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Winner, Best Writing; Nominee - Building the Sandcastle, Best Individual Puzzle; Nominee, Best Use of Medium - 1997 XYZZY Awards
-- Duncan Stevens
>VERBOSE -- Paul O'Brian's Interactive Fiction Page
Sunset Over Savannah (hereafter called Sunset) is one of the most impressive, enjoyable, and successful games of the 1997 competition. Interestingly, it shares a strategy with another very successful game, She's Got a Thing for a Spring: both games present a natural world where fantasy-style magic is subtle to the point of nonexistence, but which nonetheless is suffused with wonder, divulging incredible sights which move the spirit as strongly as ever did any of Gandalf's fireworks. The game takes place on a beach whose implementation is exquisitely complete, a small space which allows a great number of options within it... narrow but very deep. In itself, implementation of this depth carries a kind of magic, the kind of delirious sense of possibility inherent in all the best interactive fiction. The magic goes beyond this, though. The puzzles in the game (at least, the ones I had time to solve) are focused on a single theme: finding magic and wonder in a seemingly mundane world. As you wander the game's beach and find ways to ferret out its secrets, those secrets display themselves in fiery sequences of enchantment and glamour. It's an effect whose emotional impact could not be duplicated in a graphical game, only imitated. The arresting visuals would be there, but they would only carry a pale shadow of the reverential awe conveyed by the author's excellent prose.
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Mr. Cockrum integrates the ordinary and fantasy elements skillfully: those parts of the story that go beyond ordinary experience are few, carefully chosen, and clearly surprise the player-character as much as the player. Just as importantly, those elements are out of your control and mostly independent of your actions, so the feeling of ordinariness juxtaposed with the fantastic is enhanced.
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[...] I would have to say that it is very well written from a literary view point, but quite textually verbose. Therefore I would not recommend it to anyone who dislikes massive wads of wordage or who likes their information in an uncomplicated fashion. It's also unsuitable for those with views against virtual cruelty to textual representations of little animals.
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Number of Reviews: 8
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Most Helpful Member Reviews
What makes this story so enjoyable is the lush, detailed setting and the sense of wonder with which it approaches seemingly mundane details. Savannah's beach, as seen here, is a surprising and beautiful place with surprising set pieces (Spoiler - click to show)such as a sandcastle made and apparently fused into glass by tiny sea creatures.
Supporting all this is a lot of hard technical work. Sunset Over Savannah allows the player interactions that most games would rule out because of the technical complexities of coding: there are passages set underwater, interactions with liquid and sand, ropes and tie-able objects. All of these things generally work, and work in a way that isn't fiddly or annoying for the player to specify; the result is the feeling of a very tangible, viscerally accessible world, where it is possible to affect the environment in precise ways. Few other IF games -- or other games of any kind -- offer quite this experience.
There's a lot of prose to read in this game, and the puzzles are not all easy, so it does require some commitment from the player. What's there is well worth exploring, though, rewarding the time you have to give it.
It is a story about personal growth and difficult emotional decisions in a magic-realist setting. The protagonist goes through a sequence of changing emotions about his life and himself that reverberated strongly with me. The setting reflects that. It is an everyday beach location, a pavilion by the seashore, that is suffused with wonderment about small beauties. At defining points in the story, the magic breaks through in illusions or visions whose reality is up to the reader to interpret.
Hard as it may be, the writing succeeds flawlessly in capturing that feeling of wonder in the real. There are carefully crafted short descriptions of the beauty of beach, sun, sea... Responses to actions are clear and to the point.
Following important emotional breakthroughs the author goes all out in dreamlike prose, that fits with the moment in the story.
All through the game there is a fun, friendly humor, making the player feel at home in this world.
Of course, a bug at the wrong moment would kill the fragile atmosphere of a game like this quite swiftly. Fortunately, Sunset over Savannah is very much up to the challenge of sustaining this wondrous experience. I found one tiny bug and less than a handfull of typos. Things like sand, water and ropetying are well handled, as are swimming and diving. The little details like a small crab scuttling around in the sand or the pressure of a wave crashing above while diving add immensely to the immersion. There are also tons of meaningful responses to completely unnecessary commands, which makes it a joy to just play in the sand.
The puzzles our protagonist has to solve to get a grip on his own emotions and resolve are hard. Really hard. (To me, that is. I'm not that proficient in that department.) It was particularly difficult to find that first loose thread to get the ball rolling, and even then, the ball got stuck more than a few times. This is no punishment however, having such a beautiful place to wander around in. It pays to think about all the properties of the inventory-objects, all the possible functions they could have.
There is a good help system with vague-to-explicit hints per puzzle, but once you've explored all locations thoroughly, all you should maybe need are one or two nudges.
A lesser game would have a serious problem with integrating so many hard puzzles into a story that depends on depth of emotion and fragile wonderment. It would be hard to maintain the willing suspension of disbelief on the player's part.
Not Sunset over Savannah. The characterization of the protagonist and his mental state are strong enough to maintain the illusion and the immersion.
A beautiful, beautiful game.
I wish I could give this five stars, but there were some puzzles that weren't well-clued and there were a few sections where I spent time wandering around and around trying to figure out what I hadn't done. The frustrating thing was that I had to look up hints for puzzles which I should have been able to accomplish on my own but for precise actions that had me needing to read the author's mind. The puzzles were clued, but the problem was that it's only in hindsight that you see that. If just playing the game, the clues feel like a part of the scenery description and don't necessarily prompt you to act on them.
On the upside, some puzzles had alternate solutions, which I ended up finding, so it wasn't necessary to find all the possible items. And there are a lot of items that are just red herrings, so don't expect to need all of them.
Oh, another thing I found frustrating was that you can only carry limited amounts of items, which means a lot of picking up and dropping and walking back and forth if you happened to be missing something you needed for a puzzle.
I also found some minor bugs. (Spoiler - click to show)I was digging with a sieve, but the text said I was using a shingle. When I tried to tie something to myself, it said I couldn't, and if I tied the object to my arm, it said I'd attached it to my wrist. There is a point where you can't take any more glass bottles from the pile. If underwater in the diving bell, if you type "exit bell," you leave the bell but don't lose any oxygen. Because of these text errors, some solutions were kind of spoiled.
Beware the hint system. It can be spoilery. And I don't mean in the sense that it gives away solutions. The various objectives are listed specifically and not really context-sensitive, so if you call them up, you'll get glimpses into puzzles you may not have figured out exist yet.
Still, the writing is excellent and the emotional impact of the various discoveries the player character makes is lasting and memorable. (Spoiler - click to show)Two of my favorites are the sleeping dragon and the crystal castle. And I got a perverse satisfaction out of killing and eating the crab. The setting and immersion are well done, with nice touches of color and detail that made the game world come alive. Emphasis on how the player character feels both physically and emotionally was a fun twist, and helped in identification and understanding. Also liked the option to list exits all the time. I hate the, "You can't go that way."
The strength of the literary aspect of the game is what makes this game recommended. If not for that, the game would have been three stars because of the puzzle frustration.
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