Shade

by Andrew Plotkin profile

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Number of Reviews: 40
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Elusive symbolism, but well-written, December 24, 2012
by Andromache (Hawaii)

I've never been very good at working out symbolic meanings. I think I'm supposed to take something away from this, but it eludes me. (Spoiler - click to show)I have impressions of someone going mad from dehydration and possibly drug use, but the ending feels like I'm supposed to be grasping something that I'm not.

There were some parts of the game where I struggled with what to do. (Spoiler - click to show)The only thing that gave me any clue was that if something was intact, it must be destroyed. However, I had tremendous fun wrecking everything, and the writing during that part of the game had me laughing out loud. The to-do list, changes in room description, and the plant showing the state of dehydration were nice touches and enhanced the bleakness of the atmosphere.

This is a fun diversion and mostly intuitive. Not difficult at all for anyone familiar with IF conventions. It's worth playing just for the amusing and ironic writing.


4 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
Thought-provoking but somewhat blah, August 20, 2012
by glassmice (Equatorial)

Maybe I'm dead inside, but somehow I couldn't get drawn into the plot, despite the excellent attention to detail, (Spoiler - click to show)e.g. the subtle changes to the game environment as the story progressed, and very competent writing. Perhaps what detracted from the story-telling was the predictability of the plot twist, which was not so subtly hinted at (too?) early in the beginning (Spoiler - click to show)(namely the news report on the stereo), and the linear manner in which the subsequent actions unfold. For most of the game I could see where the character was going, and it was just a matter of figuring out how to lead him there; the little details in the story, which on hindsight provide so much to the narrative process, just got lost in the rather tedious gameplay.

That said, Shade provides lots of material for literary analysis, and the ending is tantalizingly opaque. So if you don't mind gameplay (no puzzles!) taking a backseat to a good - if slightly hackneyed - storyline, this IF is for you. If you're unsure if you'd like, its short length (approximately 1 hour) means you could give it a shot anyway. Who knows, you might end up liking it.


3 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
Amazing and Creepy One Room Short IF, April 8, 2012
by octofuzz (Trondheim, Norway)

Played it over an Easter vacation in a hotel lobby and was absolutely captivated.

Easily solved in under two hours but I think it will take several runs through for me to appreciate all of its subtle messages and meaning.

Great for beginners as well (it was the second ever game I completed).

Download, absorb, enjoy.


3 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
A Solid Four-Star Game, March 20, 2012
by Jim Kaplan (Jim Kaplan has a room called the location. The location of Jim Kaplan is variable.)
Related reviews: andrew plotkin, one-room, short

Play the game if: you simply want to enjoy a competent and in some places innovative work of interactive fiction without getting bogged down in complex intellectual challenges.

Don't play the game if: you want to be dazzled with narrative brilliance, or if you want more out of IF than good prose and atmosphere.

Shade is a work of interactive fiction that could easily have doubled as a script for The Twilight Zone. In fact, certain very apt comparisons could be made to (Spoiler - click to show)Ambrose Bierce's "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge", a film adaptation of which was shown on The Twilight Zone.

The bare mechanics of Shade work rather well. In fact, the very question of "difficulty" doesn't even seem to exist in this game. Plotkin's writing is sharp enough that when the rules begin to change, the differences will leap out at you even though they're rather subtle - details such as (Spoiler - click to show)The protagonist's vacuum suddenly being full of sand, or the apartment's plant changing species.

The apartment setting is implemented with convenience in mind, the game allowing for multiple locations in a single-room setting without forcing the player to resort to constant commands of "enter" and "exit". My favorite games in IF focus on synchronizing the kind of decision-making underlying in-game actions with the player's own mind. Such games, and in this case Shade, impart a sense of intuitive control and completeness that can help the game transcend itself in the Turing-esque sense that IF has always striven to accomplish.

There is only so much one can discuss in the story itself without referring to heavy spoilers. The fact that there even exist heavy spoilers is in and of itself something of a spoiler, which poses something of a problem. Nevertheless, for the sake of completeness, the attempt must be made.

An undeniable strength of the story is the atmosphere. The one-room setting achieved the right balance of comprehensibility and potential to explore; the pacing of your introductory searches around the room is good enough to introduce all the important elements at play and keep them in your mind at all times.

Perhaps because I've seen this particular brand of story before, Shade's actual narrative doesn't come across as particularly fresh or new for me. This is likely more a subjective nitpick than an objective criticism, but there you go. What might be called the second act (Spoiler - click to show)(specifically, the process of turning all of your apartment to sand) was for me a rather laborious process of carrying out the obvious, even though I understood more or less where this story was going to end. Even before getting to this stage I'd more or less guessed the ending - showing that while subtle details will leap out at you, there's an added risk of too much foreshadowing.

The result was that I wasn't as gripped by Shade as I might have been - the two moments of genuine excitement being the realization of what was actually going on (turning out to be something I'd seen before), and the epilogue of sorts, which is written rather well.

Still, this is, if not a great work, at least a very good one; the implementation of the setting, the comfortable command system, and the prose are by themselves enough to make this game worth your time.


2 of 9 people found the following review helpful:
No second chances, September 22, 2011
by Deboriole (San Diego, CA)

I enjoyed this game to a point. That point came when I became completely stuck and had to look at a walkthrough. Turns out I missed one opportunity and therefore could never solve the game. There was no indication that I was hopelessly stuck, so I rambled about for an hour until finally throwing in the towel. That did not make me very happy! There could be a simple solution to this...

(Spoiler - click to show)I really wish the helicopter would have come around again... I failed to look out the window in the two turns I had, and was not able to finish the game as a result.


8 of 9 people found the following review helpful:
The "Jacob's Ladder" of Interactive Fiction, August 4, 2011
by John Daily (New York)

There is a reason why, eleven years after its release, people are still playing (and discussing) Shade: It's a benchmark game. Beautiful in its elegance and completely immersive, its seemingly simplistic gameplay belies a sophisticated core.

The player begins in his (or her) apartment, several hours before embarking on a Burning Man-styled trip to the desert. The game starts off walking the player through mundane tasks, which serves two purposes: First, it eases the player into the game's vernacular; second, it puts him on comfortable footing, which is an important detail, as it makes the slow descent into its surreal Hell even more stark by contrast.

Designer/Writer Andrew Plotkin ensured that Shade can be enjoyed by players of all levels. A creatively implemented help system, woven into the story, walks the main character through tasks that need completion without being intrusive. For those who don't need such hand-holding, opting out is as simple a matter as not looking. For all its newbie-friendliness however, Shade features writing that works on several levels; statements that might initially elicit a chuckle become downright sinister as the game progresses.

I hesitate to call Shade a game, because the writing and pacing is so dead on (if you'll pardon the expression); although you will be ahead of things during the game's middle section, it's a necessary evil dictated by the plot, and it's safe to say this will not be the case as you progress toward the finale. Be forewarned however: if surrealism and ambiguity aren't your thing, then you may want to bypass this one. Shade is the Jacob's Ladder of the medium: not very scary while you're experiencing it, but it gets under your skin and stays there long after the word "END" appears on-screen.


5 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
Surrealist IF at its best, July 6, 2011
by katz (Altadena, California)

Surrealist interactive fiction is largely an untapped resource, and this well-written and well-crafted little game shows what the genre is capable of. It's atmospheric, creepy, and suffused with a sense of inexorability that builds as the player finds him- or herself moving things along towards a foreboding conclusion.

The ambiguous ending frustrates a lot of players, but I appreciated it. It seems clear enough to me--the game isn't excessively complex--Plotkin just never states it overtly. Surely there's room in the canon for a few intentionally unresolved endings, and if they belong anywhere, it's in a surrealist game.


1 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
Surreal, February 2, 2011

Odd, eerie, surrealistic, and foreboding, "Shade's" mood is its real attraction. The game's only "puzzle" is actually a very clever meta-puzzle; once you've noticed what all the significant commands in the game have in common, you'll get the gimmick and soon find yourself at the game's notorious ending.


4 of 10 people found the following review helpful:
Shades of black and white?, January 28, 2011
by Aintelligence (Canada)

This is such a controversial game in so many different ways that I felt the need to weigh in my thoughts. I'll get this straight from the beginning so there's no confusion later. This game was in my mind an incredibly put together game. Arguably the best of Andrew Plotkin (although several others come to mind as well).

It is hard to write a review on this game without giving the whole story up, but I'll do my best.
I think that the two main strengths of the game are all related to character, and the links which are created throughout the game. Yes it's confusing and I played it twice to see all that I could learn (although I'm sure I could get more from it in my fourth or fifth time playing it.), but between these two elements, the game is worth the time.

The character is reLly the part of the plot in which I hate to spoil. I will say that plotkin, has really worked hard on making genuine emotion within the character. Every emotion is set out so well, (Spoiler - click to show) from genuine surprise, to a certain shrouded fear, to crazed terror and the downright craziness. the character not only has rapid changes of emotions, but I similarly was drawn into the story and experienced a wide range of emotions and wierdness. (Spoiler - click to show) of course it is the brain of the character which is in the end the most chilling part...

Secondly, the major strength of this piece is how, like a good puzzle, everything relates to each other in a dim, but in the end understandable, way. I think it is that dim sense that something isn't right even at the beginning of the adventure that was extremely compelling. Even further was how seemingly unexplainable things happened and felt vaguely related all
of the time. It really kept me on the edge of my seat. Many have said that it gets really tedious after a while of playing. Personally (maybe i'm just weird) I liked the timing of it very well. Nothing was forced, and it gave me a time to build up the suspense. (Spoiler - click to show) which for me started at the 'strange' vacuum scene.

I didn't really find too many weaknesses with this game, except maybe for the Different parts of the room which I wasn't very fond of. I will say this, it's very well done. Play it and play it more than once.


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?



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