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The Ship

by Sotiris Niarchos

Mystery, Science Fiction

(based on 10 ratings)
4 reviews

About the Story

An interactive novel about reaching out to others and finding oneself

It is the year 1719. A Captain embarks on an extraordinary voyage into the unknown, guided solely by a cryptic poem passed down as an unexpected family heirloom. A fabled promised land beckons, but as the Captain inches closer to their elusive destination, a series of extraordinary events unfold, prompting a profound reevaluation of identity and potential. Do they really know who they are? Who they could have been? What truly awaits at the journey's end? And what formidable challenges must the Captain surmount to reach it?

Embark on a journey through a meticulously crafted universe teeming with enthralling characters and a richly developed world. Prepare to unravel a unique mystery with intricate puzzles, lifelike personalities, each with a different story to tell, and a tapestry of interconnected events. Will you manage to piece together the greater picture? Are you prepared for what or who you'll find at the end of the line? Or for what comes after?

Content warning: strong language, violence

Game Details


43rd Place - 29th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2023)


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Number of Reviews: 4
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Turbulent Seas of Text, December 24, 2023
by JJ McC
Related reviews: IFComp 2023

Adapted from an IFCOMP23 Review

I am starting to worry the “Here There Be Poopdecks” nautical review sub-series is going to take over the main series! Unsurprisingly, with a name like The Ship we are up to part 6. An argument could be made to call it part 7 as well, but that’s a false accounting. HTBP is counting stories not instances.

This is a choice-select driven work. The choices are either embedded in descriptive text (when ‘free roaming’ for want of a better term) or in a postscript list when conversing. Most of the roaming choices are descriptive: things to look at, places to go, NPCs to talk to. When you click on a character you get conversation topics to cycle through. Only rarely do choices seem to have divergent narrative impact, beyond moving the plot forward. Even then, it seems mainly to affect relationship scores that at 2hrs have yet to affect the proceedings. The net effect is that yes, there are things to click, but functionally might as well be turning pages. Makes sense, as the work is decidedly narratively driven.

The narrative concerns two journeys, linked across time, by two captains asea for purpose and… self-awareness? It’s not a terrible setup, but by its introspective nature requires some heavy lifting in character and tone to usher the player along. For me, I don’t think the prose was up to the task, and sometimes the available player choices also deflated the objective.

The scenario opens with an urgent pounding on a protagonist’s door - pounding that is ignored to briefly explore surroundings. Certainly the scene-setting is necessary, but having the protagonist ignore what seems an urgent issue outside shades both the character and the narrative unflatteringly. It is a weird choice, because it would have been child’s play to enable casual exploration, then interrupt with urgent pounding later - it’s an unforced error. This lack of control over the narrative manifests often.

Open ended IF, where exploration and interactions occur at the player’s initiative, are an authorial challenge. Your text has to make sense regardless what order they find, say, the vampire and the holy water. With a constrained choice architecture, the author has more control and is able to make transitions feel more natural. Ship inexplicable cedes this advantage. Selections often introduce jarring mixes of non sequitur wordplay or sudden emotional swings as if the author did not anticipate the sequence. In one notable area, the protagonist goes from blind fury to playful friendship with the thinnest of transitions.

Character voices similarly suffer inelegant writing. While there is an attempt to give each character a unique voice, the voices chosen don’t quite ring true and are inconsistently rendered. For one, despite having characters from hundreds of years in the past and future, most have a decidedly contemporary use of profanity. Where the voices are different, they also feel… wrong? Inappropriate familiarity from crew members, a computer that occasionally dips into slang, contradictory emotional swings (one character reacts to a protagonist with both paternal fondness and abject terror). All of it undermines the settings and keeps the reader from Engaging. It is not helped that some conversation options never go away (while others do!), but when selected repeat context and information both characters have experienced before.

I’m not sure why but this example, where one protagonist’s belligerent avoidance of self-reflection is described, particularly rubbed me the wrong way:

Endless ways to avoid taking a peek within, finding out one’s
true call, this elusive idea that defines you, that drives you.

The Captain: “Maybe what drives me is precisely this: that I have
no idea what drives me.”

The text is explicitly saying the character resists introspection, except the VERY NEXT LINE is an out loud self-analysis. And talking to who, the narrator? The narration itself could easily have provided this insight, but the choice for the character to do it awkwardly contradicts exactly what it is asserting!

Narrative IF lives and dies on its prose. For me the clumsy moments accumulated over two hours and ultimately disconnected me from the story. There are other aspects around the periphery - some neat minigames tangential to the narrative, a simple but pleasant use of player-state icons, but the main thrust of the work did not click for me.

Played: 10/14/23
Playtime: 2hrs, not finished, 3/7 chapters complete, 7/20 Achievements
Artistic/Technical ratings: Mechanical, Notably jarring choice transitions and architecture
Would Play After Comp?: No, can’t get past my prose distractions

Artistic scale: Bouncy, Mechanical, Sparks of Joy, Engaging, Transcendent
Technical scale: Unplayable, Intrusive, Notable (Bugginess), Mostly Seamless, Seamless

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Navel-gazing voyages, December 7, 2023
by Mike Russo (Los Angeles)
Related reviews: IF Comp 2023

(This is a lightly-edited version of a review I posted to the IntFiction forums during 2023's IFComp).

So here’s a deeply thought-out model for adventure stories that I’ve just thought up this second: imagine a line that says “external conflict” on one end and “internal conflict” on the other, then plot out various stories along the continuum. There’s a range of what works, certainly, but probably most of the really successful stuff lies somewhere around the middle: your Lords of the Ringses, say, where the business of orc-slaying is balanced by Frodo and Gollum undergoing their mirrored crises of self-doubt; or your original-flavor Star Wars, a bit further towards the external side what with all the laser-swords and pew-pew-pew stuff but still slowing down to deal with Luke’s journey towards white-guy Zen enlightenment and Han emerging from his solipsism. If you get really fancy, of course, you set things up so that the external conflicts rhyme with the internal stuff, but that’s not strictly necessary for a satisfying adventure, just gravy that moves you upwards on the orthogonal literary/unpretentious axis.

But shifting too far on the conflict continuum does risk pushing the formula to the point of breakdown: not enough internal conflict and you’ve got bubble-gum pulp that evanesces as soon as it’s consumed; not enough external conflict and you’ve taken the “adventure” part out of the adventure – which is my second-biggest critique of The Ship. This big choice-based game is pitched as a journey into mystery, with two captains charting their respective courses into uncertainty and danger, with only a cryptic poem to guide them, in search of a transcendent experience beyond mere treasure. And that’s a great pitch! But the game doesn’t really sell the high-stakes nature of the voyage; most of the challenges you experience aren’t about testing your wits against a hostile nature or devious foes, but rather getting a recalcitrant ship and querulous crew to keep moving in pursuit of the goal.

These are technically external obstacles, I know – maybe my model is not as ironclad as I thought – but they feel decidedly low-key. The game’s first puzzle involves winning a game of liar’s dice against a crewmember to win back the astrolabe he borrowed from the ship’s navigator, which is fun enough in itself but of course feels like busywork since you’re the captain and could just order him to give it back; others require you to fix damage to your ship (largely inflicted offscreen), investigate a spate of thefts, and fetch some soup for a prisoner. There is a minigame that sees you navigating through a series of treacherous passages, but it plays as a highly mechanical programming puzzle where you input your moves ahead of time and see if they bring you through; it’s reasonably engaging, but fairly bloodless. It’s all stuff that could work well if the game was attempting to provide a low-key simulation of shipboard life in the early 18th Century, but both from the blurb and the structure of the game, it’s clear that it’s aiming at, but failing to reach, a more dynamic, epic feel.

The game’s biggest issue, though, is its inappropriate prose style. Skillful writing could have perhaps bridged the gap between The Ship’s ambitious premise and its quotidian reality, and period-appropriate prose could have livened up the historical tourism aspect of the game. But instead, what’s on offer is informal and contemporary. Here’s a bit of the main character’s journal:

"All my life, I never truly belonged. Never had a family, a job, or something else that would make me a normal person. Hell, fuck normal persons, could not even be a half-decent pirate to earn my living! The sea was too much of a hassle for me."

Modulo the pirate-orphan stuff, this sounds more like a middle-class emo teenager from 1997 than a dashing ship’s captain from 1719. As that awkwardly-inserted f-bomb indicates, there’s also a fair bit of profanity, but it doesn’t sound anything like what I’d imagine someone of the captain’s background would actually say; I couldn’t help but compare the game’s use of language to that of To Sea in a Sieve, and the Ship sadly comes up wanting. And while I’m probably more of a stickler for period detail than most, for a contemporary style to work in this story, it would have to be more engaging, and again, epic – while it does reach for big-picture imagery in a few sequences, the writing is largely content to stick in this low-key dear-diary sort of mode.

So these are the reasons why the game didn’t fully work for me, but I have to admit there’s a lot to like here. The cast of supporting characters are quite one-note, but they’re generally pretty appealing, and the various minigames are skillfully programmed and change up the gameplay, even if they do get a bit repetitive and the navigation one dearly needs a function allowing you to edit your movement queue rather than just delete everything back to where you made a mistake (the biggest of these puzzles is almost fifty moves long! I confess I consulted the walkthrough for a couple of these). It also ends strong, with a climax that unites the two strands of the plot and posits a resolution that would externalize the internal conflicts that came before in a way that could have worked, if the earlier segments had been stronger. And speaking of the second strand of the plot, I haven’t said much about it because it actually functions as a pretty cool reveal. But there isn’t enough ballast to keep The Ship fully afloat.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Game set in two worlds, with long, complex graphical puzzles, November 22, 2023
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours

This game has a few different twists, but I’ll try to avoid spoilers the best I can.

This is a choice-based game, and it is quite extensive. It took me right around the two hour mark to complete. It’s reminiscent of Gruescript in a sense, with different locations you can click to and an inventory to use. However, the inventory only shows up every now and then in-game.

While it grows more complex, it feels fair to say that gameplay revolves around a ship captain walking around the ship, trying to understand a mysterious poem given by ancestors and talking to others on the ship.

Storywise, it’s all about navigation and pushing to the unknown. There are different books that give you lore about the world. The pirates in the game all curse, presumably for verisimilitude, but for some reason the swearing was written exactly the way the 14 yr old boys in my school swear so I kept picturing very young pirates.

Many of the characters have tragic backstories. There are several opportunities to show mercy or justice and to change your relationship with others.

The writing overall was adventurous and dramatic. Near the end, there were a few different narrative threads that came together, but I’m not sure how I felt about the resolution. I was left with more questions than answers.

There were graphical puzzles in the game as well. At first, they fit well into the flow of the story, providing simple distractions along the main journey. Near the end, though, there were so many puzzles of such quantity that by the time I returned to the story I had forgotten much of what had happened. While I do enjoy graphical puzzles from time to time, they lack many of the features I’ve come to enjoy in text based fiction and thus weren’t quite as enjoyable to me.

The level of craftsmanship in the UI and puzzles was very high; the author clearly has a good grasp of visual design and event-based programming.

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Distracting puzzles, November 22, 2023
by manonamora
Related reviews: ifcomp

The Ship is a hypertext puzzle game, following two interconnected stories of captains, each looking for a specific location. The game includes different kinds of puzzles, from visual ones to more fetch-quest like, and achievements. I completed 3 chapters out of 7.

I don't know why I had a hard time getting into the game, it has all the stuff I like: pirates, some sci-fi elements, some puzzles, some fun characters with interesting or funny backstories... Mixing genres is usually so much fun, and drawing parallels between storylines is usually intriguing (has me on the edge of my seat). But something just didn't click with this game.

I don't think there was one reason for why it didn't work (for me), but more of a combination of frictions with the story or the gameplay that resulted in not enjoying as much as I thought I would have. I could see where it was going with the tropes of the characters and the similar elements between the captains, so it felt a bit frustrating.
I ended up relating quite a bit with the first captain from the start of the game.

Though there were bits of humour, I found most of the prose a bit dull and dry (more so in the sci-fi section than the pirate one). The dialogues were more palatable, especially with the more cookie crew members (they had some funny bits, playing the tropes and such). The pace was a bit slow, and in conversations lore-dumpy with the long paragraphs.

Still, I pushed onward, discussed with the different fun characters on board, ran around the ship to get things rolling, tried to solve the puzzles and put stuff back into order... I followed what the game wanted from me, but it still didn't grab me. After reaching the navigation puzzle, I stopped. It's a neat puzzle, in itself, but too many to levels solve at once to continue the story.

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