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Good game, but flawed, April 25, 2012
Tapestry. You've died, and now are confronted by the tapestry of your life, woven by Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos: the fates of Greek myth. The three of them, along with Lucifer, confront you for judgment, but also to give you another chance to revisit three key moments in your life. Will you make a change, or not? You are filled with regret and shame, but is it because of what you've done, or have you simply looked at things from the wrong perspective? Perhaps your life was good after all.
Fate, judgment and the meaning of life are the key themes in Daniel Ravpinto's first IF game, which won the Xyzzy award for Best Story in 1996 (and came in second place in the IF Competition that same year). The game begins in death and hackneyed writing: although it was nominated for Best Writing, I found it to be cheap and pulpy, especially the long, opening prologue.
"Fleeting glimpses of faces half-remembered in the gloom," the game begins. Then this seemingly endless fragment: "Screams, the sound of squealing tires, a sudden thump, a sickening crunch and a violent jolt followed by a sense of weightlessness and disassociation." Already the text of the game feels heavy handed. But it gets worse, when we appear in a room called Nothing: "Concepts like time and place have no meaning here. Your mind attempts to impose something, some order, some structure, upon the space in which you exist, and fails." Oh, come on. Is this a lecture? The opening prologue reads like pretentious pseudo-philosophy. I had a hard time pushing myself to read on.
Especially when you are teleported to a tower and an interview with Satan, who is here to judge you. I felt like I was in a Chick tract, to be honest. Maybe it's my religious upbringing, but I've seen this story before: you've done horrible things, you have to relive them and account for them or maybe change them. And the writing in the Prologue section was so incredibly stilted and overblown that I had a hard time taking the game seriously. Which is actually a shame, because once you get into the game proper, it's not that bad. Tapestry actually has some good ideas, marred only by a hokey premise.
In some games, I suppose you could let bad writing slide. But not in Tapestry, because there's a lot of it. You often are given large dumps of text to read. In fact, one reviewer mentioned that Tapestry might have been more effective as a short story, given how much you have to read at any given time anyway. But I think that such a story would still require a re-write. Of course, I should back off a little here with the recognition that some of this is taste. I'm sure plenty of people found the writing satisfying.
Once you get into the game itself, you get to relive some pretty horrible events. Even though I didn't care for the structuring premise of the gameplay, I thought that the way Ravpinto structured the progress of the game within each section was very nice. Basically, Ravpinto tried to create puzzles which were consistent with the gameworld and seemed like natural actions for the protagonist to take. In some ways, they aren't actually puzzles at all, but actions the player takes to advance the plot further. The emphasis isn't on "solving" the game, but progressing through it, making choices to determine the outcome. In this way, the game is very interesting, and does something very well. Abstract puzzles and off-kilter world logic are absent from this game, allowing players to "inhabit" the protagonist and try thinking like a real person.
I hope I find more games that try this sort of thing, because this is exactly what interactive fiction needs to be legitimate. Don't get me wrong, So Far is a very fun game, and I liked it much more than Tapestry, but Tapestry is moving in the right direction for those who are craving interactive stories rather than mere puzzles. As such, Tapestry seems like an important step in the development of IF, even though framing narrative is too heavy-handed and derivative for me. In spite of its blemishes, you should try it out. The game is very short, playable in an hour.