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Well-written but needs a bit more polish, March 23, 2015
by Simon Christiansen (Denmark)

This review was previously published on a blog in connection with IFComp 2012

Eurydice is a game about dealing with grief. It is well-written, and quite moving at times, but it needs some more polish to reach its full potential.

(Spoiler - click to show)The game begins with a boxed Tennyson quote, which unfortunately covers up the initial room description, and refuses to go away. A bit of experimentation revealed that the quote box worked fine on other interpreters (I am using Frotz), so I am willing to give the author a pass here, but still kinda set the tone for the game to come: Lots of small errors interfering with the otherwise very good writing and atmosphere.

The main character is grieving over the dead of his friend/girlfriend Celine, who has apparently committed suicide. It’s not quite clear what kind of relationship they had, but it doesn’t really matter. What does matter is that they clearly cared for one another, and the main character is having a hard time letting go. The “help” text implies that the game is based on the experiences of the author, in which case he is doing a great job describing his feelings.

The game starts in the upper floor of a house, where you wander around alone, exploring Celine’s now empty room, your own room, and maybe some of the others. A sense of desolation and abandonment pervades everything. Celine’s room has been emptied, and all the stuff in your own room just serves to remind you of your loss. The lyre in your room is the only item that doesn’t really fit the mood, which is just as well since you are supposed to notice it and take it with you.

When you finally come down to the ground floor, the atmosphere changes to one of social oppression. Tons of people either live in the house, or has come to show their support, and you would really prefer to be left alone. The scene in the living room turned out to be one my favourites in the game. All of the character’s can be examined and talked to several times, and they all seem like three-dimensional people, even though you don’t get to spend much time with them. I loved interacting with these people, and wished they had played a greater part in the story.

Unfortunately, the implementation problems with the game started to become really apparent by this time. While the things the author wants you to interact with, like the people in the room, are implemented very deeply, he tends to forget everything else. Nothing but the people seems to be implemented in the living room: The sofa, the table, the go game and lots of other things don’t actually exist in the world model. While the implementation can be delightfully deep when it wants to, it’s in sore need of more breadth. Mowing through all the “you can’t see any such thing”s, becomes a chore.

There are also a few too many Inform standard responses for my liking, but most of them aren’t really the kind of actions you would naturally try – unless you are like me, and like to obsessively go through a ton of standard actions to see if the author thought of them.

The writing is very good, with lots of beautiful metaphorical language that only occasionally tends towards the melodramatic. It does a great job of setting the mood, and making you identify with the main character. Unfortunately, it’s also marred by minor technical mistakes. There are several spelling mistakes, some odd formatting errors, and some very long paragraphs that would benefit from being broken up into smaller pieces. Still, it manages to work very well, and I’ll take good writing with spelling mistakes over impeccable mediocre writing any day.

After a while, you decide to go for a walk, and the game gradually segues into an afterlife dream sequence, where the mythological themes become more obvious. You take the place of Orpheus trying to rescue his love from the underworld, with the underworld turning out the be the asylum where she was committed. The character’s in the asylum stand in for various mythological character’s: The Doctor is Hades, the other woman in the asylum is Persephone, and so on.

The game becomes a lot more puzzly around this time. You need to figure how to get the Charon stand-in to sail you to the hospital, how to get past Cerberus etc. At first I was disappointed that the Lyre seemed to be the solution to almost everything, but I was pleasantly surprised when I discovered that you are supposed to be tempted to overuse it, as it represents the main character’s escapist tendencies. By using it to solve the puzzles you get a sub-optimal ending, in which the character escapes into a fantasy, and never learns to properly deal with his grief. The prosaic – and much harder – puzzle solutions keep you grounded, and allow you to reach a better ending.

I thought this was a really neat effect, which worked very well in my case. Puzzle based IF and literary IF are all too often considered to be at odds with each other, but you can definitely use puzzles to create literary effects, as this demonstrates.

The various endings neatly illustrate various stages of grief, although they probably work best if you get them in the right order. You can fail to deal with your grief, escape into fantasy, try to forget Celine by focusing on your friends, or truly deal with the grief and move on.

Unfortunately, the puzzles are also a bit marred by inconsistent implementation. For instance, there are several cases where you need to give objects to people to proceed, but merely showing the objects just gives you the standard “X is unimpressed” message. Being the possessive type, I tend to show things to people instead of immediately giving them away, so I struggled to solve some puzzles that were rather simple in themselves. I also had trouble retrieving the object hidden in my coat. You are told that there is something stuck in the lining of the coat, but you can’t interact with parts of the coat, or the “something” in any way. You have to type “search coat” to find it. While searching is an Inform standard action, it’s rarely used nowadays, and it didn’t occur to me to try it.

Despite of all the niggling problems, I was moved by this game, which is something that happens all too rarely. There are lots of things wrong with it, but they are all small things that can easily be fixed with some extra work. I guess my only major problem with it is that it reminds my own complete failure in trying to write a game about grief. I get the feeling that the author is an experienced writer, but new to programming. I recommend teaming up with some veteran IF testers, perhaps even a collaborator, and giving the game a few more coats of polish. As it is, it’s still probably my favorite game in the comp so far.