Cana According To Micah

by Christopher Huang (as Rev. Stephen Dawson)


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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
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.

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Mmmhh, honeyed locusts., February 3, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: History

Cana According To Micah is a very nice retelling of one of Jesus' miracles from the viewpoint of a servant at the wedding in Cana.

In search of the last jug of wine that has gone missing, you encounter several characters from Jesus' time and entourage, trying to get their help in understanding where the wine has gone. The puzzles almost all consist of talking to the right people at the right time.

I found the fact that there is no real theological depth to the conversations refreshing. After all, you're a servant trying to solve a practical problem. Discussions about the deeper meaning of the dis- and re-appearance of the wine are for scolars in later centuries.

I really liked the setting. In spite of a really small map, I got the impression of a spacious house with a large number of wedding guests. There were some hints to the Jewish wedding customs at the time, but as you play a character from that time, most are only mentioned in passing.

After accomplishing one important task, a quote from the poet Coleridge pops up. Not only did this take me out of the time of the story, it also hid the game-text right after my last command. Annoying.

There are a few decision points where the story can branch. I did not replay to look at them as I was content with the one playthrough and the ending I got.

Nice historical/religious vignette.

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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
Excellent mid-length game about Christ at Cana. Many NPCs, February 3, 2016

As a believer in Christ, it's nice to see a game based on the Bible that isn't satire, isn't preachy, and is very well done. In this game, you are a guest at the famous wedding at Cana where Jesus turned water into wine.

The author has made a good slice-of-life game here that is enjoyable. The focus is on what people are really like.

The game has numerous NPCs, tight implementation, and a good progressiev hint menu.

Basically, the wine is gone and you have to find it. You encounter a variety of characters, including Jesus, multiple Marys, Martha, Lazarus, John, Zechariah, etc. The story also incorporates the parable of the ten virgins, as well as an epilogue from another part of the scriptures.

The author has done a great job here. Recommended for everyone.

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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful:
Amphora Hits For Jesus, November 18, 2011

It's a broad truth in IF that the best works dealing prominently with Christian themes are written by non-Christians. Cana is the exception.

The game is presented (very loosely) as a late-Victorian translation of an apocryphal account of the Jugs of Cana, better-known as the water-into-wine miracle. As an obscure servant in the house of the bridegroom, you're tasked with finding more wine for the party and, eventually, in setting up the miracle.

The main thing the game depicts is not setting or plot or puzzle or individual characters, but a community: a community composed of individuals, many of them basically dissatisfied, most with diverging interests, full of conflicts great and small. Fundamentally an attractive community, full of kind, generous, intelligent people, but one which you are not quite a core member of. This goes a long way towards making it feel alive, rather than a tidy little parable.

Gameplay-wise, it's old-schoolish and not immensely intuitive. There are multiple solutions to certain puzzles, which have an impact on the general story, but interaction is not the central interest of the game. Some lines of inquiry rely on quite specific knowledge of the original text, and others are counterintuitive. There's a substantial hint system. Use it.

The game's core moral dilemma is, intentionally, trivial. (Spoiler - click to show)Joshua (Jesus) asks you to fetch some water; it's emphasized by other characters that you must do exactly as he says. But shortly thereafter, you have a choice: in order to save a child's life you have to disobey the literal commands of Jesus. The triviality is the point: anybody with the most rudimentary ethical sense can see the right answer, that literalism can't be allowed to trump straightforward ethics.

The approach to the rest of the story takes a similar attitude: it can't really be construed as an attempt at a strict historical retelling. Instead, it treats the text, story and history as juicy story elements rather than hard facts, and indeed in many places it's conspicuously ahistorical. Characters appear who are unlikely to have been around before the start of Jesus' ministry -- but then, so is the freaking Ancient Mariner, a guy who seems carefully chosen for maximum historical inconsistency.

(In the interests of full disclosure, I should point out that I've played an RPG campaign with Chris as the GM, and he took a highly similar approach there: a joyful, loving appropriation and blending of every story in sight, to the point where navigating the game became as much about interpreting, recognising and playing with the references as about in-character decisions. This led to one of the most fun and sustained RPG experiences I've ever had, which inescapably colours my experience of Cana.)

There's a certain kind of literary Christian who seems more invested in the aesthetic potency of Christianity than in its truth or goodness. Borges loved Christianity mostly because it led to Dante, Chaucer and a thousand strange and beautiful theologies. Cana does not quite fit into this model, though it can certainly be read in that mode: miracles and their significance are not really its central interest. (Indeed, Jesus doesn't quite seem to see the point of the miracle, which is fair enough: setting a party up with booze isn't quite the same order of things as healing the sick.)

Of course, all this presupposes that you actually get a decent proportion of the references. Your actual religious beliefs aren't directly pertinent to whether you enjoy Cana or not: more important is a textual interest in the Gospels, and a sense of humour about them.

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