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(based on 68 ratings)
About the Story
Somewhere between New Mexico and Arizona, three friends were driving through a barren desert of red rocks, and wide empty skies. It was the end of summer, the end of high school, the end of so many things.
Nominee, Best Game; Nominee, Best Writing; Nominee, Best Story; Winner, Best Setting; Winner, Best NPCs - 2016 XYZZY Awards
3rd Place - 22nd Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2016)
36th Place - Interactive Fiction Top 50 of All Time (2019 edition)
The Breakfast Review
One issue with a lot of morality games is that temptation is so clearly temptation, and so distant from the player, that it's laughably easy to simply pick the right answer no matter how the protagonist has been characterised. Here, the temptation is more subtly drawn, and even though there seems to be hardly any assertion that we are tempted, we wonder if, after all, staying might be the right thing to do ... and in the end, it really is up to the individual player to decide whether one ending is any better than another. Well done.
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Rock Paper Shotgun
IF Only: All about Setting
In common with several of her previous pieces, itís playing with the awe-inspiring and the mystical that underlies reality. But the dialogue goes deeper, the characters are more developed, the pacing more confident.
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IFComp 2016: Five Authors and Six Games
Itís a magical realist story about the end of adolescence, feeling unmoored from a longtime group of friends, and the uncanny feeling of being in a strange place with a group of people you think you know very well.
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Let's Play Interactive Fiction Ep 4: Cactus Blue Motel
I play Astrid Dalmady's game "Cactus Blue Motel", where I go to a magical motel in the middle of the desert with two of my high school friends. It's totally not a Hotel California situation.
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Number of Reviews: 12
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This game left me feeling a little unsatisfied.
There were strong horror vibes that I felt could have been emphasised a little more, which would have added greatly to the atmosphere, even if the piece as a whole was not aiming to be a horror story.
Dialogue felt somewhat canned, and at times melodramatic, punctuated with grammatical inconsistencies. The conclusion also felt simplistic, with the tensions between the protagonist and each of her two friends left unaddressed. While another outburst wouldn't have been desirable, I think a little more resistance from Lex and Becky, and from the protagonist herself, wouldn't have been amiss. (Glancing through the other reviews, however, which praise the game's writing, I seem to be in the minority here.)
I think a large part of my disappointment with the game can be attributed to how much promise it showed. The cover art is gorgeous, as are the title screen and the neon text prevalent throughout the game. Given the coherence of this theme, I was expecting an equally high level of crispness for the story, which unfortunately fell short, in my opinion.
When I played Night Guard / Morning Star last year I noted that I was captivated by the writing and atmosphere and turned off by the multitude of endings. I feel similarly after playing Dalmady's Cactus Blue Motel and I'll dive further into the reasons why.
The general conceit of interactive fiction is that you are the primary character. The playing character may be a cipher, such as in Zork, or a specific character, such as Maria Elena here. Regardless, you are making decisions for that person.
In a pure puzzler, the author hopes to engage the player in the game's objective. In a comedy, the author hopes to make the player laugh, and character development may or may not be necessary. Drama, I suspect, is the hardest genre for IF authors, as they must make the player care about the characters, unwaveringly, for the entire game. The CYOA format highlights this difficult task, as there are no real puzzles to distract the player.
Dalmady succeeds, as usual, in building a fun atmosphere with compelling characters. A mystical desert motel where time is squishy is ripe for intrigue. But the game's format, unfortunately, usurps the development of Maria Elena. Eight endings are written for Maria Elena and the decisions that impact those endings are based on how you interact with her two friends, Lex and Becky, throughout the game. There are no puzzles and nothing to deduce, so all of the game's real choices are impacted by Maria Elena herself.
For my first playthrough, I made choices for Maria Elena by projecting my desires for her character. Subsequent playthroughs to find different endings required me to project different desires onto her. This requires me, essentially, to divorce myself from how I feel about our protagonist. I am no longer rooting for her, but rooting for myself to find different endings. Dalmady sidesteps the awkwardness a bit by making these choices not impact the course of the plot or even much of the game's dialogue; however, this in turn has the side effect of the eight endings feeling somewhat arbitrary (not to mention a chore to find via repetitive restarts), and Maria Elena's relationships wind up seeming so fragile that a couple of fairly innocuous comments drastically changes the course of their lives.
In the end, the focus on these three characters and their fates detracted from the game's best character, the motel. Such is the bane of CYOA: the focus dedicated to plot branches necessarily gives everything else less importance.
This piece transported me to my own confused teenage years. Trying to sort out my future, scared of adulthood, pushed by forces beyond my control, I desperately could have used two close friends, a road trip, and a magical motel.
Strengths include fantastic writing throughout, a sense of place, strong characters, and a powerful voice from a talented writer.
Weaknesses: Where is my soundtrack? What is the url for the motel website? How can I visit here? Why isn't there more? Will you write more? Can I subscribe to your email list?
OK, so maybe those aren't actually 'weaknesses' in the commonly accepted meaning of the word, but come on, let me visit the Cactus Blue! :)
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