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About the Story
Sitting in a cramped theatre, irritated that your partner apparently hasn't turned up, you are strangely intrigued by a current of air. It will lead you to a place very different from your own familiar surroundings...
Winner, Best Game; Winner, Best Writing; Nominee, Best Story; Nominee, Best Setting; Winner, Best Puzzles; Winner - Opening the gate, Nominee - Riding the creature, Nominee (Cramped, crawling), Best Individual Puzzle - 1996 XYZZY Awards
In this haunting and dreamlike work, you discover unnatural shadows that allow you to travel to a variety of strange places, each with a different prevailing mood. A sprawling work, thick with prose, variously enchanting and disturbing. Has a definite recurring theme of near-misses and creative tension, as well as numerous less-identifiable undercurrents with plenty of room for interpretation and speculation. (Is the tribal dance you witness in the grasslands just another retelling of the play you watch in the prologue? Is there some connection between the sculpture in the park and the coming lunar conjunction?) Excellent puzzles, chiefly based on experimenting with unfamiliar objects. Lots of attention to detail, especially irrelevant detail, with the effect that the world seems much larger than it is. Highly emotional and pleasantly confusing.
-- Carl Muckenhoupt
This is the kind of game where you not only have to read each piece carefully and thoughtfully the first time, you also have to stand permanently apart from what's going on. You're doing things that make no real logical sense -- by the hundred, it seems. Graham Nelson's Player's Bill of Rights is triumphantly defied by some of the acts of intuitive leaping, save-and-restore decipherment, and hindsight required to get through the game properly. Even so I only managed with liberal use of Lucian Smith's Invisiclues and suggestions from friends on ifMUD. As Duncan Stevens says in his recent SPAG review of the same game, _So Far_ works thematically, but the plot doesn't entirely make sense.
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It's a noteworthy title, for a whole slew of reasons. IF's traditional features have been handled extremely well, in that the writing, the puzzles and the coding are as near flawless as they come. There are further aspects however, concerning the game-world and the player's place within it, that add new and thought-provoking elements.
-- Alistair G. Thomas
It's difficult, in the end, to explain what it is that makes So Far so memorable. The settings are vivid, but not spectacularly so, and the strongest theme in the descriptions is decay and abandonment--compelling on an emotional level but not necessarily captivating as IF. A few of the puzzles are memorable, but there aren't enough puzzles here to make the game work on that basis alone. My own sense of why I found the game fascinating was that it demanded attention and analysis; indeed, without analysis, it's not even vaguely memorable, because very little of what's most interesting about So Far is there on the surface. More than any other IF I can think of--Losing Your Grip is the only game that comes close--So Far is best appreciated through poring over the transcript and drawing connections between events that aren't necessarily juxtaposed in space or time.
-- Duncan Stevens
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Number of Reviews: 4
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There are very few bits of IF that have stayed with me and will do forever. So Far is one of them, which in a way is a terrible shame, because it's almost impossible to share with anyone else. The game is famously difficult and cruel (it's the only game I can think of that actively encourages players to do self-destructive things) and to say I got through it without hints would be a lie, lie, lie. But it was a beautiful thing, finely wrought, casting shadows across itself like a spinning sundial. It made me feel horribly jealous not to have written it and deeply privileged to have played it. Sigh -- those were the days...
Well, I don’t know how to start writing about this game. Really I don’t. I know that I liked it, so I’ll start there. I liked it far more than Plotkin’s previous game, A Change in the Weather, by a wide margin. It was immediately engrossing: the writing was luxurious and invited me to read the game as text in a way that the previous games I’d encountered had not. The game opens with the protagonist at a play, worried about Aessa, presumably your girlfriend. She’s stood you up. And the game strongly implies (by way of the play which you’re watching, and the hints near the end of the game) that she is actually having an affair.
So Far seems like a representation of one man’s internal coming to grips with this awareness of betrayal, loss, and loneliness. Sure, one could read the various worlds you traverse as literal—that the game is a fantastic world-hopping adventure—but Plotkin put too much detail and care for us to legitimately come to that conclusion. For instance, each world is keyed to some environmental markers: “autumn, cool, smoky” or “bright, bitter wind.” The game opens in “hot, sticky,” which mirrors the protagonist’s mood: “Damn the crowd, in truth: your mood was hot, foul, and dark when you came in.” The pathetic fallacy runs rampant in So Far, to such an extent that it is hard for me to believe that the various worlds you end up exploring exist “out there” at all. Then environments become increasingly bleak, dark, and shapeless, mirroring various stages of acceptance. And the end of the game--oh, the end.
Cracks show up a lot, too. Keep an eye out for them. Cracks in walls, in the earth, etc. Seems like a blatant symbol of the rupture in the protagonist’s relationship. The cracks are often associated with water (yonic?). There’s even a puzzle that involves (Spoiler - click to show)trying to rupture a crack in order to cause a glacier landslide, revealing a chill tunnel leading to a cave of light, where “ripples of gold light fall through milky blue veils.” The game begs for a Freudian reading.
Shadows are important in this game, too, another thing hinted at right at the game’s outset. The game opens with the final act of a play, and Plotkin deftly wove in all the major themes of the game into this scene, which you watch play out before you really can do anything. “Rito has finally found out about Imita's affair, and he stalks the stage, whipping voice and hands about himself. A footfall behind him; he turns, and sees Imita,” the game begins. Rito turns to Imita and berates her: “How come you, harlot? Dare you come this way, / your skin yet dark with Tato's shadow's stain?” “Shadow” here is obviously a marker, since the action of the game involves finding odd shadows and stepping into them.
In fact, this game kept reminding me of Myst. Traveling to different worlds and solving puzzles. However, unlike in Myst, many of the worlds in So Far are populated. On the other hand, the people in those worlds are either hostile to you or indifferent. You typically don’t feel connected to anyone, except the lost boy perhaps—and that boy might even be you, a homunculus trapped in a maze of rusted metal. The puzzle here(Spoiler - click to show)--clanging metal pipes to move around—suggested to me a prelinguistic stage of psychological development, and the boy simply that innocent, bruised self hiding in all of us.
The writing and the way some of these worlds were structured suggested Myst to me, too. The first world you encounter involves a castle and a radioactive power generator. Here’s a sample of the room where you first appear:
(Spoiler - click to show)
The sky is almost violet, infinitely distant -- you've never seen such a sky, and without the haze of metallic heat that summer should have. But the wind is sharp and chilly, and the trees nearby are a quilt of orange, red, and gold.
Beneath you the road is old, filled with weeds and ragged moss; dirt shows only in patches. To the south, the track is choked with trees, as it runs into the fringes of an autumn forest. It continues the other way, though, towards an immense stone wall that hems the northern horizon.
The puzzles are generally not too hard, but not too easy, either. There is some trial and error to go through, of course; and the logic of the worlds doesn’t always make sense, especially as you progress through the game and the worlds become more abstract and strange: in one, you wander a desolated landscape, manipulating platonic solids. And then there is the darkness and the shadows and the shades of the happy couple you and Aessa once were. This protagonist is an awfully cerebral individual who works out his issues by plumbing deep into his psyche.
Is there anything wrong with this game? It’s puzzle-heavy, which isn’t to my taste, but on the other hand, they are mostly woven into the theme pretty well, though Plotkin’s writing. There are a few that are fairly silly and don’t fit, though. And some of the more tedious ones take you out of the world completely, in terms of player immersion. That is, you’re reminded that you’re just playing a game and you forget all about this cool world you’re in.
But I think the major failure of the game is that it is written in the second person. I know that’s a convention of text adventures, but in this case the prose would be more compelling, I think, if Plotkin had experimented with the first person. Especially in a game like this, which could easily be read as taking place within the protagonist’s head in a surrealist psychological drama. The standard game engine response of “I don’t understand that verb” when the player fails to guess the right verb, or makes a typo, felt particularly jarring after I began to understand the game in this way. Granted, the second person is the standard convention in IF, but I look forward to playing some games which break this rule.
Taken together with A Change in the Weather, it seems that one consistent theme between the two Plotkin games I’ve played so far is isolation or loneliness. In the previous game, the protagonist wandered away from his friends in search of some solitude; in So Far the protagonist is dealing with a breakup, or perhaps infidelity. Text adventure games are typically solitary affairs by their very nature, so it’s nice to see Plotkin incorporating this into the plot of the game.
(re-posted from my blog, gentle hart desire)
This was the first IF game I've played by this author. All in all, it was a good experience, and it took 6 days for me to complete.
It wasn't too terribly 'verbose' in its descriptions--but I see the advantage to that--the best images are created by the mind of the reader. For the most part, the descriptions were 'good enough'. But one reason I gave it only 4 stars was because in some places the author could have been more clear. For example, (Spoiler - click to show)no matter how hard I tried to look at it, I just could not understand how the huge gate in the 'autumn' area worked, but maybe I missed something about it. Also, I think he could have tightened up the grammar in some places, though I know programmers aren't necessarily professional writers. Plus I understand that the author was in his mid 20s(as I was) when this game came out in 1996.
Perhaps like a number of others, I thought this game was going to be a cinch when I first started playing it. Not quite. The first problems were simple, but soon after, I got stuck. One hint--it really helps to take a step back and take in WHERE you ARE. There is plenty of teleportation, and though it seems that you remain on the same planet, the many places you visit are different. The problems are varied and interesting, and I know it's a good game when I get obsessed about solving them.
Warning, however---there are also plenty of red herrings. Locked doors, paths and entrances that seem to admit you, objects that seem like they could be used for SOMETHING, but turn out to be non-essential. At one point, I thought I might be able to make out a pattern to solve what I thought was a problem, but it was like reading tea-leaves--the problem wasn't what I thought it was. Also, there are one or two loose ends, event-wise, but, as they say, that's life. At any rate, I follow the old IF rule, 'If you can take an object, keep it.'
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