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About the Story
"I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man."
-- Chuang Tzu
Nominee, Best Writing - 2018 XYZZY Awards
23rd Place - 24th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2018)
To me, the most compelling works of interactive fiction are ones that take advantage of the unique features of the medium. “Tethered” tells a story that a conventional, noninteractive work of fiction would not be able to accomplish. The story begins with a woman being stranded during a snowstorm, but it quickly turns into something more unsettling.
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Finally, I got around playing Tethered on a real Commodore 64. However, this review isn't really about playing the game on a retro-machine but the fact that I enjoyed playing the game again almost two years later and decided to make a review. I enjoyed the original z-machine version during IFcomp 2018. The only comment I have about the C64 version is that it was fast enough to be just as enjoyable.
I did remember several of the puzzles so it did not take me much time to complete it the second time around. I don't want to give away any details about the game as that would spoil the game. The story is strong and well told and as far as I remember from my first playthrough, all the puzzles are fair. I highly recommend this game.
Tethered starts with an adrenaline-pumping premise: You, Charles, are climbing a snowy mountain. You are roped to your partner Judith, when she slips and falls into a crevasse. What do you do? Well, there's really only one thing you can do. Then the game proper truly starts.
Most of Tethered takes place in a cave on a mountainside. This is a classic IF setting and so can often feel stale, but the premise of Tethered makes it come across as natural and fresh - more of a nod to IF's roots in Colossal Cave than something derivative.
Gameplay-wise, there are a couple of clever puzzles involving a rope that can be stretched between multiple rooms. One of these puzzles has an alternate solution that I found by looking at the walkthrough after I finished the game; this alternate solution may remind some players of a prominent puzzle in a prominent game from last year's IFComp. Also, I love the game's solution to the problem of navigating a cave in the dark: It's completely intuitive yet fairly original from an IF standpoint.
Like several other games from this year's IFComp, as you play Tethered further you realize that there is more going on here than appears at first. The ending is poignant and moving - and it adds a powerful twist on the game's name: "Tethered."
Make sure you check out the game's response to XYZZY.
Finally, a word about the language: Tethered is the first game in the author's new IF-writing language Dialog. It looks impressive to me so far. In particular, the rope-between-multiple-rooms feature is apparently a difficult one to implement in most traditional parser languages. The fact that it works smoothly in Tethered indicates something about the complexity of Dialog.
Overall, I found Tethered to be yet another of the many strong dramas in this year's IFComp.
Wow! Tethered was good on so many levels. It's short, but exactly as long as it needs to be. I spent roughly an hour with it and was left both impressed and emotionally affected. Every obstacle felt like a necessary part of the story, while the player's progression was usually slightly different than expected, resulting in an experience both familiar and unique.
There are several things for the player to figure out. In most cases, I would probably refer to them as puzzles. Here, it felt like the wrong term; they're so intertwined with the story (a story that is deep and serious but never in a way that feels didactic or overly dramatic) that I hardly noticed them. It's not often (with any medium) that my experience is so immersive.
Although I expect that the author could have made a more or less equally good story in any IF language, the several little things that were unique in Tethered made me think of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis of linguistic relativity. While it in general would be silly to apply such thoughts to most programming languages (their differences being so well-defined), this is obviously not the case for IF authoring languages. Some things are more difficult in Inform 7 and therefore rarely done, something that fundamentally affects the story. A new language, such as the author's Dialog, represents an opportunity to do new things in old ways and old things in new, something Åkesson succeeded with rather perfectly.
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