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Nominee, Best Story - 1999 XYZZY Awards
-- Duncan Stevens
Stephen Granade's "Common Ground" is a short, friendly game, more character-piece and story than puzzle. By giving you the perspective of each of three protagonists in turn, it sketches in the relationships between members of a small family, showing you both sides of each point of conflict.
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Common Ground is about perceptions and misunderstandings: the player experiences a set of events from the perspective of three protagonists. Their respective ideas of what is going on (and why) dovetail together in sometimes-surprising ways, and the result is a story about communication and expectation in an ordinary family.
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The point actually isn't to adapt a Rashomon-style trick to IF, wherein incompatible stories are told and the truth lies somewhere between them, if anywhere; figuring out the truth is less the objective here than understanding the characters and why they do what they do. The result is susceptible to a variety of interpretations, in a few respects--the player's sympathies may rest with one of the characters, or all, or none, depending on what he or she makes of the various exchanges. That aspect of Common Ground is particularly skillfully done, in fact: playing the various characters gives a more nuanced look at the situation than playing one character might, and an honest look at the story more than likely leaves the player neither canonizing nor demonizing any of the characters outright, which is as it should be.
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Number of Reviews: 6
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The sames series of episodes is played out from each of the character's viewpoint. There are some problems here as well. I am frankly puzzled by Duncan Steven's comment in his Baf's Guide review that the game does a good job of tracking and remembering what you've done as previous characters and replaying those actions back later in the game. This wasn't my experience at all. I found myself having conversations as Frank (the second viewpoint character) and Deb (the third) that I never initiated or saw as Jeanie (the first). I can think of two possible reasons (excuses?) for this: 1) these scenes do not all really take place on the same day, thus serving to illustrate the humdrum nature of life in this household; or 2) we are actually seeing the recollections of each character, and these recollections naturally tend to put the viewpoint character in the best light and reflect her views of the others. I can't find any actual textual evidence for either possibility, though. This mimesis-destroying lack of internal consistency even crops up in the last scene, which is played only from the point of view of Jeanie. Jeanie here is suddenly carrying items in her inventory that she didn't have earlier in the game. Nor did she have any opportunity I could see to acquire them.
Perhaps the biggest mimesis killer is more subtle, though, and something I have to enclose in spoiler brackets. (Spoiler - click to show)During the first scene of the game, you are given every impression that Jeanie is merely going out for the evening with her friend, when she is actually planning to run away from home. Now, it's perfectly acceptable for the game to not reveal to you exactly what is really going on here, but it's not acceptable to betray absolutely no hint that this night is a not a normal one. Jeanie should be keyed-up, afraid, full of nervous excitement at what she is about to do. She is none of these things. Even when she steals money from Frank to fund her trip, she does it in such a blase way that I assumed she was just an habitual thief. The end result is to destroy the game's narrative consistency for the sake of playing a cheap joke on the player. It worked for 9:05, a game where the cheap joke was the point. It doesn't work for this allegedly serious character study.
In a sense, Common Ground is an advertisement for how far we've come in IF over the last decade. In spite of all my complaints, it's not a disaster. It's not a bad little game at all really, and worth the 30 to 45 minutes it might take you to play it. But when compared to more recent efforts, including Mr. Granade's own simulational tour de force Child's Play, it lack of technical sophistication and internal consistency shows through painfully.
(Spoiler - click to show)Even having Frank choose a coke instead of a bud didn't seem to alter the events of the story. I attempted to get Frank drunk, but could only manage to get one beer out of the fridge. Even though he drank the entire thing, the game insisted that he still had a beer to drink every time I tried to snag another. I also tried to have Frank catch Jeanie taking money, but that didn't seem to work either.
With a game that lets the story happen from multiple viewpoints, it would be fun to have more control over the events. However, I did enjoy the fact that the different characters remembered the conversation in slightly different ways and noticed different objects. And the story was a good one, worthy of the title of 'interactive fiction'.
The descriptions are good, and reflect the point of view of the character, but there aren't any real puzzles. Sometimes you get the feeling that you just need to wait until the events happens. This happens with every character, so you don't really feel that you influence each other.
In the end, I didn't care about any of the characters, also because the story is pretty short. The real problem is there isn't anything that really drags you in.
A little bland but decent.
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