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About the StoryEmily Short's description:
A conversation with a work of art. "47. Galatea. White Thasos marble. Non-commissioned work by the late Pygmalion of Cyprus. (The artist has since committed suicide.) Originally not an animate. The waking of this piece from its natural state remains unexplained."
Galatea is my first released foray into interactive fiction. It is a single conversation with a single character, which can end any of a number of ways depending on the player's decisions. Despite its age, I continue to get strong reactions to it in my email inbox on a fairly regular basis. Some people love it; some people find it annoying or distressing.
Galatea has what I call a multilinear plot: unlike traditional IF, it has no single path to victory. Instead there are a large number of endings, some more satisfactory than others, of which many could be considered "win" states. It takes only a few minutes of play to arrive at an ending, but considerably longer to find all of them.
The game also takes an ambitious approach to NPC (non-player character) conversation, both in terms of volume (Galatea has many hundreds of things to say) and complexity (she keeps track of the state of conversation and reacts differently according to what has already been said and done).
Best of Show, Portrait - 2000 IF Art Show
Nominee, Best Game; Nominee, Best NPCs; Winner, Best Individual NPC - 2000 XYZZY Awards
Honorable Mention - The Top Five IF Games (Adventure Gamers, 2002)
-- Duncan Stevens
Dreams, Hubris, and Getting Away with Both
And so perhaps we have a trinity collaborating on this work: the Author, the Reader, and the Subject, Galatea. We affect her by what we choose to write and what we choose to read, but she affects us too, when we see what story we have written and ponder what it can mean.
-- Jonathan Rosebaugh
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Galatea is an exploration and a treatise on what art is. It repurposes the original myth of a creator and his art, which had come to life, and tells the next step in such a process, one in which the created work moves beyond the artist and meets the audience.
-- Eric Swain
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A 300K-plus Z-machine file that essentially consists entirely of one character should give any designer pause, if that's the standard for realistic NPC design. It 's unquestionable, though, that this character represents a quantum leap--in intelligence and in vividness of personality--and that the author did it with essentially the tools that every author has. Designers, consider the goalposts moved.
-- Duncan Stevens
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Electronic Book Review
Galatea’s Riposte: The Reception and Receptacle of Interactive Fiction
Each time I access “Galatea,” Emily Short’s fabulous piece of interactive fiction, a supple string of text hails me, flirts with me, and stops just short of calling me by name. Strictly speaking, this mode of address should not be possible, at least not according to the familiar conventions of literary tradition... [W]orks such as Galatea function both as operative images in Wiener’s terms and as receptacles, peculiar intermediaries between form and copy. More than mimetic, more than metaphorical, such works don’t merely simulate responses; through a perspectival process of reciprocal second person, they enact them.
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Rock Paper Shotgun
Letters of Love: Galatea
From this perspective, it’s all about growing up and learning to understand what’s alien. It’s about dropping pretenses, egos and prejudices. It’s about realising the value of others’ creations, and never losing sight of your own role relating to them. It’s about learning to accept criticism, even as a critic. It’s about becoming more measured, but also understanding that wearing your heart on your sleeve is okay. It is, in essence, the same journey I’m having to embark on, as I take my first steps into this scary world of writing about videogames.
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Number of Reviews: 22
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Most Helpful Member Reviews
There is really nothing to interact with except for Galatea herself. Her presentation as an animate statue is a clever vehicle for metatextual commentary, but it is also a bit of Turing-camouflage. This is just fine; it comes with the territory. But I found that it gave me little motivation to interact with Galatea except to test her repertoire and see what the fuss was about. Unfortunately, I felt that my options were limited (once I had guessed that they were possible) and that Galatea's repertoire - though larger than perhaps any other NPC I have encountered in a game - often felt canned.
That may be why I began to find it more satisfying to treat the whole thing as a story than to talk to Galatea as such. So I began to look for interesting endings. This was tedious because it required me to explore an apparently tractless space of possible conversations with few-to-no systematic clues. And this tedium was amplified by the amount of repetitive manipulation required to move Galatea's meters around to get into new combinations. These issues might have been addressed by a shallower conversation-tree, requiring fewer moves to get to endings, or by more systematic relationships between available actions and where they sent the game; either one amounts to handing over more control over where the game goes in the end. But this is also contrary to what I've gathered to be the basic philosophy of the game - to be deep and unpredictable, not to yield up all the endings. Beyond relatively unimportant bits like poor information on my options, I think it is this mismatch which made my response to Galatea so tepid.
Nonetheless, I doubt this would have become a factor if I had not felt that the process of talking with Galatea was only instrumentally worthwhile, as a way of getting paths through a game. Context - to be specific, the lack of it - may be part of that problem. I felt a nearly equivalent impact from Bob in She's Got a Thing for Spring even though his "mind" must be far smaller and less complex than Galatea's. Seen critically Bob is a largely unresponsive scriptoid, absent-minded and repetitive. But he has things he does, even if only in fiction; he lives somewhere, walks around, owns things, asks and offers, and speaks just enough of a social past to be a person rather than a a book. As a result, one is inclined to think that his mind is (or was). In the harsh spotlight, Galatea's glitches and her total absorption in her own memories make her more of an object than even a fictional and manufactured person.
The game’s simple structure belies its careful construction (much like the eponymous statue herself). Nearly all of the gameplay involves asking Galatea questions and turning her answers into more questions to ask. Through discussion, you learn about Galatea’s past, how she was created, and, depending on what chain of dialog you choose to follow, what might be in her future. There is not a singular solution, but dozens, and most are distinct from each other, rather than variations on a theme.
I enjoyed the game thoroughly, though I did have to turn to a walkthrough to get more than a handful of endings. Ultimately, who Galatea is and why she exists is not predetermined. As you play the game, and approach certain paths, her responses change and she starts to more firmly manifest a single form. But the next time you play the game, she’ll be back to a blank slate again and your questions may push her destiny in another direction.
In concept, I find this style of gameplay intriguing. The idea that a character is nobody until she is interacted with; it definitely has potential as a metaphor for human existence and bears similarity to the idea of tabula rasa, first posited by Aristotle, another Grecian historical figure. Unfortunately, the concept is not directly embodied in the game very much – at least to my recollection – and is more of a meta-concept than a deliberate one. I would love to see a game use this idea more overtly, where a series of blank forms are given purpose and even history by the player through their interactions with them.
In any case, the execution of this idea is entertaining for a while but starts to lose its novelty the longer you play and start to see the seams at the edges. Once you start to understand how certain discussions lead to certain endings, you can see more clearly where Galatea’s purpose seems to shift dramatically from one question to the next if you don’t follow the preferred line of inquiry. So, in the end, the game glows with the wonder of possibility at first... then rapidly fades the longer you play with her.
Which is a shame, really, because that is the exact opposite of the progression of the player character – the art critic – in the game. It seems his initial reaction is one of boredom, but the longer he talks with Galatea, the more his interest grows and he begins to realize how much more she is than the simple plaque beside her podium states. I’m almost envious of the critic by the end, because in the endings where his life seems to progress alongside Galatea’s, it’s clear his eyes have been opened to possibilities that were never there before. It makes my growing awareness of the limitation of the game feel depressing in contrast.
But, then again, I cared what happened to Galatea, and that’s really the goal of any artist, right? To get me to care about their creation? Regardless of the ending you reach, Galatea has a strong voice that I really took to. I just wish we could both have reached a satisfying end.
As a game, this offers very little. You try to come up with things to ask Galatea, and she will respond, and you can ask her more, or tell her things.
As an experinment in NPCs, this goes very deeply, and offers a lot for a writer of IF to learn when programming his own NPCs.
There is very little to do except to speak to the statue, and the statue (as far as I've seen), doesn't speak to you on her own, except for before you speak to her, kind of as a hint that this is what you're supposed to do. The author provides a good RECAP command to help you learn what topic you've covered and if there is more to cover on the subject.
The NPC is tragic, and you can't help but feel for her- which is the point, I suppose. It gives a lot to live up to in form of an individual NPC, and it's something anyone thinking of writing IF should play, if only for inspiration, and anyone interested in IF as an art form should definately look at. People who prefer games over story might be disappointed.
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This is version 15 of this page, edited by Emily Short on 1 May 2015 at 5:37am. - View Update History - Edit This Page - Add a News Item