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The Ascent of the Gothic Tower

by Ryan Veeder profile

2014

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5 star:
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Number of Reviews: 5
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1-5 of 5


3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Curious; well-constructed; unique, July 22, 2017
The Ascent of the Gothic Tower is a strange game. Even though the player character's objective is made incredibly clear - to ascend the tower - the experience of playing it feels almost aimless. In away, Ascent is a distillation of one particular theme that runs through many of Veeder's works: "hidden" or tucked-away content, rooms that are fascinating but fully optional, whole complex subsystems, as complex as the rest of the game put together, that an inattentive player could never know they missed. In fact, The Ascent of the Gothic Tower has so much of this kind of thing that it almost feels like the whole game is optional - a sort of array of strange places and interesting experiences, that don't seem to represent any meaningful journey on the part of the player character; I think this feeling is magnified, not diminished, by the fact the player character is embarking on such a literal and (by authorial fiat) emotionally significant journey.

None of this is to say that The Ascent of the Gothic Tower is not a good time. It certainly is! Veeder's mastery of the craft of interactive fiction is on full display here, with charming and well-implemented subsystems of all sorts, and an occasionally eloquent narrator-PC who has his own sort of off-kilter charm.

Playing The Ascent of the Gothic Tower feels like wandering around in a huge, empty, static palace of stone. You have no reason to be there, and no reason to keep moving forward, other than that it's beautiful, and you want to stay. And the fact that you do want to stay is a testament to Veeder's excellent craftsmanship.

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
The Ascent of the Gothic Tower, May 18, 2017
by CMG (NYC)
Along with The Baron, this was one of the first parser games I ever played when I discovered interactive fiction back in 2014. At the time, I thought it was great, but on The Baronís heels it felt less substantial (what wouldnít) and I gave it four stars. Now a few years have passed. The Ascent of the Gothic Tower remains a touchstone for me. It deserves five.

In many ways, this game helped shape my outlook on the parser medium. Itís not about puzzles. Itís not about ďAha!Ē moments that come from deducing the right command to type. Itís not about deep simulation or intricate world modeling. Instead, itís about guiding the player through a sequence of events carefully designed, above all else, to produce a mood.

Your only goal is to ascend a tower with which the player-character is ďmildlyĒ obsessed. No real obstacles stand in your way. Itís twilight, and the tower is located on a campus whose population is thinning as night falls. Youíre alone to contemplate the scenery.

As a traditional short story, this wouldnít work. There isnít much story to tell. As a space to explore, were the game to be stripped to its bare geography, it also wouldnít offer much. Thereís a parking lot, a lawn, some empty halls, etc. These locations arenít compelling on their own, and as I mentioned, theyíre not that deeply implemented. What makes the game is the experience itself that the player has while moving through the environment.

That word, ďexperience,Ē is awfully vague, but itís what matters. A story as the word ďstoryĒ is normally understood isnít required, perhaps isnít even advisable, because the playerís experience is the story.

Itís the writing that does the trick here. Well, it ought to be. This is a text game. When a reader has to interact with text, move through it, move it around, this changes both what text does and what it has to do.

Not just anybody couldíve written a game like this and made it good. Itís good because Ryan Veederís got his finger on your pulse as youíre playing. He knows where youíll try to go, what youíll try to do, what youíre thinking at each step. Heís attuned to the experience you should be having, which allows him to gently guide you along and drop little surprises at the right moments. Finding a plain old quarter on the ground, for example, which you donít even need, feels special.

Wrenlaw is another Veeder game with a similar style. I have to admit, I donít like it as much. It tips more into modern literary melancholy, where youíve got mundane objects and scenes, and theyíre significant because theyíre ever-so-slightly sad. But not too sad. Just enough to feel wistful. This sorta thing, to my taste, is like playing with fire for a writer. Itís really hard to nail. The Ascent of the Gothic Tower, however, pretty much does nail it. Gothic Tower feels more self-assured, and itís certainly more slyly constructed. I don't think it's going to budge from my personal parser canon anytime soon.

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
An exploration game or two, with a fun, easy atmosphere , June 8, 2016
This game is classic Ryan Veeder: smooth implementation and rich settings, a linear story with some tension balanced with down-to-earth humor.

You play as someone who is, in fact, mildly obsessed with climbing to the top of a tower. The tower is described in rich detail.

The game contains a sub-game that is also quite enjoyable, and which uses changes in text over time in a brilliant way.

If you like Ryan Veeder's other games, you'll like this one, and vice versa.

quite a gem, November 7, 2014
by Anya Johanna DeNiro (Minnesota)
I had missed this when it was first available; this is a short but evocative work. In many ways it reminds me of Veeder's earlier piece Wrenlaw (using a somewhat constrained landscape for emotional ruminations), which I also enjoyed, but this game felt like it had a bit more bite to it. For such a short work there is a lot going on, including a very meta passage in the middle that I wouldn't want to spoil, but is incredibly effective as a change of pace in the narration. And as in many of the author's other works, the writing is sharp and economical without being too restrained or drab. In the end there is a sense of almost bittersweet satisfaction at this little journey. Definitely worth a play.

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Short melancholic piece, September 11, 2014
by streever (America)
This short work by Veeder is well-written and interesting.

An unnamed protagonist is mildly obsessed with a distant tower; at points, I thought of Kafka's The Castle, with its themes of alienation and futility. While this touches on similar themes, it's a very different story.

It's melancholy, lonely, and occasionally mixes pronouns; if it wasn't for the protagonists lack of relationships and connections, I'd think that the occasional odd message referencing the wrong person was an error. In the context of the narrative, however, it feels intentional; the protagonist, you, doesn't really connect with these people or achieve any closeness to them.

As the classic unexplored 'you' of interactive fiction, you have one goal; ascending the old gothic tower.

The journey is well-described, and the narrative voice is as strong and original as any other work by Veeder.

I've only played once; I feel like I missed sections or areas, and am going to play again, but I suspect my ending will be the same. This isn't a game that holds your hand or forces you to explore every paragraph of text; it's a brief and rewarding exploration, that lets you pass up points of interest and explore at your own pace.

I highly enjoyed it and enthusiastically recommend it.


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