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About the Story
In the country of Tuscary, near the town of Clarence, there is a path that runs through the woods and into the nearby mountains. There is a rumor that if you are walking the path at twilight on the night of a waning moon, a figure might appear at a camp by the side of the road. Those brave enough to approach the figure are never heard from again, and those who ignore the figure never have the encounter again.
41st Place - 21st Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2015)
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Number of Reviews: 5
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I initially found the language a little challenging; this game takes place with a separation of player and character that confused me slightly. I think it ultimately works, but it wasn't easy at first to identify my actions with the character.
I really liked the atmosphere, style, typography, and design of this piece; I enjoyed following through it. I enjoyed making decisions as I played. Perhaps it's a bit of a (very minor) spoiler, but I'm not sure how I felt about the lack of consequence to my choices. Is it a meta-commentary on Interactive Fiction? Part of the decision-making process for many players is about establishing their identity and playing with hypothetical scenarios that let you project a possibly idealized self-identity. I didn't bury the apple core because I would do that in real life; I also didn't do it to 'win' the game or 'follow the good path'. I did it because I like to think that I would do it, and I liked that the game let me express that level of conscientiousness and thoughtfulness.
I don't know how I feel about the ending, and I don't know if I enjoyed the experience when I got to the end; the game features a lot of repetition, and nothing I did made any change to the outcome. I think I'm OK with that, but it did detract from my enjoyment of the game. I think it was brave of the author to play with the expectations of players, which makes me think it's worth trying, even if it fails ultimately; it's hard to deliberately end a game in a way that may be dissatisfying to the player, and I think that was the decision made here. That, combined with the styling, atmosphere, and sense of mystery, make this a worthy play.
This game looks good - nice typography and choice of colors, and a few appropriate images. The first playthrough is very short (5 minutes for me), but the game is meant to be played several times.
The setting is that of a vagabond in what appears to be similar to the Middle Ages; the theme obviously involves a fortune teller, and you are presented with a few choices that seem inconsequential - but, as a good player of interactive fiction, you recognize those choices as preferences that might reveal your personality. The setup kind of reminded me of the beginning of Morrowind, or any of the other RPGs (Ultima IV, maybe?) that use the "what would you do in this situation" questions to gauge your personality - very familiar, then, and this is a good choice on the author's part to use this setting.
The first playthrough is nothing special, it ends abruptly after getting your fortune told: of course, you want to start again and try different choices. That's when the game reveals its conceit; but it reveals it in a way that i found quite brutal and unsubtle. Namely, the figure completely breaks the fourth wall (since the vagabond doesnt appear in the text), has quite an antagonistic tone ("What? What did you expect?"), spouts off text that shows that, surprise, it had tracked your choices (one paragraph = one choice, which is not very subtle or fun), and tells you at the last sentence that you could try again. Except, no, I didn't want to try again: I found it too on-the-nose and unsubtle for me to not get it, and to think that there could be a way to change the final outcome. I felt that the twist was revealed too soon (at the 2nd playthrough instead of, say, the 4th), and was too blunt and closed too many things: given what's before (a rhetorical question), the "you could try again" comes off as a "you could waste your time some more", which just made me quit. (Ok, I checked a third time just in case, but I wasn't willing to spend more time on this to see if the 10th iteration was any different.)
I guess the game was trying to make a point about restarting games to achieve better outcomes; that it doesn't work like that sometimes i guess, and that you don't have the agency in the game to change anything except quitting. But i didn't feel like the game tried to have anything more to say, which was disappointing. I played "Save the Date!" a while ago, and found it quite deep and interesting, with nice variations and characters and a few interesting things to say on the same topic; maybe it's hard to come after that, and maybe it's unfair for me to compare both, but, they are about the same thing... I might have liked it more if there was some variability, even maybe having fun with the concept (the hooded figure could become impatient, roll their eyes, joke that the cards will change if they get 10 pheasants, plead for the player to stop, etc..), but it might not have been what the author intended; as it is, though, its message is not very deep nor subtle, which made the experience somewhat unsatisfying in my opinion.
The House at the End of Rosewood Street seemed to hit many of the right "how not to do things and get away with it" buttons for me. It had a dreamy mythic quality despite the realism. This offering by the author has its similarities and differences. It feels more like an experiment on the player than one with it. And it's probably been done in other contexts before. But it's thought-provoking enough. My main beef is that it provokes thoughts I've already thought about, not quite as exciting the second time through. Since it is shorter than THERS, though, it's more replayable and won't leave you hanging as long as to what it is, or what it does. (Also, you can look at the source code. I did.)
You are a vagabond, looking for passage to the city of Clarence. Along the way, you eat an apple, run into a caged pheasant, and eventually meet someone else who asks you to keep them company. It's not clear what the "best" way through is. Do you plant the apple? Do you release the pheasant? How much do you share with your new companion? And when the fellow traveler gives you your fortune, how do you cut the cards?
The looping that likely follows has you asking, did I do the right thing? What could I have done differently? And so forth. It leaves open the question of if there is a right way through. You have a few extra chances to ruminate.
The scenario is as surreal as THERS, but with significantly less guidance as to what to do. I ran through a few times until I got impatient, when I saw (Spoiler - click to show)my choices didn't matter except to have one section where you reflect on them say "But I did things differently" or "But I did them the same. So you can really only dream ever of reaching Clarence. It's something I think we've all thought of, and as a journey with tarot cards and the fellow traveler making vague proclamations, I realized I sort of heard what I wanted to hear on each trip through. Because, well, it was roughly the same.
It's not the first work I've played through that uses this gimmick, but it felt like there could have been more. Perhaps I should've suspected the thrust, given the tarot cards I always received. But I felt a bit ripped off even as I thought back to times when I realized I worried too much about what might or would have happened.
For Your Consideration - XYZZY-eligible implementations of 2015 by Brendan Patrick Hennessy
This is for games released in 2015 which you think might be worth considering for Best Implementation in the XYZZY awards. This is not a zeroth-round nomination. The category will still be text-entry, and games not mentioned here will...