Dual Transform

by Andrew Plotkin profile

Science Fiction

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Number of Reviews: 12
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful:
Typical Plotkin, February 20, 2011
by Victor Gijsbers (The Netherlands)

In a review a couple of days ago of Hoist Sail for the Heliopause and Home I wrote that Plotkin is known for giving us "large empty worlds seen from a distance by an almost abstract protagonist". Dual Transform does not belong in this category exactly, since it is placed in a single room (although it is a single room that changes radically during the game). On the other hand, it comes close to being the most abstract game ever, since it is built up around archetypes of "pressure" and "form" that are given shape and materiality by the subconscious of the protagonist.

With this set-up, one would expect a clearly characterised protagonist: if we get to see what he or she subcobsciously links to pressure, to heat, and so on; if the entire world is the product of his or her free imagination; then, surely, we will learn about this person's thoughts, fears, ambitions, and so on? Nothing, however, is less true: no object in the world seems to have any personal significance for the protagonist, nor do we move far beyond, well, archetypal objects like "book", "tree", "church" and "mushroom".

This all might be a very clever application of Jungian psychology -- I cannot judge, since I know nothing about the subject. Ignoring this possibility, there is little to sustain interest in the story and the world: not only is the protagonist highly abstract, but so is his quest. It was never clear to me that the story explored something I cared about.

Whether any of this is a problem is a matter of sensibility: so many reviewers speak of immersion where I felt only distance that I must assume there is a mode of inhabiting these thoughtscapes that is simply inaccessible to me. But I suspect it is inaccessible to many. I cannot, for instance, think of a single book of fiction that is written at the level of abstraction Plotkin brings to the table -- even T. S. Eliot, who can be mightily abstract, infuses his poetry with particular details and (perhaps more importantly) links his philosophical claims to our lived experience.

As a game, Dual Transform is a puzzler that takes its inspiration from the magic system in Emily Short's Savoir-Faire. The puzzles are not difficult once you have realised something that is not quite obvious (Spoiler - click to show)(the single object you can take around with you will change in other rooms, but not when you have it in your inventory, so you must drop it on the ground to have it change), but in-game hints would still have been appreciated. The puzzles are not always logical, and I would have liked to seem them linked more closely to the archetypes we are supposed to be exploring. The final puzzle is better: it can be solved using knowledge you have already gathered and at the same time transforms your insight into all the locations you have visited.

The writing and implementation are good, as we have of course come to expect from Plotkin.

If you generally like Plotkin's worlds, you will like this one as well. If you find they lack characterisation and story, you will find those lacking here as well. A typical work, then, from a writer whose skills are beyond doubt, but whose aesthetics are (one assumes) more divisive.