Hoist Sail for the Heliopause and Home

by Andrew Plotkin profile

Science Fiction

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Number of Reviews: 13
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
As beautiful and distant as the light of Vega, March 23, 2022

I first played this game a while ago. And I think it's a testament to the writing and the design that I remember it clearly, and playing it again held no surprises - other than being delighted once again by the conceit and by the writing.

It is very like Dual Transform, also by Plotkin: a jewel of a game, tiny but perfect in its simplicity. Like that game, Heliopause hints at vast worlds to explore but delivers only a fraction of them; like that game, the sense of freedom conveyed by the clever writing conceals a short plot that runs entirely on rails. But again like that game, the writing is so beautiful, conveying so much with such economy, that it gets away with it.

I can see why some people don't like this game and others like it. There is something distant and clinical about it: its beauty is remote and grand, not personal and intimate. But I love this sort of thing. The story is simple but memorable; the settings are stark and evocative. I'd love to play a game like this that combined this kind of writing and imagery with true freedom and immense scope, but until that game appears, I'm very happy with ones like this.

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Space, March 26, 2016

There's a certain type of SF literature which is near and dear to my heart - initially small situations opening out upon a rich and unknowable scope of universe. Olaf Stapledon and Cordwainer Smith are both rather good at this.

So after coming across this sort of language in a text adventure, I couldn't not but give it five stars. Every word is well-chosen and matched for the mood. Recommended for a meditative midwinter's night.

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A short sci-fi game about wonder with some interesting choices, February 3, 2016
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

This game exemplifies the original feel of Star Trek. To explore the universe, to travel through the worlds, to understand the un-understandable.

The game is much shorter than I expected, given the other reviews. This is not really a drawback; the game has a fast pace and feels like an adventure. You explore various planets and stellar objects, with almost all motion achieved by manipulating "sails".

The gameplay diverges from Plotkin's usual games in that it is not very hard, and the focus is on fun over puzzles. The most similar game of his that I can think of is Dual Transform, which I also really enjoyed.

I recommend this game to absolutely everyone, as the enjoyment-to-time-requirement ratio is so very high.

15 of 16 people found the following review helpful:
Meh?, February 21, 2011
by Irfon-Kim Ahmad (Toronto, Canada)

It's a weird experience to have such a flat response to the work of someone whose games you normally like so well, and to a game that caused such a splash of interest (also to a game with such an interesting title). However, while I liked the concept of Heliopause quite a bit, and a lot of the imagery was beautiful, I wound up not really enjoying the gameplay experience a whole lot.

A lot of it feels to me as if it were done on a dare rather than out of an attempt to make a compelling game. There's a great deal of customization, which do show of the flexibility of the tools and do sort of prod authors to think in new ways about what interactive fiction could look like. As other reviewers have mentioned, there's even an attempt to make a non-annoying maze -- something which worked for many people (but not really for me). However, in some ways, the game feels like a collection of these things. It's not without story, but the way the story is executed seems more at the service of showing these things off than building engagement.

The distance mentioned in other reviews is at least part of the issue for me -- you never feel very personally engaged with the game. However. there's more to it than that. There were more undefined objects than the usual Plotkin game, some of which were incredibly obvious ones to try to interact with, and this hurts the gameplay and the sensation of depth for sure. I spent a lot of time "guess the verb"ing, even in some cases where the verb the game wanted was one of the basic IF game verbs, because it's so seldom apparent when these do and don't apply. The "maze" was certainly less confounding than many mazes, but it was also very nebulous (pun intended) and poorly defined and I didn't feel like my actions had any relationship whatsoever with my "solving" it -- in fact, I know that understanding and thought had nothing to do with it, because I just did random actions and boom, it was solved. I don't think I built an understanding of what was going on there at all. And there were a lot of times where the game's attempt at hinting things to me clouded rather than enlightened things. The sum of all of these plus "driving" using a totally new system of controls is that it was always very front-and-center that you're manipulating a construction -- I never achieved any degree of immersion in the story at all.

And because it's often the case that these days one of the foremost questions is whether or not the game is accessible to new players (outreach being on everyone's minds lately), this is kind of the polar opposite of that. Now, I don't think making a game to appeal to dedicated players is a bad thing, but I think that this game will be lost on all but the most patient and forgiving players, and that most of what it has to offer is just turning conventions on their head. It's almost designed to specifically narrow the audience as much as possible. Not so much an in-joke, in that there's no joke in it, but definitely the dramatic equivalent. I don't know if that's a horrible thing, but it did stick out to me, especially as I was hoping that the unusual theme would be useful in order to draw in some of my friends who aren't bowled over by their internalized stereotypes of what IF covers.

It sounds like I really hated this game, mind you, and I didn't. I don't think it's horrible, and there are interesting things about it, although I do think that its ratings and buzz have been exaggerated by the reactions of die-hard community members who got into its newness and/or authors who were interested in the implementation. There are things to like about this game. I just came out of it with an overall, "Meh," which really surprised me.

9 of 11 people found the following review helpful:
Evocative, distanced, unmoving, February 17, 2011
by Victor Gijsbers (The Netherlands)

Andrew Plotkin's basic aesthetic mode is that of distance and emptiness. From So Far to Dreamhold and Delightful Wallpaper, he has given us large empty worlds seen from a distance by an almost abstract protagonist. This is the poetry of objects and spaces, not of persons and ideas.

In my opinion, Plotkin's strongest works are those where he moves away from this aesthetics and puts more emphasis on the human: Spider and Web comes to mind, but especially Shade. The simple fact that something is at stake for the protagonists of these games serves to give life to what can otherwise be a very abstract experience.

Hoist Sail for the Heliopause and Home falls into the former, less personal and more distant, category. Indeed, it takes the aesthetics of distance and emptiness to the extreme as Plotkin transports us into outer space. Relying mostly on commands that involve movement and rigging the sails of our solar-wind-powered craft, we explore a variety of astronomical objects and find mysterious natural phenomena and alien artifacts.

All of this works very well: if you want to see how to do a travel-based game, playing Hoist Sail for the Heliopause and Home is required homework. The descriptions of the galaxy are evocative and inspire some of the wonder that can be generated by popular accounts of astronomy. But is is all very abstract, very distant. One does not feel involved: certainly not on an emotional or intellectual level, but not even on the more basic level of being in control of a protagonist. We do not feel in control, since the protagonist is exploring but we are not. We have no freedom. We are just along for the ride.

The final sequence of moves is deftly done, as it suddenly transports the story to a different genre. But the admiration it inspires is the admiration with which we look at a perfectly spherical marble ball, not that with which we look at a statue; the pleasure it brings is that of contemplating Peano arithmetic rather than that of contemplating Macbeth.

I love spherical marbles, Peano arithmetic, and Hubble Space Telescope pictures as much as the next guy, but I doubt whether they are a good model for fiction, interactive or otherwise. Count me among those who hope that Hadean Lands will involve human beings with thoughts and emotions and desires that remain unfulfilled. (Although I will probably never get to play that game, given the platforms for which it will be released.)

4 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
Game of the year, January 29, 2011

This is exactly what short interactive fiction should be. Effortlessly evokes a classic science-fantasy style to tell a satisfyingly complete tall tale with perfect circular logic. Gameplay-wise, the interface and commands are based on the nautical model ("HOIST SAILS" etc) which will likely be initially unfamiliar to the player. The writing, however, does a great job of directing the player to the right commands to use very subtly, an invisible tutorial offering a guiding hand. Every puzzle builds on what you previously learned, often you will instinctively know what to type: the sign of a master of the form at work. I challenge you to think of a better game released in 2010.

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful:
heliopause again, home again, lickity-split, January 16, 2011
by Aintelligence (Canada)

Creativity is one of the most important things to remember about in IF, and like other games Plotkin has made, the creativity wfas very evident from the beginning. Of course being a trek fan (and basically any other scyfi show out there excluding vampires), the universe created is unlike anything I've seen in my IF, with sails, strange creatures and exploration.

I suppose what struck me first about this, was that it wasn't a combat mission like most space adventures are. Instead, it utilized the exploration component of space. Furthermore, the exploration isn't simple south, north east, west, up, down, in, out system, but uses sails to direct the spacecraft. through a series of furrowing and unfurrowing, tightening and untightening the sails, the player can move around the universe. Of course going left and right is not possible, but the puzzles utilized well, the inability to move anywhere but straight. Furthermore, it was impressive to not how well everything was implemented in the game. There were so many commands which could be used to do each action, making the game run extremely smoothly.

plot kin, as always, makes good use of characters and storyline. Like so many of his games, everything is well thought out, and just enough information is given so the player can fill in the rest using their own imaginations. Quite frankly, the descriptions in the game were done so to give the player a sense of awe at the beautiful universe around them, and let them picture it mostly themselves. The character was a little on the bleak side, but i think enough was known about him, and his excitement of the unknown was very clear.

I'll say it right now that I absolutely hate mazes with a passion. I've always hated mazes (for an obvious reason), and I didn't really think I'd ever like them. However this game has a brilliant maze that I even enjoyed. I don't want to spoil it because it is so well done, but I will say this: the maze was interesting because it took skill to maneuver through it and it wasn't just guesswork the whole time, which I just love in a maze. As for most of the puzzles in the game, they are not difficult, but instead very interesting and fitting in this story.

I loved this game and I'd recommend other players to go to "the heliopause, and Beyond"!

4 of 14 people found the following review helpful:
A simulation ... and a boring one at that., December 27, 2010

So I read the reviews and, after playing it, I still can't figure out: why would anyone like this game?

You basically "raise anchor", "loosen sail", "tighten sail" and so on to take some light-sail based ship around. You can't even use the command "ORBIT" -- as in "orbit the star" or "orbit the planet." Seriously? The author couldn't think of this most obvious command??!

This isn't a game. It's a simulation -- and not even a fun one since you have to keep typing out the full commands. (It's really "fun" because you have to time the commands to type them at the right time in order to make sure you can escape a pulsar or orbit a planet or something.)

The writing -- what there is of it -- is not so much bad as it is just totally bland. I was so disengaged with this simulation that I didn't even bother trying to finish. For whatever reason, I think people are more responding to the author than to the work itself.

In a word: boring.

19 of 20 people found the following review helpful:
The Wine-Dark Cosmos, December 17, 2010
by Sam Kabo Ashwell (Seattle)
Related reviews: science fantasy, fantasy, fairytale, SF

Heliopause looks, on the surface, like far-future SF. It's a veneer. A very good, lovingly crafted veneer, rich with knowledge of astronomy and the knowing evocation of tasty SF tropes; but the heart of the game is fantasy, and this is understood, and it's very adeptly handled.

The framing of the story makes it clear that we're dealing with a tall tale, a reliable signal not just of narrative unreliability, but of entry into realms of Story where versimilitude is beside the point. The threefold repetition, the fisherman's-wife motif of a fourth greedy wish cancelling the previous three, the three gifts whose use emerges only at the moment of crisis -- these are solid motifs of the fantastic, and deftly employed. The protagonist gives lip-service to the idea that he's collecting stuff for its unique scientific properties, but really what's being sought isn't something with a technical application so much as Herodotean wonders.

SF treats space as a rational quantity to be managed in some way or another: an ocean to chart, a frontier to advance, an empire to administrate. In Heliopause, space is the Great Forest of Arthurian knight-errant and Grimm fairytale, or the ocean of the Odyssey: anything might be encountered there, but you won't be able to plot it on a map. The principal controls, which you're given enough time to figure out intuitively but not enough to really master, feed into this feeling, as does the low-level approach to scenery; the standard IF game encourages a rather Aristotelean, sift-through-lists approach to one's surroundings, but this feels more like fable than fieldwork. The problem with this in a game context is that things end up feeling quite linear; the sense of vast possibility in the early stages gets closed down towards the end.

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful:
Go Forth, November 27, 2010
by The Year Is Yesterday (California)

This is but one of the plethora of non-standard commands the game recognizes, and it is this expansive vocabulary that serves as its greatest strength.

When play begins, you set off in an interstellar sailing vessel, bound for mystery and intrigue and unmapped, boundless space. From the get-go, the parser gently encourages you to utilize nautical phrases from "weigh anchor" or "drop anchor" to "unfurl sails." This subtly but effectively enhances immersion: it encourages you to think like the PC, turning this fantastical vessel into something you comfortably command rather than another strange machine. It also allows for some interesting navigation: you are at the mercy of the solar winds, turning movement itself into a constantly-shifting puzzle. Often, your only option will be to adjust the rigging and hope for the best.

The writing, as usual for Plotkin, is superb, and the cosmic landscape is full of mystery and alien beauty. Without spoiling too much, the end-game sequence (Spoiler - click to show)reminded me a bit of Old Man and the Sea, but it feels appropriate and melancholic. Since you are constantly moving forward, descriptions will change with every turn, while remaining similar enough to let you know you haven't left the "room." Puzzles are few and mostly simple, navigation is overwhelmingly linear, and the story is brief, but what's here blazes with the same sense of adventure and discovery that we felt playing pirates as kids.

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