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Alabaster

by John Cater, Rob Dubbin, Eric Eve profile, Elizabeth Heller, Jayzee, Kazuki Mishima profile, Sarah Morayati, Mark Musante profile, Emily Short profile, Adam Thornton profile, and Ziv Wities

Part of fractured fairy tales
Fairy tale
2009

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Member Reviews

5 star:
(22)
4 star:
(33)
3 star:
(12)
2 star:
(1)
1 star:
(3)
Average Rating:
Number of Reviews: 6
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1-6 of 6


1 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Dark, complex tale, September 22, 2011
by Deboriole (San Diego, CA)
I didn't read reviews on this game before playing it so I expected an experience more like Bronze and less like Galatea - when in fact the reverse is true. As others have written, the majority of the game is asking questions and piecing together the back story. I didn't feel like trying to find all 18 endings because the plot is rather dark, and I managed to find a very nice ending on my third play, so I stopped there.

The story was not that appealing to me (It is somewhat of a gruesome tale and I prefer games with tangible puzzles rather than question-asking, anyway). I would give this story 3 stars but for the sheer impressiveness of number of authors, complex plot, and intricate dialog system.

One hint: You can shorten your inputs. For example, if the dialog prompts you with "You could ask about ..." just type "ASK" and it will assume you are talking about the prompted question. Similarly, "You could ask about X or Y" allows you to type "ASK X" and it will answer you as expected. Be careful of the words... for example, "I had a lot of schooling" would have to be "ask schooling" and not "ask school". Once you get the hang of it, you don't have to type as much as you might think!

My favorite pun: (Spoiler - click to show)"Lilith fair"est of them all. Ha!

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful:
Loved the Story, November 8, 2010
by tggdan3 (Michigan)
This was a very enjoyable game with lots of replay value that focuses on converstaion. You are the hunter from Snow White in charge of bringing her heart back to the queen. But you plan on bringing the heart of an animal back instead and leading her to the dwarves.

The story takes several unexpected turns from the Disney version we're all familiar with, as you question Snow White and try to determine whether you should side with her or the queen, or do something else. The writing is superb- you get a feeling of really being there, and the side graphic of Snow White's face adds something to the story as well.

As far as the parser itself, it seems a bit too smart, so smart that it makes some obvious mistakes. It seems to trace possible questions from your previous questions. So if you ask her about magic and she mentions a witch, asking her about witches takes you down the next logical step in the conversation. The parser helps by making suggestions on what to ask about next also.

Some problems arise here. First, the parser seems is still limited to ASK [character] ABOUT [subject], though the prodding from the parser made me think I could do more.

(You could ask about witches)
>ASK ABOUT WITCHES

Doesn't work, you still need to ask HER about witches. Which isn't so bad, except that some topics are complex:

(You could ask why she feels this way, how long she's felt this way, or why she thinks the queen wants her dead)
> WHY DOES THE QUEEN WANT YOU DEAD
> ASK WHY THE QUEEN WANTS HER DEAD

both don't work.

That's forgivable though, I've played enough IF to know better, I just worry about newbies falling into this and making mistakes. The second problem I had to do was with the non-conversation actions.

(Spoiler - click to show) Upon learning that Snow White drank blood, I tried to offer my own blood to her.

>OFFER BLOOD
(the blood reserves to the hart animal)

Which caused an animal to come to life, stop time, and start some kind of exorcism ritual, which I was completely blindsided by


Which was more of a problem with the parser's choice of supplying missing nouns, but seemed like a surprising supposition.

Those aside, it was very well written, and I really liked how it tracked your endings so you can see what you've already accomplished for multiple playthroughs. Interactive Fiction of the past (Infocom) perhaps should have been called IAF for interactive adventure fiction, because this works seems like more of a story that is interactive than many of the previous games I've played.

4 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
Nutritious Fare, December 12, 2009
by Ron Newcomb (Seattle)
Normally I'm a fan of fairy tales and conversational games both. Games like Alabaster are my bread and butter. Alabaster itself incorporates a handful of technical features which are worth exploring by anybody. But I experienced a kind of dissonance between those welcome features and certain aspects of the story, so my five-star rating is subject to personal tastes both for and against.

On the conversation side, the parser seems to encourage inserting more than a simple keyword after ASK ABOUT. Though that is not in fact true -- the "keyword" now comprises multiple words resembling a dependent clause -- the illusion improves the immersiveness of the experience a surprising amount. Moreover, my immersion-breaking "what would the parser understand" analytics have turned off again by the time I finish typing the command. The effect is a little like snowboarding down a tree-infested slope: I'm generally enjoying the ride and playing around with little thought to consequence, but I must periodically make clear and distinct decisions about what route to take to avoid disaster. I believe the reason the brief parser analyses don't mar Alabaster's ride is because I've already returned to the ride before I've finished typing in my response. Bizarre but true.

This doesn't mean I endorse the near-constant need for prefixing ASK HER to my input. I found this distancing. Apparently S&W's maxim of "omit needless words" applies to inputted commands as well. Paradoxically, while I'm aware that I can abbreviate the afore-mentioned dependent clauses a great deal, doing so decreased my enjoyment. Apparently parsers love needless words, and the words the parser does not need -- all those IFs, ISes, and WHATs -- are very important to me, the player, and my sense of immersion. So which words are "needless" greatly depends on whose point of view you're considering, human or computer. (Of course if Alabaster were more action-oriented, I don't know if any of this would still hold true.)

The illustrations work better than I imagined. I'm something of a purist when it comes to inserting multimedia elements into interactive fiction. I prefer the prose handle all jobs. But though the depicted character doesn't match my own idea of Snow White, it still worked for me. More instructively, the procedurally-collated image informed me of emotional tones in the work that interactive text struggles with. My only addition would be to grey-out or fade the image when I use a out-of-world command.

Usage of the THINK command is inspired: an "inventory" of events and plot points so far. But I can't seem to THINK ABOUT any one of them in particular, not even as a memory aid, which is distressing. If taken together, this is the kind of thing that should be automatically included in all works, rather than nitpicky details about whether one is sitting or standing. Likewise the ENDINGS command: since it's saved to an external file, it can reify any take-home value of the story. Alabaster only uses it as a checklist of sorts for completionists, but I feel that there's untapped artistic potential there.

The one thing I found unpalatable is the general what's-going-on tone the story uses. Interactive fiction is opaque enough as-is, and especially so when the work is in any way progressive. The player isn't sure of the commands or the way the game works. The player already asks himself "what's going on" just with the interface, parser issues, and keeping track of everything important -- which usually means everything until he knows enough of the boundaries and intent of the work to guess at what is and isn't worth remembering. How can I choose my own destiny and thwart my opponents if I'm the most clueless person in the room? Alabaster has an agency problem.

Still, it isn't empty calories. Play Alabaster. It's chicken soup for your experimental soul.

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful:
Galatea Again, December 4, 2009
by TempestDash (Cincinnati, Ohio)
Alabaster, in retrospect, is very, very similar to Galatea, an earlier work from Emily Short. This time you are playing a fractured version of Snow White. You are the Huntsman, that poor servant who is instructed by the Queen to kill Snow White and return with her heart in a box. The game begins as you are walking through the forest with Snow White and stop to examine a dead animal on the path from which you intend to extract a heart to fool the Queen with. Apart from Snow White and the dead animal, there is nothing else to interact with. And moving in any direction is interpreted by the game as the decision to either return to the castle or travel to the safe haven populated by seven dwarves. Your only means of making up your mind as to which place you should go to is to interact with Snow White, and she has a lot to say if you ask her.

Unlike Galatea, however, Snow White’s identity is not shaped by the questions you ask. Whether you find out who and what she is does depend on the questions you ask, but the game makes pretty clear that even if you don’t ask the right questions, her nature is the same.

This is both a benefit and a drawback in my opinion. Where in Galatea after a while you could see the seams in her programming that allow her destiny to change based on what questions you ask in what order, here Snow White’s responses are uniform, and the tiny hints always line up with the broad declarations. The integrity of the game’s characters is maintained.

On the other hand, once you figure out what’s going on with Snow White, getting the other endings is often an exercise in willful ignorance, which is not very satisfying. The very first ending I got in the game, in fact, revealed to me her true nature, which would have made subsequent playthroughs pretty disappointing had there not been one extra action I initially had overlooked that helped me to realize that Snow White’s real face was not the only mystery the game had to offer.

Still, the game’s world – as limited as it is – is very well defined and the prose is very enjoyable, as I’ve come to expect from Emily Short’s games. Of course, not all the prose came from Short.

The other ‘feature’ of this game has nothing to do with how it’s played, actually, but has to do with its genesis. The game was an exercise in collaborative storytelling, initiated by Short and offered up to the IF community for expansion. She had written the initial description and created the environment, but then let everyone who played the development version of the game offer additional dialog choices and responses. Short collated all these options and integrated them into the game, lining up the dialog trees and creating endings for certain lines of discussion. So, really, the game has many, many authors, who have all been corralled into a gameplay mechanic devised by Short.

So, in conclusion, the game is enjoyable the first few times around, and there really is a lot to discover about this version of the Snow White fairy tale. The multiple endings start to wear thin after a while, which may be unavoidable but since there are so many offered I have to believe that it was intended at least for some players to try to get them all. The experiment in collaborative story development, however, is pretty clearly a success, as the game is well written, imaginative, and cohesive, yet still has nearly a dozen authors. I dare the movie industry to do so well.

3 of 18 people found the following review helpful:
Slow White and the Seven Bugs, June 8, 2009
The s-l-o-w-e-s-t text adventure ever. On a 1.4Ghz CPU running the latest, most optimised version of the Gargoyle interpreter, Alabaster runs like a crippled dog, making it literally unplayable.

The game itself, a twist on the Snow White fairytale in which the PC chats with Snow White and decides whether to help her or help the Queen (there are seven possible endings), is a conversation-piece that constantly prods you with hints about what to ask about next:

"you could ask her if the Queen manufactured the magic mirror by herself, or that the witchcraft may involve demons from the dungeon dimensions"

and then requires you to type in that entire l-o-n-g (and grammatically incorrect) sentence yourself at the command prompt. Miss a word, or spell something wrong, and it's no soup for you. Wait for 10 seconds while the game grinds away to redraw the exact same picture on the left of the screen, then you get to type it all over again! Fun, huh? There is nothing here that couldn't have been implemented via menu options, requiring a single key-click to jump through dialog options. But no, it has to be a (buggy) Typing Tutor instead. Poor all round.

16 of 17 people found the following review helpful:
Enjoyable little game, June 6, 2009
by Matt W. (Vienna, Austria)
The slightly disturbing atmosphere and the multiple (supposedly eighteen) endings are not the main feature of this short game by Emily Short, written in collaboration with various other authors. No, the main reason for playing this game is the conversation system that will, in time, be released as an Inform 7 extension for every IF writer and that gets its test run here.

It combines the standard ASK/TELL style with a system that keeps track of state and the current topic(s) (where are we in the conversation? where can we move from here?) that makes for a more natural flow of dialogue.

Unfortunately, since almost all facts you need to know in order to solve the game can only be learned by talking to Snow White, the main NPC, you need to ask her about anything you can think of anyway (the TOPICS command gives you a list of possible topics at any given moment). What is great in the beginning turns into a pretty mechanical run-though of every topic and reaction the game tells you about.

A solution would have been to implement more non-conversation gameplay - but still, it's a great example of where NPCs and conversation systems are at the moment, and what can be done with them.


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