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Nominee, Best Individual PC - 2011 XYZZY Awards
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Number of Reviews: 6
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Love, Hate and the Mysterious Ocean Tower is a short story, designed to be played in a matter of a few minutes. That, of course, imposes certain limits on its range. But within those limits it is polished and intriguing.
Consistently with Pacian's other work, the story's focus is distinctly, and one assumes deliberately, not about some of the things that "classic" and "neoclassic" IF focus on. The things that are hidden or hinted at in this game are not about place or object, so that the task is not to explore place or object. It's not about puzzles. Indeed, the story rather explicitly turns its back on those traditional elements: (Spoiler - click to show)as when taking inventory reveals that Nicky is carrying a pile of useless books or (Spoiler - click to show)where the discovery of an intricate puzzle-lock leads, almost instantly, to its summary destruction by Peyton. For most of the story it's obvious where you must go and what you must do.
But this does not mean that the characterization, either of the people concerned or of the location, is inadequate. Quite the contrary. The surreal world and the characters are sketched, with additional elements occasionally revealed, in a way that very convincingly shows, without telling, an intriguing back-story and environment.
Nor does it mean that the game is not about choice. On the contrary, it is very much -- in the end -- about choice. As Victor Gijsbers has perceptively said, choice is most important when the reader/player is explicitly aware of it. Despite the combination of melodrama and camp on the surface of the story, the result manages to be touching.
The aim of this story is evidently not profound -- no mixture of Indiana Jones and Rocky Horror could be -- but for all that it manages to be not just light fun (though it is that), but something a little more too. Highly recommended if you like short, strongly drawn pieces to while away half an hour or so.
The constraints of Speed-IF force an author to identify and highlight the core elements of their story: here, Pacian has chosen theme, imagery, and characterization. The brief prologue establishes all three in only a few sentences and lines of dialogue as we see a literal blushing romance, evocative phrasing, and hints of the main characters' complementary and contrasting personalities. The first sentence alone sets the stage:
"The zeppelin lurches suddenly and I tumble forward, spilling my books on the deck. Peyton laughs sympathetically and holds out his hand."
The viewpoint character and Peyton explore this dynamic along with the eponymous tower, learning about each other even as the reader learns the history of the setting. For such a short game, there is a great deal of backstory verging on the infodump in places, but never substantially enough to drag on the reader. Only curiosity, and perhaps, a tease of things (never?) to come.
It's surprising to find much replayability or branching in Speed-IF, but even though they're naturally abbreviated there are numerous endings, all logically suggested by the end-game scenario, and several points where the fleeting conversations can be steered into different revelations and outcomes. I found this thoughtfulness, like the developed personalities and vivid descriptions, touching. While it might take 10 minutes to play the first time and 2 thereafter, "Love, Hate, and the Mysterious Ocean Tower" is a vignette I'll visualize and remember for a long time.
Like much Speed-IF, this one is a little under-implemented if you try to interact with scenery too much. Working in its favor, though, is a very clear and straight-ahead plot, so that it's easy to stay on track and avoid getting stuck. There are several possible endings, but in retrospect at the end of the game it's pretty easy to tell what might have changed the outcome.
The story is a snack-sized piece about threatened love in the context of a supremely bizarre universe with zeppelins, archaeologists, savage deities and squid-men. The few locations we get to visit are vividly drawn and suggest an entire larger culture. (Possibly even the same culture as in "Walker and Silhouette"? Both feature an identifiable England continuous with lands of unidentifiable strangeness and fantasy.)
Definitely worth a try, especially for those who already know they enjoy Pacian's style.
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