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Nominee, Best NPCs - 2009 XYZZY Awards
Jay Is Games
The premise of Dead Like Ants seems straightforward enough: resolve the conflicts posed by the five dangerous creatures threatening the colony. This could easily become an epic quest, but Pacian chooses instead to go down a simpler, more poetic route. The game's main goal is not so much to present a steep intellectual challenge as it is to tell a story and offer a thought-provoking experience; on those counts, the game succeeds brilliantly. Pacian possesses real talents in the realms of language and characterization, and the game's insect cast in particular benefits from his (or is it her?) skills. (by Jess)
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Dead Like Ants was a joy to play. As short and simple as it is, it packs a great deal of emotion, effortless whimsy, and a strange kind of humor which is dark yet not depressing. In the afterword, the author credits Lewis Carroll as inspiration, a muse whose contribution is powerfully felt without coming across as derivative in the slightest. And the prose is so... the only word I can think of is smooth, by which I mean that it succeeds in being elegantly sparse without sacrificing evocativeness. The parser will rarely give you a response over a line or two long, and yet each description contains all the information you need and still pulls off sounding downright pretty. (by Nate Dovel)
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Includes reviews of Dead Like Ants by Greg Boettcher, Stephen Granade, Jon Ingold, Jacqueline A. Lott, Mike Roberts, Dan Shiovitz, Lucian Smith, Mike Sousa, Duncan Stevens and Jake Wildstrom.
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Number of Reviews: 4
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Most Helpful Member Reviews
Instead I got this really strange piece with insects anthropomorphized into beings more like people (a widow, a lawyer, a damsel, not a spider, slug, and damselfly); more importantly, I got a tale of twisted tenderness and ambiguous triumph.
The navigation was a little strange ("sunwards" and "widdershins" replace some traditional directions), but once I got that figured out, interacting with the other characters was...interesting. After a number of encounters, you start (Spoiler - click to show)wondering how THIS daughter is going to die. It puts the reader/player in an interesting position, to (Spoiler - click to show)root for your character's demise, so you can "win".
That (Spoiler - click to show)"repeated-death-to-gain-victory" mechanic would be all well and good, but it's the epilogue (Spoiler - click to show)from the Queen's point of view that elevates it from "a strange tale" to "a strangely beautiful tale."
There is a spin to it, of course, which I won't reveal. But it's that spin which makes the game. The following sentences are only mildly spoilery and rather vague, but if you haven't played the game I suggest you don't read them. (Spoiler - click to show)It raises questions of one's identity in the community. It raises question about manipulation by someone who's higher than you in life's hierarchy. It raises questions about manipulation by someone you love, and someone who, you think, loves you.
Gameplay is repetitive, but that repetition ties in beautifully with the issues the game adresses. As the PC appeases the five dangerous strangers, the player is more and more aware of what is going on, distancing himself - a bold move in a medium where "immersion" is traditionally the key to authorial sucess. This distance is the key. It's very Brechtian - Brecht is the one who wanted the audience *not* to connect emotionally with his plays, so they could coldly appreciate and analyze the important political aspect and messages he wanted to convey.
And in the very end, a final twist (which is "the last lousy point", if you will), that gives it all yet another dimension, yet another layer.
Of course, the author himself states, in the afterword, "I'm sure this is all susceptive to interpretations, but I just wanted to portray a day as an ant", blowing any analysis to the winds. :) Ah well.
"Dead Like Ants" is a short game, with almost no puzzles to speak of. The prose is succint, evocative, and a constant mixture of "literal" and "metaphorical". Dialogs are topic-based, relatively limited, but amply suficcient for their purpose. I would recommend this game for anyone who wants a short playing experience that'll keep them thinking about it long after they finished the actual game.
The game is short and polished, and combines atmosphere and message into an enjoyable package. The gameplay, however, is definitely on the slight side: it consists mostly of exploration, but the exploration becomes predictable rather quickly. Nevertheless, it is recommended.
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