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Metamorphoses

by Emily Short profile

Fantasy
2000

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5 star:
(48)
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Number of Reviews: 7
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1-7 of 7


A game with thousands of possible items and many endings, February 3, 2016
I revisited this game after five years. This time I was struck by the enjoyability of playing around with the transformation machines. Nothing is more fun than making an enormous wooden dress and destroying it, or making a spongy key. The total number of possible items you can make it immense.

Emily Short describes on her website that this game was developed in part because she was trying to implement different textures, sizes, etc. to make an extremely customizable game. Thus, like with many of her games, this game tries to push the boundaries of what IF can do, with a story wrapped up around it after the fact.

Other examples of this "new implementation or gameplay technique wrapped up in a story" are Counterfeit Monkey and Galatea. However, for me, story is my first concern with interactive fiction. That's why I love the intricate details of Curses!, Anchorhead, Worlds Apart, Theatre, etc. So this leads to an interesting effect when I play Short's "implementation" games; I have a blast at the time, and then generally forget the game afterwards. Metamorphoses is such a game; it's fun as a tool, but not very memorable as a story. The same is true of "Dreamhold" by Plotkin, which was designed as a tutorial.

As a final note, I love Short's story-heavy games like Glass. Remembering the "smell of blood" ending creeps me out...

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
The Woman Who Became an Idea, January 19, 2013
by ifailedit (arkansas)
There may be few new things to say, twelve years later, about Ms. Short's "Metamorphoses," a well-reviewed short story concerned with magic, freedom, and one's idea of self. Other reviewers correctly invoke various Platonic (neo-Platonic) concepts explored in the game, though such invocations may create the inaccurate impression that "Metamorphoses" requires more than a surface-level understanding of such subjects. It most assuredly does not, thank goodness, which permits it to be fun and entertaining IF.

In terms of fun and entertainment, a number of well-implemented contraptions inhabit the small world of this game, and efforts were clearly made to allow the reader to interact in ways that will not advance the story, serving instead to enrich the experience. Additional trouble was taken to allow a number of solutions to the puzzles encountered. The author's approach, here, is a vast improvement over that of her Zorkian predecessors, where only the thing needed to solve a puzzle could be used in conjunction with a piece of machinery, unless another object could produce a humorous result, as identified by the "Have You Tried...." section of any InvisClues hint booklet.

There aren't any such laughs in this game, and, in fact, the terse prose and repeated references to the protagonist's unhappy life of servitude result in a story that is, clearly, Serious Business. I appreciated the consistency in tone, though I found the equally serious quotes that occasionally appeared at the top of the screen to be a distraction, and attempted to imagine, say, "The Bear" by William Faulkner occasionally studded with quotations, even good or relevant quotations--my imagination failed. "Metamorphoses" and "The Bear" have little in common (save perhaps good writing and a fondness for universal symbolism), but neither requires such external interjection. In a similar grain, the *** Finis *** text at the conclusion(s) seemed an unnecessary suggestion that we take the piece seriously.

Since other fine writers employ such tactics from time to time, such complaints may be mere personal dislike rather than a question of craft.

Like other reviewers, I found the backstory to be lightly developed, and this seemed more weakness than effective artistic ambiguity. One might argue that, in the sterile world of Platonic idealism, any provided personal viscera might be out of place. However, I think more personal detail offered near the beginning of the story, gradually diminishing as the protagonist grows ever closer to becoming something more than actual, might better illuminate the dramatic nature of her transformation.

These, though, are all complaints that one only mentions when discussing a particularly good piece written by a particularly talented person. I immensely enjoyed the flexibility in the puzzles and in the endings. The magic that does occur evokes wonder without ever telling the reader that he or she is experiencing wonder, just like any good piece of writing should. The puzzles themselves are intuitive in a way that provides some satisfying "ah-ha" moments. The scoring system, if I should call it that, seems novel even in 2012, and finally deducing what it means provides yet another pleasant feeling of discovery. "Metamorphoses," for such a short work, generously provides many such moments.

Highly recommended.

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Deep and faceted game, December 22, 2012
by Andromache (Hawaii)
This is the second time I played this game. The first time, this database was either not operational or I hadn't discovered it yet. Being one who comes and goes in the interactive fiction community, part of the reason I replayed it was to get back into the mindset of this medium and I remembered I thoroughly enjoyed this game the first time.

Playing again, I have to say I appreciate it more because I'm not as preoccupied with how to solve the puzzles. It's not that the puzzles are hard; they are in fact incredibly intuitive and I didn't need a walkthrough. I even found several solutions to puzzles that I hadn't discovered the first time. There is one guess-the-verb issue and another solution that is somewhat alarming, but I think this is a subjective judgment coming from someone who isn't generally in it for the puzzles. I don't mind puzzles, but they need to be consistent and plausible for the story, and all of these were. They were even fun, because you can be very creative with the paths you take.

However, what really makes this game stand out for me is the symbolism and writing. Knowing more or less the results of actions allowed me to focus more on aesthetics in prose and story, and this game is a good combination of acquiring items and giving those items significance as more than just treasures to take home. They are concrete items with ties to the immaterial, and it's not only the items that undergo changes.

It is tough to talk about the game without spoiling things. But if you like well-intigrated, logical problems that grow out of the world and backstory of your character and get fulfillment from endings (yes, there are multiple ones) that make you think and are what you make of them, I think this is a journey worth taking that is immersive enough to revisit from time to time. I know this one isn't leaving my collection if I can help it.

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Technically Innovative and Narratively Intriguing, March 27, 2012
by Jim Kaplan (Jim Kaplan has a room called the location. The location of Jim Kaplan is variable.)
Related reviews: emily short, fantasy
Play it if: you have a thing for fairy tales, ancient Greek philosophy, non-linear puzzle-solving, or general weirdness.

Don't play it if: you want truly difficult puzzles or a backstory that completely wins your heart.

Metamorphoses has many of the traits I like the most about Emily Short's best work: a fascination with the past, a fairy-tale atmosphere, and innovative game mechanics - traits which can be found to various extents in works like Galatea, Savoir-Faire, and Bronze.

In this game, it is the mechanics which come to the foreground, with your ability to resize objects as well as change their chemical composition. It's absurdly tempting to lose sight of the game altogether and just spend time looking for different configurations you can achieve with random objects in the setting.

True to form, the puzzles in this story have multiple solutions - courtesy of the above-mentioned game mechanics - and while this substantially reduces the overall difficulty of the game in some ways, it in no way detracts from the fun. In fact, a couple of puzzles may even be harder, since you are forced to consider the uses of not only the normal objects in your inventory, but also the potential objects. In this sense the game is nothing short of mind-expanding in terms of how interactive fiction can model worlds.

The rest of the game, while solid, is more textbook. As you solve puzzles you learn more and more of the protagonist's backstory and understand something of her role in this world. It's good stuff and quite intriguing, but by itself it won't really hook you or haunt you afterwards. Which is fine - a game can't be everything at once - but it does mean that you'll be more likely to find the game itself impressive than the story.

Nevertheless, this is a work that is definitely worth your time: a quirky setting, an interesting story, fun non-linear puzzles, and most of all some fascinating game mechanics.

P.S. Personally, I was curious as to whether or not living objects could be modified. Shame that I couldn't find an animal or something to try it out on...

4 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
Ah... I love a bit of metaphysics in the morning, November 30, 2010
by Aintelligence (Canada)
Related reviews: Puzzles
Not only is this one of Emily Short's best works ( along with bronze, check it out), but this is a sure candidate for one of the best adventures ever. The story was bleak to say the least, with just a few hints here and there, but it works wonders for the mysterious story. You know that you're a slave sent by your master for some mission, but you slowly accumulate the story as you go along. And yes, it's one heck of a story too. Brilliant characters, brilliant story, great puzzles and the philosophy was top.
The main character, a slave is relatively unknown except for the flashbacks we have in the game. The game though focuses more on the puzzles and the philosophy though than the character, but the little we do know bought the protagonist really strengthens the plot.
The puzzles are really neat in many ways. They fit the magic that you feel in the story, in the sense that none of the puzzles feel forced, but feel like they should be there. Also unlike many adventures, the puzzles are solvable in many different ways, so the game is repeatable. These puzzles are genius. However even with the 5 star rating, not everything was perfect. I found that two puzzles in particular (Spoiler - click to show)the oven and the ball were impossible if you did a small bit wrong. Ah well, I saved. In short though, the puzzles were fair.
On a side note, I loved the Plato mixed in with the story, well actually the main part of the story, aka. The 5th element. Makes me want to read Plato again.
Note: this rating is not included in the game's average.

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful:
Puzzles, Plato and Purification, June 26, 2008
by Victor Gijsbers (The Netherlands)
Imagine a puzzle game making strong use of a set of simulationist rules about materials and sizes. Imagine a game set in the only partly material laboratory of a Renaissance magus. And imagine a game where the player character attempts to escape from bondage through spiritual purification.

If you can imagine all of those together, you have imagined Metamorphoses.

It is not just a strange game, it is also a very good game. The writing is impeccable and Short effectively weaves together the PCs current exploits with a more emotionally gripping backstory. The puzzles mostly aren't too hard, and all seem to have multiple solutions. The atmosphere is simply great. And there is also true progression in the story, as the PC purifies herself and finally chooses her own fate.

It is also a short game, and you'll probably play through it in two hours. That does mean that the backstory remains very sketchy, and the story doesn't get the emotional resonance that it might have gotten in a longer game. (I would have liked to see the Master in-game, for instance.) The multiple endings don't really work, since you choose between in your last move and that means that everyone is going to Undo and try out the other ones immediately (right?). And there were one or two details in the setting which I felt didn't really fit into the Universe of Renaissance Platonism.

But all in all, these are insignificant complaints compared to the virtues of the game. If you like puzzles, Plato and purification, you should not give this piece a miss.

1 of 10 people found the following review helpful:
Perhaps a candidate for Lojban translation., November 24, 2007
by MattArnold (Ann Arbor, Michigan)
Related reviews: mimesis
The experimental and physical nature of this game world makes me wonder if it would be an ideal candidate to translate into the artificial predicate-nominative language Lojban. The author has described the game as an experiment in "mimesis" (the representation of nature), and I suspect that the unambiguous root words of Lojban may be well-suited to expressing and interpreting mimesis. A physics model embodied in language seems to need something more object-oriented than English.

That is not to say that the game does not succeed in this already, merely that it revealed fascinating possibilities.

If you had told me that an interesting story could be set in a world of Platonic ideals, I would have wondered how it could be possible. But I feel like this is a world I would be interested in revisiting. It held my imagination. The multiple endings were a loving touch.


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