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About the Story
In the beginning there was nothing.
Nominee, Best Use of Innovation - 2013 XYZZY Awards
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Number of Reviews: 3
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Ex Nihilo sits on the cusp between IF and e-poetry: a very short, very abstract, highly atmospheric CYOA in which you make choices about a deity. It will take perhaps five minutes to play, but you'll want to play a few times.
The core plot is always the same: a divine being creates the universe, abides alone for eons, encounters a race of lesser beings, and finally meets a being that is something like an equal. The value of interaction is primarily about the attitude and tone of the piece: depending on your mood and tone choices, the lesser beings and your relationship to them will turn out rather differently. God's mood is the shaping force of the universe. Events are described in terse, cool tones, at a high level of abstraction; and when you meet your counterpart, at the end, things are left massively wide open.
The game's colour choices and the decisive nature of the final encounter, which determines the fate of the world, suggest a kind of Manichean universe*, in which the nature of the two sides is always different. The suggestion of these strange dualisms is the main thing I took away from the piece; it has the weirdly fruitful nature of procedural generation about it, and in this context the awkward juxtapositions that this kind of thing often throws up seem more like the product of minds alien to one another trying to communicate.
To be more specific: the final choice of the game is a text entry, the first thing you say to the Other Being. From what I can make out, the game stores the entries of everyone playing the game, then feeds them back out as the Other Being's responses. Like letting players choose their character's name, this is the sort of thing that you'd expect to be tone-breaking, and often it is; when you encounter a divine being who greets you with "Eat at Joe's", you're kind of catapulted into a Douglas Adams cosmos. But at best, the disconnect that this creates, the feeling of talking at deep, unbridgeable cross-purposes, makes for a pretty good suggestion of cosmic conflict: Heaven and Hell fundamentally don't understand one another.
All this is rendered in a smooth, simple, effective graphic style with appropriately vast-and-lonely-sounding music.
* that is, a world shaped by the struggle between two roughly equal gods or cosmic forces: in classic Manichaeism, these are the forces of good and evil.
Related reviews: Juhana Leinonen
Play it if: you've sort of failed to see the point of hypertext up until now, for this is an accessible and wonderfully creative use of the medium.
Don't play it if: if you roll your eyes at any poetry that tries to deal directly with the concept of transcendence.
This is the first hypertext game I've played that really made use of the medium in such as a way as to make me feel the medium itself was necessary to the story. This probably says more about my shamefully lacking experience with hypertext than it does about any transformative aspect to this work, but contextual considerations aside Ex Nihilo is more than worthy of praise.
The title is a reference to the Latin phrase creatio ex nihilo, literally "creation from nothing" - a rather slippery philosophical and theological concept about how we came to be. Appropriately enough, the game takes an immediately theological bent with the introduction of the PC as a godlike entity; progress is made less through actions and more through the determination of the entity's moods.
The game - I know it's not the best term for this sort of thing, but I dislike the term "work" and try not to use it - isn't particularly long or detailed. What it has is emergence. A major theme here is symmetry, and it is both explicit in the visual presentation and implicit in that the choices you make are mirrored, though not in any straightforward way - down to the final move of entering a text message and thus actually adding something to the world of the game (which, if you consider the universe of the game to be a closed system, really is an instance of creatio ex nihilo).
The result is that we have here something which feels genuinely responsive, where you really are being asked to participate in something rather than spectate. A lot of interactive fiction pulls this off like a magic trick by getting the player into the head of the protagonist and providing them with moral agency; Ex Nihilo is almost breathtaking in how much more real the creativity feels.
Will Ex Nihilo transform your life? Not really, no. But it's a beautifully elegant, elemental use of the hypertext form, and it feels complete in a way few stories ever do.
This beautiful web-based game (made with Vorple) tells the story of an omnipotent being who is alone and comes into contact with ordinary beings, before a more significant encounter.
The text shifts and changes on a white and black screen, with background decorations and smooth panning of screens.
The game, as others have said, seems to save the responses of previous players, and integrates them into the current game.
It's so short that you could play it 2 or 3 times in 15 minutes. Recommended.
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