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Version 1.​2
Requires a TADS interpreter. Visit IFWiki for download links.
Story File
IF Comp Version 1
Requires a TADS interpreter. Visit IFWiki for download links.

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Ghosts Within

by Kyriakos Athanasopoulos profile

Mystery
2021

(based on 9 ratings)
3 reviews

About the Story

The smell of damp moss fills the air. Wet grass and dirt surround you while you are lying face down on the cold forest floor. Your clothes are dirty, wet, and slightly torn in places. Your head's left side is throbbing, your heart is pounding irregularly, and your limbs have gone numb from the pain. You try to examine your surroundings, but the lighting is dim from your current position to do that. You try to stand up, but it feels way too exhausting. You try a second time with the help of a nearby fallen branch; finally, you manage to raise yourself from the ground...

Three different paths unravel before you, and the choice is yours. But you wonder: Did I end up here by accident? Did someone else do this to me? Or are there unimaginable otherworldly powers at play?


Game Details

Language: English (en)
First Publication Date: October 1, 2021
Current Version: 1.2
License: Freeware
Development System: TADS 3
Forgiveness Rating: Merciful
IFIDs:  460FA0A5-5E04-462D-BAE5-5B363672ACB3
TADS3-D1BA6933EF64D9CC6F4A8C8189FFB167
TUID: iaumjhvhbs0c8ini

Awards

28th place - tie - 27th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2021)

Editorial Reviews

Jim Nelson
IFComp 2021: Ghosts Within
...I’m thoroughly impressed with Ghosts Within. Hats off to a first-time implementor writing a game that leans heavy on NPCs, conversations, and knowledge. Ghosts Within offers spookiness, tons of ambiance, and a gradual accretion of details that lead toward solving at least three mysteries: Who you are, why you’re there, and what really happened long ago in the village of Foghelm.
See the full review

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Member Reviews

5 star:
(2)
4 star:
(4)
3 star:
(3)
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Number of Reviews: 3
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful:
A sprawling city and mystery with multiple opening and endings, October 9, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 2-10 hours

This is a TADS game entered into IFComp 2021. It is a very large game, with dozens of locations and requiring many hours to play through.

There are three different opening scenarios, each giving you a slightly different backstory. In all 3, you're an injured and forgetful young man exploring a small town called Foghelm.

There are numerous NPCs to talk to and a big mystery to solve. There are at least 3 endings, some of which are bad endings which you can't undo out of, so make sure to save.

Gameplay requires the use of ASK, TELL, SHOW, and ASK FOR. Searching all around is also helpful, as is keeping a map, even if you usually don't.

I manage to beat the game with 32 points out of 50, meaning there are many optional things I didn't see. I also replayed with a different opening, and some areas were unlocked that I couldn't see the first time and others were blocked off.

Overall, this is a compelling and excellent game.

It's negative features, such as they are, are typos (a frequent typo is having both a period and a comma after speech), topics for conversation appearing before you'd really know about them, and the big world map making it hard to know what to do at times.

Very fun game, one of the most fun I've played in a long time.


4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Too long for IFComp without a walkthrough, but lots for horror fans to like, December 6, 2021
by Andrew Schultz (Chicago)
Related reviews: IFComp 2021

GW is a big game, much too big to tackle without a walkthrough, and as a result, when I saw a rather large hint thread for how to get through it on the forums, I sort of ran away from it. It was the last entry I looked at in IFComp 2021. And boy, did I get off to a rough start. It was move 600 before I got a point, mostly because I wanted to take time to map things out. Perhaps TADS's technical boosts Inform lacks were such a crutch I enjoyed tinkering with them and forgot lateral thinking. The module to forgive bad spelling, which I always forget until the next TADS game appears, is quite nice. And in-game, the ASK and TELL were well-organized. There was already a map on the forums, but the thing is--there are three people you can start as, based on the direction you go to start. So the map seemed off, and I didn't know why. This was all overwhelming, but as it turns out, GW is a pretty good game overall.

I confess I decompiled the game to get as far as I did. I wound up having to ask for something slightly outside the box, and once I saw what I missed, I realized I could've typed ABOUT. But these are the risks of a big game, especially one that forces you to do so much concrete preparation to get your bearings. So I never considered asking for materials I needed to make certain areas accessible, namely, oil for the lantern I'd found. Once I did, I got clued/pushed to the right person. In the context of a game being a game where you find stuff and combine it to make new stuff, I should have remembered this. Though, as a person who's new to a village and probably better-off than the villagers, it felt weird to ask them for anything. Maybe that was too far outside the box.

But once that block was gone, I felt more comfortable/less uncomfortable, if slightly less immersed, asking around for what I needed. The story had fit together nicely even in the one-point-out-of-fifty state. I'd started off with a new job at FARMA who, apparently, did research on fog (and where better to do so than at the outskirts of a town called Foghelm?) but also with some injuries from a surprise attack. There was an odd man in a hut that villagers didn't like to talk about, an eerily simple twentysomething daughter of the mayor, a cloying gas station/hotel owner, and a captain and smith who both seemed to want to help me. Some places, it was signposted I couldn't do anything without the right item. For instance, there were rusty chains blocking me from an entrance, and elsewhere, someone offered to loan me a hammer, if I fed them, which was (again) a bit odd. The big mystery unfolding had to do with a ship crashing on the rocks, with a fatality, and whose fault it was: the lighthouse keeper, or a young lover?

So the story was set well, and the main block seemed to be finding the right nooks to find stuff in. I wasn't quite able to do this. GW suggested look and search were different (ugh,) and I wound up remembering this some of the time, which left a lot of ground to cover. I confess (again) I peeked at how you scored points, and that gave me a boost. I probably went past two hours. But I liked what was there, even/especially the directions I couldn't quite go in, and why. Once I understood different starting paths blocked off different paths in the town, I was glad to know the game-world was bounded. But this, in addition to everything you had to do to gather in-world evidence, was tough to fit into a two-hour comp judging period. Which is too bad--once it clicked that different directions made you a different person, and it all seemed sensible, I took time to be impressed at how well it was organized.

However, I still feel a bit odd asking for the things I needed to ask for: "Hey! can I borrow the gloves you're wearing?" or "Mind if I use your stove?" It felt slightly invasive towards others. I mean, yes, interactable NPCs are a good thing, but I never quite shook this off, so GW provided the wrong sort of creepy at times, not illegal creepy, but just violating people's boundaries. Nevertheless, I was entertained, because there's a lot to like, and reading about the different paths through felt proper. It's neat to see different stories GW has to tell. The author has been great with help on the forums and accepting that, okay, people might mark GW down a bit, and they should be proud of what they've offered us. But I have to draw the line. I've seen two of the endings, and I don't want to get stuck on any one game. I may play through the full ending, but I found the world and map vivid enough to recall, and I know where I spun out. So I'll be able to process the full story, so I can move from "hey, this looks and feels right" to something more rigorous.

Overall, there is a lot to like and look forward to, but unless you're a horror fan, I don't really recommend diving into GW and trying to find everything without serious guidance. I read someone on the forums say "I got all 50 points! What a great game!" and I believe them. And I hope that's not an "oh sure some people will like this." I'm going to wait until a full walkthrough is posted. I know there are four endings: one is a quick failure where it's strongly hinted beforehand that you're begging for trouble, two are qualified successes, and one is the "true ending." I'd love to see the differences between paths through. I know from experience that different villagers can react more positively depending on whom you start as, though most of the core puzzles stay the same. I'm not really sold on one of the three directions, as it seems a bit improbable, but I do want to look for it.


2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A big mystery to get sucked into, January 5, 2022
by Mike Russo (Los Angeles)
Related reviews: IF Comp 2021

(This is a lightly-edited version of a review posted to the IntFict forums during the 2021 IFComp. My son Henry was born right before the Comp, meaning I was fairly sleep-deprived and loopy while I played and reviewed many of the games, so in addition to a highlight and lowlight, the review includes an explanation of how new fatherhood has led me to betray the hard work the author put into their piece)

Ghosts Within is a sprawling mystery, with a big map, myriad puzzles, and three distinct openings that shift the available puzzles and endings. It all adds up to a long running time that pushes it well beyond the Comp’s two-hour limit, even discounting the absence of a hint system or a walkthrough (authors: please don’t do this!). It’s the kind of game that’s ill-served by the Comp, since it’s one you’d want to sink into, taking careful notes and talking to all the characters about every topic you can think of, while mapping out the queer seaside town where the action takes place. The story’s also perhaps ill-served, I think, by a too-close fidelity to an old-school medium-dry-goods approach to gameplay. It’s still very much worth playing, but while Ghosts Within is a fun, engaging game, it falls a bit short of greatness.

The game’s opening is bewildering, as you wake up wounded in a forbidding forest, but intentionally so – we’ve got an amnesiac protagonist, natch. If that piece of the premise is par for the course, what happens next is novel, as your choice of which direction to stagger towards determines which of three vignettes will set the plot in motion. You’ve got a choice of starting at the village, the nearby research facility (as it turns out, the setting is roughly contemporary), or the hut of a local recluse. I stumbled hut-ward, which I’m guessing might provide the least-clear impetus for investigation. The lonely hermit there clearly has an agenda, but is rather tight-lipped. That opening also appears to mean the mysterious research institute is off-limits, meaning that I entered the large village map with only a rough sense of what I was meant to be doing.

The process of walking through the village’s environs and meeting all of its inhabitants is rewarding, but rather overwhelming. The map isn’t excessively big when you’ve finished running around it, but there are a lot of false exits and diagonal connections that make it hard to hold in your head. And while the cast is actually pretty small, each character is implemented with a very deep set of conversational topics that are fun to dig into, but again feel like a lot when you’re first meeting everybody. I wound up wishing there’d been some gating to separate off a portion of the village to make it more manageable, and give the player a chance for some puzzle-solving to break up the exposition.

This isn’t to say the exposition is uninteresting: to the contrary, the story that slowly emerges is compellingly drawn (the writing is also very clean – there are a few small infelicities of phrasing and tiny typos, but nothing that stands out given the amount of text here on offer). The village is still reeling from the aftermath of a decades-ago tragedy, and figuring out how each person is connected to that formative event, and seeing the details fleshed in one at a time, makes for satisfying gameplay. There are other narrative strands too, though they might not all be available after all openings – I learned that the scientists at the institute were very interested in the fog that cloaks the town, but never found a way to advance that piece of the plot. I finished with only about 80% of the points, though, so I could be missing a true ending that unifies the disparate pieces of the plot – the one I reached was satisfying enough, but felt a bit rushed, with a couple quick revelations culminating in an admittedly-stale twist (I would have gone back and tried for another, but I saved at what I thought was the point of no return, only to find out you’re locked into the endgame once the door to the final cave is opened up, regardless of whether you’ve entered or not).

Beyond the story, the other high point is the implementation. In addition to the aforementioned conversation system, scenery is always present, and usually modeled two or three levels down; SMELL is implemented with custom responses in nearly every location, too. Barring one tiny disambiguation issue with oranges, the parser is completely smooth. With that said, I did sometimes struggle with guess-the-verb issues. The puzzles here are pretty archetypal: you’ll be finding a light source, getting into locked doors, going on collectathons so NPCs will do you favors, and digging up two different patches of disturbed ground. They’re not very distinctive, though many of them do involve engaging with the well-realized cast of characters, which is nice. Many of them require very specific actions, though – I knew I needed the help of a security guard to get something, but had to try half a dozen phrasings to secure her aid, and there are a set of crates that only give up their secrets if you LOOK BEHIND them, with a regular EXAMINE or even MOVE or LOOK UNDER going nowhere.

This adds to the already-generous game length, and the puzzles are fun to work through, but they did sometimes feel somewhat disconnected from the character-driven mystery at the game’s heart – and again, the omission of hints or a walkthrough seems a disservice to players who are engaged by the narrative but left cold by the inventory-juggling. On the flip side, this does mean the game’s secrets are that much more enticing since they’re not handed to the player on a silver platter – I can definitely see myself coming back to this one post-Comp to see if I can get a better ending, albeit I might wait for some other kind soul to pull together a walkthrough first!

Highlight: The village and its inhabitants are really fun to explore – its eerie seaside environs put me in mind of Anchorhead, though the vibe here is much less menacing.

Lowlight: After a lot of effort, I managed to retrieve a missing bouquet of flowers and give it to the appropriate character – but as far as I could tell this didn’t lead to any new plot unfurling to pay off the effort (I did get a lot of points, though).

How I failed the author: I didn’t rank this one as high a it probably deserves, since after two hours of repeated 20-minute sessions – which involved a lot of going back over old ground to remember where I’d already been and what I’d already done – I hadn’t yet solved many puzzles, and I hadn’t come across much of the plot. Again, this is a good game that’s an awkward fit for the Comp!


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This is version 9 of this page, edited by Jim Nelson on 23 January 2022 at 2:52am. - View Update History - Edit This Page - Add a News Item