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About the Story
The last light has gone. The stars are coming out in the black sea above. Many are hidden by ice-fingered winds. My father is still not returned and the fire is almost gone.
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Number of Reviews: 4
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A Colder Light is set on plains of winter ice under a sky filled with significantly named stars. This world could be an alternate North Pole, or perhaps just the North Pole of another past time, but the game is described as fantasy and the geography is not specified. This is an atmospheric adventure with a very satisfying design, a good puzzle system, an attractive web browser presentation and a haunting feel.
The setup is that you live out in this frozen wilderness with your father, who has been teaching you survival skills and respect for the power of nature. One day he does not come home, and you must draw on your ingenuity and on the spiritual magic of stars and runestones to find out what has happened to him. Determining how and when to call the game's various spirit entities is the primary ongoing puzzle.
A Colder Light is driven by a combination of keyword hyperlinks in the prose and mini-menus of useful actions which pop up at the bottom of the screen, a combination well-suited to this game. The roster of locations is small, though dense with spirit puzzle action, and your runes need to be tested out in permutations, something I imagine could be a bit of a chore to carry out via typing. It's also impossible to waste time trying actions that have no bearing on the proceedings as they simply aren't available in the first place.
The game is designed in such a way that you still have to make some logical imaginative leaps yourself (which to me is the key attraction of parser driven games) based on your observations of which stars are visible in different locations and your ideas about which runes might do what. There is also a sense of bleak urgency which seeps through the modest but poetic-leaning prose of the narrator, and the strength and resolve of the character you're playing come through clearly in that voice.
The aesthetic design of the game screen sets the mood perfectly, with a semitransparent text window floating before a far view of the cold and dark horizon. There are, however, a couple of shortcomings in the delivery system. The first is the slowness of the hybrid Inform 7 / Quixe / hyperlinks game engine; it can take between 1/4 second to 1 second to process each action. This adds up over time and is especially felt on a repeat play. The second shortcoming is mostly a problem because of the first: there is no save capability. While the game can be considered short by most standards, and not too hard, the time it takes to play is longer than such assessments would suggest. So for now, if you want to take a break, it's important not to close the game window. Breaking off completely will necessitate a restart next time.
While the game engine may be an iteration of a work in progress, the game itself is definitely no experiment – A Colder Light is a very fine, compactly designed and enjoyable adventure whose contents play to this new delivery format while also bringing across some of the particular strengths of parser based games.
As I continue my beginner's journey into the worlds of interactive fiction, I am learning that I am a purist in some respects. When I open an interactive fiction that includes pictures or music, I find myself disengaged and a bit annoyed. When I'm told I have to play in a browser and I find that I can't type in my own commands, I am a bit taken aback. (What do you mean, I can't play offline? So you're saying I can't save and restore?) The first time I visited the page where The Colder Light is hosted, I didn't give the game a chance. I didn't like the fact that the commands would be dictated to me. It felt passive. Something about going through the process of typing in my own commands is preferable to me. It slows me down. It gives me time to think. It gives me a sense of control and immersion.
All that said, as I was browsing IFDB last night looking for games to add to my queue, the name Jon Ingold kept coming up in my search results. I downloaded a few of his highest-rated games based on their descriptions and recommendations, but it was late and I wanted to play a short game. When I returned to the description of The Colder Light and it was described as a short story, I decided to give it another chance. I'm very glad that I did.
At the beginning of the story you learn that you are a child left alone in a bleak, dark and dangerous ice land. Your father is missing. You must fend for yourself. The interface presents you with your opening moves. You can go inside, look at the sky, examine what you are wearing or carrying or discover what you are beneath. (Spoiler - click to show)(The carrying command is hinted as it is preselected.) During gameplay I never used the beneath command because I didn't consider it significant, but in hindsight I would have found it useful. As you examine your environment and the things at your disposal, you begin to understand how to move the story forward.
After you get the hang of the game's core objects and how they work together to solve puzzles, advancing the story becomes quick work. You find that the game relies less on discovering the objects than on figuring out what to do with them once discovered. To solve the first puzzle, you need to (Spoiler - click to show)discover the wood rune by examining the fire pit inside, go back outside, then play the wood rune and the giant rune. When you summon the Withered Tree, you climb it, break off some branches, and take them inside to keep your fire going. This is also the key to uncovering a portable light source. Once you solve it, the controls become a gift not a hindrance.
In the beginning, I wanted the descriptions to be a bit longer. The author tells the story through very concise and measured prose. He uses his words very sparingly and yet manages to convey the appropriate mood. The tight writing allows the story to move forward quickly, and the story becomes a bit more engaging with every turn.
The Colder Light was the fourth interactive fiction that I've played to completion. After getting over my own personal biases against the interface and online game play, I found it to be an enjoyable experience. When I reached the end of the story, I felt like I had progressed through a clear and believable character arc with a satisfying conclusion.
I'm still a bit curious about how the game would play in a traditional offline interpreter. I wish the author would provide the option. If you are on the fence about playing this game because the interface doesn't woo you, give it a chance. It grew on me.
In this game, you play as a young Inuit native (I believe; it never says, but you live on the ice and eat seal meat). You can summon beings from the Stars by placing runes on the ground that describe them, two runes at a time.
This game uses a parser/choice hybrid, by having a variety of nouns at the bottom which, as you click them, provide verbs to act on them with, usually two or three verbs at a time.
This system took me a bit to get used to at first, but I ended up enjoying it quite a bit. The runes become an alphabet of sorts that, like the alphabet in Ingold's adaptation of Sorcery!, allows for a great deal of variety and difficulty in a parser hybrid.
The story was slow to start for me, but grew on me. I strongly recommend this game. It took me about 40 minutes to play.
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