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Photopia

by Adam Cadre profile

Slice of life
1998

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Reviews and Ratings

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Number of Ratings: 336
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24 of 24 people found the following review helpful:
Canonical, October 21, 2007
This is a work so hugely influential to IF development that anyone interested in the history of the form should try it: it experiments with non-linear presentation of time, menu-based conversation, and constrained game-play to support a specific plot. A number of its features look perfectly ordinary now, but were ground-breaking at the time. Photopia's particular form of menu conversation, for instance, was spun off into a library used in a number of other works.

How well does it work, beyond that? Opinions vary. Some people consider it the most moving piece of IF they've ever tried. I personally found it wavered between effective and manipulative, with the main character too saintly to be true. While it was worth playing, it is by no means my favorite piece of character-oriented IF story-telling.

16 of 17 people found the following review helpful:
Not quite the masterpiece it's often touted as, but still well worth playing, April 11, 2008
by Jimmy Maher (Oslo, Norway)
This is easily one of the half-a-dozen or so most important games of the modern IF era. Importance does not always equate directly with quality, however. I played it again recently out of a desire to know how it holds up a decade later.

Well, it still plays reasonably well, although it's by no means without problems. Most of the complaints one can level at the game have been discussed ad nauseum by this point: it is minimally interactive (often little more than a short story with occasional > prompts), absolutely linear, and offers its player no plot agency whatsoever. Just the idea of a puzzleless work was quite bold in 1998; in 2008, it's old hat, and thus Photopia must completely live or die on the strength of its story.

That story is a pretty good one, but doesn't move me to the extent it does some others. From a purely literary perspective, it's a bit heavy-handed and emotionally manipulative. Alley, the teenage girl at its emotional core, is more of a sentimentalized geek wish-fufillment fantasy ("She's beautiful and charming and she likes science!") than a believable character. Still, and even if Cadre's literary reach exceeds his grasp a bit, the story is head and shoulders above the sort of fantasy or sci-fi pastiche that still marks most IF even today. And there is one moment when the story and gameplay come together beautifully, a moment that still stands for me as one of the most magical in all IF: that perfect guess the verb puzzle in the crystal maze.

9 of 10 people found the following review helpful:
"Momento" as Interactive fiction, January 13, 2008
by somegirl (Minneapolis, Minnesota)
I'm not a big fan of "puzzle-less" games, but I did enjoy this game. Really, I'd have to say it was more like a short story than a game, but it was quite a *good* short story. I'd encourage anyone who plays it to settle in to do some reading, and talk to everyone you can - this is not the time to go rushing to the end. I especially liked seeing the plot lines weave together, it starts out quite disjointed, but everything fits together so snugly by the end, it takes your breath away a bit.

Serious spoilage (really, don't click if you haven't played yet)
(Spoiler - click to show) The really Wow! part for me? In the crystal labyrinth, when you discover you can fly - amazing. That was great.

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
Interesting but disappointing, January 13, 2008
by Dannii (Australia)
As one of the first "puzzleless" IF works I tried, I certainly found it very interesting. The scene changes worked well, and with one "wow" and several "ahh" moments, Cadre really is quite the storyteller.

However I found the work really a bit of a disappointment. It was very short, and ended far earlier than I expected. Some scenes were timed and I didn't expect to be given much freedom, but in the other untimed scenes I found the world under-implemented. Most objects had short boring descriptions which often were not even for the object I wanted. And some were not even implemented:
(Spoiler - click to show)Among the ruins of the power plant
The power plant is in substantially worse shape than the living quarters, and considering that those were completely wrecked, that's saying something. Though the fissionable materials were specially packaged to prevent them from exploding, the Geiger counter in your suit indicates that this area is still very radioactive. (I'll explain that part later. For now let's just say it's very dangerous and you should probably be moving along.)

> x power plant
Nothing like that seems to be around.


That said, it was still a worthwhile experience. If you don't expect a full world to play with, this story will give you a lot.

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
A Curiosity, But Perhaps Not A Masterpiece, March 24, 2012
by Jim Kaplan (Jim Kaplan has a room called the location. The location of Jim Kaplan is variable.)
Related reviews: adam cadre, fantasy
Play it if: you have a thing for IF that treats itself as a linear story rather than a game, for this is by its very conception one of the least interactive entries into the genre; and if you're big on "emotional" stories in your IF.

Don't play it if: if the line between drama and melodrama is just too fine for you, because Photopia is chock-full of whimsy, abrupt tone shifts, and strongly communicated emotion.

There's very little one can meaningfully say about Photopia that hasn't already been said. This has to be one of the least interactive works of IF in existence - the format is actually used more as a way to give cinematic effects to literature. Most of the time you're doing the equivalent of tapping the SPACE key and moving things along.

What takes the place of interactivity is the weight of narrative: the emphasis is firmly on the "fiction" aspect here, presenting a number of interrelated scenarios revolving around a single subject.

While the concept is interestingly done - and as has been said before, has some historically groundbreaking traits - Photopia leaves me a little cold because the writing, the aspect of this work that's supposed to take up the slack from the interactivity, feels decidedly average.

Don't get me wrong: Cadre's writing is fairly decent, and he can evoke images quite well in his description of things. (Spoiler - click to show)The way the car crash is described from the driver's point of view has details that give the experience a bit of visceral punch. The description of the crystalline maze was also evocative. The problem is that the subject of the narrative (Spoiler - click to show)(Alley) seems to have very little in the way of a genuine arc (Spoiler - click to show)besides just growing up, which reduces the subject's depth and makes the story as a whole feel less fulfilling. (Spoiler - click to show)Of course these things happen, and it's tremendously sad when they do, but it is the work of the storyteller to find solace in lending meaning to these kinds of tragedies. That Alley's death is the kind of awful twist that could happen to any of us is true enough, but as far as meaning goes it's rather mundane. There are also several passages where the writing is at risk of becoming overwrought (Spoiler - click to show)with the passage where Jon asks Alley out feeling overwritten, and the treatment of her curiosity and intelligence making her feel a bit like a Mary Sue character. In particular, the fact that the game wanted me to believe Alley's monologue on Freudian psychology to be a sign of genuine intellectual curiosity - when Freud's model was largely shelved a while before this game was written - really stuck out as an example of Alley being written simply as "smart". The view of the subject is also rather one-sided (Spoiler - click to show)Alley is given little in the way of flaws and as a result does come across as "too perfect".

I can understand why this story made certain readers cry, and I'm not calling them idiots for responding that way. It's just that for me personally, this story won't really stick with me on an emotional level due to the above issues. Ultimately, Photopia is better served by being upheld as an innovation on the IF concept than as a profoundly-written story - but it's still worth your time to play through it, as it offers insight into how IF tools can be used to lend cinematic effect to literature and to tinker with narrative structure.

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Beautiful, February 11, 2013
by Cricket24
Related reviews: easy, short, beginner
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. I played as a sort-of beginner because the game came with the iPhone app Frotz and I'm glad it did, otherwise I may never have found it.

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
Brilliant, breathtaking, and deserving the praise. , December 20, 2010
by Aintelligence (Canada)
When I first noticed Photopia and it's popularity as an IF, I was very sceptical.  I was even more skeptical because the first part of gameplay was about two drunk guys swearing and drinking.  I thought, "Great! Another IF made in under an hour by two teens after a party.". I hardly gave it a chance at all, but continued reading to see where the fuss was about.

I can't tell you how much my heart changed during the story.  It starts out just a fragmentation of perspectives and story lines in no particular order, but as the story progresses, I became aware quite suddenly that the story had logic, thoughtfulness, and was so deep.  At certain points of the story (Spoiler - click to show) the part where the father is explaining about the stars to Alley, the place where you begin to fly, and the actual death of Alley I was really moved by the emotional writing and the ability of the writer to draw tears from me.  And yes, I admit, I did cry a few tears.

Really the one character which was focused on was Alley, but through different people (Spoiler - click to show)well of course there was also the spaceman, but that was invoked by Alley the personally changes really strengthened Alley's character, by showing her out of the eyes of many people around her.  Some argue her character is too robotic; being 'perfect' at everything and unrealistic, but I, on the other hand, do not feel this way at all.  Alley is not unrealistic at all.  The author keeps her very alive through the many perspectives.  I would argue that instead of being unrealistic, she is just not ordinary, in a world where ordinary sometimes means, well, like the two at the beginning of Photopia.  Alley's attitude and character make her not impossible, but a gem.  (Spoiler - click to show) The changing of perspectives was used very well to portray Alley, and to make us care about her death.  The story showed how unfair it was that such a person could be killed by pure carelessness, and was not only well-written, but had a strong moral



The story has few puzzles and the puzzles it does have are hardly worth being called puzzles at all.  However, in a broader perspective, the whole thing is one giant puzzle which you have to solve.  Slowly piecing the tiny bits and paragraphs, you have to interpret what is going on through a number of perspectives.  I believe that is what non-puzzle IF is all about; trying to determine the significance of the story you're reading through the characters, setting, and interaction. In my opinion,  Photopia was (and is) *the* driving force for modern non-puzzle gameplay as well as modern interest for Interactive Fiction.  I have not seen a non-puzzle IF come close to as good as Photopia, and I have certainly not played anything that is so emotional.

Photopia is (as stated in the title) Brilliant, breathtaking, and deserving the praise. 

- blue/green, July 15, 2014

- dgeyer, May 31, 2014

- Caleb Wilson (Illinois), May 24, 2014

- tekket (Česká Lípa, Czech Republic), May 5, 2014

- HappyDooder (New Zealand), April 19, 2014

- Taffer, April 18, 2014

- Stefan Hornet (Bucharest), March 23, 2014

- Deychrome, March 20, 2014

- Lorxus, March 8, 2014

- Snave, March 7, 2014

- Jonas Kyratzes (The Lands of Dream), February 28, 2014

- 10CallClear, February 10, 2014

- Kendi, February 3, 2014

- Katrisa (Houston), January 28, 2014

- francisthe3rd (Horseheads, NY), January 23, 2014

- Simon Deimel (Germany), January 19, 2014

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.

- ajacks01, November 29, 2013


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