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Scents & Semiosis

by Sam Kabo Ashwell profile, Cat Manning profile, Caleb Wilson profile, and Yoon Ha Lee

Fantasy
2020

Web Site

(based on 7 ratings)
1 review

About the Story

A perfumer keeps a private collection of scents, each tied to a memory. Decide what they mean.

Scents & Semiosis makes heavy use of procedural generation to create strange perfumes, full lives, and potent associations, with some alternate history around the edges.


Game Details


Awards

Nominee, Best Writing - 2020 XYZZY Awards

Nominee, Best Game Writing - Nebula Awards 2020

Editorial Reviews

The Gaming Philosopher

What we're looking at is a semiotic machine, a machine that doesn't so much generate meaning, as it embodies it. There is a sense in which it spews out texts that the reader gets to interpret; but even more crucially, it is itself the result of thousands of acts of interpretation of its author. And knowing about those acts of interpretation actually gives more meaning to the texts that are generated. The fascination of the piece -- at least for me, and one would suspect for the author as well -- lies in seeing how the choices of the author end up generating the texts that end up being generated.
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50 Years of Text Games, by Aaron A. Reed
Scents & Semiosis is undoubtedly a game that was grown. In it, you take the role of a perfumer thumbing through a collection that samples your lifeís work, reveling in the memories each scent brings to mind and the associations it suggests. The gameís scope is deliberately small, encompassing only a handful of lingering moments.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A joy to play, January 2, 2023
by Kinetic Mouse Car
Related reviews: Vorple, Inform

Scents & Semiosis is a collaborative piece about a perfumer leisurely browsing through their personal collection of perfumes to relive the memories associated with each scent.

Gameplay
This game is an Inform Vorple combo, and in this case, it is merely choice-based. Keyboards are not necessary to experience Scents & Semiosis. Just start by picking a perfume. The game will then give you a list of three perfume bottles to choose from. Each lead to a memory and a breakdown if its scent components.

Sweet musk, rough cherry orange zest, pink rose, juicy cinchona. Sadia was wearing it the only time you collaborated.

cinchona feels like the loyalty of progress
rose feels like subtle mentorship
musk could mean enthusiastic arousal
musk is suggestive of Sadia
None of these feel right. Reconsider.

You have no influence over the protagonistís life and history. Choosing a perfume reveals a memory. What occurred in the memory is set in stone, but you decide how the protagonist feels about it by pairing a specific scent note in the perfume with an emotion or sentiment.

The memory doesn't mean what it used to. Perfumes fade. You set it aside.

Finally, you choose whether the protagonist keeps the perfume or discards it. In other words, is the memory worth cherishing or is it best left behind?

Above all, Scents & Semiosis is meant to be revisited. First time through you may play it until it satisfies your curiosity but returning to it from time to time when you are in the mood for such a game makes its effect enduring.

Considerations on structure
The big attraction with Scents & Semiosis is its extensive use of procedural generation that creates endlessly unique perfume bottles, perfume compositions, memories (down to the details), and scent meanings. I was amazed at how it never seemed to grow dull even as I was zipping through perfume after perfume without abandon. The game contains a link to some nicely organized source code if you are interested.

One side effect of this procedural generation was its broadening of my understanding of possible scents used in perfume. Not that this game is supposed to be a crash course. There is the familiar lavender, rose, jasmine, violet, and sweet pea. But what about hyssop, tonka, angelica, blood petitgrain, galangal, or jonquil? Some of these had me researching them just to see what they look like (and curious of what they smelled like).

Story + Characters
The protagonist is part blank slate, part well-rounded. You do not know much about them personally, but you do have fragments of memories. Just snippets and anecdotes though meaningful ones. What you see is different from playthrough to playthrough, and the game has a talent for painting a complex protagonist whom we realistically know nothing about.

You may find yourself visualizing yourself in the protagonistís shoes, imaging what their experience was like. The writing, while brief, paints a diverse life. Countries visited, names of colleagues and rivals, lavish events, precarious escapades, humble encounters, of gaining inspiration simply by smelling the fragrance of a passing stranger. All told through perfume.

Visuals
The cover art is beautiful, and its simple but concise design is present throughout the game. This artwork is then paired with honey coloured links and occasional light-yellow backdrops that create a minimalist beauty.

At the end, the game presents you with a lightly illustrated list of scents and the associations you selected for them. The illustrations are not of the scent itself, just an icon to add a pleasing appearance.

Final thoughts
If you just finished playing an intensive 6-hour long puzzle fest game that fried your brain, consider Scents & Semiosis to wind down. Itís like the chamomile (which is also a scent!) of interactive fiction. The subject matter may not appeal to everyone, but there is a sense of tranquility and introspectiveness that carries its own merit. Itís not just a game about perfume. Itís also about memory. Plus, it is one of the most casual games Iíve played. Just you, digging through your collection on a lazy evening.

Even the gameís title has a nice ring to it. Scents & Semiosis....

Anyway. I enjoyed this game tremendously.

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