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About the Story
18 Rooms to Home is an experimental work of interactive fiction. It’s a day in the life of Yesenia Reed, whose life is far from ordinary, no matter what she might prefer.
Emily Short's Interactive Storytelling
This backwards, Memento-esque story structure might seem counterintuitive in IF, especially since it makes the player replay the story’s ending over and over. But Carolyn is doing something very ingenious with it. In Room 18, there is, as far as I can tell, only one way that the story can end. Room 17 introduces new information, skills, and possibilities, which in turn means a new possible outcome. Room 16 layers on yet a third (at least — it’s conceivable, I suppose, that there are even more variations I’m not aware of). Even when the player gets back to a room or prop she’s already seen in a previous episode, there are new possibilities.
This in turn does a great job of building up the player’s sense of consequence. Even when there are a lot of branches in a traditional-format story game, there’s no guarantee that the player will see all the variant endings, or that she’ll realize all the points at which branching could occur. But playing through 18 Rooms an episode at a time means learning exactly what is allowed to go differently, and why, as more and more past branch points are introduced.
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"18 Rooms to Home" is made of 18 installments telling a story in reverse chronological order; you start with the very last room, the very last moment of the story, and each new room moves you to the previous beat of the story. This is a very interesting concept, reminiscent of 'Memento' and other experiments with fractured timelines, but the fact that it's IF, or that it's a video game, adds much more: the choices the player makes in the room N carry over to the room N+1! This means that the situation that starts the game when Room, say, 18, may not be the one you get when you play Room 17 and then Room 18; even better, each new installment adds more possibilities for a room or a point of the story that weren't available with the previous one.
As a result, it kind of feels like exploring parallel universes, and it's hard to tell which would be the "main" storyline; the best situation you can get for one installment might not be the best one at the next one, because you start at an earlier point of the storyline and you can make a choice that makes the situation even better... or worse! That's the thing: my first playthrough usually consists in trying to reach the situation in the next room I was in at the previous installment, so then I only have to redo the things I already solved; then I focus more on the new room, and try to figure out what I could do to make the storyline diverge and reach a different point. It really feels like exploring a tree of possibilities; and since there's only one more location every time, you can just focus on this and the handful of objects to try to see what you can do. This is why I would recommend playing the games in the order they are released in, starting with 18 then 17 then..., because it's fun to see all the solutions and possibilities the author put in the game, and you can just chew a little at the time.
As I'm reviewing this, we're at room 15; the obvious question is "will the author manage to keep this up?". It sure looks daunting, because if you want to provide a few meaningful choices at each new room, you have to consider their impact on the other events, and it looks like the number of possibilites explode. However, I'm fairly confident that the author will be able to finish the game: not all choices have to lead you to branches that go to the end (there could be ways to be killed, after all), and not all choices have to lead you to branches that have as many choices as others. Sometimes, some choices you make in a room avoid the problems in the next few rooms and make them completely linear! (and it's awesome that the author also thought to implement those possibilites!) And I don't think that it'd be a waste if the puzzles and content of an installment could be completely side-stepped in the next one; again, a lot of the fun (and I think the most meaningful way to play it, to get the whole experience, and play and ponder about alternate timelines) is to play it in order, and I'll actually be happy if there's a way to avoid problems that appeared in other installments, since I've already solved them. In any case, it's a huge project, and the number of possibilites and different endings is likely to be huge by the end of the game.
All this talk about the major concept of the game, and I haven't talked about the stuff you usually talk about in a review. Well, the story itself is pretty interesting, as it casts you (well, not exactly you since it's written using 3rd person) as a superhero with interesting powers, and you have to fight other powerful people -- it seems that superheroes coexist with humans, but still have to hide their true identities. The details so far are a bit fuzzy, which is part of the fun: who are those people, what happened for the situation to be like that, why did that happen, and oh man, am I going to be able to change this? You get a few details about the world, and the game presents you events that happened in the past by showing their consequences in your scene -- which is awesome, because you can kind of guess what will happen in the next installments, and wonder how you can change it. Anyway, the situation, personalities and characters that are shown make me feel like a TV show (also possibly the short length of playthroughs), not a Marvel movie; this is a good thing, because the game can set its own tone and explore its themes more quietly and interestingly than a *ka-pow* *boom* superhero movie, and can also afford to avoid the gritty-bombing-death-civilians tone of other movies. The superpowers are limited, there's no impending doom and destruction of the whole world; it seems to be a lot more about relationships, and a lot more personal, which makes it deeper and carrying more weight and drama. And, as I said, we don't know all the details about the world just yet, so there could be twists, things we learn about the past that explain or cast a new light on relationships, or even dramatic changes.
I'm *really* excited about "18 Rooms to Home", and wish good luck to the author: I really like this experiment, and I hope she'll manage to complete it!
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