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About the Story
> SHARE all your stories
> RECORD all your secrets
> ANSWER all your questions
> RENOUNCE all your possessions
> WAKE UP...
(For a *slightly* less surreal mapping experience, improved fonts, and a manual, download the game)
Content warning: Nightmares, Bedbugs, Clowns, and Spiders...Sadness, Madness, Fury, and Worry
Open World Role-Playing Game
28th Place - tie - 28th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2022)
Winner, Outstanding Adrift Game of 2022 - Player’s Choice; Winner, Outstanding Adrift Game of 2022 - Author’s Choice - The 2022 IFDB Awards
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Number of Reviews: 6
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This game looks at what could happen when you fall asleep and dream.
I want to keep myself from going on a tangent of Lost Coastlines vs. Skybreak! since this review is ultimately about Lost Coastlines, but that is probably inevitable. Both are excellent games. They are also the only ADRIFT games that I have committed to playing because I always run into lag issues (not the authors’ fault) that make me hesitant about long, epic pieces. These two are definitely worth it.
I must confess, Skybreak! wins me over a little more, probably because I am into science fiction. Sentient-computer-adventure-friend/narrator is tough to beat. But Lost Coastlines has a lot of great features not found in Skybreak! Ultimately, they both bring something new to the table while retaining similar structural framework. If you have previously played Skybreak! which came out a few years ago, you most likely will say to yourself, “this seems familiar” when you launch into Lost Coastlines. Same goes for the other way around. William Dooling has a distinct and creative style.
Lost Coastlines begins with character creation. You choose factors like where you fall asleep or what type of person you are in the day which then determines your skillsets and some of the gameplay content. I thought this was clever because it makes the gameplay more personalized to what interests you the most. You then decide who you want to be in the game, such as a Scientist or Mystic, which also sculpts your adventures. Lots of possibilities. I highly encourage you to use the author’s nifty guidebook for this portion.
A key mechanic in the game is with stat related encounters where the game lists your options along with the skill used in each choice and the probability of success. It is also colour-coded! I thought that this was a consistent structure. It is easy to keep track of your stats for these encounters and I did not experience burnout after several hours of this. One of my favorite features was how you can wear individual clothing items to improve your stats.
The part that took me the longest to manage is the currency system. Believe it or not, gold and coins are not the standard. Emotions take center focus instead.
Pleasance:15| Sadness:5| Madness:42| Fury:36| Worry:218|
Emotions are generated through different encounters and can be used to make transactions or initiate opportunities. Some are easier to accumulate, for better or for worse, but it appears that they all have an application somewhere. The problem is that it can feel as if you always have the least amount of the emotion you need. There was a bit of a learning curve for me.
A complaint that some people had with Skybreak! is how the player can decide on everything except their destinations. Travel was random. Spaceships never used compass directions. But Lost Coastlines does. When you want to leave, you get back into your boat, pick a direction, and set sail. You have much more wiggle room with navigation. Many locations only allow you to perform one action, but it is easier to return to them because you can correlate their location relative to other areas. The in-game map is especially helpful. While travel is not always smooth sailing, the randomness is reduced. I think players will like that.
Story + Characters
As I already mention, gameplay content is molded by character customization choices. There is not an overarching story in the game’s world, just the player’s role-oriented objectives. You can find bite-sized story content in places you visit. Populated areas have legends or rumors that span across multiple regions. But the dreamlike quality of the gameplay means that there will be something to engage you.
Despite what the (lovely) cover art shows, I am pretty sure that the player is not puttering around in a little rowboat. Your vessel has a crew, a relatively anonymous and replaceable one that does everything automatically. You never truly interact with them, although I would not be surprised if you can recruit individual NPCs. If so, I never reached that point. You still have the chance to mingle with NPCs at destinations, particularly harbors, taverns, and markets.
My first playthrough
I will just stick this “dream” under one spoiler tag in case you want to know about my experience.
(Spoiler - click to show)
Character customization: (I decided to stick to a science-oriented theme for these choices, as was the case when I first played Skybreak!)
1. I fell asleep in class
2. Brought an old telescope with me
Let's see... Highlights:
-I saw Natalie Portman in a bar (she was the bartender).
-Spent three years with a talking cat to learn about the magical arts.
-Found the Pendant of Fire (is that a big deal?)
-Crew supposedly came this close to eating me.
-Dueled it out with Schenckloth. Did not go as planned.
Challenge: At one point, my crew and I were stuck on a 3x3 grid of rooms consisting of eight jungle locations and one beach location, and I had no idea of how to leave. I tried "SET SAIL," "LEAVE," "LEAVE BEACH," but nothing. I spent the better part of an hour puttering around, studying insects, plundering ruins, and hunting for meat, but there was never any opportunity of leaving.
I wondered if I should have left it at that, but there was another issue. When you read the in-game help section it says, "As an open world game, there is no final goal or overarching story: do whatever you want! You can end the game at any time by typing WAKE UP." But if I try to do this, I get this response:
➢ WAKE UP
You are not asleep!
What does it mean I am not asleep? It is one big dream! I should be snoozing away here. Waking up was supposed to end the game and give me a final score, but I suppose not. Sadly, I had to end my first playthrough there. I wanted to keep playing but you can only search the same area for insects for so many times. That did not, however, stop me from replaying the game to sample the different character creation options. While I did not devote as much time to my other playthroughs of this game, I had fun experimenting with the gameplay. There is a lot to do.
Lost Coastlines is a beautifully descriptive game. Calming with an edge of danger. The best part of this game is the open world format. Go. Explore. I love it when games capture that notion. You have your boat and go wherever you want, assuming you can weather the challenges.
Ideally, play this game when you have several hours of time available for a leisurely playthrough. Don’t try to cram it into your lunch break because it takes a while to accumulate items and stats that allow you to pursue some of the more daring opportunities. Then it becomes really fun.
Before you go: Maybe I am wrong, but isn't (Spoiler - click to show) Schenckloth, the Lord of Nightmares in Skybreak! as well?
Adapted from an IFCOMP22 Review
In a bout of review Deja’ Vu (Deja reView?), I said this about Lost at the Market:
"Dreams are certainly useful settings in IF. When used effectively, it can explain and justify any of the inherent limitations of the medium or even lean into the limitations as features."
Kinda wished I’d saved that gem for this review, it’s much more relevant here. This is a procedurally generated dreamscape, and boy does it ever “lean into limitations as features.” Freed from demands of terrestrial geology, ecosystems and logic Lost Coastlines goes bananas with strange, whimsical, fantastical, nightmarish and just plain clever map nodes, butting up against each other without rhyme or reason in a deeply complicated map. Evolutionary scholars and tectonic plate experts would die of apoplexy. The scope of the different encounters in the first hour was dizzying – one minute you’re plundering ships on the high seas, the next you are desperate NOT to look under a clown’s mask, right before you collaborate on an undersea steampunk engine. The breadth and scope was giddy, you really did feel anything at all could show up next, and were kind of drawn to see what that would be. It’s realized ambitions were super high.
But I was not Engaged, and it is some combination of gameplay design and bugs that I was fighting the entire time. Let me preface by saying I have no insight into the code, I am describing in pseudo code how I modeled the game in my head. Every location you find has one or two of these states: IDLE and IN_ENCOUNTER. Most of the time you enter a location into IDLE, where you can look around, examine things, or enter one or more encounters by typing site-specific phrases helpfully capitalized for you. Or you can just exit to the next location. Some locations put you directly into IN_ENCOUNTER state. If you engage an encounter you have to see it to its conclusion before you can leave, and then cannot engage any others. This is made frustrating because verbs and nouns that work in one state are infrequently recognized in the other - same location, mind – and the text doesn’t do a great job of hinting why or what state you are in. I spent a lot of time getting “not recognized” on capitalized words the game supported but I didn’t know I was in the wrong state to exercise. It was exacerbated by a finicky parser. If met with the prompt “FRAMISTAT THE WHOSIDINGIE” sometimes the parser recognized just FRAMISTAT or WHOSIDINGIE. Sometimes you could omit the THE, and other times you needed the whole phrase, and every failure was greeted with “I don’t recognise…”. I mean, you told me to FRAMISTAT just LET ME DADGUM FRAMISTAT!!!
Ahem. This is also an RPG of sorts, with stats and equipment that need to be managed through gameplay - maximize good stuff, try not to accumulate and/or get rid of bad stuff. Because you are wandering through a randomly generated world though, there is no guarantee you can find what you need when you need it and boy do you accumulate that bad stuff. Character creation is light, dreamlike and clever. One particularly nice feature is depending on what role you choose you have a special power. However, mine did not work consistently. At first I thought it was a bug, then I theorized maybe there was an invisible state limitation I didn’t understand, then came back around to “pretty sure its a bug.” (Spoiler - click to show)Several times my Pirate ability to bypass storms/sea monsters/pirates flat didn’t work, but I got ‘charged’ for using it every time. Either that or the action feedback didn’t educate me about its use.
For the first hour, there was an equilibrium where I fought through the parser to enjoy the majesty of that tangled, tangled map and its delightful patchwork universe. Then the randomizer caught up with me, and some of the least interesting settings started repeating. A lot. Fighting the parser became a lot less rewarding, and the unavoidable encounters I had no chance of winning became less amusing.
In the end, I found myself preoccupied with my mental model to the exclusion of the dream-logic narrative of the game. I thought of it like an ameritrash boardgame where : move pawn to adjacent space, draw 1-N encounter cards, choose one of them with limited insight into potential results, roll dice, add/subtract appropriate scores to resolve, move to next space. Rule 188.8.131.52 - you cannot return to previous spaces within X turns.
I gave up at the 1.5hr mark, still begrudgingly admiring the majesty of the randomizer and the tapestry it weaved for me. So many individual encounters were Sparks of Joy (more in their description and variety than gameplay). Notably buggy implementation for sure, but I can’t help but give it a bonus point for epic dreamscape sweep. There were some cool characteristic-tradeoff rules to work towards for the endgame, but that was down the road, way beyond my exit ramp.
Playtime: 1.5hr; 28 pleasance, 40 knowledge, gobs and gobs of Worry and Fury, and a good amount of Madness. Like real life!
Artistic/Technical rankings: Sparks of Joy/Notable
Would Play Again? No, experience seems complete
Artistic scale: Bouncy, Mechanical, Sparks of Joy, Engaging, Transcendent
Technical scale: Unplayable, Intrusive, Notable (Bugginess), Mostly Seamless, Seamless
(This is a lightly-edited version of a review I posted to the IntFiction forums during 2022's IFComp).
I generally find people who like to bang on about their unpopular opinions kind of irritating; typically they’re either casting a perfectly normal opinion as “unpopular”, or taking a perverse, trollish glee in pushing what’s often thoughtless contrarianism. In both cases it’s unpleasantly attention-seeking – like, just say what you’re going to say and let it stand on its own.
But – of course there was a but coming – I am going to fail to take my own advice here, because I think before you read this review, you should know that I don’t like Fallen London. I know that this is a minority view, especially around here, and I can appreciate the appeal. The weird-Gothic setting is creative, and the writing is very good at prodding the player’s imagination with a whisper of a suggestion here and an unexplained proper-noun there. And the idea of a role-playing game where the highest-stake conflicts aren’t about shoving your +18 Flaming Zweihander of Golgothan Fury into someone else’s entrails 17-24 times, but decocting the rarest vintage to impress jaded partygoers or gambling your soul in a high-stakes poker-game – yes, very cool. But despite the quality of the fiction, I can’t look past the mechanics. Everything you do gets commodified – if you have a flirtatious encounter, the game informs you that you’ve gained 13 Memories of Kisses, and if you get betrayed by a co-conspirator, you gain the Vow of Revenge quality. And on and on and on, until your character is toting around dozens of different abstractions and enough personality tags to populate a madhouse.
For some players, I can see how that leads to greater engagement by tying the narrative and mechanical sides of the game together more tightly, but for me, it just makes everything feel arbitrary. The sprinkling of flavor across the top isn’t enough to distinguish the various sub-currencies that begin to feel interchangeable, and the transparency about how your stats translate to a probability of succeeding in any particular course of action reduces choice to just trying whatever’s most likely to succeed. After a very short time playing, I even found myself skimming the lovely prose, since all that mattered was the number. This is a very self-defeating way to play Fallen London, obviously – and I’m aware that most people engage with it in a much more rewarding way – but I can’t figure out how to turn off the part of my brain that jumps straight to the mechanics; I’m like the guy in the Matrix who just sees the code behind the simulation.
I’ve allowed myself to go off on this digression at length because, for all that it has notable differences, my experience of playing Lost Coastlines is 90% similar to how it felt to try Fallen London. This is a big game, taking the protagonist into a randomly-generated dreamworld that’s home to dastardly pirates, sentient frogs, diamonds that hold magic in their hearts, and a whole city of clowns (admittedly I noped the hell out of that one rather than explore it). There’s an RPG-style character generator where you can focus on your fighting or sneakiness or seacraft – oceangoing is a key part of the world, with settlements scattered across a series of islands – and choose a few additional advantages, then you can opt into a nicely-done (albeit occasionally infodumpy) tutorial that walks you through the basics, or skip it in favor of reading the high-production-value manual that comes with the download, and then you’re unleashed on this world of adventure to make a name for yourself. You can explore randomly – sometimes coming across blank spots on the map, where you’re given the opportunity to name them – or take on quests for various factions, or trade commodities from one village to another. And at most locations, you’ll encounter a little storylet where you’ll have a choice of bespoke options, like whether to STUDY or PLUNDER a set of ruins, and get some money – here called “pleasance” – or Fragments of Knowledge or some other reward, if you succeed at a stat test.
It’s a lot to dig into, and there’s even a good balance between randomly-generated content and hand-crafted locations that seem to offer deeper, less randomized storylets with unique mechanics and dependencies on stuff you do, or people you meet, in the rest of the world. And there’s a medium-length sea battle system. All of this is stuff I should dig, but unfortunately, despite all the craft that went into Lost Coastlines, it still left me kind of cold. It just gave me that same old vibe that it didn’t matter where I was exploring, mostly the events were being pulled out of the same hat, with just a different probability distribution depending on where I was sailing. And for all that there are many kinds of rewards and things to collect, they all seem to work similarly, either directly increasing your stats or pleasance or providing abstract coupons that could be redeemed for these benefits in the appropriate circumstances.
It wasn’t long before I was mindlessly sailing the seas, looking for whatever options seemed most likely to succeed and skimming the resulting text to see which numbers were increasing. Again, this is maybe just something broken about how I’m able to relate to games like this, though I do think there are a couple factors that maybe exacerbated the problem. The most superficial is that I find the default ADRIFT presentation ugly and a bit hard to read, and though there are a variety of view options I haven’t been able to find a combination that’s any better. The most significant, though, is that the overall game structure isn’t very compelling. While there do appear to be hard-coded stories, there isn’t an overarching plot to follow; at any point you can choose to wake up from the dream, and you’ll get a score that’s just your pleasance minus the sum of negative characteristics you’ve accumulated. I ended the game twice, once with a couple hundred pleasance and once with about 1,500, but I got the same perfunctory ending each time, with no narrative reward or even context for what’s a good score and what’s a pathetic one – as a result, I didn’t feel myself especially motivated to try again to cover more ground or get a bigger number just for the sake of it.
My enjoyment was also reduced by the suspicion that the game could use a little more tuning – that’s a little churlish to suggest given the scale of what one amateur author has created here, but still, it reinformed my mechanical mindset when I realized that the penalty from failing to feed my crew was significantly lower than the cost to buy food, so I might as well let ‘em starve. I also felt like I succeeded much less frequently than the odds cited by the game would imply; I lost like four Chancey tests in a row, for example, when I should have had like a 55-75% likelihood of succeeding at each. Sure, could be that’s just the luck of the draw, but it grates, especially since UNDO doesn’t change random results and at least in my playthrough, I found it pretty hard to get much of a toehold in the early going. Plus I think I ran into a significant bug when I visited the aforementioned City of Frogs – my options were either to hire one using a resource I hadn’t yet found, or attempt to gain their trust, but nothing I typed would allow me to have a go at the latter choice, so I had to UNDO my way out of there.
I’m curious to read other reviews here, because as with Fallen London, I’m guessing that my reaction is pretty idiosyncratic – I can recognize the passion and effort the author put into the game, so I’m hoping that once again my opinion is an unpopular one, and there are other players who can give it the praise I think it deserves.
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