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About the Story
Surely the reed bank counts as a wild place. While it gives you so much, you've never tended it, not really, not like you do with your garden. It's something like the forest, then, but much safer to search without attracting attention. So here you are.
Nominee, Best Game; Winner, Best Story; Nominee, Best Individual Puzzle - 2010 XYZZY Awards
If you play only one game from this year's comp I would heartily recommend The Warbler's Nest, with some slight reservations. The genre that would describe it the closest would probably be "psychological thriller."
As is the usual case, the game starts with little to no information and gradually tells the player what's going on. The clever part is that at some point your perception of the setting changes to something completely else, and it's not a Shyamalanian "Look! A twist!" but the player comes to the chilling conclusion gradually. The restrained style of writing supports the big picture perfectly.
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Number of Reviews: 9
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Many pieces of interactive fiction have played with a difference in knowledge between the player and the protagonist. Often, the protagonist knows more than the player, since he or she is supposed to be familiar with the fictional worlds; but sometimes, the protagonist is so naive, stupid or self-deluded that the player understands things the protagonist does not. The Warbler's Nest falls into this latter category, although this time the knowledge difference is generated by the protagonist living a long time ago and having beliefs that we know (or at least strongly believe) are false.
In a sense, this is a horror piece, but horror of the most quiet kind. The horrific "revelation" is obvious well in advance, so the interest of the piece has to come from a contemplation of the beliefs, fears and hopes of the protagonist. Jason McIntosh conveys these very clearly, and the fact that they are simultaneously so understandable and so alien, and are combined with the potential for disaster, makes for a stimulating experience.
If one had to complain, one would probably point out that there is not much of a game here, but given the short time it will take you to traverse this piece, this is not a very serious complaint. I would like to see more pieces that are as quiet and contemplative as The Warbler's Nest.
One question that this piece has raised for me: can a story be considered a tragedy if none of the people in the fictional world consider it to be such?
My predominant mood after finishing this game is one of contemplation. I am not getting where the horror or sorrow mentioned by others comes into play. But I found all the possible endings without much trouble, and each of them says something about the player character as a person. I found that the character was both believable and easily identified with. There is a dark side to her that I could appreciate, as well as a dutifulness that I could respect.
The writing is rather spare and minimalist. In fact, there aren't really many places to explore. But IF conventions are honored. You're told what you need to do, and cut scenes give relevant backstory but are vague enough to have the player wondering what's being alluded to. Even now, I'm unsure about a few points. Perhaps reading more about the game will bring some insight.
Really, though, the central point of this game is a moral choice, so emotional impact comes from the various endings.
There are no puzzles in this game. Everything you need to do is simply achieved, so that all focus goes to the story and setting. But setting falls down for me because not everything was implemented. (Spoiler - click to show)The reeds rustle, but you can't hear the river. No ability to touch things, either.
I think there are clear links between the tasks at the beginning of the game and the protagonist's backstory, as well as a juxtaposition, a mirroring, of reality and the character's internal monologue. This creates a pleasing symmetry.
Because of the sparse prose, which doesn't really do it for me aesthetically, I rated this game as average. But it has a good story and doesn't take any significant time. Everyone should play it at least once. Not much commitment and worth it for anyone who cares about the literary side of IF.
Edit: I upped the rating because the impact really hit me hours after finishing the game, when I realized I was still thinking about it. (Spoiler - click to show)The horrifying barbarism probably perpetrated on innocent children and unfortunate mothers.
You are searching amongst the reeds for eggshells. If you believe the tailor, these are what you need to take back what is yours.
The Warbler's Nest doesn't immediately give up its story, but rather reveals it both through cutscenes and through environmental detail. This is aided by the mechanic, which is basically a treasure hunt. Given that this game is rather short, though, to reveal more about the story would spoil it. All I will say is that this game taps on faerie folklore and rituals related to them. It follows the interpretation of faerie folk as being intensely selfish yet bound by immoveable, arcane rules, which gives a quietly sinister air to the game as a whole.
Overall: understated horror is one of my favourite genres, and I really like how The Warbler's Nest handled that. This is a gem of a short story, well worth the 20 or so minutes it takes to play.
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