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Ulterior Spirits

by E.J. Holcomb

Science Fiction

(based on 7 ratings)
4 reviews

About the Story

On a peaceful multispecies space station, an aging admiral is haunted by strange messages and visions of a long-dead enemy. "A Christmas Carol" meets "Mass Effect"... with bonus evil cat aliens!

Game Details


21st Place - 26th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2020)


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Number of Reviews: 4
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Most Helpful Member Reviews

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
Great art and visual design, but it was difficult to get into the story, October 12, 2020
by autumnc
Related reviews: ifcomp 2020

I wanted to like this game more than I did. It was clear that much effort went into building the custom UI, worldbuilding, and so on, but I feel like the story didn't quite live up to what I expected based on the blurb.

The blurb describes it as Mass Effect meets A Christmas Carol, and in broad strokes, it's kind of accurate. The protagonist is an admiral for the Coalition who fought in a war against an alien race, and now the Coalition is sanctioning the aliens. The admiral is pushing for harder sanctions. Then an infiltrator hacks her computer and showing her images of the past, present, and future, possibly in an attempt to convince her to vote against sanctions.

As usual in stories with tons of Worldbuilding, the sci-fi jargon and alien species got kind of overwhelming, and even with the pop-up hints (which were a great effect), it was difficult to keep up. It was difficult to get invested in the story; Mass Effect gave us dozens of hours to establish the world and why we should care about these people/aliens, while this is a one-hour game. At the end I didn't know what to think about the aliens or whether sanctions were good or bad (and the player doesn't explicitly make that choice anyway).

I liked that the protagonist was an older woman and a mother. These traits are still uncommon for video games protagonists. And I liked her relationship with her son.

In the end, the visions were all for nothing; the admiral voted for harder sanctions. Maybe there are routes that are different?

The game was created in Unity, and the art and interface are superb. I didn't like the slowness of clicking through; there was too much friction with the animations and having to click to advance every block of text. It discourages me from playing a second time, which I now really want to do to see if there are different possible outcomes, and to see if understanding the world makes the story easier to follow.

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Strong story, weak interaction., December 1, 2020

Ulterior Spirits is a choice-based work created with Unity.

This entry uses graphics, sound, and a futuristic presentation to support a story on a space station populated by aliens and robots. A lot of background material is necessary to introduce the laws, life forms, and technology of this world, but smart design choices bring readers up to speed without being invasive.

While popup windows appear instantaneously to give more detail about races and technology, the story itself is revealed through individual paragraphs of timed text. I wish I could have experienced the main story at the same speed as the background reading.

I needed time to get invested in this entry's narrative, but that investment paid off. Nuanced characters with understandable motives acted out a story arc that ended in satisfying personal development. I enjoyed it as an immersive work of fiction supported by well-timed, illustrative artwork.

However, an immersive work of fiction is not the same as an interactive one. Some choices were obviously meaningless, only altering a single line in the next passage or responding with text that ignored the choice completely. Most passages ended with simple "click to continue" buttons.

Although I tried to make choices as a level-headed senior officer, I suspect that I would have seen similar outcomes from the wild and impulsive options. It was still enjoyable, and I'd recommend it to others.

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A Unity game with good graphics and UI about a threat in space, October 8, 2020
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 1 hour

This game is written in unity, and, unlike most IF games written in unity in past years, it actually makes good use of the processor-intensive engine.

Itís a very slick design with hover-over links and a sidebar of choices. The art on this game is great; my son kept popping up by my computer to look at it.

It uses slow text, which is fine in a short game but really not that fine in a long game. Fortunately, you can click to speed it up at least a little faster.

In this game, you are a famous governmental figure in a space coalition between various races. You are known for having caused the death of a cat-like alien years ago, and now you are threatened by the repercussions of that. The different alien cultures are distinct and well-drawn.

Itís hard to know how your choices affect the story. The game never really settled down into a rhythm or gave hints about its length, or provided saves, so I was just kind of flying blind. In the ending I received, there were several loose threads, which makes me believe that the game has multiple paths and significant branching.

The art and UI programming were excellent, and the actual story were excellent, but I wonder if they worked at cross purposes at times. I guess it was the slow text that really inhibited this for me; I think the intent is to get people to read slow, but I have a reading pattern where I look over the whole page, planning which segments to focus on and then moving in. I read non-linearly, I guess Iím trying to say, and slow text really messes that up for me. And whatís the purpose of it? To make sure people donít miss your text? The best way to do that is just to write only whatís essential. Clicking helped but was still fairly slow.

This is a great team, though. I could definitely see all 3 of them working for AAA if thatís something they were interested in.

+Polish: Very polished.
+Descriptive: Writing was great, not gonna lie.
-Interactivity: I couldn't figure out how to strategize or immerse myself in character, and either would have been fine.
-Emotional Impact: I felt an emotional distance from the character, and the stakes felt low emotionally, due to my issues with interactivity.
+Would I play again? I'd like to see more endings.

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