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About the Story
One Christmas at Camelot in charged a strange fellow,
Nominee - The Green Knight, Best Individual NPC - 2021 XYZZY Awards
11th place - 27th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2021)
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Number of Reviews: 3
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Adaptations in IF are generally very tricky. The list of failed or mediocre adaptations is long (including my own Sherlock Holmes game) while the list of good ones is very brief (such as Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy). The biggest problem is that novels and stories are 'on rails' and are centered on one pre-determined path, while Interactive Fiction invites exploration.
This one does well, I think. Part of that is due to the author's talent at adaptation. The other may be because the original tale includes parts that describe what 'would have happened', which can be incorporated into the text.
You play as Gawain, and the story follows the original tale pretty faithfully. A strange knight comes to Arthur's court and you are soon entangled in a quest. You find a strange castle where the host is kind and generous while the lady of the castle pursues you.
Variables are tracked in this game, but not that many stats seem to be. There is generally one ordained 'right path' but many scenes have multiple interpretations and solutions regardless of your desire (for instance, is it better to admit fear or not to have it at all?)
The game has strong themes of violence and sexuality, but treats both of them more as abstractions or threats or desires with moderate detail.
In both the online version and the downloaded version, the chapter headings were broken and I couldn't see what they were. That, and a stray typo, were the only bugs I saw.
I took several days to finish this because I kept getting distracted by work. The actual writing isn't that long, but I wasn't grabbed in by the text; or, perhaps, it was difficult to process my emotions about the strange tale (which applies to the original).
In any case, this exceeded my expectations and is one of the better adaptations I've ever played. I don't see myself revisiting it, as it resonated negatively with some personal experiences I had (by no fault of the author), but it is otherwise polished, descriptive, with good interactivity and emotional impact.
(Edit: I'm listting this as 2 hours, because I lingered over it, while others have said it took them only 1 hour going fast).
This choice-based adaptation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a niche piece — almost a Medieval Boy Scout Simulator — and I love it. To quote one of the story’s options: “I’m all in on this. Let’s do it.”
The original story of Sir Gawain makes no goddamn sense. This work, written with choicescript, offers decisions that put Gawain’s thinking in a more relatable context.
The reader is expected to uphold the virtues of a knight, remaining pious, courteous, magnanimous, and chaste throughout the entire journey while also embodying the spirit of fellowship.
The expectations make Gawain’s predicament more understandable: How can good manners keep you safe from an immortal giant?
I appreciated how much extra writing was necessary to humanize Gawain’s adventure. And the story notes many of the reader’s choices, referencing them in future passages.
However, King Arthur's Christmas Feast doesn’t have a lot of branches, which means that people who stray from the correct path might find it less entertaining. I had fun pretending to be a rule-abiding poindexter, but I can see how that might not appeal to everyone.
I imagine a lot of us have heard of Cliff's Notes, those dreary little pamphlets that helpfully summarize plays and novels and poems assigned in English class. They seem to give you a good idea of what's going on in a tough piece of literature without any risk of actually feeling immersed.
"Don't read the Cliff's Notes! You're only ripping yourself off! Teachers will know if you do!" was the adults' battle cry. Oh, plagiarism was bad too. And yes, plagiarism is still bad, but these warnings didn't really teach us how to balance legitimate learning you can't do on your own with our own thoughts, and I think a sadly high percentage of kids knew what the teachers wanted. Stuff that would show the teachers they thought for themselves, because it worked last year for other students they knew.
But I wanted more. I wanted something that would illuminate. It felt greedy. I remember playing some not very good Narnia choice-games on the Apple. Some had minimal dice-rolling. One had an action game at the end that actually required effort to lose. I recognized, even at a young age, what a money-grab it was, but I still wanted more, and later when I found the Asimov archive, I still played the Narnia game I'd missed.
And we have them now. Some are interactive, but some aren't. I remember finding an Internet comic that summarized Ulysses. Obviously, it missed a few finer points, but it helped a lot. I needed the help.
And I think works like AKACF do that, and well. I've read Gawain and the Green Knight--Tolkien's version, at least--but it was so long ago I forgot most of it. And part of me felt uneasy that he was a bit too much of a Good Guy. AKACF gives him the option to behave poorly, replete with nagging noblemen and ladies who tempt him to. It doesn't drag on, but certainly it gives me a feel for the "why not just give in and get on with it" that we sometimes feel before making a bad choice, and yes, that is part of morality. Curiosity for the wrong things is universal, as is saying "Oh, I know what I'm supposed to do, but it seems so boring," and how do we resist that? Yet, even if you act terribly, Gawain never comes off too badly. That'd be too much authorial interpretation. However, when he strays from the path, different things happen than in the original poem, and I think the branches are both fair and interesting. The author is still pretty much faithful to what would've happened, but just asks "what if Gawain gives in a little?"
As for the story: a mysterious green knight appears on Christmas day. He tells King Arthur, hey, cut my head off, but Arthur can't bring himself to. Gawain offers to and does. The price is: within a year and a day, Gawain must find the knight and accept a similar blow. He has no clue where to look. But with time running out, he manages to find a castle where the lord takes him in. The lord's wife attempts to seduce Gawain, and here I'll draw a spoiler veil to mention the choice between behaving better or worse than Gawain is pretty clear. You can even utterly ignore the lady of the castle. The lord knows where the Green Knight is, and yes, Gawain finds him and faces his fate.
Being able to do walk through Gawain's choices leaves me with much more of a feeling than "good guys gonna good-guy," so it was a success on that alone. I largely glossed over the bits that the author put in a content warning for. That's my style in general. At least, the first time. But once I'd gotten through, I appreciated being able to look through things by chapter, again, and even change the critical choices you made in, say, chapter 5 before trying chapter 6. It's nice to be able to lawnmower alternate story lines or pick them off a la carte, and while AKACF is worth re-reading, I'm glad it's very not-thirsty about it all. I've left so many games I meant to look at again because the effort to start up would be too much. While it's obviously nontrivial to draw this up as an author, it gives accessibility without ruining any surprises, so I encourage it. Here, you will probably want to tweak how well Gawain behaves without having to re-pay your dues.
I really wish I'd had this sort of thing for tougher literary works when I was a kid, and I hope other people follow the author's example and make something interactive like this. While gutenberg.org is all well and good for the latest classical work I want to read but never got around to, it seems like there's a lot of fertile ground for other works. In addition, ChoiceScript seems well-suited to changing these options--this is dryly stated, but in a nutshell, this is what happens. And it sounds trivial to write until you sit down and do it and have familiarity with the source text. Still, providing these what-if options seems like an achievable goal for many potentially tricky classical works, and I hope to see more works interpreted in this way, whether for IFComp or general consumption.
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For your consideration: XYZZY-eligible Best Individual NPC of 2021 by MathBrush
This is for suggesting games released in 2021 which you think might be worth considering for Best Individual NPC in the XYZZY awards. Please include a comment mentioning the NPC. This is not a zeroth-round nomination. This is not an...
For your consideration: XYZZY-eligible Best Story of 2021 by MathBrush
This is for suggesting games released in 2021 which you think might be worth considering for Best Story in the XYZZY awards. This is not a zeroth-round nomination.This is not an official list. The point of poll is partly to suggest games...