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About the Story
Margaret, are you grieving
Winner, Best Game; Nominee, Best Writing; Winner, Best Story; Nominee, Best Puzzles; Nominee, Best Use of Innovation - 2021 XYZZY Awards
4th place overall; Winner, Rising Star Award - 27th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2021)
IFComp 2021: What Heart Heard Of, Ghost Guessed
Ghost Guessed takes one of the core assumptions of interactive fiction—the player’s ability to interact with the game world—and turns it on its head. You can LOOK and EXAMINE and glide from room to room, but otherwise, you appear unable to interact with the world around you. ... It reminds me of other Gothic literature from that time period. As you float through the house, a picture develops of a quiet country estate occupied by a moneyed family, where the secrets are locked away upstairs whilst whispers downstairs are exchanged over tea and cakes. The bulk of the dramatic arc has already occurred when the game begins, but there’s plenty of empty space within this hushed, reserved home for the main character to realize the totality of what’s happened, and to grow from it.
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Number of Reviews: 9
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This was my first IF foray. That being said, it has ignited a love of these games for me.
I found the storytelling immensely immersive, and the preface gave me enough information to feel comfortable diving right in.
I played through the game multiple times. I accidentally softlocked myself into being unable to finish the first time through, as I (Spoiler - click to show)set the body ablaze, ran downstairs, LOVE'd into the door handle and used RAGE instead of CONFUSE. For whatever reason I was unable to HATE the handle to jump out of it, since it was on fire. Parser showed no exits, either.
I felt like a total dumdum since the HELP command literally tells you that you can't softlock the game, but as my mom likes to say, "idiot proofing? more like proof I'm an idiot." In this case, I'm sure I did something wrong, so I restarted.
The second time round, I was far more diligent. I used a pad and paper to help myself navigate more easily.
Immense re-playability, though I wish it ended differently. I don't love ending which include (Spoiler - click to show) revenge tales and murder simply because it doesn't feel as satisfying as a happy ending. In this case, I don't necessarily think that a happy ending is possible, but murdering NPCs also seemed unnecessary.
All in all, I liked it. Simple enough for me, but thoughtful enough to be playable twice. A really great intro to the genre, and I look forward to coming back to it when I've got more IF under my belt.
This game has a lot of work put into it. It has over a dozen testers (one of the best things you can see in a game), and draws inspiration from many other IF games.
You play as a ghost who cannot, at first, affect the material world. You also have no memories. As you play more and more, you unlock new verbs and new actions.
The story as it unfolds is one of torture and greed. You explore a big house and learn more about your untimely demise involving child abuse.
Here's my rating:
+Polish: The game is very smooth. With such a complex system, you'd expect a lot of bugs, but I found very few, if any. Parser errors were customized, as well.
+Descriptiveness: There was a spareness to the world. Some locations were described very succinctly. For instance:
"You are in a landing area at the top of a rickety staircase. There is a walk-in closet to the north."
However, the game was more descriptive with the emotions.
+Interactivity: Okay, I had some frustration here. Often, a new verb wouldn't lead to any progress in the room it was found in or the ones prior. This led to me trying the same verbs over and over again on everything with no success. It might have been worth adding a few more easy, early puzzles. For instance, I found no uses for (Spoiler - click to show)hate and love until long after I found both. However, the emotions idea was fun, and kept me persevering, so it was overall positive.
-Emotional impact. The story is not bad, and it reminds me (Spoiler - click to show)of the time I learned about 'the girl born without a face', which shaped my perceptions about physical disability and the love we should show to each other regardless of appearance. This story has a lot of good elements that would be ready to appeal to emotion, with a protagonist with mixed feelings about antagonists and a tragic backstory (similar, like the author said, to a story in Anchorhead, which worked a bit better for me). I think where things fell flat is that the protagonist is completely relatable and the enemies are clearly villains with little to no redeeming qualities. Our hero may have mixed feelings about them, but we, the reader, can clearly see them for what they are. This is kind of nitpicky, because this is a good story and I think I would like to read it again. I saw that this is the author's first game, and I'm reminded of a review that Emily Short gave of my first game (which I found quite painful at the time, and quite helpful now):
"I found [the game] least effective when it explicitly went for pathos in the writing, because[...]it hadn’t put in the time to build up that empathy. Similarly, the ending reached for an emotional point that it hadn’t done the work to earn, at least for me."
I think this is one of the better games in the comp overall and expect it to place anywhere in the top 15 or so. And if an author can do this well on the very first game, I can only imagine what games created with more experience will look like.
+Would I play again? Yes, I liked it.
What Heart Heard of, Ghost Guessed is a parser-based game by Amanda Walker, published in 2021. It's a kind of a gothic horror adventure that takes place in Goldengrove, a grand old house with some dark secrets of its own.
The game uses a set of unique verbs, which is something explained quite shortly after you begin the game: (Spoiler - click to show)you are a ghost who is unable to interact with the physical world via regular means. However, your strong emotional responses can cause a variety of haunting-like effects ranging from mirror shattering to limited telekinesis. These new verbs give the game a bit of unique flavor and also make the exploration feel more fresh and exciting than in your average parser adventure game.
The overall gameplay feels pleasantly streamlined and accessible both because of the unique set of verbs that can be recalled at any time but also because of the compact world design. The compactness makes the game feel as if you always have some type of an idea on how to progress, even without the prose containing too much blatant hinting or tutorializing at any point. In a word: the design is elegant.
The writing is somewhat terse and possibly slightly more utilitarian than I would've expected in gothic horror, only dispensing enough details to create basic impressions of the scenery and drive the story forward. It's not particularly lavish or indulgent in any way, which I suppose is another thing that contributes to the game's exceedingly neat and elegant air. (Even the cover is elegant!)
The technical quality is fairly good, with almost everything making sense and working as intended. I did notice a few typos, but it's nothing major. The difficulty seems fair, although I did personally resort to using a walkthrough twice since I couldn't figure out how to get past one door and also missed an important semi-hidden object in one of the rooms.
If the game has some real flaw, it's that it's possibly a little bit too neat and compact. For instance, parts of the game world can feel like they're mostly there in service of the puzzles, although to be fair, this is a pretty common thing in adventure games which rely heavily on puzzle solving. Perhaps the subtle dissonance between gameplay and story necessities felt slightly stronger here since the game does bank a lot on an immersive setting and a solid storyline, and so it stands to lose more compared to a more casual adventure-puzzler that doesn't care about story.
Regarding the story, (Spoiler - click to show)the narrative is centered around various types of emotions as you discover the truth about yourself and Goldengrove, but the comparative simplicity of the execution and character motivations, etc. among other small details kept me from fully connecting. Although I found the story tragic and interesting, it didn't grip me on every level that the game's blurb and the prose might have intended.
The estimated play time of around 2 hours seems accurate, at least if you take your time exploring and avoid the temptation of using hints or walkthroughs. Overall, it's a polished and thoughtful parser-based adventure, and probably worth trying out if you like gothic horror.
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