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About the Story
"The sun has gone. It must be brought. You have a rock." [--blurb from Competition '99]
Nominee, Best Game; Winner, Best Writing; Nominee, Best Setting; Nominee - Stopping the flood, Best Individual Puzzle - 1999 XYZZY Awards
2nd Place overall; 1st Place, Miss Congeniality Awards - 5th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (1999)
"The sun is gone. It must be brought. You have a rock." So begins For a Change, one of the most unusual games in recent memory: the language is distinctly nonstandard, in an e.e. cummings sort of way, and figuring out exactly what's going on requires some lateral thinking. (Another example of the syntax: "This subsection of the inset brightens and flickers. The shadows . . . walk the cordstone walls; they move and excite.") While it's not as accessible as most IF, it's still a richly rewarding playing experience; once you learn to think in the same off-kilter way as the game's written, it all comes together. The puzzles are a mixed bag--some make more sense than others--but generally this works both as a game and as a linguistic experiment, and rewards the imagination.
-- Duncan Stevens
For a Change is indeed a change, and in a way it's a good example of what text IF can be--it manages to leave most of the visual details entirely to the player's imagination by refusing to pin down exactly what the PC is seeing or experiencing, except in the most general terms. The result is either maddening or evocative, depending on the player; if the player isn't willing to do the work of visualizing the scene as it unfolds (and supplying the images where the author declines to), the game more than likely remains elusive, amorphous.
-- Duncan Stevens
The outcome is something deeply bizarre, resulting in a rather dreamlike quality: everything has some sort of internal logic, even if you don't know what it is.
-- Nick Patavalis
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>INVENTORY - Paul O'Brian writes about interactive fiction
After I had finished the game, I marveled at the cleverness of its linguistic contrivance, and the consistency with which it was implemented, but the pleasure was solely on a cerebral level. Even though the experience of playing the game was interesting, I never cared very much about the story, I think because I found it too difficult to make an emotional commitment to a setting and character that were so completely alien. Consequently, I ended up observing myself a lot, which is a very distanced, passive way to go through something like interactive fiction. Then again, I'm not a person who gets passionate about abstract painting or experimental fiction like that of William Burroughs, so my lack of reaction to the game may be due more to my own idiosyncrasies than any particular flaw in the work.
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Number of Reviews: 11
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Play it if: you're in the mood for a short, light, memorable story which follows intuitive, dreamlike connections rather than logic-based ones.
Don't play it if: you prefer logic-based rather than intuitive puzzles, are looking for a longer story which emphasizes plot or characterization, or are easily frustrated by decoding descriptions.
For a Change was apparently Dan Schmidt's first completed work, and I have to say it's pretty impressive. It doesn't succeed so much in terms of puzzles, plot, or characters so much as it does in worming its way into your head and making itself easily remembered.
The most distinctive thing about the story is of course the language in which it is narrated to the player. It doesn't go out of its way to invent an entirely new vocabulary like The Gostak, but the game shows a strong preference for describing things in metaphor and generalizations. The player character is "faded and silent". A bed is called a "resting". Occasionally the language will reverse intuitive causalities: "the High Wall looms above the shade, creating it". A lot of the joy in playing the game comes from unpicking the games Schmidt plays in his construction of the descriptions and action, and you can tell he had a lot of fun writing them.
The world itself is also bizarrely engrossing. The style of narration (assuming the player character has knowledge of the world), the oblique language, and the small scale of the game necessarily results in a rather minimalist and vague approach to the description of the world. But unlike situations, where this would simply be hallmark of flawed writing, here the poetry of the game's language succeeds in letting the player's imagination fill in the gaps. While I wasn't particularly invested in any emotional sense, I was intensely curious about the nature of the setting, and those questions are still bumping around in my head. Is the model simply an enchanted object, or is it the world itself (as in, a recursive universe that contains itself)? Is the player character just a manifestation of the world, or is it the world's caretaker? I didn't get the impression that Schmidt was writing with a specific allegorical or thematic goal in mind, but Change nevertheless succeeded in engaging my interest on a mythological level.
In a gameplay sense, Change is a little more straightforward and a little more problematic. A couple of red herrings, including in the hints, make the game perhaps a little more complicated than it needed to be.(Spoiler - click to show)I would also say that the puzzle requiring the lie-opener depends on a rather unfair definition of "lie"; after all, it is true that gravity is working oddly in that room and so not technically a lie. It's also unfair considering that how gravity works in our world is not a reliable reference for how it would work here.
At the same time, the final puzzle, while straightforward and appreciated for its connection to the cube puzzle, suffers a little from a lack of synonyms. I would have appreciated "flip" or "turn x upside down" as alternatives, especially given the extremely limited time the player is given to enact the solution.
Still, I don't think these are major concerns in a game which clearly emphasizes setting and atmosphere above everything else. On its own terms, as a brief romp in a surreal, alien world of dream-logic, For a Change succeeds.
For a Change has one of the most memorable opening lines in IF, and also one of the most cryptic. The start is disorienting not just in the standard IF sense of being thrown into an unfamiliar world or situation and having to act as a native, but additionally shocked by an unfamiliar language, along the lines of The Gostak.
The game is a puzzle-fest, however it is small and sufficiently clued such that playing without a walkthrough or built-in hints is possible. I found the largely grid-like world map and hollow nature of the world and characterization to be off-putting, but overall the puzzles were satisfying and the game is kept together very neatly. It was just long enough, I don't think the game would have been sustainable for much longer.
Overall I recommend it as a fun diversion, it took me approximately an hour to complete.
This is a game in the old, 90s "puzzlefest" style, but it's one of the best of that era, and it transcends the now-peculiar genre it inhabited. I admit, I am one of the softies, and I come from an era of hand-holding invisiclues. I used the hints a lot. I am glad I did, because otherwise I would not have experienced this incredible game; but there was also great satisfaction on the rare occasions that I could figure things out without them. A more patient soul than I would undoubtedly have have had a deeper and fuller experience.
A lot has been said about For A Change. I'll just add this: even if you're not a fan of old-fashioned puzzlefests, give it a try. Use the clues. Schmidt has created a beautiful world that is more myth than story, and more dream than myth.
As little else did, it holds up.
|The Gostak, by Carl Muckenhoupt
Average member rating: (84 ratings)
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