than in the movies, but the descriptions (and the protagonist's reactions to them) make it obvious how improbable and inappropriate some of those movie traps are. I bet the designers of the boobytrapped temples could have made a good living designing text-adventures in the eighties.
What appears to be a funny comedy at first does reveal itself to be a clever little collection of interconnected puzzles. After dying a few times, I found myself taking the game a lot more seriously. It became a matter of pride to not let this Indie-parody mock me and my adventuring skills.
Lighthearted comedy at the expense of our beloved action-archeologist, good puzzles and a general tone of "Don't take things too seriously, and if you die, you can always undo." Fun!
I remember getting a very intimidating book as a present when I was a small child. I was amazed that it had more than a thousand pages. It seemed impossible that anyone would get through such a huge story. It turned out to be a "365 Bedtime Fairytales"-book, with a 3-page story for each night.
What was a relief in the case of the bedtime book turned out to be a disappointment in the case of Jigsaw, a game I had been looking forward to playing for a long time.
Instead of a sweeping epic story taking me past the turning points of recent history, I got 16 smallish (but hard) bedtime puzzles barely held together by an overarching plot. Just as with the bedtime-book, Jigsaw took a long time to finish. I would hardly call it a big game though. More a series of historical vignettes, to be experienced and enjoyed at the player's leisure.
As for the overarching plot, anyone's guess is as good as mine. Here's what I made of it: Black has a plan to change the past to mold the present and/or future to Black's priorities/preferences. You don't want that. (Even if some of the changes Black tries to make are really good ideas, like (Spoiler - click to show)preventing World War I...) Your task is to find and reverse the temporal disturbances Black leaves in his wake as he visits certain important times in the 20th century. Black's and your motives for all of this remain in the dark (to me, at least).
After a confusing introductory sequence (where you need to find an unmentioned exit to progress, not for the only time in this game...), you arrive in the central hub/control centre. From here you can access the different time-areas where you need to solve a puzzle.
Fortunately, the time-areas are mostly independent from each other. As you enter one, you should be able to find everything needed to fix the temporal disturbance. This makes the puzzles merely hard, instead of impossible. Allthough the number of rooms and available objects is limited in every area, you have to time your actions carefully and execute them in a particular order. SAVE and RESTORE are necessary parts of the gameplay.
Most of the historical vignettes were very enjoyable, clearly well-researched and very satisfying to solve. Some were either too hard, or were solvable but took me far into try-everything-on-everything terrain.
I missed a cohesive backstory tying this game together as a whole. However, it's well worth exploring and trying to solve the puzzles independently. As I said: very satisfying.
Whom the Telling Changed is a different kind of IF. I was enthralled by this story within a story on multiple levels.
Superficially, this piece is a retelling of the story of the Cedar Forest and the demon Humbaba from the Gilgamesj epic. An interesting tale on its own, and also of great historical worth, it being the oldest recorded epic poem known in literature.
The setting is that of a non-descript tribal shepherding and farming community somewhere in the Fertile Crescent, some 3500 years ago. A group of newcomers have arrived, and the tribe is stricken with fear. There are also those who are curious to learn, and see these newcomers as an opportunity. You play the role of one of them, standing up to your war-hungry rival Sihan.
The epic poems that survived share a great relatability, centering on the great human questions of life and how to respond to them. It is here that Whom the Telling Changed places its interactivity. While the Storyteller relates the story of Gilgamesj and his friend Enkidu, you are allowed to comment and interject, hoping that your questions and suggestions will lead the emphasis of the story in your preffered direction and so sway the people to your point of view.
I imagine this sort of discussion over the meaning of old and well-known stories during a ritual telling around the fire may have been very important in the decision-making of pre-literate peoples. We still see this in debating the "true" meaning of religious and ideological texts.
Indeed, this is the wisdom the Storyteller imparts: Stories are not true or untrue. They convey meaning to the listener who makes them so...
The game-aspect of the story lies in traversing the pre-existing (and perhaps known to the reader) story in ways that emphasise the peaceful or curious sides of our human nature, as opposed to the violent or fearful ones.
Or not. The player is free to explore all the different directions the story may take, thereby sending the attention of the tribe and the relation with the rival Sihan in different directions.
Apart from some standard parser commands which are generally not needed, the player is offered a range of topics to choose from in the form of highlighted words in the text. There is also the opportunity to PRAISE or MOCK other speakers, to get the tribe on your side. Be careful, this may backfire.
I found there was a very believable and focusing contrast between the strict ceremonial protocol of the Telling and the freedom to interject at almost any time during the story. The game refuses all commands that would take the protagonist out of the frame of the Storytelling, most times responding with a valid in-game reason. On the other hand, there is a combinatorial explosion of choices that can lead you through the main story in many different ways, evoking different reactions from the tribe along the way.
The writing is exquisite throughout. The author has adopted the style of the epic oral poem, with repetitions and formulas, but he has also adapted this into readable and playable written IF-prose.
A story to play and replay, and, for me at least, a reason to expand my knowledge of the source material.
Very interesting, very impressive.