External Links

Release 3 / Serial number 020223.
Requires a Z-Code interpreter. Visit IFWiki for download links.
Release 4 / Serial number 020223. "Version three is the one you want, unless you have Glulxe and like your conversation menus on the bottom, in which case, version 4 is a .blb file with better window-management."
Requires a Glulx interpreter. Visit IFWiki for download links.
Contains pytho.z8
Release 1 / Serial number 010201. (The original SmoochieComp entry.)
Requires a Z-Code interpreter. Visit IFWiki for download links. (Compressed with ZIP. Free Unzip tools are available for most systems at www.info-zip.org.)
Lightly annotated walkthrough to the main endings.

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Pytho's Mask

by Emily Short profile


(based on 67 ratings)
8 reviews

About the Story

On the Night of the Comet, the usual astrological bonds do not hold, and the order of the universe is threatened. It is a time made for rebels and usurpers, and all who would claim the kingdom for themselves.

You are a member of the Order of the Phoenix, a protector of the hierarchy and the kingdom itself. It is your duty to attend the royal ball, watch for dangers... and do whatever needs to be done.

Choose your enemies carefully, and guard your heart.

Note: the .z8 and .blb versions of this game have identical content. The only difference is formatting. The .blb version uses Glulx windowing to move conversation menus to the bottom of the screen rather than using the status window, so it may be more attractive to most players; the .z8 version may be more accessible with a screen reader.

Game Details


Nominee, Best Game; Nominee, Best Writing; Nominee, Best Story; Nominee, Best Setting; Winner, Best NPCs; Nominee, Best Individual Puzzle - 2001 XYZZY Awards

Editorial Reviews

Baf's Guide

Intrigue and romance at a fantastical royal court on the brink of astrological derangement. You play a capable young woman from a secret order, invited to the ball by a cloaked and masked stranger. It continues in that vein. Very good atmosphere, with timed events independent of the player. Heavily story-oriented, with a large cast for a relatively small game and lots of conversation, but contains puzzles as well. In fact, the whole story leads to a problem of detection that can be approached in multiple ways (including trial-and-error). Features an experimental conversation system (later used in Best of Three) that combines aspects of ASK/TELL and menu-based conversation in a fairly natural and inobtrusive manner, although it is pretty easy to run out of things to say to a person - not because there are few things to say, but because the system encourages one to talk a lot.

-- Carl Muckenhoupt

Girl Game Review

Pytho’s Mask is a fantastic intrigue flavored with romance and a little action. It has its share of hiccups, but nothing so debilitating that you can’t finish the game. “HELP” is your friend, and will save you from much woe. On the whole, it’s worth checking out.
See the full review

By any other author's standards, the conversations in it are a hell of an achievement -- it's just that this isn't any other author, this is the author responsible for Galatea, and indeed the author responsible for this system. Not only that, but everything else about the game is superb. What seems like a slightly bizarre fantasy story rapidly settles into a whodunnit -- or rather, whos-going-to-do-it -- with added love interest, both of which are beautifully written and paced. The writing is good; the implementation is deep (although with some gaps). The game is shortish, but that isn't in itself a problem -- there's plenty packed in. Generally, then, this is not quite a perfect game, but it's getting pretty close.
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Smooching 101
Speaking of characters, Emily has created another very nice conversation system. It mixes the best parts of ASK/TELL and menu-based conversation, though it doesn't always work quite right. It's been explained in detail in other places, so I won't go into it here, but it's really very good. I was sometimes left with the feeling that my character had zoned out for a bit and missed some conversation, but these few mimesis-shattering bugs are small, and can easily be fixed in future versions.
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Puzzle of Masks, Masked
Emily Short leaves the reader no room to make her own decisions, instead forcing her to accept one single course of action as the best one. This would not be a problem if it were clear from the outset that the player had a puzzle to solve. But it is not, and the many intriguing NPCs are engaging enough that finds oneself automatically taking sides, and, therefore, wants to influence the story in the favour of those NPCs. Ironically, Pytho's Mask may in the end be the victim of its own success: in your run of the mill detective story, the detective has no reason to want anyone but the killer to be jailed; but in Pytho's Mask, the player may have many motivations to want one of the NPCs to succeed.
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Number of Reviews: 8
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Most Helpful Member Reviews

21 of 23 people found the following review helpful:
Not without its flaws, but quite the romantic charmer all the same, January 30, 2009
by Jimmy Maher (Oslo, Norway)

It strikes me that Emily Short came to IF implementation by the wrong way round entirely. Infocom began by meticulously implementing static environments, and only gradually began to include dynamic NPCs in their games, albeit never entirely successfully, as the disastor that was their one totally NPC-centric game, Shogun, will demonstrate. Ms. Short, meanwhile, dived in at the deep end with Galatea, and only as her career progressed gradually began to pay as much attention to her environments and her gameplay as she did to her characters.

Pytho's Mask is one of her earlier efforts, and so is very much conversation-focused, often at the expense of its world-model. A few simple puzzles aside, its scenery is obviously not Ms. Short's first priority -- in fact, it's downright underimplemented, something we will never see in one of her recent games. At the same time, though, it outshines most of her early games by having a fairly compelling plot on which to hang all the meticulously implemented conversation. While, say, Galatea or Best of Three can often feel like dialog in search of a narrative -- like amorphous talking heads suspended in a sort of gray soup chattering about nothing that really matters in the end -- Pytho's Mask has a narrative thrust that serves it well, and that makes it perhaps my favorite of her early games.

The game has the flavor of a romantic fantasy of the sort generally targeted toward teenaged girls and sold in the Young Adult area of the bookstore. There are plots and machinations aplenty; the protagonist is a young woman not only capable but also beautiful; and her potential love interests are either charming rogues or emotionally troubled Good Guys who of course also have the looks of a model. There is sexual tension aplenty, but the prospect of actual sex is only hinted at. It's a genre exercise, certainly, but an extremely well done one, filled with Ms. Short's usual gossamer prose and memorable imagery. (And I'm certainly not opposed to genre exercises in IF; it seems to me that given the current limitations of the form a well-done genre exercise is about the most we can reasonably hope for, and striving for more often leads to the worst kinds of tedious pretension. But I digress...)

You, the aforementioned beautiful and capable young woman, are actually a member of a secret order assigned to protect the King from some people who hope to harm him at a special party that takes place just once every hundred years in honor of the arrival of a certain comet in the sky. You will spend the vast majority of your time wandering about the party, observing and conversing with the attendees and trying to sort out who the bad guys are. While things can veer dangerously close to Amorphous Talking Head Territory at times, the plot machinery is generally tight enough and the conversations generally brief enough to make you feel like you are participating in a genuine narrative rather than an experiment in IF conversation systems.

But speaking of conversation systems, Ms. Short has of course tried out many of them over the course of her career. This time out we have a hybrid of an ASK/TELL and a menu-based system. Basically, you the player get to select what topic you would like to discuss. Upon doing so, you are are presented with a menu of from one to four specific phrases to choose from -- or, more disconcertingly, you are sometimes presented with a completely blank menu. But I don't think that's really supposed to happen. It's just one of this one's fair number of notable implementation flaws.

Conversations are quite dynamic, varying with the state of the game and your knowledge of the storyworld -- although things don't always work quite right here either. During my conversations I was greeted with quite a lot of non-sequiters, some jarring and inappropriate shifts in tone and mood, and even the occasional opportunity to speak knowingly about things my character as of yet knew nothing about. And sometimes the whole thing can be downright infuriating. You are instructed at the beginning of the game to seek out the King's physician and speak to him about the King. Typing "TOPIC KING" when conversing with him, however, just leads to a conversation menu that is all about... the Prince! And trying to navigate through the conversation system to explain what needs to be done to avert disastor can be almost as difficult as figuring out what needs to be done in the first place, as your PC stubbornly refuses to say what she urgently needs to say to prevent the King from meeting an unhappy fate indeed. The system is, in short (ha!), a good idea that works pretty well in the abstract, but falls down quite a lot in this particular implementation.

Still, what Ms. Short was attempting to do here is damnably difficult even today, and this game lacked the benefit of many years of experimentation and discussion, having been made just at the time when post-commercial era IF (driven largely by Ms. Short's own interests and experiments) was first beginning to seriously grapple with issues of dynamic NPCs and conversation. For those reasons, and because there is so much here -- the prose and the atmosphere it conveys especially -- that works so well, I'm willing to cut this game quite a lot of slack in this area. You should be prepared for a bit of frustration and an occasional lack of polish that you might find surprising in an Emily Short game if you tackle this one. Still, its strengths far outweigh its faults. I actually prefer this one to some of her more well-known works. Maybe I'm just a sucker for a giddy and innocent teenage romance.

(I re-played this recently using the Z-Code version that was still on my harddrive. If any of my complaints would have been alleviated by playing with the Glulx re-release that I just saw is available, my apologies.)

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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful:
Cliche But Somehow Still Original, January 23, 2008
by Rose (New Zealand)

I've always liked a good fantasy romance, but I did dither before playing Pytho's Mask. I wish now that I'd played it earlier. It has all the important (some would say cliche) elements of the genre -- the masked hero, the evil villian, the unsuspecting kingdom needing rescuing. And, of course, the enterprising heroine.

If you like puzzly IF, I'll tell you now -- this game has almost no puzzles. Almost all information to be gathered comes from conversation; and much of the game is spent talking to various NPCs. Conversation is menu-based, but with a topic command -- handy for hiding spoilery options, but it can lead to the occasional game of 'guess-the-noun'. The game doesn't railroad you into any particular attitude towards any of the NPCs -- (Spoiler - click to show)it's even possible to refuse the proposal of the hero at the end.

The fantasy setting was captivating and well-written, but I was let down to earth with a bump once or twice when a interesting-sounding piece of scenery wasn't implemented. It's the setting and connected mythology that saves this game from the realm of predictability, actually. I had no navigation problems, and normally I get lost within the first five minutes of beginning a game.

Overall, I throroughly enjoyed Pytho's Mask, despite one or two guess-the-verb hiccups and getting stuck at the end. If you like swashbuckling romance stories, you'll enjoy this game.

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Romantic and beautiful, January 3, 2023
by Lance Cirone (Backwater, Vermont)

Pytho's Mask is graceful and sophisticated. Everything from the theming to the characters has such a high-class charm and works to make you feel like a part of the world. The romance elements make it such an exhilarating and exciting story; I felt so blessed, assessing each intelligent and proper party guest as a potential partner.

You play as Soteria, a noblewoman who's been invited to a royal celebration, and you don't have a clue what it's about. Talking to the kingdom's rulers, you learn that it's to commemorate the Night of the Comet -- a chaotic event happening every 100 years, that can mysteriously change peoples' motivations and mindsets. Plus, the King is sick, and someone is out to get him... but who?

Pytho's Mask is a conversation game with light puzzles. A majority of this game is spent talking to people, working out their motivations, and piecing together who did it. It's a fantasy story with romance elements -- the Prince seems to have taken a liking to you (even though he admits he could do better), but others will tell you he's not the most faithful. It's up to you to decide whether to go with it, turn him away, or even go for someone else.

The game is good at giving you opportunities to understand its lore-heavy backstory. If you have a question about what something is, go ahead and ask someone who's knowledgeable about it. If you don't know where they are, just strike up a conversation with whoever's nearby and ask them. If you idle in a crowded area, you'll overhear some gossip that hints at where you can go or what you should do next. It's very much possible to figure this game out on your own, since the focus is more on the story, but the puzzles are a nice addition.

The game's writing is simply amazing. These characters all have their own memorable personalities -- I was especially a fan of Avril, who's disrespected by the other attendees for his emphasis on fashion and tendency to judge people based on it, but turns out to be one of the most sensible and likeable people in the game. We shared a mutual hatred of Valkir, how could I not love him? Each character has something unique to say about a given topic. It lets you draw your own conclusions as to who you like and who you don't, and there's a lot to play around with.

Pytho's Mask is an absolute gem, and ranks among my favorite interactive fiction pieces, period.

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Pytho's Mask on IFDB

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The following polls include votes for Pytho's Mask:

ZCode games with non-standard status lines by Dannii
I'm interested in finding ZCode (primarily those written in Inform, though Infocom games could be ok too) which have a non-standard status line. Whether it's with colours, maps, arrows, or more! With such a list I can investigate what...

Plot-driven Narrative by Jerako
I'm looking for a list of games to try where the narrative is the focus of the game. Where the author is really trying to tell a story over making a puzzlefest (though puzzles aren't necessarily unwelcome, especially if they drive they...

Historical sci-fi / alternate history by Rovarsson
I loved "Slouching towards Bedlam". Does anyone know of any other games that have that "the-future-as-it-might-have-been-imagined-long-ago"-feel? Anything steampunk qualifies, I'm also thinking of Jules Verne's novels and even the world...

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