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Photopia

by Adam Cadre profile

Slice of life
1998

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Member Reviews

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Number of Reviews: 27
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2 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
Thoroughly disappointing, July 11, 2017
At the beginning of the game, there is a sense of intrigue: shifting perspectives are used to spiral around a single character, building up hype for a grand conclusion. The story's direction and pacing is held on a tighter leash than in your average IF game. At first, this was exciting. However, it soon became clear that the plot was headed nowhere.

While the story was outright bad, the storytelling just failed to live up to its potential. Exploration was frustrating. Although the puzzles are easy, when I couldn't figure out what to do, it became maddening very quickly due to the bleak, dull and unresponsive environments. However, these worlds were still the most interesting part of the game.

The game can be ultimately seen as a character study. The main character is a pretty, creative, nice, mysterious, hardworking, middle-class girl with a nice family who is loved by everyone around her, and faces no meaningful challenges. She is also not only smart, but a genius. I hated this character. I could not believe in her struggle. Throughout every scene with her I inwardly pleaded the writer to give her some dialogue or trait that I could actually connect with, but this never happened -- almost everyone else in the story existed to further highlight how wonderful she is. Parts of her life read like a bad teen movie. Since the whole game revolves around such a nondescript, almost mythical figure, I couldn't bring myself to like the game.

Nonetheless, I would have appreciated it in hindsight if it went somewhere thematically. But sadly, (Spoiler - click to show)I predicted the story's ending very near to the start -- which made everything tedious. I resented the lazy attempts at emotion, I resented the (Spoiler - click to show)fact that Ally died in a car crash of all things -- the most cliche and unimaginative sort of death, and not even the most likely, as if good people can only die in random car crashes -- and I resented the characterization of Rob as a textbook villain, as this took the away any philosophical meaning that could have been gleaned from the event. The (Spoiler - click to show)lack of an ending was the final nail in the coffin for me.

To be fair, this game is technically fine. I would have dismissed it as "decent" had I played it at the time of its release, with lowered expectations. But playing it today, I oscillated between feeling bored and irritated, curious and let down. You might like it if you are an absolute beginner to the medium, or if you are easily moved by sob stories, but otherwise, don't get your hopes up.

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Beautiful, March 18, 2017
by RottenSnail
Related reviews: beginner, short, easy, narrative
Photopia is a beautiful game and is relatively short, so I would recommend it to anyone who has a few minutes here and there, whether they're beginners or not. The imagery is wonderful and good use was made of the colored text. I was hooked from the very first scene. The game has a mystery aspect to it because the story will completely shift once in a while and the player is left wondering how the scenes relate to one another.

This game is more fiction than interaction, but that did nothing to hinder my enjoyment of it. The player input is often in the form of multiple choice, and I don't think there's ever really a wrong option. I assume the game would progress the same way no matter what choices the player makes, but I would play along with it for maximum enjoyment.

A variety of genres rolled into a cohesive story. An influential IF game., February 3, 2016
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours
Photopia is often cited as the best interactive fiction of all time. It has won numerous awards, inspired a shift to story-centered Interactive Fiction, and so on.

It really is a great game. Despite all the hype, sitting down and playing through it is fun. The meta-puzzle of trying to understand what's going on keeps you going through different scenes. The different scenes give you the impression that you're playing a hard puzzle game while actually simplifying things without you knowing.

The colors are a good part of the game; if your interpreter doesn't support or if you are unable to distinguish between colors, you should use your imagination.

Is this really the best IF of all time? I honestly would have to say that nothing is really better than it. I don't replay it because it makes me sad. I like to stick to puzzle games or big crazy worlds. But this game has substance and meaning.

Short, unique, and relatively on-rails, December 17, 2015
Likes:
-Not frustrating. The lack of challenging puzzles and presence of an adequate parser and adequate descriptions made it so I didn't encounter any frustrating moments.

-Non-linear storytelling makes things a bit more interesting than if this story were told in a linear fashion as you learn more about the story and piece it together yourself. This approach is not without its problems, though (see dislikes).

-Short. Even if you don't find this to be the most amazing thing ever, it's so short that you probably won't really feel worse off for having played it.

-Use of images and color. It's not particularly flashy, but it's a nice break from typically monochrome IF.

Dislikes:
-Not particularly exciting or touching. The story is quite short, so I don't really have time to develop an attachment to the characters. I don't blame the game for a lack of characterization, I just feel like I need more time with the characters in order to care more about them. Maybe it's my fault for not letting myself get drawn in, but I suspect the non-linear nature of the story also made it a little harder to get drawn in to caring about it. I sure did care about that wolf, though (I have that not uncommon habit of caring more about animals than actual people).

-Not particularly challenging. There aren't really puzzles in this game. I like the sense of accomplishment I get from solving puzzles, so in that regard this game isn't as fun as other games that do have puzzles. I don't think puzzles really fit with the theme of the game, but I can't help myself having a desire to overcome challenges.

-On rails. I didn't get a sense that the presence of a parser and text-based interaction really enhanced the story.

Conclusion
Overall, I recommend giving this game a play due to how short it is. Other than that, I don't think it's as exciting or remarkable an experience as I've gotten from other games. I've come to expect a high level of stimulation and engagement from playing too many video games, though.

Photopia review, July 4, 2015
by Cder
An amazing and touching game. Once you realize what all of the seemingly disconnected events have in common with one another, it will be quite the shock. Most of the events are told in different perspectives, all tying together into one specific event, and you will recognize said event when it reveals itself. 5/5, would play again.

Integrated graphical effects and strong emotional impact, January 19, 2015
Photopia has been an influential game. The amount of interactivity is small, but the story drives the game along. As has been mentioned, the emotional impact should really be classed as manipulative, but it is effectively done. The author manages to put the player into the skin of a number of different roles and also to make the reader identify with characters at different stages of their lives.

The underlying "story within a story" is pitch-perfect. Probably because it appeals to the wish fulfillment natural to games (or gamers?). The outcome of the game ends up being telegraphed about half way through, but this leads to the emotional punch and drive of the narrative. From then on, it unfolds remorselessly.

The greatness of the game is its ability to remain in mind after one has played it and yet be fresh on replay.

An important game. Emotional reactions will differ, but I would categorize it as touching. (Spoiler - click to show)Few mazes are as satisfying as the one in Photopia. We all have wings...

Fantastic color themed game!, January 9, 2015
by Chai Hai (Kansas City KS)
I loved this! I loved how each part was themed by a color, and finding how everything fit together was really well done.

Having random words defined in parenthesis irritated me at first, but later on it was part of the charm. In the end, that became my favorite POV.

I've always been a fan of multiple perspective games, watching the story unfold from various perspectives and piecing everything together is always enjoyable for me. This game does it beautifully.

Beautiful game. Marvelous.

11 of 12 people found the following review helpful:
Eh...I feel like I'm missing something., September 23, 2014
by akaisha0 (Omaha, Nebraska)
I feel like this game is entirely lost on me. I saw this on so many top lists and read so many fantastic reviews I had to give it a try and I admit my hopes were far higher than they should have been. This game was a colossal let down for me. I make it no secret that I prefer text adventures to "interactive fiction" but I felt this offered me neither. I appreciate that it tried (and succeeded) at doing something new with non-linear story telling with time and the wonderful use of color. But beyond that it was dull and uninteresting. This can't be called a game, a story, or even an experience. It just fails on all counts. Photopia is easily played in less than an hour and the hardest puzzle for me was trying to figure out how to exit the garage. This game is not interactive which would be fine if it told an interesting story, but it failed on that count too. In the beginning you're led through disjointed tales under the assumption they will likely culminate into a larger scheme. The problem is..they really don't. You can infer a reasonable bit by the end of how it all pieces together but it leaves entirely too much to the imagination and gave me absolutely no reason to care. I didn't care for any of the characters or situations, I kept playing out of the assumption this was going somewhere and it didn't. This story was beyond a let down. It has so many wonderful reviews and I can't tell if I'm just not pretentious enough to see it for what it is or if I just saw through it for what it was: a dull, lifeless, uninteresting, "story". It wasn't a game, it was hardly a story. I think you should play it to judge for yourself. I think it stands as an important piece of interactive fiction history and certainly influenced games that would come after it but..even as a catalyst for a brighter future of IF games, I can't praise it.

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Masterful, January 18, 2014
by scottmbruner (alameda, california)
Putting aside technical criticisms, Photopia clearly succeeds in its artistic ambitions - to create an immersive, emotional resonant experience by using IF elements to build intimacy with a touching, devastating tale. Revelatory.

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Short, simple, unique IF. Everyone should try it., July 31, 2013
by Cody Gaisser (Inglewood, East Nashville, Tennessee, United States of America, Earth, Solar System, Milky Way, Known Universe, ???)
The narrative content of Photopia is what I'd call a "good little story." It's not the most mindblowingly deep thing I've ever read; but it has some heart, humanity, and empathy to it. To me this in itself is more than adequate compensation for the very brief amount of time it takes to play through to the end.

The real reason to play, however, is the way this "good little story" is told. Unfortunately this is difficult to explain without spoilers - even formal aspects of the storytelling and interface present twists that are best experienced firsthand. Learning-what-Photopia-is-about is what Photpia is about.

(Spoiler - click to show)
The presentation of Photopia differs in a number of ways from traditional text adventures. It tells a very short, simple story. However you play not as a single character navigating a geographical space as the story unfolds before you in a chronologically-linear fashion; rather you experience chronologically-ambiguous fragments of the story from the perspectives of several different characters, piecing the story together as you go. The central story is set in a reality much like our own, but a fantastical side plot is introduced via a storytelling device reminiscent of The Princess Bride, The Fall, and several of Terry Gilliam's films. Certain scenes alter the color scheme of the display in ways relevant to the game's thematic content, cleverly weaving a (non-graphical) visual element into the formal tapestry of this text-based story-game. Photopia's unconventional approach to the form of IF suggests future possibilities in the medium.


Players:
While I wouldn't necessarily recommend Photopia to someone who has no experience whatsoever with traditional IF, it is easily simple enough for a beginner's second or third game. It's also unique enough that more experienced players will certainly not want to miss it.

Authors:
Take note, dissect, improve, imagine, code.


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