How it was then and how it is now

by Pseudavid


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Number of Ratings: 11
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1-11 of 11

- tekket (Česká Lípa, Czech Republic), April 21, 2022

- Austin Auclair, December 13, 2021

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Fearful geometries, November 24, 2021
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)

This Comp has had a good number of surreal games featuring relationship allegories pitched at varying degrees of abstraction, and most of them haven’t grabbed me very hard, making me wonder whether this subgenre just isn’t for me. But here we are with the last one of these, and I actually kinda love it? The premise sounds absurd when you state it flat-out – the world is being taken over by Platonic solids, and you need to go on a puzzle-solving mission with your ex to try to save it – but it winds up being surprisingly rich, and the writing is a joy, allusive yet precise in just the right measure.

How it was… has the courage of its convictions, meaning it’s not afraid to lean way, way into its conceit, but also doesn’t get stuck there. There’s not a simple, one-to-one mapping between the rather-bonkers central metaphor and the issues the main characters are confronting, at least so far as I can decode, but it’s clear there are deep veins of meaning being mined. The weird shapes are breaking down and fraying, maybe suggesting the way clear ideals and emotions get muddy and messy in the crucible of a relationship. The main character has more specific associations, recalling analogies to the domestic geometries of the house they shared with their ex as they traverse the hostile landscape. And the puzzles are all about decoding fuzzy signals, trying to wrest meaning from ambiguity – given that the relationship ultimately fails, maybe it’s appropriate that I sucked at them.

On the flip side, the game doesn’t stay at this high, abstract level, showing a keen eye for detail and making clear that idiosyncratic specificity has just as much importance as totalizing thematics. Here’s an early bit, which also shows off the strength of the prose:

The first street where we lived together was lined with orange trees. In January, when everything else was pale and lifeless, our street would be bursting with radiant spheres.

The oranges were bitter, of course. The metaphor is too evident to be useful: too hard to wrestle into a different meaning.

Similarly, Clara, the main character’s ex, comes across as a person, with a distinctively laconic lilt to her dialogue – she’s not simply a vague stand-in for a generic beloved. Putting all the pieces together, the writing creates a compelling allegory about how this specific relationship failed, rather than issuing mushy-mounted platitudes about how any relationship can fail (though of course there’s universal resonance and relatability in this very specific story!)

As for the puzzles, there are two kinds, one about translating an image into numbers and the other about recognizing deformed shapes. As mentioned I thought they were thematically resonant, though I also found them pretty tough. Even once I basically figured out the gist, there’s some fuzziness baked into them, sometimes literally, that made it hard to be sure I was getting the right answer (I was also playing on mobile, which might have messed with some of the layouts).

As a result, I wound up getting a really bad ending – the weird geometry took over everything, meaning my poor communication skills doomed not only my relationship with Clara but also what felt like the whole world (per a later note from the author, actually it's just the main character, so yay?) I guess that’s a little harsh, but losing your partner can certainly feel apocalyptic, so while I wish the story had resolved on a more positive note, the ending I got did feel like a satisfying resolution. Did the world need another game in the surreal relationship-issues drama? On the basis of How it was…, yes, certainly – and now when I run across one in next year’s Comp, I’ll know I can really like the genre.

Highlight: fittingly, this is a bit abstract, but one of the strongest elements of the game is its pacing. There are a lot of elements here, from present-day dialogue with Clara, flashbacks to the mission briefing, deeper flashbacks to the relationship, and puzzle interludes, and the game shuttles between them with a light touch, keeping the momentum up without the central narrative thread feeling disconnected.

Lowlight: as mentioned, I though I destroyed the world through incompetence so that feels like a big lowlight even though I actually just got the protagonist killed?

How I failed the author: this was a near-miss failure, thankfully, because when I first started the game on my iPhone none of the text other than the links was coming through. Happily the author put in a theme select to tweak the colors, which allowed me to read the rest of the words.

- Karl Ove Hufthammer (Bergen, Norway), November 15, 2021

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Time has passed, November 7, 2021

This game is very short. It is categorized in the 2021 IfComp as "Fantastic." It is surreal and abstract. The main character is investigating a hazardous area with an ex whom they split with five years earlier. It seems implied from the disjointed descriptions and dialog that the narrator may have a deteriorating state of mind, or may be experiencing the effects of some environmental anomaly. There is a lot of focus on the relationship the pair once shared. Choices are mostly made up of three hyperlinks. I hope that what is happening to the characters in this story never happens to me.

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Abstraction, surrealism and relationships, October 23, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: less than 15 minutes

There is a long history of using surreal, abstract worlds to describe relationships in interactive fiction, with Plotkin's game So Far coming to mind as an early example.

This game pushes that trend to its logical extreme. You are with a woman, walking through an abstract maze that is navigated by identifying three-dimensional solids (except (Spoiler - click to show)they're aren't really any of the options, making it guess and check) or picking out numbers in a pattern. The maze has a negative effect on those who guess wrong, (Spoiler - click to show)turning them into geometric solids.

Pseudavid is an accomplished Twine writer with an extensive back catalogue (I particularly recommend Master of the Land and The Good People). This game contains hints of those earlier games, but has reached such a level of abstraction that I honestly had trouble piecing out what was going on or making connections or 'aha' moments. In other words, this game was over my head.

+Polish: The game was very smooth
-Descriptiveness: It was quite vague. The writing is good when zoomed in but when zoomed out seems to lack content:
(Spoiler - click to show)Oh, still salty about it, aren't we? Of course you wouldn't forget it. So, what's the final tally? Very, very good! But not perfect. How should I take it?'
-Interactivity. The game is meant to be played once, but has pass/fail mechanics and inscrutable choices. I suppose winning may not be the point, but as its set up it seems to be a frustration simulator.
-Emotional impact: I bounced off hard
+Would I play again? The game suggests not to, so I won't, but naturally I'd be interested in seeing other paths.

- Zape, October 17, 2021

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Escape before the polyhedrons get you, October 17, 2021

This game tells the story of an abstract race against time where the protagonist and his on-again, off-again partner try to hold off an impending apocalypse of geometric objects while also dealing with their own unresolved issues

I like the disorienting effect of the different elements: visuals that don’t seem to match up with the options provided (questioning the player’s senses), dialogue choices that often don’t have the desired effect on Clara, and snippets of flashback that only start to make sense after playing for a while or on replay.

While I got a bit of new dialogue on multiple replays, it didn’t appear that my actions had much of an effect on the overall flow of the narrative or the ending. The piece was also so abstract that it was tough to understand or become fully invested in the relationship or the intriguing setting.

- Ann Hugo (Canada), October 9, 2021

- Sobol (Russia), October 8, 2021

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Weird and surreal story about two former lovers at the end of the world, October 7, 2021
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: About 30 minutes

At least I think I got the info in the title right, though honestly I might not be understanding the story correctly. You play one member of a former couple, forced to work together again (and clearly still with feelings for each other) near some kind of geometric apocalypse(?). As far as surreal stories go, this one definitely has more substance and polish than the others that I've played for IFComp 2021 so far. Still though, I didn't have much clue what was going on. I didn't have any connection to the story and only a minor connection to the characters. This is another story that I feel was written primarily so the author could write it, not so others could read it.

Just like with this author's IFComp game from last year (which I enjoyed more than this game), they try some interesting things with the mechanics/visuals. In this case it is blurring some of the text. I feel that might have been more effective when used sparingly, perhaps as an indicator that the characters mind was wandering. Instead it was used for whole sentences, and even one of the choices. Already frustrated by my inability to understand what was going on, I didn't much care for not being able to make a choice because of the blurred text.

In the end I didn't care for it. YMMV.

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