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About the Story
It's 1999, and your roommate has talked you into hosting a Halloween party. It's pretty much going to be all his friends, but you've invited a few of your own who may or may not make it. Here's hoping for the best.
Nominee, Best Story - 2020 XYZZY Awards
29th Place - 26th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2020)
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Number of Reviews: 6
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This is a fairly short, mostly linear, choice-based work. You play Perry, the quiet, somewhat nerdy, roommate of a party animal. He is throwing a Halloween party tonight at your apartment and you agreed to help, but you don't really want to be there. The night becomes much more bearable when some of your friends show up and you all take refuge on the porch, just talking and hanging out.
The author has what I think is a rare talent as a writer: to be able to convey the essence of a friendship primarily through dialogue. Reading this story made me think of Dante and Randall from "Clerks" or Parzival and Aech from "Ready Player One". I was drawn in to the camaraderie and it gave the story both warmth and impact. In the end I had goosebumps on my skin and tears in my eyes.
The story is primarily linear. You can wander around a bit at the beginning, before the story is pretty much put on rails for the second half. I do recommend reading everything, as there are some flashback scenes triggered amongst the chaos of party that give the second half added depth. Normally the lack of meaningful choices would have me lowering the rating, but this story really got to me in a special way so I had to give it four stars. I think it compares well with "Will Not Let Me Go" by Stephen Granade, even though it doesn't quite rise to that level.
Well worth your time.
While I do enjoy a good character study where the players talk way above their station (e.g. Mamet Speak), I am more comfortable when the characters just act and talk like run-of-the-mill boring humans. While the writing here isn't always up to par, Lance Nathan creates a sympathetic boring protagonist in Perry and plops him into an electric situation. The entire game takes place at a college party that Perry is entirely uncomfortable with; in that sense, he reminds me a lot of myself. In the following paragraph, Nathan demonstrates his strengths and weaknesses all in one:
How does your roommate know these people? And how does anyone get this drunk? For a moment you pause to wonder if there's a connection, before realizing you really don't care and would rather not think about it. Plenty of time to think about it tomorrow, you tell yourself bitterly, while you're cleaning up.
The first two questions say a lot while saying very little. Our protagonist is likely an introvert. He's usually sober, and likes to have a sense of control over himself and his surroundings. He also has a contentious relationship with his roommate but is not confident enough to confront him. The resentment is growing and will likely simmer for a long time. But then the paragraph just goes on as Perry's thoughts and feelings are dissected (replete with an adverb) and thrown in our laps. We learn nothing new. This happens a few times throughout the story, the author not trusting that the player will pick up on the characterizations.
That said, I'd like to point out another strong introduction to the story's hero, Andy:
Sometimes it could be aggravating; you got mad at him over nothing in eighth grade and the two of you spent a month not speaking to each other, until one day he sat down across from you at lunch again and you started complaining about the meatloaf and everything was back to normal.
I can't speak for anyone else, but I have lived this exact situation and I imagine many others have as well. Nothing quite like shoving resentment down without talking about it and being glad things feel okay for a while.
The story is on rails, which is ideal here. However, occasionally you will read a conversation that happens between characters, then click on a hyperlink to observe something else, and then when you return you get the same text dump you saw before. I encourage the author to brush up on if/then/else for future games in order to avoid this continuity issue.
Despite my concerns, I did enjoy this story. The characters are fun and the ending is bittersweet. I look forward to any future offerings from Nathan.
Iím worried that this one might get overlooked and Iím guessing itís because of the title which Ė and I say this as someone who has a game called ďThe Eleusinian MiseriesĒ in the Comp, which Iím happy about since itís the best name for anything Iíve ever come up with Ė is awful. Between the lack of capitalization, the weird quotation marks, and the difficulty of resolving how these three words fit together to form any sort of meaning (after having played the game Iím still struggling with making sense of it -- apparently it's a Prince lyric?), I think people might be giving this one a pass, despite the evocative cover art and a solid blurb. Thatíd be a real shame Ė EWL is good and folks should play it.
The setup here is low-key but nicely drawn: youíre the reluctant co-host of a Halloween party in 1999 (the opening maybe goes a little too far making winking references to LiveJournal and WinAmp, but things on that front thankfully calm down pretty quickly), and at first it seems like the business of the game will be awkwardly bumbling about with all the strangers flooding your apartment, with intermittent flashbacks to the player characterís childhood. There arenít too many choices that have much of an impact on the overall plot, but thereís some light interactivity that switches up the order you see things, and gives you a chance to get more detail and bring a bit of characterization to the main character. Then you find some of your actual friends have shown up, and it becomes a slice of life hangout game, until the main thrust of the story kicks in.
Before I duck behind the curtain to talk that through Ė if you havenít played the game yet, you should hold off on reading the spoiler-text until you do Ė let me just emphasize once again that this is worth your time. There are good jokes! Here are a couple of my favorites:
ĒA man in a vampire costume is leaning close to a woman with multicolored hair and fishnets. Youíre not sure what sheís supposed to be, though ďvictim of a vampireĒ is starting to look pretty likely.Ē
ďThereís more than one puddle on the floor half-heartedly mopped up with bits of mummy.Ē
The prose is super clean, with no typos or even any noticeable infelicities. The characters arenít given incredible depth, but theyíre sketched in cleanly and effectively, and once the story really gets into gear, itís heartfelt and well done. Play EWL Ė just donít think about the title, jump in, itíll be fine!
(Spoiler - click to show)So, the deal here is that after your friends show up to the party and you start hanging out with them, it turns out that one of them, named Andy, died on their drive over, and is spending their last night with you all as a ghost. This is presented in a very understated way, and reasonably well telegraphed since the player characterís memories in the first sequence all revolving around Andy, as well as the cover photo and blurb hinting at something supernatural. The presentation isnít that this is some shocking twist Ė what the game is clearly after is creating space for the main character and Andy to enjoy some last time together, and say goodbye.
Itís all very restrained Ė there are no teary jags of emotion, but I think that fits these characters as theyíre presented to us, and Andy says he doesnít want a fuss made over him. The ghost aspect is maybe a bit underplayed, as the main character and Andy himself both seem to adjust to this insane thing happening without spending too much time grappling with it. Thereís a bit of an indication that Andy might have romantic feelings for the main character, but itís not spelled out (or at least, it wasnít spelled out given the choices I made, though I donít really see any places where things might have gone differently). Again, itís low key, even down to the final goodbye.
Does this work, and is it emotionally effective? Itís presenting a universal experience and yearning Ė someone very close to me died earlier this year, and while it wasnít a bolt from the blue, I still very much fantasize about the things I wish weíd been able to talk about before the end Ė but presents it very concretely, with characters whose relationship and emotional makeup feel specific to them. The last conversation they have does come off a bit unsatisfying as it doesnít lead to any sort of revelation or catharsis, but Iím also aware that even if I did have that last conversation Iím wishing for, the results would be much the same. You canít sum up and say goodbye to a whole human in a night, much less a few exchanges of words. EWL recognizes that, and captures it effectively Ė itís not trying to leave you in tears or fundamentally change how you think about death. It just offers its characters a few moments of grace, and invites you to share those moments with them. And I think thatís enough.
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