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Nominee, Best Game; Nominee, Best Writing; Winner, Best Story; Nominee, Best Setting; Nominee, Best Puzzles; Nominee, Best NPCs; Nominee, Best Individual NPC; Nominee, Best Use of Medium - 1999 XYZZY Awards
Honorable Mention - The Top Five IF Games (Adventure Gamers, 2002)
-- Duncan Stevens
The story is revealed through cleverly meshed flashbacks and the game is full of interlinked themes and symbols that add dimension to the experience. The most satisfying of the game's puzzles are meta-puzzles, requiring the player to think outside the game whilst moving through the game--not in the sense of relating acts to an external system (the meta puzzle of 'what does it mean?') but in the sense that there is often little way of providing feedback on some of these puzzles--you either get it or don't--so the 'working out' of the puzzles goes on externally. (Sam Barlow)
All of this aside, "Worlds Apart" is a tremendously ambitious work, in that it attempts to deal not only with a physical environment but also with social realities, family history, and even spiritual state. It is scrupulously implemented. I ran into nothing I would qualify as a game-play bug, and there is a very large set of examinable scenery objects and of conversation topics. Though I think the story has some flaws, I hope it receives a wide audience. Considerable craft went into its creation; it is markedly different from anything else currently available; and it provides useful data for the discussion of character background and world-building in interactive fiction. (Emily Short)
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Casting a Critical Eye
A lot of the difficulty with Worlds is that it never lets up. The same tone and mood persists virtually throughout, and it's such a big game that this gets tiring after a while. You start craving some comic interludes or some random, messy violence. Well, I did, at least. (Yes, there is some violence, but it doesn't feel distinct enough from the piece to provide a sufficient contrast). Although the ending manages to maintain much of its clout despite this, I get the impression that a little change of pace about midway would have breathed some vibrancy back into it. Early on in the game, Worlds seems very alive and engaging; the majority of the later scenes are intrinsically no less so, but by the time they're reached I, at least, had been exhausted by the style and found it difficult to get new things out of it. This objection doesn't make the style or verbosity any the less worthy, however; it just makes it more difficult. [...] In short, Worlds isn't my cup of tea, in terms of themes, mood, or content. However, there's plenty that I have to admire about it: scope, detail, the quality of both code and prose.
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Play This Thing!
It takes place in a science-fiction world Suzanne Britton spent years thinking about and developing. Its plot episodes are there in large part to illuminate the world she has imagined, rather than the other way around. Implementation is deep and meticulous. There is a great deal to learn, and a great deal to dig into.
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There is much to like about Worlds Apart, in the end--in quantity and quality, the detail that went into the worldbuilding is unmatched in any work of IF in recent memory, and it's unlikely that any player will catch all, or even most, of the story on the first try. If it's a little inaccessible at first, that comes with the territory--i.e., introducing the player into a highly complex and well-developed world--and it's hardly a fatal flaw. In its interactivity and in the quality of its storytelling, Worlds Apart is a remarkable accomplishment.
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Number of Reviews: 8
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Most Helpful Member Reviews
Yes, I referred to the protagonist in first person because it is so easy to identify with her. Even though the story happened in an alien world, where the "sun" is not our sun and the "human beings" don't look much like us, somehow it feels more familiar than many stories set in our world. The world looks beautiful, made all the more so by the author's capable prose, which reads like the work of a writer rather than being too geeky like many IFs are. The people felt realistic and alive, lovable for the most part and understandable at least. And the theme, full of love and friendship as well as healing of mind and body for both others and oneself, makes me like the game world enough to be willing to live in it.
Being an IF, the author's use of interactivity is excellent. The puzzles are mostly easy and making sense, but more importantly, they form a coherent whole with themselves and with the overall plot, and really succeeds to make the story so immersive that most authors of static fiction, and even "puzzle-less" IF, can only envy; even the puzzles that are not connected with the rest of the story so intimately, such as the business with (Spoiler - click to show)kalla leaves, makes me interact with objects (such as (Spoiler - click to show)the notebook and the fireplace) that incidentally provide me with more lovely stories. The low difficulty is in part due to the game's mercifulness and the relatively small number of rooms and objects relative to its size which, as one with limited puzzle-solving abilities and poor sense of direction even after much practice, I heartily welcome; another reason, I think, is that the descriptions are so beautiful (at least for me) that I feel compelled to read---and feel---them carefully, thus gaining the information necessary to solve the puzzles. Admittedly, a few places are still not obvious enough for me, such as the use of (Spoiler - click to show)LOOK UNDER, TURN and REACH INSIDE, but in such cases the incremental hint system both helps me through and gives me confidence by telling me how much I did figure out by myself. The image in the locket is usually too abstract to provide much of a hint---often I could understand the metaphor only long after solving the puzzle---but it does subtly make the solution seem much more natural, so that I don't feel, as in many other IF games, that the author is manipulating the game world arbitrarily. Apart from one act of violence, which does not harm any actual person (Spoiler - click to show)(because it occurred in the inner world) and is, in hindsight, quite necessary for my own good, I have never been forced to do anything I would not really want to do, and am allowed much freedom to act on my own heart's desire. I could hug people that I want to hug (although I think a kiss would also be appropriate for darling Lia), and could answer questions and say goodbye when talking with people like a polite person in real life, and get equally nice answers in return.
While the game gives a heartwarming experience throughout, as almost everything is getting into better shape as the story progresses, a few of the scenes are particularly memorable. One is the aforementioned scene in Lia's nightmare; it is easy to love Lia and feel protective around her, and the author indeed kindly provided many chances to observe her, get to know about her, and even (Spoiler - click to show)a brief reunion near the end of the game if the player is observant, but it is also pointed out that (Spoiler - click to show)mere protection is not enough and can even be counterproductive. Another is in the story of Lyric where, after a somewhat frustrating process trying to understand what was going on (not that mind-healing is easy!), I finally managed to (Spoiler - click to show)communicate with her via thoughts; here the use of font variations and somewhat incoherent sentences are particularly effective, and really made me feel that a long gap had been bridged. The most memorable character for me is, however, undoubtedly Yuri. Although many parts of his story are not told interactively, the manner of their presentation (such as the use of (Spoiler - click to show)the crystal imager, the insect and the axe as metaphors) is so emotionally charged that they almost made me cry, and caused me to lose much sleep long after playing the game, thinking of the fate of him and his daughter.
The gameplay experience is not perfect, but perfect IF gameplay is probably impossible anyway without perfect AI, and given current technology I would say the game is very well programmed. One problem I'm having is with the pauses in various places of the game. I know they are intended to give me time to observe and do conversation, but sometimes I run out of interesting things to do, and then it is often not obvious whether the story is progressing, or if some puzzle remains to be solved; this is particularly evident in (Spoiler - click to show)the first meeting with Yuri in the Haven, the news of Azaera's death, and the last part of the feral shelter story after the contact with Lyric. Story-wise, I am also feeling a little ambivalent about (Spoiler - click to show)Saal. While his reaching across worlds was, in some ways, rather romantic, and he also told me much about my beloved game world that could be difficult to convey by other means, sometimes I do think he knew too much---too much for me to feel much emotional connection with him.
Overall, I think this game is a must-play if you like lovely, emotion-packed stories; even if IF is not usually your cup of tea, the game remains very enjoyable just as a story. And since the author seems to be having trouble on the sequel, I hope the game will someday get popular enough to have plenty of fanfictions, for there is certainly enough room left for imagination, romantic or otherwise.
Both the author and the reviewers give frequent advice to explore and learn background instead of merely trying to move through the story. For me, this was probably unnecessary advice - I am an obsessively thorough game player, and usually when I read something like that it makes me obsessive to the point of not having fun. My focus seems to be opposite to the player these notes are addressed to: I spend too much time learning background and then I don't have enough patience left to solve the puzzles. I had to resort to hints at several points, even though I had discovered a lot of background already. In fact, the first time I played Worlds Apart, I got bored very early on and quit for several months.
There were two kinds of situation where I used the hints: One was to find out whether a puzzle was even solvable at the current point in the game. Usually the answer was no, and it was a surprise - I thought nothing was going anywhere until I solved this particular puzzle. For the most part, the game gave a lot of helpful prompting about what needed to be done next, but maybe because that raised my expecations, I got very frustrated when it didn't.
The second situation was when I was ready to solve a puzzle, but I'd missed something important. In one particular situation, I had saved the game and quit for the day right after a new area opened up, and missed exploring something that probably should have been pretty obvious. Even so, I think this points out one of the biggest problems of Worlds Apart: pacing. I spent a lot of time revisiting the same places over and over again, because they changed so often. That was rewarding, but it also encouraged a lot of not-rewarding behavior, so when truly new places turned up, my excitement was dampened. In general I think Worlds Apart worked best when new information came at a slow drip; the occasional big flood was sometimes disruptive.
One of the hardest things about IF for me is figuring out how big a game really is. I expected something smallish for some reason, and when I ran out of leads early on, I thought there wasn't much more to see or do. I was wrong. The first part of the game is VERY large. When the full size became apparent, I got a lot more interested - it's just a pity it took so long for me to arrive at that point.
I had to keep a file of notes on the names of things and characters in the story. It's really not possible to follow the story without being able to keep track of a LOT of names. The names are colorful, but don't always provide meaning to the story - they're just details you have to remember. I probably understood the story better because of it, though, because when reading static fiction I don't take notes. Even so, I missed a couple important things I would have liked to talk to characters more about - the "quicksilver sea" that appears in the prologue, for example. Since I made one very long and thorough play-through instead of many replays, I never picked up on the significance of it until very late.
Why didn't I replay the game when there were so many recommendations that I do so? One reason is that some of the puzzles involve a lot of tedium - waiting, juggling possessions, etc. The game is filled with flashback scenes, some of which must be experienced in a particular order. It seemed laborious to work through several of these to get to one in particular that I wanted to revisit. Also, since there are very few characters in the central "present" node of the game, it involves a lot of guessing to get to a point where you can ask a particular character about a particular thing. Finally, many of the expository scenes are full of times when characters are busy and won't talk to you, so it takes some guesswork to find a place to go back to where you can really grill them.
The conversation system is truly impressive, and the depth of interaction with characters is the beating heart of Worlds Apart. I've never seen anything so vibrant in a computer game. The conversation system has a "talk mode" where you can just type >TOPIC and it will automatically ask the current conversant about TOPIC. It saves a lot of typing and encourages conversational exploration. Occasionally it was hard to guess what topic would advance the conversation, though, and at one point I got a bit stuck because I didn't realize that using TELL (which must be typed explicitly) would give a different result. There were surprisingly few points where TOPIC apparently did not mean what I thought it would. (Spoiler - click to show)At one point, I was sure asking about MOTHER would have the PC saying "Is my mother alive?" but there was no way to ask that question. I think that's intentional, because it would give away too much of the plot, but it seemed like an obvious question for a player to ask at that point, and deserved better handling in my opinion. The biggest flaw of the conversational system for me was topic disambiguation. It didn't happen too often, and I'm sure there's no way to avoid it completely, but it tended to break the immersion, especially when it provided clues as to topics I SHOULD ask about, but I didn't know why. (Spoiler - click to show)I have absolutely no idea why asking Saal about the Emperor would make me a "clever sleuth," but because of a disambiguation question about "eyes," I found out a very surprising bit of information. Maybe there was more to learn about the Emperor that I missed early on. In addition to being a total surprise, I thought this plot point seemed a little implausible - a bit like a deus-ex-machina.
The second part of Worlds Apart goes much quicker than the first, although there's a lot to learn there. The third part goes even quicker. Although it was exciting to be getting along with the story, there was a little bit of anticlimax to the end - after so much struggling and so much character interaction, it seemed too easy.
I hope I haven't given the impression that I didn't like this game - I really did, after the initial false start (which is common for me; I gave up on Curses because I couldn't figure out how to work the projector, and eventually did the whole rest of the game with a walkthrough). But I wanted to bring up a number of issues for people who'd like to write similar games (which would be great!) and want to avoid some of the pitfalls of this one. Worlds Apart is a deeply immersive game with a great story and wonderful characters. Just remember to save at the BEGINNING of each scene so you can get back to it easily and explore it some more. I always forget that. And make sure you have script on at all times!
Thereís some disorientation because thereís no explanation about the game world. Player character knows more than the player and the game narration doesnít really elaborate on setting, races, culture, etc. However, these things can be pieced together with character interactions and thereís more of a sense of being there because of the lack of initial exposition. Still, separate documentation about the basic races, continents, and social structure would be nice from the start, so that names and places arenít confusing.
The game was completely accessible. The status actually had a command, which more games should implement. Some screen readers cannot access game status lines, and if compass directions are put there, itís pretty useless for a blind player. Also, menus are number-based, which is the most useable for blind players. True menus do not work well with any Mac interpreter, thatís for sure. As a blind player, this aspect alone would make me rate it higher than I otherwise would. But even without these considerations, I still give it a perfect score. This is just icing on the cake.
Interestingly, the game map is tiny, yet the content is huge. It does help that the world changes often, so due to repeated exploration, itís a good thing the map is small. Flashbacks are implemented well, and the tutorial for using unconventional abilities for the player character was cleverly done. There was an in-character reason to have it, so it felt seamless.
But I think the best aspects of this game were story and characterization. The people are definitely distinct, believable, and evoke strong emotions. (Spoiler - click to show)I had Lyesh sever ties with Yuri and found I didnít feel all that bad. It was like, "You donít need a coward for a friend." But I could also see it in Lyeshís character to forgive him. Then I had Lyesh go and help Lia, since I reasoned she still cares for the girl. In fact, my thinking is she still cherished the memories of Yuri, but she was an adult now and it was better for her to just complete the separation that he started. My favorite character would have to be Saal, though. A warrior but not cruel; a lover of tricks but not dishonest; a predator but compassionate; someone with agendas but not to use people. Itís neat to be able to talk to the characters and ask them about things Iíve seen and heard and get a lot of information that way.
The story, though, had elements I adore. A close-knit mother/daughter, mentor/student relationship; special abilities; losing friends and making new ones; transitioning from codependence to independence and empowerment; bonds that last forever; and a bit of pain just to make things interesting. (Spoiler - click to show)There is even a winged serpent in the game, and I *love* that. I have a fascination with snakes and reptiles. And I tend to prefer dragons that are serpentine as opposed to lizard-like and fire-breathing. Truly, this game had everything I enjoy: integrated puzzles, a knapsack to satisfy my packrat tendencies (at least in IF), in-character puzzles, vivid and reasonable characters (not dysfunctional), and a story that left me feeling cleansed and comforted.
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