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Photopia v1.​30
Requires a Z-Code interpreter. Visit IFWiki for download links.
photo201.zip *
Contains photo201.blb
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Play online via Parchment
Parchment version hosted at adamcadre.​ac
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iOS application
(with bonus graphics)
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Competition version
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Way to avoid a bug in the competition release
Spanish version.
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black and white version
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ACgames.zip *
converted to PalmOS .prc file
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MS-DOS Application
Russian translation in Z8
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by Adam Cadre profile

Slice of life

Web Site

(based on 557 ratings)
44 reviews

About the Story

"Will you read me a story?"

"Read you a story? What fun would that be? I've got a better idea: let's tell a story together."

Game Details


Nominee, Best Game; Winner, Best Writing; Winner, Best Story; Nominee, Best NPCs; Nominee, Best Individual Puzzle; Nominee, Best Individual NPC; Nominee, Best Use of Medium - 1998 XYZZY Awards

1st Place overall; 1st Place, Miss Congeniality Awards - 4th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (1998)

2nd Place - Interactive Fiction Top 50 of All Time (2011 edition)

1st Place - Interactive Fiction Top 50 of All Time (2015 edition)

4th Place - Interactive Fiction Top 50 of All Time (2019 edition)

6th Place - Interactive Fiction Top 50 of All Time (2023 edition)

2nd Place - The Top Five IF Games (Adventure Gamers, 2002)

Editorial Reviews

Baf's Guide

Scenes from a handful of ordinary lives alternate with chapters of a child's colorful science-fantasy. Sweet and sad, and complex enough that you may need to go through it twice in order to fully understand how all the fragments fit together. Very story-driven, with menu-based conversations and virtually no puzzle content. My only complaint is that it isn't terribly interactive - indeed, you're practically driven through it on tracks, and any actions that you don't take tend to be rendered unnecessary. But the story is intriguing enough, and well-written enough, and moving enough, that this seems a small quibble. This is probably the most successful example I've seen of interactivity at the service of fiction, rather than vice versa.

The author intended this game to be played with colored text. Although I normally dislike such things, I agree that it works in this case. A monochrome version is also provided for those who feel differently.

(NB: The first release of this game credits Opal O'Donnell as the author. This was a deliberate deception on the part of the real author, carried out with the permission of the real Opal O'Donnell.)

-- Carl Muckenhoupt

Adventure Gamers
About twenty minutes in, when the series of seemingly disconnected and unordered scenes snaps into place and you understand what is happening, every emotional bone you possess will tingle sharply, and your pounding heart will carry you through to the inevitable conclusion of the story. You will understand, as I did, the emotional impact that a story can have. I have cried each of the three times I have played through Photopia; it is that darn powerful.
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Brass Lantern

[...] the overall layout of the story appears to be a complex weave, where you travel along the thread as it makes its way in one direction, turns around and comes back, crossing the previous parts of the weave and then continues. [...] In summary, this game is like an interactive story nestled inside another. A russian doll. A woven russian doll at that.
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Gaming Enthusiast
Not your usual adventure game, but if you look for some originality and ingenuity youíve come to the right place.
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Necessary Games
Photopia: Not a Mediocre Short Story
Does Photopia deserve to be so hallowed as it is? Quantitatively, that question may be hard to tackle. In my mind, though, the game does, without a doubt, deserve to be hallowed to some degree. It is historically important both as a work of interactive fiction and as a game, for its numerous technical innovations, and for its minimalist interactive component that makes it such a great example of a ďlimiting case game.Ē Whether Photopia succeeds on the affective level is open for debate, but my opinion and your opinion notwithstanding, the fact that it clearly does succeed with so many people is a strong testament to Adam Cadreís ability to innovate and impact all in the same breath.
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New Indian Express - Krish Raghav
The core of its emotional impact is its ability to turn this expectation of interaction in a traditional video-game narrative on its head, and use the LACK of interaction as a narrative form in itself. Events in Photopia hurtle towards their inescapable fate, and the jigsaw puzzle timeline provides occasional flashes of what that conclusion might be, and that sense of foreboding, created by glimpses of understanding as the plot slowly unravels, only intensifies as the game progresses.
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Play This Thing
Photopia made me cry.

That's not something I say often. I don't think any other work of art has ever affected me to the extent that Photopia has.
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As a text adventure, Photopia is a pared down example of such. There are few puzzles, and they donít require much stress on the brain cells. Also, the whole game flows so naturally as a story that it could lead an outside observer to think that the work might be better off as a short story. However, just because a game isnít interested in what is traditionally thought of as gameplay doesnít mean that it isnít utilizing the mediumís specific attributes to its advantage.
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Photopia isn't strictly an adventure game, but more of an interactive story, or series of intertwining stories. For the most part I normally do not like this type of game and prefer lots of puzzles to solve. Photopia, however, grabbed my interest from the start.
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>INVENTORY - Paul O'Brian writes about interactive fiction

The colors, like everything else in Photopia, worked beautifully, adding artfully to the overall impact of the story. The work is interactive in other important ways as well. In fact, in many aspects Photopia is a metanarrative about the medium of interactive fiction itself. Again, it wasn't until the end of the story that I understood why it had to be told as interactive fiction. And again, to explain the reason would be too much of a spoiler. I have so much more I want to talk about with Photopia, but I can't talk about it until you've played it. Go and play it, and then we'll talk. I promise, you'll understand why everyone has been so impatient. You'll understand why I loved it, and why I think it's one of the best pieces of interactive fiction ever to be submitted to the competition.
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[Reviews by Paul O'Brian, Duncan Stevens, Brian Blackwell and David Ledgard]
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SPAG Specifics - Victor Gijsbers
Photopia's message is this: "Do not despair at death, for from the tiniest seeds we have sown, new and abundant life can come forth."
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XYZZY news
Photopia is an amazing piece of work; it has incited both criticism and praise for its masterful focus on story rather than on puzzles -- or, to use the popular analogy, on fiction rather than on interactivity. Because of this, its detractors have scorned it as being "not a game at all," and its supporters have hailed it as a breakthrough in the medium.

In a sense, both allegations are correct, and even self- predicting. Any game which breaks new ground (and Photopia does), can be considered a "non-game" using the old standard. But the details of the "theory" of interactive fiction are neither pertinent nor illustrative to this review. Photopia is at its best when it is viewed alone, without preconceptions.
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Kristopher Purzycki
Reading Adam Cadre's Photopia (1998), a work of interactive fiction.
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50 Years of Text Games, by Aaron A. Reed
Nothing felt momentous about Photopia's release. [...] In later years that game would often be called one of the best interactive fictions of all time, kindling one of the form's most significant turns. But for those first six weeks, it was as anonymous as any stick of wood.
Photopia's success signaled that the soon-to-be-influential parser IF community was beginning to broaden its horizons: not looking exclusively inward or backward but out, toward new and different possible futures. Slowly at first, but with increasing momentum, story would begin to take prominence over puzzles in the games the community celebrated, which in turn would influence larger conversations about what successful interactive narratives could look like.
Photopia is about a moment that changes everything, so it feels somehow fitting that its legacy would be to stand in for such a moment in interactive fiction's history.
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Number of Reviews: 44
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Most Helpful Member Reviews

34 of 35 people found the following review helpful:
Canonical, October 21, 2007

This is a work so hugely influential to IF development that anyone interested in the history of the form should try it: it experiments with non-linear presentation of time, menu-based conversation, and constrained game-play to support a specific plot. A number of its features look perfectly ordinary now, but were ground-breaking at the time. Photopia's particular form of menu conversation, for instance, was spun off into a library used in a number of other works.

How well does it work, beyond that? Opinions vary. Some people consider it the most moving piece of IF they've ever tried. I personally found it wavered between effective and manipulative, with the main character too saintly to be true. While it was worth playing, it is by no means my favorite piece of character-oriented IF story-telling.

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25 of 27 people found the following review helpful:
Not quite the masterpiece it's often touted as, but still well worth playing, April 12, 2008
by Jimmy Maher (Oslo, Norway)

This is easily one of the half-a-dozen or so most important games of the modern IF era. Importance does not always equate directly with quality, however. I played it again recently out of a desire to know how it holds up a decade later.

Well, it still plays reasonably well, although it's by no means without problems. Most of the complaints one can level at the game have been discussed ad nauseum by this point: it is minimally interactive (often little more than a short story with occasional > prompts), absolutely linear, and offers its player no plot agency whatsoever. Just the idea of a puzzleless work was quite bold in 1998; in 2008, it's old hat, and thus Photopia must completely live or die on the strength of its story.

That story is a pretty good one, but doesn't move me to the extent it does some others. From a purely literary perspective, it's a bit heavy-handed and emotionally manipulative. Alley, the teenage girl at its emotional core, is more of a sentimentalized geek wish-fufillment fantasy ("She's beautiful and charming and she likes science!") than a believable character. Still, and even if Cadre's literary reach exceeds his grasp a bit, the story is head and shoulders above the sort of fantasy or sci-fi pastiche that still marks most IF even today. And there is one moment when the story and gameplay come together beautifully, a moment that still stands for me as one of the most magical in all IF: that perfect guess the verb puzzle in the crystal maze.

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16 of 21 people found the following review helpful:
Eh...I feel like I'm missing something., September 24, 2014
by akaisha0 (Omaha, Nebraska)

I feel like this game is entirely lost on me. I saw this on so many top lists and read so many fantastic reviews I had to give it a try and I admit my hopes were far higher than they should have been. This game was a colossal let down for me. I make it no secret that I prefer text adventures to "interactive fiction" but I felt this offered me neither. I appreciate that it tried (and succeeded) at doing something new with non-linear story telling with time and the wonderful use of color. But beyond that it was dull and uninteresting. This can't be called a game, a story, or even an experience. It just fails on all counts. Photopia is easily played in less than an hour and the hardest puzzle for me was trying to figure out how to exit the garage. This game is not interactive which would be fine if it told an interesting story, but it failed on that count too. In the beginning you're led through disjointed tales under the assumption they will likely culminate into a larger scheme. The problem is..they really don't. You can infer a reasonable bit by the end of how it all pieces together but it leaves entirely too much to the imagination and gave me absolutely no reason to care. I didn't care for any of the characters or situations, I kept playing out of the assumption this was going somewhere and it didn't. This story was beyond a let down. It has so many wonderful reviews and I can't tell if I'm just not pretentious enough to see it for what it is or if I just saw through it for what it was: a dull, lifeless, uninteresting, "story". It wasn't a game, it was hardly a story. I think you should play it to judge for yourself. I think it stands as an important piece of interactive fiction history and certainly influenced games that would come after it but..even as a catalyst for a brighter future of IF games, I can't praise it.

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The following polls include votes for Photopia:

Mise-en-abÓme by Sobol
Mise-en-abÓme is a technique of having a play within a play, a painting within a painting, etc. Let's list those interactive stories where the characters play interactive stories.

Fate vs Free Will Games by loocas
I imagine that the interactive nature of IF would allow themes of fate and free will to be used powerfully. Perhaps the PC is given a glimpse of his or her future and the player tries to avoid it. Are there games in which this is done?...

Games for Beginners by WriterBob
I'm looking for games that are suited for adults who are new to IF. My purpose is to share these games with friends and let them get experience IF without being frustrated by mazes or guess-the-verb issues. Please avoid children's games....

See all polls with votes for this game

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