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(based on 48 ratings)
Language: English (en)
Current Version: 1
Development System: Inform 6
Baf's Guide ID: 2689
Best of Show, Landscape - 2004 IF Art Show
Winner, Best Setting - 2004 XYZZY Awards
For the time I spent playing it - it didn't take much more than fifteen minutes from start to finish - it was interesting enough to hold my attention, although that was partly because I kept thinking "there has to be more to it than simply wandering from place to place" and right up to the last bit, I was expecting some kind of puzzle to spring itself upon me. When it didn't, and then the game ended, I was left with the feeling that while it had held my interest for fifteen minutes, it wouldn't have kept me glued to the screen for much longer.
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The first, powerful impact is of a beautiful landscape beautifully presented. It's tempting to describe sweeping scenes with flowery prose but the author resists that temptation. The text is sparse and transparent; it doesn't get in the way of the country depicted and everything is described with an infectious enthusiasm. I was left feeling relaxed, as though I'd been there, at least in part. I presume that was the main objective of the piece, so it's a success from the first play through.
That sense of "being there" is enhanced by the sheer interactivity of the piece. Faced with something that says, in essence, "See how interactive I am!" I start to verb the nouns. This setting is deeply implemented. Almost everything can be examined, heard, smelled, felt and tasted. I know more about Appalachian flora now than I did before playing.
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50 Years of Text Games, by Aaron A. Reed
The Fire Tower recreates, in loving detail, a real section of the Appalachian trail in Great Smoky Mountains National Park: a sixteen mile loop that climbs to the Mt. Cammerer fire tower and winds up and down ridges with ample views of rolling hills and forested valleys. Your character is a young woman who’s both an experienced hiker and a knowledgable naturalist, and under your direction she walks the trail with confidence, facing no hunger timers, puzzles, weather hazards or other real obstacles. It’s a game “about experiencing a real place that may or may not be outside your normal element,” wrote its author in the introduction. “There is no way to go wrong.”
But the game hides a surprising amount of depth in the landscape you’re traversing, with dozens and dozens of scenery objects representing vistas, trees, rocks, signposts, flowers, insects, and animals, most of which can be appreciated with a wide range of sensory verbs.
The Fire Tower was among the most pure explorations yet created in an interactive fiction engine—or indeed, in the days before walking simulators and art games, in a game engine of any kind.
[...] it’s a beautiful and memorable example of one end that interactive text can be turned to, and of “what happens when love and skill come together,” as one reviewer put it: a game infused with “authenticity... on all levels.”
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Number of Reviews: 5
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Knowing that The Fire Tower was an entry in the IF Art Show, and was praised for its environment, I was kind of expecting a game with a huge number of meticulously described scenery objects - something that I'd find a chore to get through. With this unfortunate expectation set in my mind, my first experiences with this game were a little confusing. There weren't that many things to examine - although they were very nicely described - and when I typed LOOK to remind myself of what there was I found the locations' descriptions to be abbreviated to a brief summary that focused on the exits.
That's when I realised that I needed to take The Fire Tower on its own terms. This is a game about hiking a route that the author is familiar with through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. While it is possible to stop and smell the flowers and run your hands through the waters of Tom's Creek, the most significant interaction in this game is simply moving and reading the description for the next location.
I'm sure that for many players this is too little interaction and too linear a journey, but if you're not looking to solve puzzles or map rooms, if you're quite happy to just read succinct and evocative descriptions of a real world place and your movement through it, then I think this game is in fact very substantial, in its own way.
One thing that makes The Fire Tower stand out to me, from a lot of other IF games, is not just that it's firmly grounded in everyday life, but that it feels like a very personal story. I'm sure that in reality this is a careful fictionalisation of the author's real journeys, but it's full of great little details - stopping to adjust your socks, for example - that very much convey a lived experience.
Depending on what you look for in IF, you may find The Fire Tower to be a very flimsy game. But if you're looking for ambience and a sense of place, you'll find them here in rich abundance.
I liked the lyricality of this, the fact that the author didn't have to use overly-flowery words and phrases to effectively convey the scenes. The journey at the center of this game; a hike, feels very personal, makes it feel very personal to the reader. For me, at least, the first reaction I had to the story after spending some time getting to a certain level of acquaintance with its text was this: familiarity. The scenes and experiences described in this game were somehow very familiar to me. I'm most definitely not an experienced hiker, though I do have the memories of going on long walks with my family whenever we could in my childhood; on trails, through neighborhoods and suburban blocks. But I think, mostly, it's the love of nature in this that attracts me; I experience nature in perhaps much the same way that the protagonist of this work does, and it is always deeply gratifying to have your experiences written down on paper (or, in this case, on the screen), to have a sudden epiphany of, oh, so there are other people out there who think like me too, and to not feel so alone or lost or strange about yourself and your beliefs for a little bit after.
Rarely do I find games that are like this, games that are purely about exploring a space without the additional baggage of puzzles/plot being incorporated somewhere, that don't end up just being boring. In fact I read the reviews by the other reviewers on this game and was astounded to see some of the things that I had missed in my playthrough; (Spoiler - click to show)a bear?! a bear, of all things? and you could stay in the woods 'til evening and see fireflies and even get a search party sent for you??? I had no idea, not a single clue. Just goes to show how expansive this work is, or could be, if you let it.
This game is a peaceful, calm exploration of nature, the way She's Got A Thing For A Spring or A Change In The Weather would have been without puzzles.
This game was a Landscape entry in the IF Art Show, so the emphasis here is on detail, setting, the five senses, and so on. I loved the nature feeling here.
There are multiple paths you can take, but I just played through once. There are some exciting random events, and some philosophy.
Recommended for everyone.
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