by Ade McT profile

Science Fiction

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Number of Reviews: 6
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful:
Massive space adventure, February 7, 2017

Long time player and lurker. First time reviewer. I rated some of the 2015 Comp games, but have long since lost the email to that old ifdb account. I did want to review Worldsmith though because it’s such a good game, and it doesn’t seem to have been getting any attention. I am a little bit embarrassed that I waited for it to be made free before playing it.

This game does not compromise. The first puzzle, probably the single most astonishing puzzle system to ever have been implemented in text or potentially just ever, involves the building of 6 worlds in a solar system, creating life upon them, and the challenge of raising to the ‘Galactic Accord’ at least one of those lifeforms. It is hard, fair, challenging, frustrating and, very very clever. I have never seen anything like it.

This is just the first puzzle. I wonder whether it was a good idea. Players may become frustrated and never get to see the vast bulk of the game.

The procedural text generation of a World is very clever. A world starts out barren. Each world type has a different feel to it, but then, as you nurture Life and as Life begins to have an effect on the World you have created, the text of each World location begins to expand to bring more detail and represents that effect.

Here, for example is a location on one of my Gaseous Worlds just after creation:

Stunning Storm-Clouds
Delicate orange storm-clouds, like noctilucent spindrift, spread across the world. The blazing sun sets the scenery afire with vivid light.

And here is the same location when my Life has reached the point just before interstellar travel:

Stunning Storm-Clouds
Delicate orange storm-clouds, like noctilucent spindrift, spread across the world. The blazing sun sets the scenery afire with vivid light. A thicket of billowy creeping plants reach to the sky. Chitinous beasts, marked with saffron whorls, fly through the storm-clouds on diaphanous wings.

Traercos cityscape engulfs the storm-clouds. Opaque floating habitats sparkle in the sun's rays. The aroma of fumes permeates the vicinity. The Argonians converse and talk restlessly.

And it has built to this point through the Ages of the Sun. Impressive.

After completing the test, we are into the game proper. At this point, my jaw may have hit the floor. Because this game is massive.

What is most astonishing about Worldsmith is the level of detail of this World the player is exploring. Like all great narratives, there is a meta-narrative here and a mythos and history beyond what is represented by just the game. Even the small things: a statue; a holographic fountain projected from a BioMech; the very architecture of the Septem Tower itself form a holistic whole that is extremely satisfying. I found myself wandering around the Tower just to look at things and cross-referencing them with the Incunable Valerius. Each revelation brings the player a little more understanding of the Tower, its history, their place in it, and the tidal forces that are acting upon them.

This, for example:

>x sculpture
The sculptures stretch along the shoreline. Alien figures, fantastical buildings, imaginary beasts and other, more abstract forms, emerge from the sand side by side. They represent the spirit of the Vociferant, these sculptures. It is their hobby, their sport, their passion. Each day, the greatest Sculptors come to this beach and create these astonishing works of art. At the end of Ninfa's quiet, the sand is levelled and the sculptures lost forever.

The Vociferant have been creating these works for uncounted billenia. Every year, on the Day of the Anemoi, a competition is held and the greatest Sculptor crowned by his or her peers. It is considered the highest of all honors in Vociferant culture to be named as Master Sculptor.

>x sculptor
The sculptors lovingly carve their works of art from the rough sand. Each sculptor takes a handful of sand, wets it, and then painstakingly adds it to their sculpture little by little, smoothing it down with their bare hands. It is a matter of pride to the Vociferant that the sculptures are created without any form of tool.

In the context of the social strata of the Tower these unexpected details showing elements of the culture throughout the game, rather than telling, is very pleasing. Was this a tongue-in-cheek reference to the Bright Carvers of Gormenghast, which, in some way, the caste system of the Tower seems to represent?

And in other ways too, the World is built completely around this closed society. In the previous extract, it refers to Ninfa’s quiet. This is the tower’s nighttime. It is when the Tagides Rings that circle the Tower are in a certain position. The Rings are commonly known as the Ninfa sisters. There is a whole internal mythos built around them. It is this attention to the detail of this society that makes the World we are playing in entirely believable. I cannot think of another example where this level of attention has been paid to this aspect of a text game.

But then, as with all puzzle games this would fall apart if, on top of this World, was layered abstract and circumstantial puzzles for the sake of them being there. I am happy to report that this is not the case. After the testing, the puzzle systems are entirely fair, and fully integrated with the plot and the World. At no point did I feel I was going through the motions for the sake of it. There is one particularly satisfying puzzle system that involves the creation of a pet biomech and I will bet that everyone will make it purple and fluffy. I called mine Doris.

With a critical eye, one could look at this huge space station, and suggest that there is too much going from place A to place B. It does get frustrating at times to have to go from one side of the station to the other multiple times in a puzzle. Perhaps a ‘go to’ command would have improved this. However, having said that, the levels are well designed and easily navigable. A nice touch is that the player is given, as an achievement each time they gain access to a new level, a graphical map that gives the outline of the level.

Aiding the player is the useful ‘Quests’ command that provides the player with prompts that help understand what to do next. With very large text adventures, this can be a problem, and I will say there were moments in Worldsmith when the sheer volume of information and places and people and things became overwhelming – even with the Quests. At one point, I was unsure what to do next, and stumbled upon the solution rather than worked it out.

It is worth talking about the plot which gradually gets revealed to the player through the course of the testing and then builds as the player gets into the main game. Without giving any spoilers away, multiple factions are vying for control of the Septem Tower. The player’s part in this is to undertake several activities in the course of a single ‘night’. The game is roughly split into 3 parts. The testing, the main adventure and then the endgame in which, as some of the other reviewers have said, the whole game is turned in on itself with a number of shocking revelations and a glorious ah-ha! moment. The game is quite linear. The quests propel the player through the plot. There are opportunities to do things in a different order, but once you have completed the game and sit back and think about it, you realize you have been manipulated very cleverly and unobtrusively by the author into experiencing the linear narrative without it actually feeling linear while you were playing.

This is an excellent text adventure.

Total playing time : Maybe 30 hours?

The good : Huge and brilliantly realized World. Excellent puzzle systems. Very strong implementation with no bugs. Interesting graphical user interface.

The bad: Not for beginners. Difficult first puzzle. Huge map can get confusing.