Photopia

by Adam Cadre profile

Slice of life
1998

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Number of Ratings: 510
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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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>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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- rowan.du, April 30, 2022

- lleon, April 19, 2022

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Short, simple, unique IF. Everyone should try it., January 28, 2022
by Cody Gaisser (Florence, Alabama, United States of America, North America, Earth, Solar System, Milky Way, Known Universe, ???)

The narrative content of Photopia is what I'd call a "good little story." It's not the most mindblowingly deep thing I've ever read; but it has some heart, humanity, and empathy to it. To me this in itself is more than adequate compensation for the very brief amount of time it takes to play through to the end.

The real reason to play, however, is the way this "good little story" is told. Unfortunately this is difficult to explain without spoilers - even formal aspects of the storytelling and interface present twists that are best experienced firsthand. Learning-what-Photopia-is-about is what Photpia is about.

(Spoiler - click to show)
The presentation of Photopia differs in a number of ways from traditional text adventures. It tells a very short, simple story. However you play not as a single character navigating a geographical space as the story unfolds before you in a chronologically-linear fashion; rather you experience chronologically-ambiguous fragments of the story from the perspectives of several different characters, piecing the story together as you go. The central story is set in a reality much like our own, but a fantastical side plot is introduced via a storytelling device reminiscent of The Princess Bride, The Fall, and several of Terry Gilliam's films. Certain scenes alter the color scheme of the display in ways relevant to the game's thematic content, cleverly weaving a (non-graphical) visual element into the formal tapestry of this text-based story-game. Photopia's unconventional approach to the form of IF suggests future possibilities in the medium.


While I wouldn't necessarily recommend Photopia to someone who has no experience whatsoever with traditional IF, it is easily simple enough for a beginner's second or third game. It's also unique enough that more experienced players will certainly not want to miss it.


- civilstat (Maine, USA), October 21, 2021

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Fascinating story, limited gameplay, October 14, 2021
by mg51
Related reviews: four stars

It's a captivating story that unfolds in a way that makes more sense as you go, leading you to understand the characters and their relationships to each other. I went into my first playthrough completely blind, so my understanding was absolutely zero when I started and the first few sections made no sense whatsoever, but this didn't at all take away from my experience. It made it more rewarding when I began putting pieces together.

The game's only weak point is that it is more of a story than a game, and interactivity mostly comes down to different choices of dialogue. I understand that this was a choice on the creator's part, and I definitely still recommend giving it a play-through, but it's best to be aware going in that you're going to get a non-traditional, non-linear story rather than an interactive adventure with puzzles.


- Malasana, October 9, 2021

- krai, October 4, 2021

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Powerful, Affecting, August 29, 2021
by ccpost (Greensboro, North Carolina)

I don't know that there's much I can add to the numerous reviews, but I played this for the first time recently and I wanted to register the incredibly moving experience that this game delivered for me. I'm still fairly new to IF, though I've had thought-provoking experiences with several works that have quickly demonstrated the artistic potential of the form to me. Photopia, though, is the first IF work that I've encountered that has moved me at a deep, soul-searching level. From start to finish, Photopia is a fine crafted, emotionally-wrenching experience.

I went into the game with only the barest information about it -- that it has been considered incredibly influential and that it experiments with the interactive fiction form. As much as probably any IF work, this one really benefits from going in with as few (or none!) spoilers as possible. I won't delve into any of the specifics, but I will discuss one especially affecting scene behind the spoiler tags below.

(Spoiler - click to show)The scene that especially got me was early-ish in the work, when you play as a father whose task is to go outside and retrieve his daughter (who we learn is Alley, the focus of the work overall) for bedtime. You can choose a number of options, either telling her to come inside right off the bat, or prolonging the conversation, discussing some of the finer details of astrophysics. As a father of a young daughter myself, this scene absolutely devastated me. By this point, the astute player can start to see that something ominous is heading for Alley, and so this time is all the more precious for the father. I wanted to keep the conversation going indefinitely, though the astute player also can see that there's really only one outcome for this scene -- bedtime will have to come at some point. By the end of this scene, I was not only in tears, but knew that I was in the midst of a truly special work of IF.

If you haven't played this game, stop reading these reviews and play it! Like a tightly written short story, you can engage with Photopia in a brief span of time, though it will stick with you long, long after.


- doodlelogic, August 19, 2021

- declain, August 18, 2021

- autumnc, August 1, 2021

- Hellzon (Sweden), July 1, 2021

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Well-plotted fiction, June 18, 2021
by Wynter (London, UK)

I appreciated Photopia above all as a short story. Alley's life is told through the medium of brief sections of text, presented out of chronological order, and not from her own perspective, but from the perspective of different people in her life. As in some of the short stories of Alice Munro, the reader takes these different fragments of time and pieces them together.

The framed sections, in coloured text, are outside of this world altogether: strange, imaginary landscapes. How do they relate to the main story? The reader has to figure it out. And the final scene reveals - to us, but not the main character - the ultimate source of these stories.

I found myself wanting more from the framed stories: there was enough description of the various fantasy landscapes to get me interested, but if they had been described in more detail, and allowed more "examine" responses, I would have been more interested in these parts. They may have benefited from some more complex puzzles. When I did get stuck, such as in the crystal maze, it wasn't the 'good stuck' feeling that comes from untangling something brainteasing.

The final revelation was an excellent twist. It made me wish the whole game was somewhat longer and more fully realised: we should be feeling that Alley is haunted by this buried memory, that it has been a part of her for her whole life and yet she doesn't know what it is.

I don't find myself as moved by Photopia as many other people do, even though it is obviously about a tragic event: I'd like the air of mystery and wonder to be greater, and for Alley's inner feelings to be explored in more depth (if that is possible, considering that it goes for the clever device of describing her through other people's eyes). But I can at least see the potential for a moving story in it.


- knockupwood, June 18, 2021

- proxyfeathers, April 27, 2021

- Cingulomanic, April 19, 2021

- yleaf, April 14, 2021

- Karlok (Netherlands), April 14, 2021

- Chin Kee Yong (Singapore), April 11, 2021

- starlitevenings, March 13, 2021

- arslonga, March 12, 2021

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Sweet, sad, funny fiction with few puzzles, December 12, 2020
by dvs

I first played Photopia about 15 years ago and cried at the ending. It took me a while to figure out how the different vignettes fit together and it hit me hard. I had never experienced such emotion playing a silly text adventure. I will always love that about Photopia.

I played the game last night over Zoom with my sister and her two adult sons, introducing them to their first IF experience. They quickly found the boundaries of the interpreter and explored. (What happens if I go north forever? Can I "x up"? How come I can't use this verb which is in the sentence above?) In the end they enjoyed it describing it as a choose-your-own-adventure book or the tabletop role-playing game Expedition.

There are so many clever bits I saw the second time through, how the game feels huge and open and yet is really just railroading through the story. They found rooms I hadn't found in my first playthrough which was a delight. They figured out to just hit "z" when it was clear their actions had no affect (rather than trying to speak to the NPCs). There was one moment when they accidentally hit something and started the next "chapter" before finishing reading the end of the previous vignette. There's no way to go back or scroll up to see what they missed. (We were playing the web version at iplayif.com.)

They want to play another game together sometime over Zoom. (Not the Z-code interpreter.) Thank you, Adam Cadre, for bringing us long-distance joy!

Note: this review is based on older version of the game.

- Ola (Sweden), December 3, 2020


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