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Nominee, Best Use of Medium - 2005 XYZZY Awards
Mr. Montfort is obviously a solid prose writer, and his descriptions are what bring the 24-block city of nTopia to life. Within this artificial world, he tells a relatively simple story, at least in terms of surface-level plot points: Some servers in the city are down, and you need to reboot them; a user needs tech support; another server is down. Beyond completing the various maintenance tasks that are assigned by your in-game boss, the rest of the story---I'll call it the sub-plot---seems to be optional. [...]
The main weakness of Book and Volume is in the "gameplay" department. The tasks you are assigned in the main plotline are rather trivial and don't mesh with the more interesting sub-plot. That may be part of the point---an exploration of the monotony of working life---but I don't seek monotony when I read fiction. The sub-plot is so well-buried that most people will never find it (again, this may be part of the point, but it still makes for a not-so-interesting experience). To uncover the true core of the piece, you need to explore the city with a fine-toothed comb and closely examine objects that, upon their first mention, seem unremarkable.
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Play This Thing!
Too retro for the conventional market, but finding another outlet: it's a highly literary work with serious artistic ambitions, recognized by the Iowa Review of all things...
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Book and volume, Nick Montfort's latest work, possesses two fundamental virtues: it is extraordinarily entertaining and intellectually stimulating. It also has one problem: it hides these virtues with a lot of talent. The arbitrary deaths, the large number of ways of getting stuck in an unwinnable position, and the never too clear statement of the final objective of the game play against it.
-- Jose Manuel Garcia-Patos
The game has stripped-down prose that only contains essentials. The interiors of buildings are in a few sentences at most. For example, your apartment consists of a couch and some clothes and no other rooms. The NPCs do not generally stick around to chat and those that do arenít particularly helpful. This helps keep you focused on what needs to be done, and you donít spend time needlessly performing useless actions. This terse approach gave the game a cold, impersonal feel that may or may not be what the author was striving for. At times this approach was frustrating.
-- Neil Butters
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Number of Reviews: 5
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Book and Volume is something of a throwback. The writing will please modern audiences; subtle humor that pokes fun at real-world institutions, stereotypes, and cultural flotsam abound. But the gameplay is something out of Zork. Overlapping timed puzzles are used as a blunt pacing device, on the order of "do your things in a timely manner or start over." Many required actions aren't clued at all, so satisfying those timers is near impossible on the first playthrough or three. And while the geography is a perfect city grid well-presented with the game's subtle humor, most of it is a distraction. The plot seems pretty minimal. Perhaps further into the work things improve, but I have not the patience or prescience to get there. That's a shame, because it is otherwise worth playing.
It is easy for me to put down a game after reading its intro, especially if it seems like the game is going to require an above-average amount of concentration. There was something about Nick Montfortís Book and Volume that met this requirement. In retrospect, I have no idea what prompted this reaction. Just the same, it wasnít until years later, when ClubFloyd got around to playing it, that I found out that was a big mistake. This is a very fun game.
Whatever worries I had going in were unfounded. If I had thought the game seemed gadget-heavy, everything is pretty easy to use. If the tech-guy-working-for-generic-yet-weirdly-named-tech-company premise worried me, BnV doesnít use that as a passport to a bland, old school adventure (as some games have). If the early prospect of street mapping worried me, mapping isnít necessary but becomes quite enjoyable once one gets far enough into the game and really wants to know the city.
And yes, I did say ďstreet mapping.Ē The city feel is very much like one gets while wandering Rockvil in A Mind Forever Voyaging. BnVís city is a bit smaller, and all of the main streets keep to a clean grid design, with only the occasional diagonal shortcut between blocks.
In fact, while the overall plot is nothing alike, Iíd say playing BnV is the closest anyone is going to get to feeling like he or she is playing a new AMFV. Exploring and getting to know the city is its own reward. In fact, there are several off-the-beaten-main-quest-path things to do in the game that are fun to play with.
Some objects arenít entirely clear. For instance, there are several kiosks in the game, and I donít think it is adequately conveyed that they are electronic kiosks that need to be >TOUCHed. Also, there are sometimes enlightening responses hidden in somewhat inane actions, which is a little unfair to players who donít happen upon them.
Plot-wise, I donít want to say too much, for fear of spoiling anything, but the writing is good and itís a nice ride. Even at its fullest disclosure, BnVís plot and motivations are intentionally mysterious, which suits me fine. As it is, it gives BnV the feeling that the game world has more stories to be told and even more mysteries to unleash, if only in the playerís mind.
I dithered about trying this based on the reviews already here, but it's really not as difficult as some say. Yes, I had to restart a few times. Maybe the parser was a little annoying at times if you didn't break up actions sufficiently. Sure, some tasks are timed. But these things turned out to not be frustrating enough to quit playing. I made it to the end once already, and am in the course of playing again to try to solve one puzzle I'm stuck on.
The thing is, the timing is not really cruel. You have more than adequate time to get the job done. Should the game end prematurely, you learn over the course of playing what things will be required in the future and can plan better. Easy enough to save after completing each task as well. And I found the puzzles to be plausible and pretty consistent. (Spoiler - click to show)I got a Jedi mind trick reference. That had me laughing aloud, since I love Star Wars.
Many of the places are there just for realism and you don't really have to do anything with them. I liked the atmosphere they added to the setting.
So why not give this a higher rating? Well, the prose was not always to my taste. The timed nature of the game marred the fun of examining and exploring. Looking at things yielded bland descriptions, sometimes the same as the room description. Some actions you think you should do based on game happenings actually are dead ends. And perhaps worst of all, I just don't care much about the player character or his predicament. Perhaps you're not meant to. The sterile feel of the environment invokes memories of books like 1984 or The Giver, which is creepy in a psychological way.
The game is gentle enough not to anger me, and many of my objections are just aesthetic and subjective, but still enough to make a short diversion a bit tedious to have to repeat more than a few times.
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