Shade

by Andrew Plotkin profile

Travel
2000

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Number of Reviews: 40
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7 of 13 people found the following review helpful:
What happened?, December 29, 2010

Some people might think from my breathless review of Spider and Web that I am an Andrew Plotkin groupie. This is not the case. While I have tremendous respect for his fearsome combination of seamless coding and tight story-telling*, he is, in the end, only human. Shade is the reminder.

The start of this work exhibits all of Mr. Plotkin's hallmark qualities: his trick of making the mundane seem interesting with inventive prose, his expert sense of how long to keep the player in suspense before providing the next clue about what's going on, his knack for making the story follow you before you can follow it. The excellence of this work set up some high expectations about what would come next.

To me, everything about the first half of the game seemed to be pointing towards a particular moment of revelation, in which the player would literally "wake up" and begin a new section of gameplay. This never happened. Instead, things take a sharp turn towards the weird and abstract, and the story leaves the player in the lurch, confused and unsatisfied about which, if any, of the tensions introduced in the first half were resolved.

When abstraction is introduced, art is always in danger of sliding down the slippery slope from transcendent to incomprehensible. Shade, unfortunately, goes right over the edge. While it is tempting to think that I just "missed it", it seems more likely that Mr. Plotkin's profound intuition misled him here in deciding how to communicate whatever he was trying for. [edit: Turns out there was quite a bit I just missed. (Spoiler - click to show)The studied opinion of IF master Emily Short shows that a careful reading of the text provides plenty of evidence (subtle though some of it may be) to support a consistent and interesting interpretation of the end. I've upped my rating by a point to reflect this.]

This game is still worth playing at least once just to marvel at the genius of its functioning as the story's central mystery unwinds. I can't even conceive of what the underlying code for this game looks like, but it feels like something deeply elegant and beautifully simple. If the story had the same coherence, this might have been another landmark work in the field.

* Or is it tight coding and seamless story-telling?