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About the StoryAn interactive drama in the traditions of Soviet fiction about choosing a profession.
Mother and her teenage son live on the edge of the world amid hot springs, steam, mountains, five-story houses and rusty freight robots. Their present is routine. Their future is under the strict control of Progress-program. Which also means routine.
Making their choice they seem to be on the horns of a dilemma. But it may also be a rare chance to escape the dull grey surrounding them.
If they could only find a way to use it.
Nominee, Best Story; Nominee, Best Setting; Nominee - Finding the good ending, Best Individual Puzzle; Nominee, Best Implementation; Nominee, Best Use of Innovation; Winner - Tie, Best Use of Multimedia - 2019 XYZZY Awards
12th Place - 25th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2019)
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Number of Reviews: 3
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Dull Grey is a coming of age story in a mechanised, stark landscape with the aesthetic of Soviet fiction. The story universe is dominated by the Progress-program, but it seems to have little sway in the towns we venture through. To them, the Progress-program is a distant mandates and forms flashpoints for ideology; the decision-making power does not lie with them.
The game itself is visually gorgeous, with just enough descriptive writing to sketch out a deserted depot here; a village house there.
Handling the choices was simply and very well done. You technically only ever have a binary choice between two professions. Neither seems good. The lack of choice is by design - and to good effect. There is a bit at the end which reveals the true scope of the game(Spoiler - click to show), rather like Caleb Wilson's The Northnorth Passage (I hope this isn't too revealing!). It also divulges the percentages of players who found certain endings, and looking at contemporaneous reviews, I'm starting to wonder how true this is.
This game piqued my curiosity in many ways, and was surprising in the best ways.
Provodnik Games made their debut last year with Railways of Love, a sci-fi game set in a future Russia where you were locked into one path which later opened.
This game is somewhat similar. It is set in the same future (both feature 'spikeheads', robot transmitters). Both games are illustrated, the former in 8-bit pixel art, and this one in gorgeous, smoothly animated black and white art.
The writing is good, with some English hiccups here and there. A son in a lonely outpost needs to enter the real world by choosing a job. There are two job choices, and the choice gets made over and over.
Near the end, you finally break free, but it's tricky to find. The final screen, interestingly enough, shows a breakdown of what final choices people made. Only 15% of people made my choice, which was a partially hidden ending, but apparently there's an even better ending that 1% of people found.
I'm not afraid of choice-deficient games (I loved last year's very linear Polish the Glass), but I feel a bit odd giving this 5 stars when it's more of a computerized book. However, the constrained interactivity does serve a purpose, and reflects the constrained options of the protagonist. On the other hand, this kind of constraint-as-story as been done many times before. On the other hand, just because something isn't new doesn't mean it's bad. So I go back and forth between 4 stars and 5, which is why I've given it a score of 4.5. I'd love to see more from Provodnik!
In terms of interactivity, it uses an interesting mechanic wherein the same binary choice is presented at each decision point. The repetitiveness fits well with the theme and setting, and the progression also builds in a powerful way as we follow a map and travel from scene to scene toward a momentous decision in the protagonistís life, in a way that feels inevitably hopeless.
Different paths through the story presumably depend on the characters present at each decision point being more amenable to one option or another (lamplighter vs. tallyman). While I like this idea in theory, in the couple of replays I tried it felt like the sequence of scenes remained very linear regardless of choice, and I didnít feel a connection to the decisions or any real sense of where they were leading me.
However, this is ultimately a piece that resonates in terms of mood, setting, writing, and art design, and it stands out as a unique and memorable take on IF.
If you enjoyed Dull Grey...
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Calm down. All you have to do is write a thousand words and everything will be fine. And you have all day, except it's already noon. [blurb from IF Comp 2008]
PollsThe following polls include votes for Dull Grey:
For your consideration: XYZZY-eligible Best Setting of 2019 by MathBrush
This is for suggesting games released in 2019 which you think might be worth considering for Best Setting in the XYZZY awards. This is not a zeroth-round nomination.This is not an official list. The point of poll is partly to suggest...
For your consideration: XYZZY-eligible Best Use of Multimedia of 2019 by MathBrush
This is for suggesting games released in 2019 which you think might be worth considering for Best Use of Multimedia in the XYZZY awards. This is not a zeroth-round nomination.This is not an official list. The point of poll is partly to...
For your consideration: XYZZY-eligible Best Overall Games of 2019 by MathBrush
This is for suggesting games released in 2018 which you think might be worth considering for Best Game in the XYZZY awards. This is not a zeroth-round nomination.This is not an official list. The point of poll is partly to suggest games...
This is version 4 of this page, edited by ZMX on 22 October 2020 at 6:37pm. - View Update History - Edit This Page - Add a News Item