Chaos

by John Barker profile

Surreal
2009

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Number of Reviews: 3
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful:
Surreal piece with too little story, November 4, 2009
by Felix Larsson (Gothenburg, Sweden)
Related reviews: [1], gambol

This is IF in a surreal setting, as such it exploits the lack of logical and natural constraints typical of dreams: the geography of the fictional world does not respect natural laws; NPCs act irreducibly strange etc.

At his website Barker tells us that «Chaos was meant to be a descriptive and unsettling work». And at times he does succeed in being unsettling in just the surreal way intended, especially, I think, if you happen up in “the Infinite”, which soon becomes full of surreally sinister things.

The characterization of the piece as a ‘descriptive work’ is correct (and the writing, by the way, is quite able) and this, I think, puts the finger on it’s weak spot, viz. the lack of plot. The work is descriptive rather than narrative; actually it’s a nearly plotless puzzle piece. The problem is that the PC never is presented with much in the way of motive for acting at all: no treasure hunt, no monsters to defeat, no mystery to solve. You’re sent out to find food for a starving vulture; but I’m not sure if you do it out of pity or out of fear of being eaten by the bird. In the end, I felt I was doing it simply because there seemed to be very little else to do in that game world.

Barker, at the web site, tells us his piece was influenced by filmmakers working in a surreal vein. Perhaps the kind of surreal sequences of events that work well on the screen simply won’t work in interactive fiction. As a reader of IF it’s (of course) simply not possible to sit back and observe the series of events as they unfold; you have to take active part in it and influence it, or nothing will happen at all. But to do that in any interesting way, you’re pretty much bound both to have an in-fiction purpose to guide you—the kind of purpose that can, perhaps, not be had without a storyline. Again, I think, it’s the lack of plot that seriously marrs Chaos as interactive fiction.

The surrealism of it all even means that you can’t be perfectly sure that things that seem to be puzzles really are. And at the same time the plotlessness makes it hard to know whether you are making any real progress through the game or not. The scoring system didn’t help me much either. What does a negative score mean in this game’s context? That the game is now in an unwinnable state? Or that I am farther from completing it now than when I began?

Besides, the work has its fair share of bugs, underimplementations, inconsistent descriptions and technical flaws that could surely have been avoided with some beta-testing. That said, however, there were also some nice, unexpected details here and there.


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Bainespal, November 19, 2009 - Reply
This review is excellent and accurate. I don't have anything to add to it, but I disagree with the statement that surrealism doesn't work for interactive fiction. I've thought about this before, and I believe that IF is the only form of literature where surrealism works very often. In fact, "Surreal" is its own speculative genre in IF. Think of Andrew Plotkin's classic So Far. I don't think there could be any such thing as a classification of surreal novels.

I also think that the surreal genre is part of what makes Chaos fairly entertaining.

Anyway, that's my contention. ;-)
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