For Eternity, Again and Again

by TheChosenGiraffe

Fantasy, romance, adventure
2023

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- Cerfeuil (Happy 2024!), January 24, 2024

Speed Running the Infinite, December 27, 2023

by JJ McC
Related reviews: IFComp 2023

Adapted from an IFCOMP23 Review

This is a work about all of time, the entire universe, intersection of the divine and the human ideal, and Epic, All-Consuming Love. In 15 minutes or less! Short of a dramatically poignant fortune cookie, I’m hard pressed to think of a tougher ambition-per-word ratio.

Your first choice is an enigmatic one with unclear consequences, on behalf of an uncertain protagonist. So you make a choice! From there you get the sketch of a story about a divine being in love with a heroic human, (Spoiler - click to show)suffering the end of an unspecified history of time loops. On this time budget, neither character is painted in any detail, beyond their emotional connection. This connection is certainly avowed in passionate, earnest terms but without any underlying establishing scenes. This is a “Tell, Don’t Show” narrative.

For Interactive Fiction, the interactions you allow your reader/player are everything. They are the differentiator, the ace where you can give the reader personal investment in the proceedings. That only works if 1) the player makes choices with some in-the-moment expectation of what it means and 2) that the choice serves a narrative or gameplay purpose. Since our choices here frequently do neither of those, it feels like we are watching strangers, and kinda weird ones at that, overhearing a private crisis that is not for our ears. In real life we would mutter some half-apology and quickly give them the room.

Both characters are alluded to in Epic terms, with lives and experiences that could fill volumes. What we see of them belies that. (Spoiler - click to show)In one path our Epic Human Adventurer dies a punk, partially self-inflicted death. Worse, our (Spoiler - click to show)non-human protagonist, whose experiences should inform an alien perspective on existence and humanity, nevertheless devolves to the monomania of adolescent first-love. Where is either of their Epic lives influencing things? Couldn’t they just as easily be, I dunno, an accountant and a dog walker?

It’s almost of secondary notice that the production itself is unpolished. There are many typos and spacing issues in the text. The lack of introduction screen is a minor nit, but absence of clear indication that you have reached an ending is worse. The first ending I got, I assumed was a missing-continue bug. On replaying, I figured out no, all the endings just stopped giving you more places to go. This latter was deeply Intrusive to the experience, and built on typos to give a first draft feeling to the proceedings.

It is hard to escape the idea that the work just tried WAY too much in too little time. It wants EPIC, in scope, emotion and impact. Narrative Epic takes time to build. The reader/player needs to be introduced to large conceits over time, be invested in the cause and effect chains and interactions that created this narrative edifice. Here we are basically jumping in to the end of the story without any of the buildup needed to feel how it lands. I will say, I did experience one Spark in the playtime. After achieving two endings, I liked that for my third I got to see it (Spoiler - click to show)kind of from the other perspective. I do need to be a stickler about the PLURAL sparks in my criteria, but even as the result of an opaque choice, that was kinda cool.

Played: 10/21/23
Playtime: 15min, 2 paths, 3 endings
Artistic/Technical ratings: Mechanical, Intrusive
Would Play After Comp?: No, experience feels complete

Artistic scale: Bouncy, Mechanical, Sparks of Joy, Engaging, Transcendent
Technical scale: Unplayable, Intrusive, Notable (Bugginess), Mostly Seamless, Seamless

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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful:
Stupid universe, I hate it so much, December 26, 2023
by Mike Russo (Los Angeles)
Related reviews: IF Comp 2023

(This is a lightly-edited version of a review I posted to the IntFiction forums during 2023's IFComp).

Before we talk about For Eternity, Again and Again, we need to talk about lore.

Wait, come back! Look, I often give lore a hard time – by which I mean the generous slatherings of worldbuilding minutiae that get troweled all over many a fantasy or sci-fi setting. You know the stuff: codex entries going into absurd detail about the botany of a made-up tree that’s just there to pad out the skybox, mythologies that are long on incident but thematically inert, absurdly over-worked discussions of political or economic background with no conceivable relevance to the plot… There are better and worse versions of it, but it’s largely waffle, interesting maybe to think up but deeply enervating for most players to have to wade through (I admit I don’t always fall within the most, since I have a soft-spot for the fantasy economics stuff).

Lore makes for a convenient punching bag, because it’s often the sign of an author who’s more interested in sharing their setting notes than telling a story. But I do fear that the pendulum can sometimes swing too far in the other direction, with authors holding back on important information about how their world works for fear of boring the player. The thing is, worldbuilding for its own sake is dull, but in genre fiction it’s absolutely the case that the player needs to have some sense of the rules governing the pieces of the setting that depart from the familiar real-world milieu. Like, the answer to any question of the form “why did X happen in this story?” is “because the author wanted it to happen.” But emotional engagement requires that dynamic to be disguised as much as possible, so that actions feel like they have understandable consequences and the plot doesn’t come off as bare authorial fiat. The context needed for this alchemy to happen isn’t lore, though it might look like it – it’s stakes.

For Eternity, sadly, is one of those games that throws the baby out with the bathwater. This short Twine game riffs on the Moorcockian Eternal Champion premise, with a protagonist who’s endlessly reincarnated in new situations to carry out quests, and who’s joined by their likewise eternally-recurring lover. But in this latest rebirth, there are worrying signs that this rather cozy cycle is coming to an end. Structurally, the game consists of one conversation with the lover establishing the set up, then a quick transition to a second dialogue as things, predictably, go pear-shaped. This could be a tight, efficient way to get to some drama as these star-crossed lovers are cruelly torn asunder. But it lacks much impact because it’s never clear why anything is happening. Per the opening, “the Universe” has something to do with this whole cycle, with mention of dark tendrils holding different timelines together. That’s an interesting – though not I think especially appealing – image, but it’s pretty hand-wavey. That’d be fine if the focus were on what happened within each cycle, but it’s not; as mentioned, the questy bit is entirely bottom-lined:

It is almost the same as every other hero you have lived as before. You fought monsters, almost died several times, and met companions. All the while your lover floats around you, whispering jokes and loving words in your ear. Well, they were supposed to be.

That stuff actually sounds interesting, but those couple sentences are all the player gets. Instead, you’re shunted into one of I think two distinct endgames; in one, the universe is decaying into an entropic end-state, taking you with it, while in the other, it somehow decides it doesn’t like you and brings an end to your reincarnation dealie. The first thing that makes this feel arbitrary is that your choice of dialogue as you groundlessly speculate on what’s going appears to determine which path you wind up on. But since neither scenario is motivated by facts or observations, just tossed-off brainstorming, it feels decidedly coincidental that your stab-in-the-dark just happens to be right. Beyond that, there’s no previously-established reason why the universe would be decaying, or how, mechanically, it can have opinions and act on them. These ideas aren’t terrible in of themselves, but they’re given no context or buildup: when you get to Act III, you can’t have the narrator run onto the stage, blurt out “oh sorry, there was a gun on the mantel this whole time, forgot to mention it”, then speed off just as a character aims and fires. Rather than situations leading to consequences, this is consequences dictating situations. If the universe decides it dislikes me, what’s stopping me from deciding I don’t like it and I’m not going to play it’s stupid game anymore? Who can say.

The overall weak prose means that these narrative problems loom all the larger. There are myriad typos, starting at the beginning of the game’s second passage, and there are often-bizarre images, like this description of your lover:

Soft skin, plush lips, tender touches, and a voice like a music box.

Or this bit of establishing dialogue, which achieves a sort of low-energy camp poetry:

A huff echoes through your mind. “It took a while to look for you. It will take a short time for me to materialize. The Universe is just playing tricks.”

“That you don’t appreicate.” You say, knowing how much they hate the Universe.

Stupid universe, I hate it so much!

On the plus side, sometimes this kind of thing teetered into hilarity, perhaps intentionally, like the bit where the hero, a mighty immortal warrior, gets punked by a lowly goblin because they’re hanging out flapping their gums while backlit by a cave entrance. But this comedy makes the low-stakes melodrama even more bathetic. I repeat, the concept for For Eternity’s narrative could work, but I needed more of a reason to care about these people and their world to make the story hit home.

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Brief, branching twine game about fate and the universe, November 22, 2023
by MathBrush
Related reviews: less than 15 minutes

This is a twine game that uses some simple branching and rejoining to tell a short story. In the absence of state tracking and styling, its stripped down to just the essentials of twine. Such a story can be amazing or awful, depending mostly on the storytelling.

This game has 2 main paths and four different endings. I played through once, backed up and tried another path, and then looked at the code. The code gave me a much deeper appreciation for the game, as I hadn’t checked out the other 2 paths. They strongly complement the other paths, so I highly recommend playing through at least three paths to see how things go.

It’s a shorter game, and all the paths tell of a cycle of rebirth and of timelines in a universe that has gone wrong. It also focuses on love.

Overall, it’s pretty slight and small, but I loved the storytelling trick with the different paths. The game could benefit a bit from more work; for instance, there were numerous typos in the early game, around 1 per screen that I noticed. Other than that, it seems like a complete story as envisioned by the author.

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- Ann Hugo (Canada), November 16, 2023

- Tabitha / alyshkalia, November 16, 2023

- Jacob MacDonald, November 16, 2023

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Confusing vagueness, November 13, 2023
by manonamora
Related reviews: ifcomp

For Eternity, Again and Again is a quite short entry, about love, unbending fate, and rebirth. The entry plays on the trope of immortal lover vs reincarnated mortal, set in a vague fantasy setting. I found all endings.

I thought the game was confusing. Even reading back on my previous choices, or going through the ones I had not picked yet, I found myself wondering what this game was about. I gathered that the story meant to show the struggles between lovers facing their doomed end, but the vagueness and unevenness of the writing didn't quite manage to hit the mark for me.

Having found all ending, I did note that the two paths were somewhat mirroring each other. I think you get to play both lovers, one for each path? If so, that's neat.

[Originally played during the IFComp on 1-Oct]

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- Edo, November 6, 2023

- jaclynhyde, November 2, 2023

- Zape, October 5, 2023


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