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12th Place - 13th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2007)
Nominee, Best Writing; Nominee, Best Story; Winner, Best Use of Medium - 2007 XYZZY Awards
Rezension zum IF-Comp 2007 (German)
Man spielt, indem man in der (Neben-)Rolle des Protagonisten das Spiel spielt. Die Handlung darin scheint in einer kriselnden Zukunft stattzufinden, in der die Menschen nicht mehr die Vorherrschaft auf der Erde haben. Wesentlich mehr kann man leider nicht sagen, ohne zuviel zu verraten, denn der Weg ist hier das Ziel. ...
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Most Helpful Member Reviews
DE deservedly received mixed reviews and ratings in the IF Competition. The environment is sketchy; many objects are unimplemented and don't respond to investigation; the plot is mysterious and takes some time to unfold; the writing is highly stylized and may annoy or put off some players; and there is very little by way of puzzle, except perhaps for the meta-puzzle of understanding what is going on and why this work is interesting in the first place.
On the other hand, DE also features many strange and memorable images and a genuinely novel setting; it plays new and interesting games with the relationship between the player and the work; it does ultimately have a good reason to be interactive fiction rather than a story on the printed page (however long it may take you to understand this point); and the oddities of writing eventually prove to be part of a strong characterization within the work. What's more, the final state of the work is surprisingly moving and even beautiful, I thought.
So: absolutely not everyone's cup of tea, but a piece well worth exploring, especially for people who are interested in the boundaries of interactive fiction.
That was then. In those days, rememeber, personal computers were uncommon, the net was in its very infancy. The games were supposed to be entertaining, and were supposed to last a long time - people wanted to get their money's worth of the games. All this is in the basis of what we now call old-school games.
Fast-forward a couple of decades (going on three decades now), and we're at the center of new-school. We have thousands of games at our disposal, they're easier to make (although as hard to design as ever) than they were back then, way easier to distribute. We don't want those insane puzzles anymore, because life frustrates us enough as it is. We want a challenge, not punishment.
And furthermore - and this is what I wanted to get at - we have given new meaning to the term Interactive Fiction. I'm not sure whether Photopia was the first of its genre, but it was certainly the most inspiring and at the center of this fundamental change. Short's works like Galatea, Best of Three and the very recent Alabaster are also examples of this new "Interactive Fiction" - games that are really stories, which are much more suited to an interactive medium than a static one. Not really "adventure games" at all.
This is bloody hard to do. No kidding. These pieces are often very linear in gameplay, out of necessity (or they go out of their way to accomodate nearly everything the player can do - Alabaster and Gisjber's The Baron both do this, in their way). Their reason of existence is the story alone (and the writing and the characters). There's nearly no puzzles to speak of.
A game like this had better have a good reason for choosing to be IF rather than a short story.
And this is where Deadline Enchanter comes in.
Deadline Enchanter makes ingenious use of the IF format. As a game, it feels strange, because you're basically given pieces of walkthrough, which you follow to the game's conclusion. But as you find out, that makes perfect sense. You feel like you are being led? Well, you are. You're being taught something by the narrator, who has a distinctive voice and personality. It's the embodiment of new-school - it's the story that matters. No puzzles (you're given a walkthough at the beginning of the game! And yes, you have to follow it, and yes, it makes sense). Extremely linear. And a very rewarding story, that draws you in.
It's also confusing as heck, at first. The story is always sketchy, with a few recurrent themes. You come to recognize those themes and move with it, and that is what makes the story come together. We don't know exactly who those characters are. The Faux? The Mundane? Other than looking like names out of a Clive Barker novel, we never really know about any of them. But we don't have to. We know what happened between them - sort of. In the end, it's the same old story played over and over again. The author, Alan DeNiro, seems to feel it's such a familiar story it doesn't really need much elaboration. Faux and Mundanes, the Blue and the Grey, Cowboys and Indians, and so on and so forth. It merely provides the backdrop.
Well, not "merely". It's not just backdrop. It's backdrop that sets the scene - a half-mystical scene of violence, fear and war. It evoked emotions and feelings in me.
The writing is, at first, confusing, especially because the game is very original in placing the narrator. The narrator, who is also the parser (except at times when Inform's default verbs come in), speaks to you as the author of the game. She talks in a rather confusing, intricate way. The whole story develops almost in a stream-of-consciousness style, as she sometimes chooses to stop your current progress to tell you something about something else. And then she may change her mind. It's very strange at first, but it got to grow on me.
At first, I was afraid it might be terribly pretensious and pedantic, this style. It was not. More than that, the writing itself was - I found - absolutely gorgeous. Even within the sketchyness of the entire game world, it detailed some rather amazing things and creatures (the image of the coeurpouch stays with me even now). Maybe they are this vivid *because* the background is so sketchy, I don't know. What I do know is, I was quickly entranced by this game I had approached warily.
It probably could have used more polish, since anyone who wants to explore some more will soon bang their heads in Inform's default messages, which are definitely out of tone. Implementation is not always consistent, with some items being more implemented than others - randomly, it seems. Still, it makes sense when you realize *why* it's like that. Also, this piece is a story, rather than a game (a story which I don't think could be told in any other medium, hence the term "Interactive Fiction"). You quickly realize you have a path to follow... so it makes sense that you should just follow the path. Not to worry, there's enough sightseeing and interaction on the way... but you have a path to follow. And you have someone very eager for you to follow that path.
In the end, I rate it 5 stars because of one thing only, and this is very subjective.
This game touched me emotionally, and when I entered the epilogue I was in a dazed state (which was helped by the visual style and layout of said epilogue). When the game ended, I just sat there for a while, not in the way I did after watching, for instance, "Requiem for a Dream" or "Saw", but in the way I did after watching "Pan's Labyrinth" (i.e., "El Laberinto del Fauno") or "Huit Femmes". It's because this game made me feel that way that I rated it 5 stars.
To sum it up - I would recommend this game, even though I know it won't be many people's cup of tea. It's a game you simply can't not play, much like Bad Machine, The Gostak, or For a Change. You simply have to experience it. Then you may or may not like it, and that's ok, because these are heavily experimental. I disliked Bad Machine, for instance. I kinda enjoyed For a Change.
And I loved Deadline Enchanter.
A number of reviewers have mentioned the sketchiness of the implementation, and some have suggested this may have been a purposeful choice, or at least one explainable within the world by the narrator having been in an understandable hurry. Now, given the backstory of the game, I have absolutely no problem with most nouns and actions being unimplemented; the problem I had was that when I got a reply from Inform, rather than from my narrator, it was jarring. Something as simple as a comment in the narrator's voice, rather than letting it fall through to the default parser response, would have alleviated this - just something that kept me immersed in the world.
Also, I didn't find the implementation sketchy so much as inconsistent. In some places, examining things brought the reward of another section of the story; in others, it was just pointless and frustrating. I think if the responses stayed in the narrator's voice throughout, it would make players more likely to examine things, rather than just mechanically work through the in-game-provided walkthrough.
And clearly this author can write! One excellent example, after you see the narrator do something that a human would never, ever do: "It hurts, but it also feels like someone is stroking your hair." (Actually, that doesn't look so great in isolation. It's better in context, but I don't want to give spoilers.) Also - "slickening"? Best portmanteau ever.
I thought the ending was disappointing. The random, nonstandard prompts were interesting, but the actual ending (well, endings - two are possible, but both have the same flaw) was generic to the point of meaninglessness. (And yes, I did notice the cues that explained who both the people in the final scene were.)
I want to make it clear that I did like Deadline Enchanter, and I do think it's worth playing; I wouldn't go on about the flaws at such great length if I didn't like it. There were typos, but I actually didn't care, for once. I just really want to have been able to give it five stars, but the inconsistent implementation and the disappointing ending meant I couldn't.
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This is version 6 of this page, edited by Alan DeNiro on 6 July 2009 at 2:39pm. - View Update History - Edit This Page - Add a News Item