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For a Change

by Dan Schmidt profile

Surreal
1999

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Number of Reviews: 9
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Evocative and imaginative setting, June 11, 2013
by Jim Kaplan (Jim Kaplan has a room called the location. The location of Jim Kaplan is variable.)
Related reviews: dan schmidt
Play it if: you're in the mood for a short, light, memorable story which follows intuitive, dreamlike connections rather than logic-based ones.

Don't play it if: you prefer logic-based rather than intuitive puzzles, are looking for a longer story which emphasizes plot or characterization, or are easily frustrated by decoding descriptions.

For a Change was apparently Dan Schmidt's first completed work, and I have to say it's pretty impressive. It doesn't succeed so much in terms of puzzles, plot, or characters so much as it does in worming its way into your head and making itself easily remembered.

The most distinctive thing about the story is of course the language in which it is narrated to the player. It doesn't go out of its way to invent an entirely new vocabulary like The Gostak, but the game shows a strong preference for describing things in metaphor and generalizations. The player character is "faded and silent". A bed is called a "resting". Occasionally the language will reverse intuitive causalities: "the High Wall looms above the shade, creating it". A lot of the joy in playing the game comes from unpicking the games Schmidt plays in his construction of the descriptions and action, and you can tell he had a lot of fun writing them.

The world itself is also bizarrely engrossing. The style of narration (assuming the player character has knowledge of the world), the oblique language, and the small scale of the game necessarily results in a rather minimalist and vague approach to the description of the world. But unlike situations, where this would simply be hallmark of flawed writing, here the poetry of the game's language succeeds in letting the player's imagination fill in the gaps. While I wasn't particularly invested in any emotional sense, I was intensely curious about the nature of the setting, and those questions are still bumping around in my head. Is the model simply an enchanted object, or is it the world itself (as in, a recursive universe that contains itself)? Is the player character just a manifestation of the world, or is it the world's caretaker? I didn't get the impression that Schmidt was writing with a specific allegorical or thematic goal in mind, but Change nevertheless succeeded in engaging my interest on a mythological level.

In a gameplay sense, Change is a little more straightforward and a little more problematic. A couple of red herrings, including in the hints, make the game perhaps a little more complicated than it needed to be.(Spoiler - click to show)I would also say that the puzzle requiring the lie-opener depends on a rather unfair definition of "lie"; after all, it is true that gravity is working oddly in that room and so not technically a lie. It's also unfair considering that how gravity works in our world is not a reliable reference for how it would work here.

At the same time, the final puzzle, while straightforward and appreciated for its connection to the cube puzzle, suffers a little from a lack of synonyms. I would have appreciated "flip" or "turn x upside down" as alternatives, especially given the extremely limited time the player is given to enact the solution.


Still, I don't think these are major concerns in a game which clearly emphasizes setting and atmosphere above everything else. On its own terms, as a brief romp in a surreal, alien world of dream-logic, For a Change succeeds.

Comments on this review

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Danielle, June 8, 2013 - Reply
I've always found FOR A CHANGE to be one of the most memorable IF games. Its use of language in building the surreal really plays to the strengths of IF, making a world that just couldn't be expressed graphically.
Jim Kaplan, June 8, 2013 - Reply
Yeah, I can really see this sticking with me. Peter Pears wrote about how the minimalist descriptions were actually one of the things that made Zork I effective and captivating as a game, and I see a similar process here.

What I find interesting is that my consistent visualization of the world resembled Teletubby-land: big, simple shapes, bold, prominent colors, alien technologies and intelligent but unspeaking entities fusing elements of the living and non-living. In fact, playing this game made me think about how we (viewers of the show) rationalized the setting whereas it is in fact deeply bizarre and alien. Creatures with television screens grafted onto their bodies live in a world with a living sun? Er, what?

Others might visualize it entirely differently. That's actually another interesting thing about the world. The Baron evokes German Expressionist film a la Ingmar Bergman; Counterfeit Monkey draws on Monkey Island-style anachronisms and realities; Spider and Web feels like a Cold War setting. But I don't think For a Change deliberately creates that kind of specific impression. The world iss described in such general terms that you could interpret it as having any sort of visual style. I saw it as Teletubby-like primary colors, but you could also interpret it as Tim Burton-esque high-contrast lushness or something else entirely.

That's certainly a fascinating use of IF, to describe an environment in some detail while being able to create entirely different visual impressions in different minds.
Danielle, June 8, 2013 - Reply
I remember my version of this world had kind of "Neverhood" vibe to it--warm color palette, empty black sky and this tension going on between the innate spookiness of an empty world and the charming descriptions of the objects encountered, making it fun-surreal. Fascinating piece.
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