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2nd Place overall; 2nd Place, Miss Congeniality Awards - 11th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2005)
Nominee, Best Use of Medium - 2005 XYZZY Awards
A game with a very thoroughly worked out world and a fancy plot (in fact, so fancy I had troubles following it). Features quite a few (sometimes rather obscure) puzzles, and several paths to play through. All in all, it reminds of a commercial RPG series with a more or less long-standing story full of cobwebs only true fans could find their way through. Fortunately, the similarity doesn't end just here, and also includes the overall "quality of finish and polish".
-- Valentine Kopteltsev
The back-story is an epic tapestry of magic and mystery. Much of the fun comes from learning more and more about the unique world in which the game is set, and about the people who inhabit it.
The biggest problem is, it’s sometimes (okay, often times) unclear what to do without getting pointers from the hints. Even then, it can be a little confusing. This is the kind of game that would be great outside the competition, where it might be played over the course of three or four nights without that two-hour mark looming ahead.
-- Mike Snyder
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(This review was originally posted on the IF newsgroups immediately after the 2005 IF Comp)
Bear with me through one more comparison: I recently read Perdido Street Station by China Mieville. I'd had it recommended on the basis of its setting, which did not fail to impress—the novel's set in a city in which a variety of fantastic creatures rub elbows in a Dickensian social milieu. It's incredibly rich, which is why it was utterly perplexing to me that the plot is a DnD-style monster bash. It felt like a waste of a fascinating setting, to fall back on such a bog-standard narrative.
In much the same way, A New Life immediately drew me in by presenting a novel and evocative religious system, a society in which gender is continually and individually constructed, and an interesting central character who boasts a backstory nicely revealed through layered remembrances. Unfortunately, none of this has very much to do with the actual plot, which is kicked off by a peddler who wants you to rid a cave of goblins. While the story eventually becomes more interesting that the premise suggests, it never managed to sink its hooks into me - the history of some kingdoms I didn't care about and political machinations undermining a marriage whose ramifications I didn't quite grasp didn't seem all that compelling, when what I really wanted to know was about what happened to the player character's brother, and the girl s/he had fallen in love with when s/he was young, and how s/he felt about the religious figures depicted in the shrine, and whether s/he was ever going to acquire a gender again. This is clearly a testament to the author's skill at getting me to care about the world and the protagonist, but again, it felt perverse to have all the really interesting elements shoved aside in favor of something pedestrian by comparison.
With that said, the game is by no means bad. The writing remains strong throughout, the cave lair boasts some distinctive features—a planetarium and underground tower—the dialogue is sharp, and the puzzles are original and entertaining, especially the final sequence in which the player must recover another's lost memories by interacting with mnemonic seeds and a dragon reminiscent of the one from Grendel. The map in the upper-right corner is a welcome convenience—though the gameworld isn't particularly huge, it's still a nice barrier to getting lost. Many obstacles boast multiple paths around them, and there are a few actions which aren't strictly necessary, but which better flesh out the world and make for a more satisfying narrative.
If all of this had been in the service of a different story—or if the author had employed a different player character, one with a personal stake in the proceedings—A New Life could have been my favorite game of the comp. As it was, though, each twist of the story earned little more than a shrug, which is really a shame, given the overall high quality of the game. My favorite parts wound up being sideshows that didn't really have much to do with anything—I was eager to try to tease out as much of the player character's past as possible, to explore the pilgrimage site's carvings, to manipulate the planetarium so it showed an alien sky. Helping the genocidal peddler-woman paled by comparison, but all that other compelling stuff ultimately turned out to be inconsequential. I'd very much welcome seeing the author further explore this world, but A New Life winds up being a very good introduction to the setting but only a fair game as a result.
Jess Haskins and I discuss A New Life at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tERrTj4VCK8#t=24s
This mid-length, fairly difficult parser game took second place in IFComp the year it was entered. You play a voyager who stops to investigate a goblin cave that a peddler wants looted.
The game allows you to make a variety of choices; for instance, you find various pieces of loot that you can trade for magical equipment. Every choice of equipment leads to a different way of beating the game.
The game has a different take on a lot of things; for instance, most characters can choose their gender over time, including a neutral gender. This makes for interesting politics in the gameworld. Also, there is a lot of magic affecting (Spoiler - click to show)memory.
Like many great parser games that are now neglected, I believe that this wonderful game is not noticed now because it is hard, and because the walkthrough only gives you one path, leaving most of the game unexplored, and, because of the difficulty level, perhaps unexplorable.
I recommend this game for everyone, with the walkthrough after a short time (even the hints are not enough for me and some IFComp reviewers).
Ex Materia, by Juhana Leinonen
Average member rating: (4 ratings)
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Average member rating: (1 rating)
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Average member rating: (1 rating)
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