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About the Story
"A one-room game set in your apartment." [--blurb from Competition Aught-Zero]
Nominee, Best Game; Nominee, Best Writing; Nominee, Best Story; Winner, Best Setting; Nominee, Best Individual PC; Nominee, Best Use of Medium - 2000 XYZZY Awards
10th Place overall; 3rd Place, Miss Congeniality Awards - 6th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2000)
4th Place - The Top Five IF Games (Adventure Gamers, 2002)
The author's tag-line for this game is "A one-room game set in your apartment," and it's difficult to say much more about it without spoilers. Suffice it to say that it's extremely well crafted and very, very creepy--this is "mess with your head" IF par excellence. Precisely what happens, particularly at the end, is open to multiple interpretations. There's also a lot going on, in a sense, so you may want to replay it a few times once you're done. Not to everyone's taste--it's not an upbeat game by any means--but masterfully done.
-- Duncan Stevens
Play This Thing!
Avert Your Eyes
Shade is one of those classics that get recommended anytime anyone recommends any IF to newcomers: it's brief, disquieting, ambiguous, memorable without being especially difficult. It offers an interaction style too guided and fluid to be called "puzzly", and which probably belongs in some other category. It threatens one's ideas of the relationship between the player and the protagonist. It has entered the canon, as far as interactive fiction has one.
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It's "a one-room game set in your apartment" that starts off light enough, and slowly devolves into an absolutely disturbing masterpiece with an ending that will leave you stunned—and immediately desiring a replay. [...] Suffice it to say that Plotkin is a master of messing with your head, and this short work, to me, is his greatest masterpiece in that regard.
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International Business Times
The solid, algorithmic world of standard text-based games is turned into something more wobbly; after enough weirdness it starts to feel like anything could happen in Shade and that drums up the scare factor.
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I cannot, without revealing entirely too much about this game, explain to you just what it was that had me raving about this game for two days afterwards, including randomly piping up with a particular rant that would, again, spoil things. Let me just assure you that this is the case: for two days, I was so haunted by this game that it was constantly in my head, teasing me... waiting for me in the darkness. In the shadows.
In the Shade.
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>VERBOSE -- Paul O'Brian's Interactive Fiction Page
Quite simply, it blew me away. Not only that, it's one of those games that I wanted to restart right after I'd finished, just to try different things. When I did this, even more details came together in my head. Even now, little pieces are snapping together in my mind, and I'm getting flashes of realization about the meanings behind the meanings of so many of the game's elements. Few parts of the IF experience are as startling or as pleasurable.
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Number of Reviews: 38
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Shade is a one-room puzzle game, but what a room it is! Technically, this game is very accomplished. The room feels large and cramped at the same time. While there are no other real locations to go to in the game, the room has distinct areas that you can enter or exit but which don’t really impact the scope of your actions. What I mean by this is that you can enter the ‘kitchen’ area of the room, and the status bar will even reflect that, but if you then type ‘sit at desk’ (which is in the living room) the game will seamlessly make you leave the kitchen area then sit at the desk without complaint.
So it feels like one room but actually has distinct areas that you can look at and interact with, which makes it much easier on the player when he/she is trying to examine everything in the room trying to figure out what to do next, which, unfortunately, is something I was doing quite frequently in this game.
For all its technical achievements (which I admit all Plotkin games excel in – technical fluency), I simply wasn’t interested in much of the game.
The story starts out simple enough: You are going on a trip on an early flight and haven’t been able to get much sleep when suddenly you realize you can’t remember where you put your tickets. We’ve all been there before, and the charming familiarity of the scenario definitely piqued my interest at first. But then, as the game progresses, your room starts to lose a bit of its solidity. The descriptions of objects change almost randomly, and slowly the game descends into dream-logic.
There is a problem with dream logic in games: it changes the rules. While it can be fun to read a book where a character watches his sofa turn into a thousand snakes and then slither off, and halfway fun to watch it unfold in a movie or TV show, in a video game it means every gameplay mechanic up until the leap into dreamtime falls into question and the player is left in a lurch not sure what to do anymore.
I feel Shade fell into this problem and there came to a point in the game where I was doing things simply because the game wanted me to and not because I understood the reasoning behind them. Obviously since it was following dream-logic by that point, there was no reason behind it, but that was not very satisfying.
In the end, I sort of figured out what was going on, and the cause of the delirium the player stumbles into, but it’s never entirely stated that my supposition is correct, only vaguely gestured at. Personally, I like to see closure in a game, even if it is not a victory condition for the PC, and the strange happenings, and unclear ending of Shade didn’t work for me.
...though perhaps that was part of the point.
Initially, I felt like I was humoring the game, waiting for it to give me some reason to do something. Then I was weirded out. Then I was very weirded out. (Spoiler - click to show)Having spent some time in Afghanistan, I am more familiar than I care to be with sand that gets in everything--I had a rather strong emotional reaction as things started getting, er, shifty.
Unfortunately, after a while, I just started getting annoyed. Part of that is simply from inexperience with the medium--I have not done many of these, and I have a better sense now of what is needed to progress than I did starting out. But after a while it became clear that everything was heading in a certain direction, and it was only left to me to figure out the right keywords to make it go that way in a timely fashion; this is where the annoyance really came in.
The ending was odd. It's hard to strike just the right note of ambiguity without leaving most people scratching their heads wondering what just happened. For me, it wasn't quite right, but other people apparently were enthralled with it, so I'm not willing to criticize too much.
Enjoyable. Creepy, particularly if you have spent much time in deserts. The more I think about it, the more I like it. Even if you end up hating it, you'll probably think about it a bit, and it only took this tyro about 50 minutes--surely you can spare an hour.
This short, stylized and evocative "in your apartment" game is carried by technical merit and an effective surprise turn in the plot(Spoiler - click to show) -- a bizarre and horrifying disintegration of reality which reminded me of Philip K. Dick's oeuvre (e.g. Ubik, Electric Ant).
Shade is, however, marred by a few superficial defects. Being constrained to the apartment and an inexorably linear plot contributes to the game's feeling of airless claustrophobia, making it easy to excuse its minimal setting and choices. Gameplay generally flows well and is polite to the player; I only got stuck a few times, briefly, and never irreparably. But when I did get stuck, advancing the plot was often tedious, requiring systematic sweeps of the apartment to find the next trigger. For me, this compromised the effectiveness of the work by slowing the pace and focusing my attention on the manipulation of the parser.
I also felt that Shade would have been more effective and satisfying if the surreal plot, and particularly the ending, had sustained explanation more clearly than it did. As it stood, the events seemed arbitrary most of the way through, and I came away feeling that a lot of technical ability and conceptual cleverness had been deployed for no very compelling narrative purpose.
For me, the game's principal virtue was to demonstrate innovative tricks in the medium. But I think it is likely that readers' tastes will differ. Fans of mind games and psychological horror will find the game worthwhile for its craftsmanship and verve - and, in any case, Shade is so short and widely admired that most readers will find it worthwhile.
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