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About the Story
Almost Goodbye is an experiment in minimalist procedural content generation for interactive narratives. It does not try to generate a whole story or plot points from scratch, but instead asks what is the minimum amount of procedural generation that can be added to a hand-authored story to produce something both computationally interesting but still narratively sound. The resulting narrative, about a scientist leaving Earth forever and saying her final goodbyes, generates “satellite” sentences that color the narrator’s description and perception of her conversations based on the choices made by the player in prior conversations and other player-influenced contextual cues.
|Average Rating: |
Number of Reviews: 4
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This is a game with some beautiful writing and a deep, profound story.
It is largely linear but not lacking in agency; the outcome is predestined, your decisions will shape how you feel in reflection and about the story you've engaged with.
This is effectively a CYOA with a largely linear although deep plot, strong player interaction, and a non-judgmental narrative voice.
I enjoyed the story immensely and the writing was very good, although at times the author's experiment with procedural generated content could detract from the experience. It is possible--for instance--for the game to tell you that a character is silent when they are actually speaking or to tell you that you feel deep pain in a moment that seems unlikely to produce such a feeling.
I don't want to be negative; I really loved this game, and would have happily rated it at 4 stars, but I do think that the content generation experiment holds back the narrative proper. I expect with that removed, we'd be able to gain a little more depth in the piece, and it would free the author up to focus on the rest of the experience. I think the procedural-generation probably added a lot of value/interest to the creator, but I don't see that it adds much value for a player. It has the most minor impact on re-plays, which will be different anyway--no one is going to play this game the same way twice in a row on purpose, so it leaves me feeling like the experiment was technically a success (that is to say, in mechanical terms it succeeds well), but a failure in a narrative sense. I don't see what it adds to my experience as a reader, and I think that largely the story/game is already successful.
The final narrative punch, as you approach the denouement, is successful and strong. Some reviewers criticized it for being too divergent from their intentions, and I see their point; for people who assume a lot more emotional agency in the narrative, it would break immersion slightly. I was completely wrapped up in learning more about me the character at this point, so it didn't have a negative impact. Rather, I just felt a positive sense that I'd learned something important about the character, and it influenced my second play-through.
Ultimately, this is a strong game with a well-crafted plot and authentic dialogue. I enjoyed it and played it several times to conclusion to explore different journeys.
Almost Goodbye is a series of drama set-pieces: two people, a setting, a last chance to make something meaningful of a flawed relationship that will have no next chapter. It's a deeply theatrical premise: you can almost see the big empty stage, a projection screen, two chairs in the middle of all that space.
This is all based around a science-fiction premise: the protagonist is a scientist about to depart on a one-way space-colony mission. There are genuine observations being made here about sciencey subjects: the unprecedented finality of long-distance space migrations, the way that the all-consuming drive required to be a top-ranked modern specialist is liable to screw up one's personal life. But this is very, very much secondary to the Interpersonal Conflict side of things.
The main problem that Almost Goodbye faces is in its writing. Not that it's bad, by any means: it's consistently well above average. But the nature of the piece, the rawness of its framing - two familiar people, one irreconcilable disagreement, no time - lay things bare. There aren't any flashy explosions, clever puzzles or gorgeous costumes to hide behind. There's no room to prevaricate. So the piece, by its nature, sets a very high bar for its prose. Reed is a good prosaist but not a great one; there are points where the writing hits the nail on the head, and a lot more points where it's... fine, but not quite delivering the staggering emotional gut-punch that the situation calls for. (I'm am an absolute sucker for the theme of leaving a beloved place forever. Dragged-out goodbyes fuck me up. I fully expected to be crying by the end of this. In the event, nothing quite did it; I am aware that this is a totally unfair standard.)
Structurally, it's a very simple scene-based CYOA with a scattering of contextual text substitutions (it was written to showcase what could be done within that scope; and the contextual stuff is well-orchestrated). Your choices are important, for all that they don't influence the broad outcome of the action in the slightest; these are choices about who you are and how you care about people, not what you do. (It treads a thin line in avoiding judgment about which choices are the Good Choices, and mostly gets away with it.)
The regular structure of the thing, the establishing of a scene according to a set of rules, the one-word assertions about the state of the protagonist, the pathos twist at the end, puts me strongly in mind of narrative RPGs. Possibly I am projecting here. But my feeling at the end of playing this was: this would be an amazing story told off-the-cuff. As a polished piece, it's almost there.
This game would be a 3 star game if not for the highlighting.
Visually, it's presented beautifully, with background images, multiple textured text boxes, and UI options.
Structurally, as a standard choice game, it leaves a lot to be desired. You have a menu of people and a menu of places, and take turns picking one then the other. For each pairing, you have a binary option or two. There is a lot of text per choice.
But with the highlighting on, you can see the trick of this game: some of the game is procedurally generated. Not in the sense that the game uses predetermined text replacement based on your choices, but in the sense that there is some kind of corpus generating new sentences.
Is this useful for the game? It's cool to see your choices produce new things. But a hand-written sentence would likely be just as good or better, which is the perpetual problem of procedural generation.
Still, the highlighting gave me a sense of involvement, and the overall story was dramatic and touching.
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