Creatures Such As We

by Lynnea Glasser profile

Science Fiction

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Number of Reviews: 7
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Meditation on games, art, the meaning of life, and lunar bases, January 18, 2023
by ccpost (Greensboro, North Carolina)

This game is richly multilayered, weaving together many different fascinating narrative and aesthetic threads, while remaining incredibly fun to play and engaging to read. Throughout a relatable story about a person struggling to find meaning while working a draining job, Glasser balances a romance plot, thought-provoking meditations on games as art, and a game within the game that the player interacts with along with the protagonist. These all work seamlessly together to prompt the player to reflect not only on this game but games more broadly and the various meanings they have in our lives: the social interactions and communities they foster, the aesthetic experiences they engender, the philosophical questions they raise, and the escape they provide.

The underlying story of the game is deceptively simple albeit with a scifi twist. You play as a tour guide on the moon, a well-paying but ultimately dead-end job, and you play games in your spare time. The designers of your favorite game happen to be the latest tour group, and it's up to you to smooth out some issues -- both major and minor -- that interrupt a potentially pivotal business retreat for the indie game studio. While the scifi elements are relatively subdued, the game posits a depressing -- but probably pretty likely -- scenario for the future of space travel: the moon will become a tourist resort for the wealthy. Some of the themes dealt with here remind me of Kim Stanley Robinson's Red Mars trilogy if on a smaller, more personal scale. Humanity's first inclination will be to pave paradise.

Integral to this main story are the threads mentioned above. The player character begins the game engrossed in the fictional game-within-the-game called Creatures Such as We, a scifi game of its own though more bombastic and action-packed. While I first found the sequences of applying the Choice of Games mechanics to choose my way through the fictional immersive 3D game played by the protagonist to be kind of detached, I got more and more into what Glasser was doing with these passages. These functioned almost like an autopsy of a game, using the choice-based game mechanic native to ChoiceScript to break down a 3D action game into discrete decisions. This has some weird effects with time, sometimes glossing over long stretches of playtime and other times allowing the player to linger over a decision that protagonist would need to make in a split-second.

In the interactions with the game designer tourists, the protagonist has the opportunity to engage in deep and wide-reaching conversations about game design and the aesthetics of games as art. Far from retreading worn out arguments about whether games should be considered as art or not, these sections of the game play out as interactive Socratic dialogues almost, with the interlocutors pushing you on your points and asking you to refine and clarify what you mean. While these decisions have essentially no stakes for the well-being of your characters, (Spoiler - click to show)in stark contrast to the nail-biting sequence at the end of the game in which the protagonist has to safely guide the tourists through an emergency evacuation of the base, I actually found these decision-points to be the ones I pondered and sweated over the most! These conversations really forced me to examine some of my own positions and beliefs on deep questions about why we play games and what they mean in our lives.

Finally, the player can choose to pursue a romance with one of the designers, the choices made in this most game-like aspect of the game for the real player immediately resonating with the philosophical discussions you have with the fictional game designers. I do not know the extent of possible outcomes with the romance aspect of Creatures(Spoiler - click to show) (in my playthrough romancing Diana, we shared mutual affection but also mutual recognition that the romance wouldn't come to anything as she left the moon base), but the romance seems designed to further the character development of the player character, providing prompts for self-reflection about what they're doing with their life and what life decisions they should make next. The game we're all playing...

The end I arrived at (Spoiler - click to show), on the moonbase, playing an updated version of Creatures online with Diana, was especially illuminating of the social role that games play in our lives, and did so in a genuine, moving way that somehow wasn't corny: we can be separated by countless miles but still connect over a great game.

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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful:
Long choice based game about escapism, choice, and the moon, March 26, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours

I've often pondered on my reasons for reading novels, playing IF, reading stories online, etc. I've talked to my family about it, and my answers to why we escape and whether it is good changes fairly often. I also was oncea professional video game developer.

This game, then, drew me in completely. This is a choice-based game about someone who is trying to understand escapism, its role in life, its benefits and drawbacks, the meaning of art, etc.

It was fun to play the character as myself, giving the answers and reactions I would. I was happy with my ending.

It was funny to play this game after Ultra Business Tycoon III,and reading online debates over whether that game is winnable, and what it would mean if it is not winnable. I don't necessarily recommend playing that game first (Porpentine has better games, like Howling Dogs), but it was interesting.

Lynnea Glasser tends to make very good games. I didn't like Tenth Plague on philosophical grounds, but Coloratura was fantastic.

This game contains several instances of strong profanity near the beginning.

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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
Space Love, March 20, 2021
by Fenix (CA)

tldr: An enjoyable IF despite a bit of rail-roading.

I love space and seeing this setting made me think of something that could quite actually happen in the near future. It was very enjoyable. Playing as someone in the service industry, and all the ups and downs that go with it, resonated with me. My favorite aspect of the game, however, was the game within a game. Following along with the story in a story was really enjoyable and, if it weren't a Choice of Games game, I would definitely go back and tool around some more.

My least favorite part of the game was when I was given a choice that was no choice. There were a couple, really, but the second time the lack of choice felt more like it was played for laughs. The first time really got under my skin, however: (Spoiler - click to show)When asked how competent the protagonist is in a rather stressful situation, I decided to go with the more optimistic route. I decided that I was prepared to deal with the situation at hand. However, the narrative second-guessed me and then grayed out that option. As there were other options similar to my initial choice, again I chose to see the protagonist as more on the competent side. Again the game second-guessed me. I did this until there was only one option left, the option that the game wanted for me and not the option that I wanted. It was very frustrating to say the least.

IF games already tend to be linear (some more than others) and taking away what little player agency I thought I had left a bitter taste in my mind. I was able to keep playing, but that keeps me from wanting to go back and play a second time to explore other avenues.

I'm not sure how intentional this was as the game in the game seemed to shadow another game: (Spoiler - click to show)The Mass Effect Trilogy, where the ending didn't seem to take into any serious account what the players had done throughout the game.

All in all, I would recommend playing through this game at least once.

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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
Better in retrospect, January 30, 2021

I first played Creatures Such As We a few years ago, and I remember that I didn't think much of it back then. But, after playing it more recently, I've come to appreciate it a lot more.

Creatures Such As We is a metafictional (am I using that term correctly?) story about video games that functions as one of the video games it discusses. On one level, you play as a tour guide on the moon, guiding a group of visiting game developers through various touristy activities. On the other level, your character is playing a game-within-a-game, which happens to be developed by the same group of aforementioned game developers. This game-within-a-game had a highly controversial "bad" ending, almost akin to the original ending of Mass Effect 3 (the author denies it as an influence). The player character suddenly has the opportunity to ask the game developers about the ending. Of course, being a Choice of Game, there is romance here: you can pursue a romantic relationship or friendship with one of the game developers, and you might stay in contact even after they leave. There is a bit of stage magic here; the dramatic life-and-death moments always happen to your chosen romance option. The characters themselves are all well-realized and unique, but they feel sort of like tokens, both demographically and for their particular viewpoints.

All of this is all used as a backdrop for a series of philosophical conversations. The author leads us through "meta" discussions like the role of the author vs the viewer, representation in media, and escapism, and more general philosophical discussions on death and life and stuff. I think this worked better for me now than when I first played this because I have more experience with both making and playing interactive fiction, and I can relate to the issues being discussed more. It felt interesting and engaging in a way that "philosophical discussions in video games" usually don't for me.

Then there's the theme of corporate malfeasance. Your employer cares more about good appearances than the well-being of its employees or the safety of its customers. The visitors to the moon base are regularly put into life-threatening situations with little backup or real information. You are overworked without much free time, and it's clear that there are people even worse off. Then there is a subplot where one of the tourists has a flu-like illness that is covered up; it's obvious that this was made in pre-covid times. At the same time, an EA-like giant gaming corporation is seeking to acquire the game developers, who are somewhat ambivalent about the deal (I don't know if you-as-the-tour-guide can change the outcome here).

Overall, I feel like the setting, characters, game-within-a-game, and philosophical discussions all meshed together really well. I appreciated the meta moments where it felt like the game was critiquing itself.

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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful:
A convincing essay on game theory camouflaged as romantic CYOA, July 21, 2016

Having played through Mass Effect 3 again recently, I could not help but view "Creatures" as a commentary on that game, and in particular on the discussions revolving around its ending. I did not check if that is even possible, but in any case: "Creatures" covers a lot of game theory relevant to ME 3, like whether players or authors should decide a games ending, how romance should be portrayed in games, the meaning of self-sacrifice, whether games should mirror life or rather provide means of escape, etc.

This is all packed into a well paced story on the PCs moon adventure with the designers of their favorite game, including that game as game within the game.

So why is "Creatures" not five stars for me? I think it lacks a bit on the game side of things. Most choices I really had to think about concerned my opinion on the game theory questions mentioned above. The choices regarding the actual plot seemed a bit bland in comparison, even though the story itself is quite compelling.

That caveat aside, in my opinion anyone even remotely interested in game design (and romance!) should play "Creatures Such As We".

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3 of 18 people found the following review helpful:
Not even the appearance of choice, March 24, 2016

At one point, you are asked to choose between different ways of instructing people to operate telescopes. You are not told the advantages and disadvantages of each, neither before or after. None of your choices make any difference.

Creatures Such As We is a story about someone who has a crush on a generic video game character. He is upset because there is a obviously scripted fight at the end and a boring ending. The game in question is said to be otherwise be good.

At one point, you can complain about female representation in video games. The main character is having trouble telling the difference between games and reality. The other characters feel this is perfectly normal.

Creatures Such As We is a story about games written by someone who has never played one.

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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful:
Most moving IF I've played, January 23, 2015

This brought me to tears. I just finished it. I felt probably halfway through that I would have to write a review immediately.

I've played a lot of IF in my life. I've really explored the world of Modern IF in the last 7 or 8 years, playing lots of old comp games mostly. I've observed the community as an

outsider and generally been very impressed. Very organized and welcoming web presence. Clearly a committed, mature and sensible group. As well as creative and flexible.

On that note-- my nostalgic side is a bit offended by the multiple choice nature of this game. Some stubborn part of me can't let go of the frustrated hours I spent guessing

verbs or games I had to give up on for months or years at a time because I was stumped by some ridiculous puzzle. (It took me until high school to finally beat this old game

"skulduggery" that I started at probably age 8 or so. The advent of the internet finally let me find the solution online.)

Anyway, I'm going all tangential; my point is that I'm in the end quite pleased that for the last 20 years we've had a crowdsourcing of IF. Because it's all volunteer and money is

basically out of the equation, people have been free to experiment and develop the art form. I would guess that the obscurity of it and the technical nature explain why the

genre attracts such a disproportionately large amount of talent despite the meagre size of the audience/artist community.

Again, I'm avoiding talking about this game...

I really want to do it justice, perhaps that's why. Like the protagonist of the game, and all of us creatures such as we are, I am capable of myriad forms of self-distraction and self-deception.

My initial evaluation was that the game is far from perfect. I was confused and felt that surely it wasn't completely my fault. What is driving my choices here? Does Glasser want me to role play? Is she trying to lead meto adopt a certain role for the character, or is the game open-ended and truly a choose your own adventure story?

Fortunately, Glasser is a firm leader, just like the protagonist, and this became more and more evident. Probably about halfway into it, I let go of my own doubts and just went along for the ride. It became utterly clear to me who the protaganist is supposed to be, and how she would respond to various situations. I don't know how Glasser did it, but she convinced me hook line and sinker. I would be very disappointed if the game is indeed completely flat, and that my choices don't affect the outcome at all.

I haven't looked at other reviews or tried to replay the game. I see that the game came in second place. I've played the first place game-- In my view it is not even in the same league as this one. Hunger Daemon I would call a very well-crafted, delightful diversion. This game is breathtaking literature.

Great art, it's trite but true to say, is often underappreciated. My guess would be that a lot of people simply never understood where Glasser was going with this thing. Trying to be objective and catch my breath for a minute, I'm sure this game really is far from perfect. I'm sure Glasser could've created more consistent clues and cues to lead the gamer down the right path. I think it would serve her to be less heavy-handed and didactic at times. I don't think the web interface allows for easy replay of moves. Probably this is intentional on Glasser's part. However, for me, it would've helped me get into the story if I could've more easily tested my hypothesis that my choices really did dramatically change the story. I assume Glasser is trying to draw an analogy between the tourists in her story, and we the people playing her game. Like the protagonist in the story, Glasser is tightly and self-consciously controlling our experience.

Her brilliance is in earning our trust, just as the satisfaction of the protagonist comes through earning the trust of the tourists she supervises. And I am telling you, Lynnea, that you could've earned my trust more completely and quickly by giving me more trust.

On the other hand, I am guessing you gave too much trust to many of the people who played this game. My guess would be that this would account for the lower average reviews-- probably a lot of people just never figured it out.

A limitation of the art form. And in the end, that's just our loneliness again, isn't it? Whether face to face on the moon, communicating via text on a screen in a chatroom, or through the perhaps even less immediate medium of a novel or text adventure, none of us will ever inhabit the skin of another. Unless of course some sort of horrific human centipede reality manifests :-)

Thanks for the awesome game!!! And sorry about the rambling and embarassingly high level of incoherence in this review. I just wanted to get it out well I was still raw-- and like the protagonist I am busy and don't know when I'd have a chance to write this other than late at night after finishing the game.

So yeah, thanks again!

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