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About the Story
You wake to stillness. The hammering, banging, and shouting that kept you awake half the night are gone. The air is cold, and something smells burnt. Your master's experiments must be finished, but with what result?
Winner, Best Writing; Nominee, Best Setting; Nominee, Best Puzzles; Nominee, Best Use of Medium - 2000 XYZZY Awards
2nd Place overall; 3rd Place, Miss Congeniality Awards - 6th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2000)
You're a slave girl on a mission of sorts for your master, though it's difficult to say what the mission is. The game's world is split between the literal and the figurative, and most of what you accomplish is significant more on the symbolic than on the concrete level. Idealized forms are a key thematic element, and most of the puzzles revolve around the transformation of those forms. The game provides two devices that can transform various objects, and the range and complexity of the transformations handled is impressive--the objects, by and large, behave sensibly in all their various forms. There are lots of puzzle solutions and a wide variety of endings, and the game manages to both tell a story and allow ample freedom in exploration. Beautifully described and impressively thoughtful.
-- Duncan Stevens
The world where all this takes place is only indirectly related to the ordinary physical world, and the relationship parallels other elements in the plot. Idealized forms play an important part: two statues of a man and a woman are described in ways that suggest Greek sculpture, and perfect solids are central to the story. Essences are important as well: virtually every object is made of a single elemental substance (wood, glass, metal, etc.), and you have the power to alter those substances in certain ways. Symmetry is everywhere (in the game's map, and elsewhere as well), and the multiplicity of mirrors suggests the reflection and introspection that are central to the plot. (Likewise, the idealized forms suggest the absolutes that make up the plot.)
-- Duncan Stevens
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It has great atmosphere and is very well written. Metamorphoses takes place in an otherworldly realm, a plane obliquely linked with the physical world, to which you have been sent on an errand. [...] The game abounds with breathtaking imagery and there are many nooks and crannies to explore.
-- Dorothy Millard
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>VERBOSE -- Paul O'Brian's Interactive Fiction Page
There are puzzles, yes, but almost every puzzle seems to have alternate solutions, and even better, these alternate solutions make perfect sense within the game's magical logic. Moreover, Metamorphoses provides much space for play and experimentation, especially through the use of a couple of devices that can effect startling and fascinating transformations on most of the objects in the game. The potential of these devices is so vast, and their effects implemented so thoroughly, that I could easily have spent the two hour judging period just playing with them and experimenting with the results. In fact, the game is coded so well that for a moment it gave me a flash of that wonderful sense I used to get when I first started playing interactive fiction, the sense that here is a world where anything can happen, and anything I try can elicit a magical, transformative response. Of course, that feeling breaks down quickly and inevitably when something I attempt isn't accounted for, but just for that moment of wonder it gave me, I won't forget Metamorphoses for a very long time.
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Number of Reviews: 9
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Most Helpful Member Reviews
Imagine a puzzle game making strong use of a set of simulationist rules about materials and sizes. Imagine a game set in the only partly material laboratory of a Renaissance magus. And imagine a game where the player character attempts to escape from bondage through spiritual purification.
If you can imagine all of those together, you have imagined Metamorphoses.
It is not just a strange game, it is also a very good game. The writing is impeccable and Short effectively weaves together the PCs current exploits with a more emotionally gripping backstory. The puzzles mostly aren't too hard, and all seem to have multiple solutions. The atmosphere is simply great. And there is also true progression in the story, as the PC purifies herself and finally chooses her own fate.
It is also a short game, and you'll probably play through it in two hours. That does mean that the backstory remains very sketchy, and the story doesn't get the emotional resonance that it might have gotten in a longer game. (I would have liked to see the Master in-game, for instance.) The multiple endings don't really work, since you choose between in your last move and that means that everyone is going to Undo and try out the other ones immediately (right?). And there were one or two details in the setting which I felt didn't really fit into the Universe of Renaissance Platonism.
But all in all, these are insignificant complaints compared to the virtues of the game. If you like puzzles, Plato and purification, you should not give this piece a miss.
There may be few new things to say, twelve years later, about Ms. Short's "Metamorphoses," a well-reviewed short story concerned with magic, freedom, and one's idea of self. Other reviewers correctly invoke various Platonic (neo-Platonic) concepts explored in the game, though such invocations may create the inaccurate impression that "Metamorphoses" requires more than a surface-level understanding of such subjects. It most assuredly does not, thank goodness, which permits it to be fun and entertaining IF.
In terms of fun and entertainment, a number of well-implemented contraptions inhabit the small world of this game, and efforts were clearly made to allow the reader to interact in ways that will not advance the story, serving instead to enrich the experience. Additional trouble was taken to allow a number of solutions to the puzzles encountered. The author's approach, here, is a vast improvement over that of her Zorkian predecessors, where only the thing needed to solve a puzzle could be used in conjunction with a piece of machinery, unless another object could produce a humorous result, as identified by the "Have You Tried...." section of any InvisClues hint booklet.
There aren't any such laughs in this game, and, in fact, the terse prose and repeated references to the protagonist's unhappy life of servitude result in a story that is, clearly, Serious Business. I appreciated the consistency in tone, though I found the equally serious quotes that occasionally appeared at the top of the screen to be a distraction, and attempted to imagine, say, "The Bear" by William Faulkner occasionally studded with quotations, even good or relevant quotations--my imagination failed. "Metamorphoses" and "The Bear" have little in common (save perhaps good writing and a fondness for universal symbolism), but neither requires such external interjection. In a similar grain, the *** Finis *** text at the conclusion(s) seemed an unnecessary suggestion that we take the piece seriously.
Since other fine writers employ such tactics from time to time, such complaints may be mere personal dislike rather than a question of craft.
Like other reviewers, I found the backstory to be lightly developed, and this seemed more weakness than effective artistic ambiguity. One might argue that, in the sterile world of Platonic idealism, any provided personal viscera might be out of place. However, I think more personal detail offered near the beginning of the story, gradually diminishing as the protagonist grows ever closer to becoming something more than actual, might better illuminate the dramatic nature of her transformation.
These, though, are all complaints that one only mentions when discussing a particularly good piece written by a particularly talented person. I immensely enjoyed the flexibility in the puzzles and in the endings. The magic that does occur evokes wonder without ever telling the reader that he or she is experiencing wonder, just like any good piece of writing should. The puzzles themselves are intuitive in a way that provides some satisfying "ah-ha" moments. The scoring system, if I should call it that, seems novel even in 2012, and finally deducing what it means provides yet another pleasant feeling of discovery. "Metamorphoses," for such a short work, generously provides many such moments.
First off, some tech-stuff: This game is, hands-down, the most deeply implemented piece of Interactive Fiction I have ever played or heard of. Along with that, it also provides an amazing freedom of experimentation. This is no sandbox, this is dune after dune.
The puzzles are,partly because of the aforementioned freedom, not hard. They are sensible and great fun. Choose your own logical approach and try it. Many different solutions will work, and those that don't will not work for a reason. Very rewarding.
The story is very much for the player to fill in. Lady Short gives you the backbone elements of a story of personal growth and inner realization, up to you to interpret it. The many different endings also give you many possible interpretations.
The writing is crisp and clear, giving Metamorphoses that dreamlike quality. The descriptions are detailed enough to be practical, without excess decoration. Exactly because of the sparse descriptions, the imagination has ample room to dream up it's own version of your surroundings.
Maybe the biggest puzzle here is the quest for completeness.A reverse read-the-author's-mind problem. When playing (and replaying) ask yourself, "What has Emily Short NOT thought of?"
Very, very good game.
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