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About the Story
The Forever Cat stalks through this universe, collapsing it when the Others come close or shiny objects are too far apart. Will you end the Forever Cat's destructive cycle and help this universe's quanta join the multiverse?
68th Place - 26th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2020)
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Number of Reviews: 5
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Most Helpful Member Reviews
This is a fairly short, choice-based work where you play a quantum particle in our universe, which is hidden away from the multiverse by the Forever Cat, forced to endure the collapse and recreation of spacetime over and over again when all you want is to rest.
Yes, this game is weird.
I was right on the edge of giving it two stars, but it was just interesting enough at the end to bump it up to three. Halfway through I was very frustrated as it seemed that the game was primarily about picking your way through the branches of the story to find the end. I suppose being forced to repeat the collapse and rebirth of the universe several times is kind of the point, but it got tedious after awhile. Once I finally figured out how to get to the semi-interesting part of the story, with meaningful choices that didn't trigger the collapse of the universe so often, it got better.
The writing is weird, but pretty solid. There isn't much of a story in the traditional sense, as much as ruminations on meaning, from quantum to multiverse in scale. Honestly, in the end what bumped it up from two to three stars for me was that after I finally achieved an ending (one of five possible endings), I had about 10 minutes left on the exercise bike, and rather than move on to something else immediately I was interested enough to go back and find another ending. Also, it helped that in the end (Spoiler - click to show)dogs were the heroes.
For those who want to find the path to the interesting part of the story, here it is: (Spoiler - click to show)This has happened to me before. - Our gravity ruptures. - Our expansion is steady. - Too far from our gravity, our awareness fractures. - This has happened to me before. - I wonder if being alone has any purpose. - I'm captured by a rogue planet. ...
As something that defies typical genres, "Quintessence" is a little hard to review.
1) From my play, definitely IF more than a "game."
2) The prose can be called "surreal." Odd or unconventional descriptions and metaphors. There's the typical synesthesia type thing (smelling a sound). But even a few moments of play will give an indication of what to expect throughout the whole game.
3) The mood is light. The tone is generally comic, though perhaps occasionally some options that seem slightly more serious arise.
It's unclear if there's some intended meaning or a serious theme is being addressed. I think this game is meant to be an entertaining reading experience; to me, it does not imply the need for intense contemplation or encourage the player to search for deeper meaning (either personal or universal).
As a piece of experimental writing that isn't striving for thematic complexity, I'd say it works. As with much experimental writing, personal taste will largely dictate if one enjoys the author's style. If it was aiming for something more profound, perhaps I purposefully settled on the easier task of reading for pleasure rather than depth.
There’s a fun mix of the whimsical and the scientific in Quintessence. The player character is one of a group of multiply-incarnating quantum intelligences, who goes on a cosmic romp aiming to foil the plots of all-powerful cat to contact a broader multiverse. On the whimsical side, the cursor shapeshifts as the player’s circumstances change, from cat to dinosaur to dog; on the scientific side, I caught lightly-allegorized references to straightforward stuff like the Big Bang and the expansion of the universe, but also choices that bear on whether this particular universe is closed or open in the cosmological sense.
I sometimes found it a bit challenging to reconcile the two sides of the piece – possibly this is because I, a pedant who studied astrophysics in undergrad, kept trying to figure out what was “really” going on in the various options about how the dog-civilization should try to make contact with parallel realities, rather than simply going with the flow of things. But I think the structure of the piece also maybe pushes play in this direction, since there are clearly “right” and “wrong” answers and branches.
There are five “real” endings (I found two of them, including what seems to be the best one), but many other choices will lead to the cat foiling your explorations, sending you back to the start. Without a way to undo or save, this means that the choices feel fairly weighty, since an incorrect one can require a fair bit of repetition to get back to the place where you made an incorrect choice.
Since there are consequences for the choices, what sometimes felt like a lack of full information about the context and implications of those choices undermined the joy of exploration for me – which is a shame, because there are definitely places where this combination of hard science and animal allegory is really fun (I mentioned the dog civilization!) Hopefully there’s a post-comp release with a back button or the ability to save, since I’d look forward to checking out the other paths through the game.
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