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About the Story
The people had always gathered on moonless nights to hear the stories, since the time of their ancestors' ancestors. The heat of the fire and the glow in the storyteller's eyes made the past present, and the path to the future clear. The power in the telling was immense, subtle, divine. What man would dare subvert it?
Winner, Best Individual NPC; Nominee, Best Use of Medium - 2005 XYZZY Awards
1st Place - Spring Thing 2005
You're a prominent member of a shepherd tribe in the ancient times. Every full moon, everyone gathers to hear a tale of even more ancient times. Only, tonight the telling will change the fate of the tribe, and it's up to you to get it right. The tension, virtually inexistent at first, builds up in perfect gradation. You can't miss the climax, it's obvious.
-- Felix Plesoianu
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Number of Reviews: 7
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This is a very rich game of shaping the attitude of a tribe on the verge of war. Your choices create a nice variety of possibilities: who you are, who is the storyteller and which approach in the story you promote. Although the impact of the personality of the storyteller seems minimal, other choices really matter. To promote the attitudes of the tribe, you select highlighted keywords from the telling. This is quite effective although sometimes it was impossible to tell whether it would result in a push in the desired direction. Ocassionally, the keyword triggers an unobtrusive clarification whether you want to point out an aspect A or B by uncovering your internal weighing of the two options.
There are two problems though. The first is an unfortunate design decision: A title that allows the reader to get through the story by typing "wait" is taking a great gamble. The author better make sure the reader has good reasons to care for and understand what is going on. (I got to the storytelling part in about seven turns and waited, skimming, skipping through all of it, lacking a real motivation to actually do something.) The good news is that when (and if) you actually reach the end in this fashion, you will learn that you basically failed because you did not learn how to shape the story. In addition, you are given a nice recap of the background and what happened; a part of this would be so much needed at the beginning to get the player hooked.
The second problem is at the beginning when you choose your occupation and the identity of your companion. Unfortunately, the method used to give the player the option to decide is ill-chosen. [Details with a minor spoiler:] (Spoiler - click to show)You are told there is a "symbol" of your occupation. When you refer to it, you get a library disambiguation message between a medicine bag and a dagger (which had not been mentioned). The same problem appears soon after, when you are introduced to two main characters, one of them being your "love". For a player who does not know she is effectively defining the main character, this creates confusion, especially in what will often be the first turns.
Don't get discouraged by the first impression. This is a deep, meaningful game. You might still find yourself not drawn into the story the first time through, but by the time it ends, you will probably want to give it a second try.
Play it if: you wish for a game that explores puzzles of dialogue and discourse, or if you want to hear a powerful, emotionally resonant variation on the tale of Gilgamesh.
Don't play it if: you have trouble with puzzles that depend on intuition rather than pure logic, for it is as often as not by intuition that you progress through the story.
There are two reasons I love this story.
The first is intuition. The "puzzle" of the game, if it can be truly called a puzzle, is one of persuasion: to win the people of your tribe over to your way of thinking by directing the flow of a story. The player does this primarily by interacting with emphasized terms in the telling. Where intuition comes in is that you have no control over precisely what to do with each term; it is on the basis of each word's context in the story that you must decide how to interact.
This means that, to perhaps the greatest degree possible in IF, this is a game about language, a game which emphasizes reading comprehension over puzzle-solving. Not only is this fairly unusual for the genre, it is excellently done - the player can deduce important lessons even from minor details in the telling.
The second is the story itself. The storyteller narrates the first half of the Epic of Gilgamesh, the oldest written epic in recorded history and a myth which still resonates with and influences modern literature. The choice of story is perfectly suited to this work, for the Epic is primarily about fear - in particular, fear of death, and fear of the unknown - and the search for immortality, whether through glory or through the love and friendship of others. These are powerful themes that the framing narrative explores, taking place on the eve of tribal war.
Whom the Telling Changed is itself an allegory of the Gilgamesh story, and in adding another fundamental theme - the power of legend and narrative - Aaron A. Reed succeeds in crafting a myth of his own. This is fantasy from an older and darker time, from a world where life was brief and difficult. For many people in those times, the only spiritual and moral comfort to be offered came from the telling and understanding of old stories - as Reed understood when he tapped into that primordial image of a troubled tribe gathered in darkness around a warm campfire.
There are but a few other notes I have on this work. There are one or two glitches to be ironed out - I only ran into one of them, though, which given the game's NPC interactions is a pleasant surprise. Also, while in general I'm no fan of sequels, there is another chapter to the Gilgamesh myth...perhaps there is another story be told.
Katherine Morayati and I discuss Whom the Telling Changed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NrYukJxxotQ#t=22m28s
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