Original ideas -- An eyeball? That was nifty. I guess unusual
protagonists never go out of style. David Whyld did a great job of
throwing in references to my altered state. It's like one of those
silly jokes that become funnier the more you tell them.
I also liked the opening of CamelGirl, with my PC heading for a
protest against a nuclear plant. Granted, it didn't have much plot
relevance, but it was a pretty good excuse for me to be wandering
around on foot in the desert.
Multiple puzzle solutions -- I'm thinking here of Fate, where some
solutions allowed me to act more ethically than others. The several
ways of traveling from the desk to the fireplace in Reluctant
Resurrectee also count.
Characterization -- I like games that attempt to keep the PC from
being a cipher. CamelGirl's environmentally conscious PC is an
example of that, and of course this is what Fate was all about.
I have to give credit to Starship Volant as well. The effect was more
uneven there; the responsible captain and the hotshot young pilot are
pretty standard, but I felt a lot of interest in the drug-using alien
Bugginess -- Despite what is said in Reluctant Resurrectee, it is very
possible to put it in an unwinnable state (this would be a bug on the
design level, but just as frustrating as if it were a programming
error). And, Volant had a couple of scenes where people who weren't
present contributed dialogue.
CamelGirl specialized in the kind of bug wherein objects in the room
description aren't recognized by the game. I don't mean scenery bits
like a shadow or something. I mean rooms that contained a bed that
didn't know the word "bed". I finally stopped playing when one
character, while handcuffed to a bed, started getting up and following
me around. Examining the character showed that she was still attached
to that bed.
Overwriting -- When I saw the opening for Volant, I almost quit right
then and there. I have to quote this sentence. "The Techthon search
party, sidelined by a dancing Wallambine in the Bambeechan bar they
are supposed to be combing for the insidious Prehipsonite, do not
see..." Okay, that's enough. Four unfamiliar silly alien races in
one sentence is a bit much, even for a Star Trek fan such as myself.
Fortunately not all of the writing in Volant is like that.
I didn't keep examples of the writing in Fate, but it's heavily
metaphorical and even moralistic. At one point the player has a
dialogue option that reads in part: "But is revenge, when followed,
not simply a new master, more cruel than our former?" The next turn,
there is an option to say: "Be content with your memories, cherish
them, and do not mar their purity with black deeds." It's not that
these are bad sentences. It's that there are too many of them too
I keep thinking (along cliched lines) of Tolkien, and other authors of
high fantasy. The language of these sentences is their language
(Elfland rather than Poughkeepsie). But they would spread them out,
over the course of a novel, and there would be other scenes in other
voices, so that when pronouncements like these came, they would have
more weight by contrast.
I don't think that strategy would have worked for Fate, since the
subject matter is very specific, and every move you make is supposed
to be full of portent and significance. There isn't room for action
sequences, mechanical puzzles, or much humor. I would say, save those
sentences for the end, when they will have the most dramatic impact,
but this game allows you to end basically whenever you wish, so that
wouldn't work either. I can only say that constantly reading this
kind of language made me feel like I was playing "Choose Your Own
Aesop's Fable", picking from a list of morals rather than choosing a
story that would illustrate these morals.
CYOA -- I was expecting a far more complex story from Volant, one that
took into account the gambling, drug use, romance, and mysterious
illnesses alluded to in the mildly intriguing opening segments.
Instead, I got a CYOA. I loved CYOA books when I was in the third
grade, but I love IF even more. Maybe I wouldn't have been so taken
aback if the earlier prologue-type scenes had also been CYOA style.
As it was, I feel a little misled.
Openendedness -- Fate had a lot of skill and thought put into it.
But, I can't stand the ending(s). When bad things happened in the
end, I didn't think, "Curse the gods for their cruel whimsy." I
thought, "Hmm, the author is setting me up to fail; there are no good
It's not just that the endings were unpleasant. It's also that the
story was shapeless, because the endings didn't have much relationship
to what you actually did. There were several varieties of losing
endings, no matter what choices you made. I kept thinking I must just
be missing the "good" ending, but there isn't one.
That's all for now. Note: I'm posting this before reading the other
reviews of the games.
I'm not sure why, but I assumed that this was more or less the case
from the start: something about the premise of the game seemed to be
setting up a choice-of-least-evils situation. So I entered with that
idea, and played until I got some endings I found at least basically
tolerable, compared to the others. I also felt that, though the
endings were a bit surprising at the outset, once I'd played through a
couple of times I had begun to develop a sense for how I could hope to
influence the world.
That said, there were a lot of gaps in the story development, and
fleshing those out would have given more weight to the thing. I would
have liked to know more about my family at home, for instance, and
what's going on between them and my husband.
I also felt that a couple of the Big Choices were effectively no-
brainers, *in the context of the game*. If I'm offered the choice of
sacrificing myself in order to make things easier on my child, that
might cause me some distress in real life -- but in the game, I have
no investment as such in the survival of my character because
a) that's not my primary goal as laid out by the game; and
b) [even more important] finding out about my child's possible futures
is more interesting and entertaining than keeping my character alive.
So of course I'm going to choose self-sacrifice. (Maybe I'd choose
that in real life also, but there would be greater emotional
Yeah, I was a pretty put off by the endings too. It could be argued
that some of them weren't *too* unpleasant, but after the heinous
stuff you had to do to get there they no longer counted as "good", at
least in my book. Up until I figured out how hopeless the whole
situation was I probably would have given it a perfect score, and even
though it still had an interesting setting, great magic system, and
was just an excellent game in general (and one I happened to enjoy a
whole lot more than the author's previous one that everybody was
raving about last year) I agree with you said about feeling like the
author was setting you up for failure no matter what, and after the
amount of time I put into playing it, that was something that really
bugged me. Call me old fashioned, but I still think a player deserves
*some* kind of reward for putting in the effort to solve a bunch of
puzzles and get emotionally involved with the main character and see a
game through to its end...even if a happy (or at least non-depressing)
ending is much, much harder to get, it's nice to know it's there.
With regard to the PC you hit the target. As a player I sacrificed
Catherine routinely. Very routinely. Always. :)
As for me, however, only a silly remark: I think that Amalia, the
pixie, was harder to harm--probably due to the skilled but compact
portrait of the cute lil' creature (although she was spare with
words). Cutting its (her) wings distressed me greatly: I somewhat lost
my composure when I heard (read) Amalia cry. It was a nice touch (if
*nice* is the appropriate word).
But take into consideration that this a beta tester's opinion.
Thanks for playing my game and taking the time to write some really
interesting comments on it.
> I didn't keep examples of the writing in Fate, but it's heavily
> metaphorical and even moralistic. At one point the player has a
> dialogue option that reads in part: "But is revenge, when followed,
> not simply a new master, more cruel than our former?" The next turn,
> there is an option to say: "Be content with your memories, cherish
> them, and do not mar their purity with black deeds." It's not that
> these are bad sentences. It's that there are too many of them too
> close together.
> I keep thinking (along cliched lines) of Tolkien, and other authors of
> high fantasy. The language of these sentences is their language
> (Elfland rather than Poughkeepsie). But they would spread them out,
> over the course of a novel, and there would be other scenes in other
> voices, so that when pronouncements like these came, they would have
> more weight by contrast.
> I don't think that strategy would have worked for Fate, since the
> subject matter is very specific, and every move you make is supposed
> to be full of portent and significance. There isn't room for action
> sequences, mechanical puzzles, or much humor. I would say, save those
> sentences for the end, when they will have the most dramatic impact,
> but this game allows you to end basically whenever you wish, so that
> wouldn't work either. I can only say that constantly reading this
> kind of language made me feel like I was playing "Choose Your Own
> Aesop's Fable", picking from a list of morals rather than choosing a
> story that would illustrate these morals.
Thank god that I'm at least in Elfland! ;) (I very much enjoyed that
Ursula Le Guin article, actually.)
But seriously, I think agree with you here, and I think it has
everything to do with what several other reviewers said about not
getting involved enough with the other characters to significantly feel
about the moral choices. The problem is that Fate is too short.
Too short? Well, yes. There is barely enough room in the game to present
the structure of moral choices that it contains, so there is no room
left for "other scenes in other voices". Specifically, there is no room
left for scenes with the other characters in which they can gain a bit
more humanity, scenes which are not as morally laden as the ones the
game currently consists of almost exclusively. (Almost--I hope that
people enjoyed Rudolph or the stories of Sir Charles.)
Now I am not sure how such scenes could be integrated into "Fate". Would
flashbacks work? Perhaps tied to certain objects, events, or actions,
which remind you of things that went on before? (I mean _interactive_
flashbacks, of course, not just cut scenes.)
> Openendedness -- Fate had a lot of skill and thought put into it.
> But, I can't stand the ending(s). When bad things happened in the
> end, I didn't think, "Curse the gods for their cruel whimsy." I
> thought, "Hmm, the author is setting me up to fail; there are no good
> endings here."
> It's not just that the endings were unpleasant. It's also that the
> story was shapeless, because the endings didn't have much relationship
> to what you actually did. There were several varieties of losing
> endings, no matter what choices you made. I kept thinking I must just
> be missing the "good" ending, but there isn't one.
I'll also quote lumin_orb:
> Yeah, I was a pretty put off by the endings too. It could be argued
> that some of them weren't *too* unpleasant, but after the heinous
> stuff you had to do to get there they no longer counted as "good", at
> least in my book. Up until I figured out how hopeless the whole
> situation was I probably would have given it a perfect score, and even
> though it still had an interesting setting, great magic system, and
> was just an excellent game in general (and one I happened to enjoy a
> whole lot more than the author's previous one that everybody was
> raving about last year) I agree with you said about feeling like the
> author was setting you up for failure no matter what, and after the
> amount of time I put into playing it, that was something that really
> bugged me. Call me old fashioned, but I still think a player deserves
> *some* kind of reward for putting in the effort to solve a bunch of
> puzzles and get emotionally involved with the main character and see a
> game through to its end...even if a happy (or at least non-depressing)
> ending is much, much harder to get, it's nice to know it's there.
I'm thinking: "That's not a bug, that's a feature." The idea that the
reader of a piece of interactive fiction can succeed or fail (and thus,
that the author can set the reader up to fail)? I want it dead. The idea
that the player should be rewarded for her effort, and that better
endings come with more effort? I want it dead as well.
Ok, I don't literaly want it dead--if people wish to keep writing games
that you can win or lose, that's fine with me, and I'm probably even
going to enjoy them. But I don't want the game-paradigm to remain the
_dominating_ paradigm in interacive fiction. I don't want readers to
automatically approach pieces as if they were puzzles to be solved,
games to be won or lost. I want more interactive fiction to be art, read
by people to enrich their lives.
Nevertheless, there is some truth in your remarks which even I--given my
goals--have to take to heart. I'll come at it in a roundabout way, by
speaking about some other works of art that 'set you up' for failure.
* Der Prozess (The Trial) by Kafka is not interactive, but think of it
this way: you are following the protagonist, you are hoping his hopes
and feeling his feelings, and then the protagonist is crushed by the
wheels of a meaningless system. Has Kafka set the protagonist (and in a
sense you) up for failure? No. He has demonstrated how meaningless the
system can become. A happy ending would have falsified the book.
* Planescape: Torment, the CRPG by Black Isle, takes you through 80
hours of gameplay (including battles to win and puzzles to solve) to a
conclusion that is far from happy. Have you been set up for failure? No:
not only were some of the alternatives worse, but you have also
participated in a powerful tale about guilt, individuality, remorse and
penance. A happy ending would have falsified the tale.
* Sorcerer, the pen&paper RPG which "Fate" was partially inspired by,
lets the player walk the thin line between being destroyed by external
forces, and being destroyed by the evil within. Everything has a price,
and the question is only how high a price you are willing to pay. A
happy ending would, once again, have falsified the tale.
What this seems to prove is that "Fate" can get away with having no
really happy endings, _if_ the impossibility of such happiness followed
from its major themes. I have a suspicion that I may have failed here by
making the theme that licensed the unhappiness not powerful enough. I
have this suspicion because none of the reviews have yet even mentioned
Fate's gender theme, which was supposed to have this role.
The set-up is basically this: we are in a typical paternalistic fantasy
world, where our female protagonist has been given no power to influence
events. The only way she can take some power into her own hands is by
unnatural means--both in the sense of 'magical' and in the sense of
'breaking down the natural/moral order'. She becomes a witch: the symbol
of the evilness of female power; and it is clear from this that she must
walk the line between succumbing to external evil and succumbing to
internal evil. (Where she differs from the traditional symbol of the
witch is, of course, that the reader recognises that she only has to
resort to evil because she is the victim of a paternalistic power
structure. Witchcraft is revealed--well, we all already knew this, of
course--as the necessary consequence of male domination.) This means
that she can never truly win.
Big words, but they more or less describe one aspect of the internal
logic of the game _as it should have been_. I suspect that this gender
theme has not been as clear as I hoped it would be. is this suspicion
I got some of this from it, but not all. I think one issue is that the
moral implications of the witchcraft are confusingly portrayed. On the
one hand, in order to get powerful things to happen, we have to
sacrifice innocent characters/things, and the witchcraft does involve
dealings specifically with demons (quite unlike the magic in "Harry
Potter" or many other fantasy universes).
On the other hand, there were some things I did that seemed like they
should have had a negative influence (like giving away the relic) that
had no obvious results for me; and (what's more) though the choice to
sacrifice specific characters seems difficult/possibly evil, it's not
always clear that it's *differently* evil from the kinds of decisions
that the male characters are making in their specifically non-witchy
domain: they too are willing to kill off one or another person in
order to achieve their ends. In other words, much of the moral focus
was on the sacrifice of innocents (whether through magical ritual or
by assassination or warcraft), and the method felt secondary, to me.
Perhaps I would have felt differently about this if it were more
obvious that my character was being actively corrupted by her choices
(perhaps through changes in her perception of her surroundings, or
something like that?). I do recall that once I gave the imp blood and
this made me sick, but that seemed like a physical rather than a
I know that the folks on The Forge love Sorcerer (note: NOT the Infocom
game). I don't own it and I haven't read it, but it sounds like a bit
of a one-trick pony. Is it? If so, is the trick good enough to make
the experience worth repeating?
I have read the _Sorcerer_ book. It is an interesting trick; it might
not be worthwhile if he'd dragged it out, but he didn't. It's a short
little thing; it talks about the moral setting, gives a few mechanics
and a couple of examples. Then it turns you loose. If you are looking
to run an RPG campaign it might be too terse, but if you're interested
in reading about a unique RPG, it's excellent.
"And Aholibamah bare Jeush, and Jaalam, and Korah: these were the borogoves..."
Making a saint out of Reagan is sad. Making an idol out of Nixon ("If the
President does it then it's legal") is contemptible.
My biggest issue with the game is that the game needed more choices
over more time. I think the story would have had more impact if it
took place over the course of several days, likely not all in a row;
it just seems a bit...*cavalier* that the protagonist would be more or
less forced over the course of a single day to turn to a life of
betrayal and murder, even for the best of reasons. (Imagine it this
way: your spells wouldn't allow you to see the future through a
crystal ball, but rather provide you with sporadic visions in your
dreams, which you would then write down for reference later.) And
rather than a feeling of events gradually forcing you to take more and
more drastic action, the game really only gives you three places you
can change your child's destiny, and only the first two tasks -
eliminating the viper and putting Sir Charles to sleep - can be solved
"violently" or "nonviolently". (There are two different ways you can
lead the goat to its grisly end, but it doesn't really matter which
> I know that the folks on The Forge love Sorcerer (note: NOT the Infocom
> game). I don't own it and I haven't read it, but it sounds like a bit
> of a one-trick pony. Is it? If so, is the trick good enough to make
> the experience worth repeating?
Yes, the experience is worth repeating, since the basic idea allows a
lot of customisation. I've probably played four or five Sorcerer games,
ranging from one to five sessions, and I never felt that the game
That said, two caveats:
* Most of the indie-RPGs are much more focussed than mainstream RPGs.
People play 100 sessions of D&D or Vampire in a row, often with the same
characters, but nobody is going to play 100 sessions of Sorcerer in a
row. (And certainly not with the same character.) The good indie games
are very good games, but if you roleplay regularly you'll want to have a
few of them for diversity.
* Sorcerer was an important game, historically and conceptually, but I
cannot really recommend it--and certainly not to people new to the style
of roleplaying it attempts to facilitate. Games like "My Life with
Master", "The Shadow of Yesterday", "Polaris", "Breaking the Ice" and
"Dogs in the Vineyard" are much clearer and much more easy to get
satisfying play from.
I adore "Dogs," but it's perhaps a little too narratological for my
But perhaps not.
We did a special Easter edition of "Kill Puppies For Satan"--which I
wrote up on The Forge in the Lumpley Games section--and it was quite
eye-opening for both me and my players.
No, /you're/ nescient to know.
I could see this working. I can imagine having scenes of being wooed
by my husband, or the day I first got the pixie, for instance. (Maybe
there was no wooing, but some background on him would be nice.)
Almost anything that wasn't life-or-death would be a change.
I don't know where to put this comment, so I'll say it here. One
aspect of the game that bugged me a little was all this last-minute
running around on the part of the PC. She knew for a long time about
Harold, surely, yet she did nothing to change things, even though the
crystal ball must have shown negative outcomes before now. Like
Ryusui pointed out somewhere else in this thread, is there a reason it
all has to happen in one day?
It also means the PC was really really passive, apparently, until
now. Not sure why that would be.
> > Openendedness -- Fate had a lot of skill and thought put into it.
> > But, I can't stand the ending(s). When bad things happened in the
> > end, I didn't think, "Curse the gods for their cruel whimsy." I
> > thought, "Hmm, the author is setting me up to fail; there are no good
> > endings here."
> > It's not just that the endings were unpleasant. It's also that the
> > story was shapeless, because the endings didn't have much relationship
> > to what you actually did. There were several varieties of losing
> > endings, no matter what choices you made. I kept thinking I must just
> > be missing the "good" ending, but there isn't one.
> I'm thinking: "That's not a bug, that's a feature."
Yeah, when I made these notes I almost added some comments about what
I thought was a flaw versus what I thought was my own personal taste.
In this case, disliking the endings is probably a personal taste
issue. There's a movie _House of Sand and Fog_ (based on a book I
haven't read) that I thought of while playing Fate. It has a similar
feel to me -- basically bad outcomes lurking at every turn. And I'm
not a fan of it.
You also mention Kafka below, but for some reason that seems different
to me. I guess, with Kafka, I'm not invested in the ending so much.
His works don't seem like novels so much as a series of more-or-less
connected vignettes. It seems like Fate is trying to tell a story
about character development, whereas I don't read Kafka as doing that.
Here's another thing that affected me. I felt like the price/reward
structure was kind of out of whack. I felt like I was paying $10 to
get something worth $5. Yes, my child's life is worth hurting a pixie
and putting someone to sleep. But is it worth murder and causing
madness in others?
I also didn't love how "being kicked out of the castle" automatically
equals "poverty and misery forevermore". Life is long and, okay,
sometimes it happens that way, one bad mistake can ruin you for all
time, but other times you can at least scrape by. I guess it was
necessary for your story, but it was a small strain on my suspension
of disbelief there.
> Big words, but they more or less describe one aspect of the internal
> logic of the game _as it should have been_. I suspect that this gender
> theme has not been as clear as I hoped it would be. is this suspicion
For me, I noticed the gender thing, but I took it as part of the
background, rather than a major part of the theme. Also, doesn't the
fact that the PC's mother is leading the rebels tend to argue that
women can have the same kind of power as men? I also agree with what
Emily Short said, that the *method* of killing/hurting innocent people
didn't seem really significant to me.