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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.
Nominee, Best Game; Nominee, Best Writing; Nominee, Best Story; Nominee, Best Setting; Winner, Best NPCs; Nominee, Best Individual Puzzle - 2001 XYZZY Awards
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.
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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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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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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.)
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.
I'm new to IF - played one or two back in my college days and then promptly forgot about them. As a matter if fact, I was only reminded of the pleasures of IF again because of Frotz on my iPhone (kudos to whoever came up with that idea)! This game is by far my favorite so far of the 5 or 6 games I've played. The plot is excellent (couldn't put my phone away!) and the flow was nice. I'm not too sure what all the non-main characters are there for, but the development of the main characters was adequate. I liked that the navigation was simple in this game - I hate games with mazes. And I was grateful that there was much more story and conversation which serve to flesh out the plot than frustrating puzzles that block you from progressing in the game. All in all, a fun experience!
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