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About the Story
The Queen has told you to return with her heart in a box. Snow White has made you promise to make other arrangements. Now that you're alone in the forest, it's hard to know which of the two women to trust. The Queen is certainly a witch — but her stepdaughter may be something even more horrible...
Winner, Best Writing; Winner, Best Individual NPC; Nominee, Best Use of Medium - 2009 XYZZY Awards
Jay is Games
A superlative piece of work, in certain ways Alabaster is somewhat different than the majority of interactive fiction that we have previously reviewed. While many IF games present a more-or-less linear plot to play through, complete with puzzles to solve, items to collect and so on, Alabaster's heart and soul lies in the conversation between the protagonist and Snow White.
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The Independent Gaming Source
But is the game a success? Well, my early impressions of the game is very favorable. The story and writing are, naturally, very good. I love the idea of unraveling characters through conversation and the way you must use this information to ultimately make a decision to trust one person or another.
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Gamers With Jobs
An interesting story which is told well – it's an investigation, you decide which questions to ask. The questions you ask determine the answers you get and they ultimately determine your fate. If you don't play much interactive fiction, this would be one to check out.
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Number of Reviews: 9
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The slightly disturbing atmosphere and the multiple (supposedly eighteen) endings are not the main feature of this short game by Emily Short, written in collaboration with various other authors. No, the main reason for playing this game is the conversation system that will, in time, be released as an Inform 7 extension for every IF writer and that gets its test run here.
It combines the standard ASK/TELL style with a system that keeps track of state and the current topic(s) (where are we in the conversation? where can we move from here?) that makes for a more natural flow of dialogue.
Unfortunately, since almost all facts you need to know in order to solve the game can only be learned by talking to Snow White, the main NPC, you need to ask her about anything you can think of anyway (the TOPICS command gives you a list of possible topics at any given moment). What is great in the beginning turns into a pretty mechanical run-though of every topic and reaction the game tells you about.
A solution would have been to implement more non-conversation gameplay - but still, it's a great example of where NPCs and conversation systems are at the moment, and what can be done with them.
Alabaster, in retrospect, is very, very similar to Galatea, an earlier work from Emily Short. This time you are playing a fractured version of Snow White. You are the Huntsman, that poor servant who is instructed by the Queen to kill Snow White and return with her heart in a box. The game begins as you are walking through the forest with Snow White and stop to examine a dead animal on the path from which you intend to extract a heart to fool the Queen with. Apart from Snow White and the dead animal, there is nothing else to interact with. And moving in any direction is interpreted by the game as the decision to either return to the castle or travel to the safe haven populated by seven dwarves. Your only means of making up your mind as to which place you should go to is to interact with Snow White, and she has a lot to say if you ask her.
Unlike Galatea, however, Snow White’s identity is not shaped by the questions you ask. Whether you find out who and what she is does depend on the questions you ask, but the game makes pretty clear that even if you don’t ask the right questions, her nature is the same.
This is both a benefit and a drawback in my opinion. Where in Galatea after a while you could see the seams in her programming that allow her destiny to change based on what questions you ask in what order, here Snow White’s responses are uniform, and the tiny hints always line up with the broad declarations. The integrity of the game’s characters is maintained.
On the other hand, once you figure out what’s going on with Snow White, getting the other endings is often an exercise in willful ignorance, which is not very satisfying. The very first ending I got in the game, in fact, revealed to me her true nature, which would have made subsequent playthroughs pretty disappointing had there not been one extra action I initially had overlooked that helped me to realize that Snow White’s real face was not the only mystery the game had to offer.
Still, the game’s world – as limited as it is – is very well defined and the prose is very enjoyable, as I’ve come to expect from Emily Short’s games. Of course, not all the prose came from Short.
The other ‘feature’ of this game has nothing to do with how it’s played, actually, but has to do with its genesis. The game was an exercise in collaborative storytelling, initiated by Short and offered up to the IF community for expansion. She had written the initial description and created the environment, but then let everyone who played the development version of the game offer additional dialog choices and responses. Short collated all these options and integrated them into the game, lining up the dialog trees and creating endings for certain lines of discussion. So, really, the game has many, many authors, who have all been corralled into a gameplay mechanic devised by Short.
So, in conclusion, the game is enjoyable the first few times around, and there really is a lot to discover about this version of the Snow White fairy tale. The multiple endings start to wear thin after a while, which may be unavoidable but since there are so many offered I have to believe that it was intended at least for some players to try to get them all. The experiment in collaborative story development, however, is pretty clearly a success, as the game is well written, imaginative, and cohesive, yet still has nearly a dozen authors. I dare the movie industry to do so well.
This was a very enjoyable game with lots of replay value that focuses on converstaion. You are the hunter from Snow White in charge of bringing her heart back to the queen. But you plan on bringing the heart of an animal back instead and leading her to the dwarves.
The story takes several unexpected turns from the Disney version we're all familiar with, as you question Snow White and try to determine whether you should side with her or the queen, or do something else. The writing is superb- you get a feeling of really being there, and the side graphic of Snow White's face adds something to the story as well.
As far as the parser itself, it seems a bit too smart, so smart that it makes some obvious mistakes. It seems to trace possible questions from your previous questions. So if you ask her about magic and she mentions a witch, asking her about witches takes you down the next logical step in the conversation. The parser helps by making suggestions on what to ask about next also.
Some problems arise here. First, the parser seems is still limited to ASK [character] ABOUT [subject], though the prodding from the parser made me think I could do more.
(You could ask about witches)
>ASK ABOUT WITCHES
Doesn't work, you still need to ask HER about witches. Which isn't so bad, except that some topics are complex:
(You could ask why she feels this way, how long she's felt this way, or why she thinks the queen wants her dead)
> WHY DOES THE QUEEN WANT YOU DEAD
> ASK WHY THE QUEEN WANTS HER DEAD
both don't work.
That's forgivable though, I've played enough IF to know better, I just worry about newbies falling into this and making mistakes. The second problem I had to do was with the non-conversation actions.
(Spoiler - click to show) Upon learning that Snow White drank blood, I tried to offer my own blood to her.
(the blood reserves to the hart animal)
Which caused an animal to come to life, stop time, and start some kind of exorcism ritual, which I was completely blindsided by
Which was more of a problem with the parser's choice of supplying missing nouns, but seemed like a surprising supposition.
Those aside, it was very well written, and I really liked how it tracked your endings so you can see what you've already accomplished for multiple playthroughs. Interactive Fiction of the past (Infocom) perhaps should have been called IAF for interactive adventure fiction, because this works seems like more of a story that is interactive than many of the previous games I've played.
|Galatea, by Emily Short|
Average member rating: (330 ratings)
Emily Short's description: A conversation with a work of art. "47. Galatea. White Thasos marble. Non-commissioned work by the late Pygmalion of Cyprus. (The artist has since committed suicide.) Originally not an animate. The waking of...
|To Sea in a Sieve, by J. J. Guest|
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|SABBAT, by Eva|
Average member rating: (10 ratings)
A game about transition from powerless to powerful. Has freeware and commercial versions. The commercial version contains unique pixel art and a soundtrack.
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