Whom The Telling Changed

by Aaron A. Reed profile


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Number of Reviews: 7
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
The truth of the story is in the listener..., June 8, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: History

Whom the Telling Changed is a different kind of IF. I was enthralled by this story within a story on multiple levels.

Superficially, this piece is a retelling of the story of the Cedar Forest and the demon Humbaba from the Gilgamesj epic. An interesting tale on its own, and also of great historical worth, it being the oldest recorded epic poem known in literature.

The setting is that of a non-descript tribal shepherding and farming community somewhere in the Fertile Crescent, some 3500 years ago. A group of newcomers have arrived, and the tribe is stricken with fear. There are also those who are curious to learn, and see these newcomers as an opportunity. You play the role of one of them, standing up to your war-hungry rival Sihan.

The epic poems that survived share a great relatability, centering on the great human questions of life and how to respond to them. It is here that Whom the Telling Changed places its interactivity. While the Storyteller relates the story of Gilgamesj and his friend Enkidu, you are allowed to comment and interject, hoping that your questions and suggestions will lead the emphasis of the story in your preffered direction and so sway the people to your point of view.

I imagine this sort of discussion over the meaning of old and well-known stories during a ritual telling around the fire may have been very important in the decision-making of pre-literate peoples. We still see this in debating the "true" meaning of religious and ideological texts.

Indeed, this is the wisdom the Storyteller imparts: Stories are not true or untrue. They convey meaning to the listener who makes them so...

The game-aspect of the story lies in traversing the pre-existing (and perhaps known to the reader) story in ways that emphasise the peaceful or curious sides of our human nature, as opposed to the violent or fearful ones.

Or not. The player is free to explore all the different directions the story may take, thereby sending the attention of the tribe and the relation with the rival Sihan in different directions.

Apart from some standard parser commands which are generally not needed, the player is offered a range of topics to choose from in the form of highlighted words in the text. There is also the opportunity to PRAISE or MOCK other speakers, to get the tribe on your side. Be careful, this may backfire.

I found there was a very believable and focusing contrast between the strict ceremonial protocol of the Telling and the freedom to interject at almost any time during the story. The game refuses all commands that would take the protagonist out of the frame of the Storytelling, most times responding with a valid in-game reason. On the other hand, there is a combinatorial explosion of choices that can lead you through the main story in many different ways, evoking different reactions from the tribe along the way.

The writing is exquisite throughout. The author has adopted the style of the epic oral poem, with repetitions and formulas, but he has also adapted this into readable and playable written IF-prose.

A story to play and replay, and, for me at least, a reason to expand my knowledge of the source material.

Very interesting, very impressive.

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Featured on Radio K #9, May 15, 2017
by Adam Cadre (Albany, California)

Katherine Morayati and I discuss Whom the Telling Changed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NrYukJxxotQ#t=22m28s

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Interactive storytelling with innovative keywords and moral choices, February 3, 2016

Whom the Telling Changed consists of numerous choices. The game frequently asks you to do something, but the order is ambiguous, with two or more meanings. The way you interpret it changes the game. You also listen to a storyteller to whom you can ask questions,

This game uses the same keyword system Aaron Reed later used in Blue Lacuna, his ultra-massive epic. Fans of one game will likely be fans of the other.

I didn't really enjoy this game. I felt that it resisted me trying to play myself. One might say that the author merely wanted to add surprises, however Glasser's Creatures Such as We used a similar moral choice system where playing as myself led to both big surprises and a feeling that the game understood me.

A fairly well-known game. I pushed through it to the end, and was glad I did. There are many endings.

0 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
Wow, May 31, 2012

Whom The Telling Changed is a beautiful interactive story about stories, set in tribal Sumeria, retelling a part of the Epic of Gilgamesh. Text adventures truly are the best kept secret in gaming.

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful:
Powerful, March 30, 2012
by Jim Kaplan (Jim Kaplan has a room called the location. The location of Jim Kaplan is variable.)
Related reviews: aaron a. reed, fantasy

Play it if: you wish for a game that explores puzzles of dialogue and discourse, or if you want to hear a powerful, emotionally resonant variation on the tale of Gilgamesh.

Don't play it if: you have trouble with puzzles that depend on intuition rather than pure logic, for it is as often as not by intuition that you progress through the story.

There are two reasons I love this story.

The first is intuition. The "puzzle" of the game, if it can be truly called a puzzle, is one of persuasion: to win the people of your tribe over to your way of thinking by directing the flow of a story. The player does this primarily by interacting with emphasized terms in the telling. Where intuition comes in is that you have no control over precisely what to do with each term; it is on the basis of each word's context in the story that you must decide how to interact.

This means that, to perhaps the greatest degree possible in IF, this is a game about language, a game which emphasizes reading comprehension over puzzle-solving. Not only is this fairly unusual for the genre, it is excellently done - the player can deduce important lessons even from minor details in the telling.

The second is the story itself. The storyteller narrates the first half of the Epic of Gilgamesh, the oldest written epic in recorded history and a myth which still resonates with and influences modern literature. The choice of story is perfectly suited to this work, for the Epic is primarily about fear - in particular, fear of death, and fear of the unknown - and the search for immortality, whether through glory or through the love and friendship of others. These are powerful themes that the framing narrative explores, taking place on the eve of tribal war.

Whom the Telling Changed is itself an allegory of the Gilgamesh story, and in adding another fundamental theme - the power of legend and narrative - Aaron A. Reed succeeds in crafting a myth of his own. This is fantasy from an older and darker time, from a world where life was brief and difficult. For many people in those times, the only spiritual and moral comfort to be offered came from the telling and understanding of old stories - as Reed understood when he tapped into that primordial image of a troubled tribe gathered in darkness around a warm campfire.

There are but a few other notes I have on this work. There are one or two glitches to be ironed out - I only ran into one of them, though, which given the game's NPC interactions is a pleasant surprise. Also, while in general I'm no fan of sequels, there is another chapter to the Gilgamesh myth...perhaps there is another story be told.

4 of 7 people found the following review helpful:
Very good, small flaws in setup, July 7, 2010

Overall, this game is excellent. The storytelling mechanic is effective and original...it's far more subtle than a hackneyed chose-your-own-adventure story; you simply affect which points are emphasized and give commentary to the tale. The choice of a real-world epic and collaboration by the author with a storyteller give a very authentic feel to the telling. It's about 10-15 minutes long (though I read fast!) -- short enough to play as a quick break, but long enough to get a good feel for the setting and establish some rapport with the story and characters.

I did, however, have some quibbles with the setup and mechanics. It isn't clear when you select the tools of your trade and the identity of your lover that this will affect your character; a few words of explanation would have cleared it up entirely. I do like the gender-neutrality of your character and choice of gender in your lover. Sometimes turning the story or audience to your side was effectively challenging, but other times it was just cryptic and frustrating. It isn't always clear when you pick a word what exactly you are going to have to say about it, and there were many moments of "Wait, that wasn't what I wanted my character to say at all!", and only repeated playthroughs will help that. In some playthroughs I was scolded for not participating despite having commented on many words; again, just a little more introduction or assistance would give you a better motivation to participate more rather than just sitting in silent agreement when other characters make comments you like and there isn't anything obvious you want to comment on.

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful:
The first impression can be misleading, May 30, 2008
by Pavel Soukenik (Kirkland, WA)

This is a very rich game of shaping the attitude of a tribe on the verge of war. Your choices create a nice variety of possibilities: who you are, who is the storyteller and which approach in the story you promote. Although the impact of the personality of the storyteller seems minimal, other choices really matter. To promote the attitudes of the tribe, you select highlighted keywords from the telling. This is quite effective although sometimes it was impossible to tell whether it would result in a push in the desired direction. Ocassionally, the keyword triggers an unobtrusive clarification whether you want to point out an aspect A or B by uncovering your internal weighing of the two options.

There are two problems though. The first is an unfortunate design decision: A title that allows the reader to get through the story by typing "wait" is taking a great gamble. The author better make sure the reader has good reasons to care for and understand what is going on. (I got to the storytelling part in about seven turns and waited, skimming, skipping through all of it, lacking a real motivation to actually do something.) The good news is that when (and if) you actually reach the end in this fashion, you will learn that you basically failed because you did not learn how to shape the story. In addition, you are given a nice recap of the background and what happened; a part of this would be so much needed at the beginning to get the player hooked.

The second problem is at the beginning when you choose your occupation and the identity of your companion. Unfortunately, the method used to give the player the option to decide is ill-chosen. [Details with a minor spoiler:] (Spoiler - click to show)You are told there is a "symbol" of your occupation. When you refer to it, you get a library disambiguation message between a medicine bag and a dagger (which had not been mentioned). The same problem appears soon after, when you are introduced to two main characters, one of them being your "love". For a player who does not know she is effectively defining the main character, this creates confusion, especially in what will often be the first turns.

Don't get discouraged by the first impression. This is a deep, meaningful game. You might still find yourself not drawn into the story the first time through, but by the time it ends, you will probably want to give it a second try.

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