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About the Story
The manor house at the end of Rosewood Street has been vacant for as long as you remember, but a notice in the local newspaper reports that the historic house has been sold. How will this newcomer affect the peaceful balance of this quaint street you call home?
16th Place - 19th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2013)
IF Comp 2013: The House at the End of Rosewood Street (Michael Thomét)
Emily Short critically analyzes the game for the 2013 IFComp, describing the repetition as soothing, and the building mystery as attractive. Though there are several issues with the game, the overall outlook is positive.
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Number of Reviews: 5
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Disclaimer: I spoiled myself for this game by reading some IFComp reviews, which gave me hints for how to solve the final puzzle, as well as some ideas of what the plot may mean.
The House at the End of Rosewood Street is very well-written. The descriptions are beautiful, the only problem being an occasional (but only occasional) reliance on clichés. Most of the characters aren't particularly deep (though I believe there is a reason for that; see the spoilered section below), but fairly memorably sketched. The antagonist is vague in terms of motivation, but an enjoyable character. There is a special ambience to this story, a mystery that doesn't try too hard to be scary, and the plot... well, I'd be lying if I said I understood everything that's going on in the plot. Though I have a couple of reservations, I do like it.
As a game, however, it's a mixed experience. It's mostly puzzleless; OK, that's not a problem in a post-Photopia world. But puzzleless IF still needs a hook to keep us going. Photopia itself has the exploration of the science fiction settings and the player's desire to piece together Ally's story; Galatea has a different kind of exploration (the drive to discuss various topics with the title character), and so on. The House at the End of Rosewood Street does not have any kind of exploration. Until the end of the game, you will be doing the same routine of delivering newspapers and carrying out odd jobs for the residents, without finding any new areas or points of interest. A couple of new characters show up, but your interaction with any of the characters is not deep. There is not even a progression in the mood of the game: your dreams get creepier, but the ambience of your daily work stays the same. The repetitive tasks fall somewhere between "soothing" and "boring", for me. I occasionally got the feeling that I would have enjoyed this more as a static fiction story.
Technically, all this is well implemented. Sometimes, it felt like the implementation was a bit sparse, but I didn't run into any "guess the verb" moments.
Then you get to the puzzle - arguably, the only puzzle in the game. Further discussion of it, and of the plot of the game, will be spoilerfied.
(Spoiler - click to show)I am in two minds about the puzzle. I can agree with those reviewers who found it underclued, given that the wrong action will send you back to the start of the game. On the other hand, I like it, because (and what follows is only my interpretation) it requires the player to understand what exactly is going on on Rosewood Street: the PC is in a coma, the other residents are shards of his/her psyche, and the mirror is said to contain your soul. You need to collect all your constituent parts (except for Caius, who is in some way the force keeping you asleep), and only then will you be able to wake up.
And there we have it: another coma dream story, along the lines of Madame Spider's Web. This isn't a particularly new storyline in IF, but apart from the fact that it's been done before, I think it's well done here. I found Elisabeth a bit too obviously the good guy, and, to a lesser extent, Caius a bit too obviously evil, but I can live with that.
There are still many things I don't get (and man, I hate it when readers say they don't get my writings. Mr. Thomét, I apologise): is Caius just another part of you, the one that doesn't want to wake up, or some malignant entity? What exactly is the connection of Lisa to the PC's story? Given their similarity of names, you would expect Elisabeth to be some sort of avatar of Lisa, but if there is a connection, I don't see it.
All in all, not a flawless game, but it does what it does very interestingly, and the writing is high quality. I might require another playthrough to see whether I can make more sense of the story.
The House at the End of Rosewood Street stuck with me over the years, not due to any hugely lush detail, or due to being one of the most impressive entries in IFComp 2013, but due to its oddness. You play as a handyman who helps with odd jobs and drops off newspapers for your neighbors in a neighborhood not very conducive to easy text adventure navigation. Your main job, in fact, will be giving newspapers. It's a bit of a fishbowl, but nobody's leaning over you.
This is all pretty easy, what with a well-organized street, though it's a bit odd to have left- and right-hand sides implemented. Fortunately it's a minimalist game, and it's orderly, and using the up-arrow helps speed through the repetitive tasks.
Then there is that weird mansion at the north edge. For whatever reason, you need to go north twice there, too, after visiting Janice or Glenn -- and going east or west brings you back to them. Glenn's a bit of a grouch who says "Don't trample my grass." In fact everyone is painted relatively quickly. Lottie confuses a toaster with a stove. If you give the wrong person an item they wanted fixed (a toaster, a kettle) the responses are rather funny. And of course it's fun to ask people about specific neighbors.
There is some pain with the parser, as after each knock you need to type in a new key for conversation. This all feels like routine, though, fixing whatever one of your neighbors asks you to end the day, until there are ten newspapers in the stack instead of nine. There is a definite mystery here!
The characters remind me of Di Bianca NPCs (though his first IFComp entry came a year after,) albeit with far far fewer abstract puzzles. The parser errors, too, have that something. "What would the neighbors think?" It might be annoying in a more complex and realistic game, but it's a bit charming here. There's also an odd bug--I suppose a well-crafted game can get away with one such bug that make things more topsy-turvy. Each game gets one, and here, if you walk away from a house and come back after talking to someone, that's when the owner waves and goes back inside. Unintentional, unless I am really missing something. But it adds to the atmosphere.
The only reason I came back to THERS instead of other IFComp 2013 entries that placed higher was, well, I didn't solve it, after getting the ending where you loop around back to Monday. So people looking for history or value may be better served by playing Olly Olly Oxen Free or Robin and Orchid first. Nevertheless there's something special about sort-of recovering something, an alternate ending you never quite saw but hoped for, even if it wasn't quite clued enough. (It wasn't. No big deal.)
And even with those top placers, the thing is, I remember them better, their flow and so forth, and it would be like visiting an old friend. They follow all the good rules of strong game design and break certain too-stiff ones to give them originality. THERS is more that odd cafe nearby that left me both worried and intrigued, or maybe it is that friend that occasionally pissed you off but had some legitimately good points and you wish you'd been able to listen to them a bit more. It has a weird chaotic energy buried in its minimalism, one that encourages me to maybe do things wrong, maybe not on purpose, but to have faith that looking around these odd corners may turn up something interesting and valuable. I'm quite glad I revisited it. But all the same I hope to write a walkthrough so the next person who's curious doesn't have to stumble through that much. I hope they're out there.
The House at the End of Rosewood Street is a mysterious, strange and significantly imperfect adventure in which you play a caretaker to the residents of a suburban street. The residents all chip in to keep you housed (note that your house is not the one at the end of the street) and in return you run errands for them and deliver the newspaper each day. When I say deliver, I do mean deliver. You have to navigate right up to the door of each house, knock on the door and then GIVE NEWSPAPER TO (recipient). The game describes itself as "An exploration of the uncanny, the abject, and the fantastic" but I suspect many players will bail out early on the deliberately repetitious, sparse or tedious tasks the caretaker protagonist must perform, rather than continue to squint their eyes at the suburban grass in hopes of perceiving the promised strangeness. I don't think this game is optimally designed, and the distribution and delivery of some of its weirder content is quite out of balance, but I think it does eventually succeed in generating a feeling of mysterious inevitability, thanks in part to its grinding qualities.
Spoilers increasing ahead, and ultimately I talk about the end of the game.
Something I noticed immediately in Rosewood is that while there are plenty of long descriptions of houses, none of the houses' features are implemented. The game's fob-off message to anything it doesn't understand is "What would Theo think?" (Theo is a neighbour) or "What would the neighbours think?" etc. This looks ill-considered, at least if you haven't read the HELP first, which includes a polite sort of disclaimer amounting to a direction on how to play the game. In other words, it tells you that little details aren't implemented, but also that they aren't important for this story. This info is too important to be left as the optional read it is.
Your street has a pleasingly logical arrangement, meaning that once you're a little familiar with the layout, it's easy to wing your way towards a particular neighbour you need to see or to be reminded of where they live. The caretaker has at least eight newspapers to deliver each day. This means that over the week of the game, the player will have to take at least 56 strolls and knock on at least 56 doors to deliver at least 56 newspapers. That's quite a stunning amount of what most players would consider drudgery. The game obviously has a point with all this, which is to emphasise the sameness of your routine and to also make you keenly aware of any variations in it, but the author could easily have inserted many more "carrots" throughout these sequences to keep player interest up. The way it is, the neighbours say and do the same things in response to your rounds almost every day, and their requests that you run errands for them or repair their broken watches and such are relatively scarce.
Each night you retreat to your house to sleep and to dream. These dreams are relatively wack, featuring a parade of talking cats and endlessly transforming symbolic objects. They're so loaded with archetypal dream imagery and non-sequiturial dialogue that they end up conveying nothing because they could convey anything. I like the structure of having a dream each night, but I think that the prose content of the dreams is the element of this game that is most off.
A source of narrative content that you can grab onto is an ongoing story in each day's newspaper about the disappearance of one Lisa Kaiser, the governor's daughter. When I was playing the game and noticed that an Elisabeth (with an S) had materialised in a house in Rosewood Street one day, I wondered if this might be the missing Lisa. Elisabeth was dissatisfied with my repairs to her broken mirror and disappeared the next day. Alarmingly, the newspaper reported that a groundskeeper had been arrested for her murder. Was this me? I delivered the newspapers as usual that day and nobody reacted any differently. The week concluded with me dining with and then joining in bed the mysteriously charismatic stranger who moved into The House at the End of Rosewood Street at the beginning of the week, and who'd made appearances in my dreams. Since I had virtuously delivered a zillion newspapers over the previous seven days to reach this point, I was quite tense about what I might finally discover. What happened was that I woke up again, and the content of the new day's paper indicated that I was back at the start of the week, as did the now empty bin where my discarded newspapers had been piling up.
Had my life become some kind of circling mental limbo created by myself to protect me from the reality of my murderous actions, if they were mine? That's one of the better explanations I've come up with; the game is highly resistant to concrete interpretation. Its unyielding nature is strangely satisfying to me in retrospect, in the sense that I would have hated to have arrived at an extremely pat explanation for all of this weirdness. But even for the game to achieve this effect – which I can easily imagine a lot of IFComp players didn't experience due to boredom – it barely justified the huge amount of unvarying repetition involved in playing it, nor the nebulous dream content. Still, it has a conceptual weirdness that I'll remember, though I'm unlikely to want to actually play it again.
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