Cana According To Micah

by Christopher Huang (as Rev. Stephen Dawson)


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Surprisingly touching Biblical apocrypha, January 26, 2023
by Andrew Schultz (Chicago)

I probably wasn't ready for CATM back in 2011, the first year I really tried reviewing IFComp games. I was just trying to get through all the comp games, and this one pushed back at me, but not in the "oops, I'm broken" way. So I couldn't help I was missing something. Everything seemed a bit off to me: even the pen name, Rev. Stephen Dawson, seemed like a pedantic boor who debated endless theological points enough to scare people from church. Anna, an NPC, behaved cluelessly and almost annoyingly, yet she was trying to help. It seemed.

And there was a wedding feast, which I can only assume was the 30 AD equivalent of a cocktail party. (I don't like weddings.) This probably contributed to CATM being dinged a bit in the final standings. But I sat down and found several ways through it, such as they were, and -- well, looking back, I'm not surprised the author went on to publish a novel later, one that appears in my local library system, no less.

CATM isn't a big game. The mansion where you serve is just eight rooms, and the other bits are more straightforward. Yet it took a good deal of diligently fighting through the in-game hints to push through--they don't spoil everything, and I think they even manipulate you into trying things you otherwise wouldn't. I could complain that they don't appear or disappear when they should, but maybe it's my fault for losing faith that early. But you have to manipulate people in order to move the plot. Jesus/Joshua apparently isn't thrilled about the whole turn water-to-wine thing, and unless he has strong motivation, he's not going to. You can't convince him on your own. The whole water-to-wine thing is also subverted with an early puzzle, where you run into John, and, well, Jesus played a small trick on him. John deserved it.

Getting Joshua to perform a miracle without nagging is thus the main thrust of the story. You're sort-of aided by a young orphan named Anna (there are a lot of subtler anachronisms you may miss if just trying to solve CATM.) She causes a set of shelves to collapse, which seems awful, but it just says, okay, there's nothing at the top, so don't bother to look for a ladder. Later she becomes part of a small moral dilemma that leads to branching endings. In the main good one, Joshua lets you know that he isn't a stickler about some things, and you did right. Yet it's easy to imagine these days people with far less than Godlike powers deliberately putting subordinates into impossible positions. So that was an unexpectedly revealing moment.

It's never quite clear how far you are in the plot--you need some NPCs' help to point out other NPCs, and the upper-right, instead of "10/10," is in Bible verse format, which is sort of cute. So there's some ambiguity, but I think that's planned, because your fellow servants Amos and Martha are often sent to town to perform errands. There's a lot of personal interaction implied and required. Though the author deliberately leaves you hanging about one particularly tedious action before speeding it up drastically, as if to say, I don't want you to focus on that. It's not a miracle by any sense, but it's a benevolent way for the author himself to play God.

I missed a lot of the humor of CATM the first time through, and I'm glad I gave it another chance. Parts still feel a bit sticky years later, but I think that's more to the author's discretion. CATM doesn't let things happen too easily, and it nearly forces you to interact with the NPCs and try things to see what to ask about and gives you several chances to solve things as a decent person or as a jerk or worse. It's an interesting bit of speculative apocrypha that avoids crazy humor and asks some what-ifs within the story.