Galatea

by Emily Short profile

Mythological
2000

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29 of 31 people found the following review helpful:
Overrated among Short's games, July 28, 2008

Galatea is an intricately detailed work of high concept. I wanted to like it - I can't get enough NPC interaction, and this has somehow acquired a reputation as the best NPC out there. Despite this, I found this to be deeply flawed and ultimately unsatisfying, both as a character and as a work of IF.

There is really nothing to interact with except for Galatea herself. Her presentation as an animate statue is a clever vehicle for metatextual commentary, but it is also a bit of Turing-camouflage. This is just fine; it comes with the territory. But I found that it gave me little motivation to interact with Galatea except to test her repertoire and see what the fuss was about. Unfortunately, I felt that my options were limited (once I had guessed that they were possible) and that Galatea's repertoire - though larger than perhaps any other NPC I have encountered in a game - often felt canned.

That may be why I began to find it more satisfying to treat the whole thing as a story than to talk to Galatea as such. So I began to look for interesting endings. This was tedious because it required me to explore an apparently tractless space of possible conversations with few-to-no systematic clues. And this tedium was amplified by the amount of repetitive manipulation required to move Galatea's meters around to get into new combinations. These issues might have been addressed by a shallower conversation-tree, requiring fewer moves to get to endings, or by more systematic relationships between available actions and where they sent the game; either one amounts to handing over more control over where the game goes in the end. But this is also contrary to what I've gathered to be the basic philosophy of the game - to be deep and unpredictable, not to yield up all the endings. Beyond relatively unimportant bits like poor information on my options, I think it is this mismatch which made my response to Galatea so tepid.

Nonetheless, I doubt this would have become a factor if I had not felt that the process of talking with Galatea was only instrumentally worthwhile, as a way of getting paths through a game. Context - to be specific, the lack of it - may be part of that problem. I felt a nearly equivalent impact from Bob in She's Got a Thing for Spring even though his "mind" must be far smaller and less complex than Galatea's. Seen critically Bob is a largely unresponsive scriptoid, absent-minded and repetitive. But he has things he does, even if only in fiction; he lives somewhere, walks around, owns things, asks and offers, and speaks just enough of a social past to be a person rather than a a book. As a result, one is inclined to think that his mind is (or was). In the harsh spotlight, Galatea's glitches and her total absorption in her own memories make her more of an object than even a fictional and manufactured person.


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TZubiri, May 24, 2020 - Reply
"No, don't touch me!" She withdraws from you. "Don't touch me."

She is breathing like a runner. "You act as though all this were a game.
As though my grief were invented for you. But it isn't; that's what
frightened him. I'm real, do you understand? No one carved this into me!"

Your cheeks sting a little. It's hard to believe that that was fake, that
it was planned. Perhaps she has feelings after all -- and if she does,
it's deeply embarrassing the way you've been thinking of her as an
elaborate conversation machine.

Perhaps this game is the author's commentary on the dry review culture behind interactive fiction.
TZubiri, May 24, 2020 - Reply
Is this review ironic? You sound like the character itself, reviewing the animate from a dry technical perspective rather than focusing on what the piece meant for the artist, how they opened themselves up in front of you.
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