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Reviews by Wade Clarke

science fiction

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Starborn, by Juhana Leinonen

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A comparison between the two versions of the game., January 15, 2012
by Wade Clarke (Sydney, Australia)
Related reviews: browser-based, Undum, Inform, science fiction
I had a peek at the original parser-with-keywords version of Starborn when it was released, but I did not complete it which was a bit silly of me, given the very small size of the game.

Starborn now returns in a high budget Undum+Vorple form that fills your web browser screen with an atmospheric and clickable map graphic and your ears with a couple of spacey pieces of ambient electronic music. The keywords of the original version have become clickable hyperlinks.

The game content remains unaltered, and is a brief evocation of the life of a human born in space in the future who is contemplating what it might be like to return to the old homeworld, gravity and air and all. The writing does a good job of placing you "outside of the Earth" in a short space of time, but short is the defining word for the experience. There's just not that much to do or see or read, and it's all over in a few minutes, making it a tiny mood piece.

Having played both versions of the game, and at the risk of stating the obvious, I found that the new one certainly demonstrates that graphics change the effect of a piece, and so does sound. The aesthetic of the screen colours and sounds was actually quite unlike whatever I had made up in my head the first time I played the game, which was mildly jarring. The more high-tech delivery generated a sense of what might be described as high production values, which the simple text only original did not connote at all. By the same token, the game hasn't gotten any bigger, so the relatively lavish new delivery feels a bit overkilly after the fact.

However, that the game might come across a little weirdly to a person who played the old version first is not really the point. This new version is more effective to me as a demonstration of how a game like Starborn can be implemented by Undum & Vorple, and also shows that this implementation is very appropriate. Given that the game is mostly a CYOA, was originally driven by keywords, has movement around a map and also low interactivity (one gettable item) I found I did prefer playing it in its new format than the old. When the parser is unnecessary and you can click keywords rather than type them, why not do so? I found this design and the attractiveness of the interface appealing, though there was one thing I missed: the ability to undo. Not because of any difficulty in the gameplay, but because more than once I found myself interested in wanting to isolate what performing certain actions would do to different parts of the interface, and there was no way to undo then redo to test such actions.

I think Starborn itself is a little small for the new format, but its basic nature is well suited to the format, and playing it this way got me thinking about the possibilities.

Rogue of the Multiverse, by C.E.J. Pacian

10 of 11 people found the following review helpful:
Life is weird in the multiverse., November 21, 2010
by Wade Clarke (Sydney, Australia)
Related reviews: IFComp 2010, TADS, science fiction, comedy
(Review of the original IF Comp 2010 release)

Rogue of the Multiverse is a humorous sci-fi adventure with some wacky/peculiar dynamics which guarantee that its story maintains unpredictability for its short to moderate duration. Whenever you start to feel you might be getting a handle on your situation, the space carpet is likely to be pulled from underneath you in a slightly Hitchhiker's Guide fashion. The result is a mixture of pleasant surprises and disorienting turns which will cause each player to identify different bits that they enjoyed the most, and disagree with others about which bits made them go, 'Huh?'

(Spoiler - click to show)The game will also prompt arguments about whether one should make kissy faces at alien lizard doctors or try to sock them between their stupid beady eyes as soon as one gets the chance.

In this game you play the eponymous rogue, and while "Rogue of the Multiverse" sounds like a real badass title, the kind to be bestowed upon a Han Solo, the segment of your life portrayed here happens to be one of the mushier ones. In the space prison where the game begins, none of the other inmates react to you as if you have any street credibility at all, and pretty soon you're the lab monkey in the rather unimpressive experiments of one Doctor Sliss, a condescending lady lizard who is convinced that bananas are your god. I did feel a little annoyed at my own confusion at having to move about the science complex with the commands 'forwards' and 'backwards', but this ultimately wasn't a huge issue.

Thus a rogue's lot in life appears to be that of playing second fiddle to a reptilian scientist, searching randomised grids of alien turf for interesting people and things to tag at her behest. The descriptions of the alien inhabitants and their behaviours are pretty cute, and each bout of exploration feels not entirely unlike a game of Hunt The Wumpus. Once you work out what you're doing, this section is fun but pretty easy, so it's good that it doesn't outstay its welcome. I was disappointed, however, that I was not able to butter up some of the aliens with goodies procured from the Doctor's complex to convince them not to remove their tags.

Just when you think you've got this grid searching thing nailed, a helpful space agent shows up in a space toilet and assures you he can bust you out of captivity if you just buy him the stuff that will allow him to cobble the escape thingy together... Eww, but he's in the space toilet! Moving toward your escape is arguably the most tense part of Rogue, but afterwards, proceedings get - relatively speaking - even weirder.

My own sense of aggro towards Doctor Sliss, my former jailer, after the tables were turned (or at least shuffled around) never did find release. At first I thought the game was strongly signalling that I could not avoid casting my lot in with her, to the extent that when I had an opportunity to do something contrary to her wishes, I missed it. Plus I was probably distracted by the recent excitement of a chase on jet bikes, another sequence which arrived with the game's customary surprising-ness. What's obvious though is Sliss's presence as a well-written, if inscrutable, character, whether you feel amorous or murderous towards her.

The game's last scenes on another planet (assuming you go that route) feel like the unheralded ending of a Choose Your Own Adventure book, the one where you forget about the adventure you were having for the last 80 pages and suddenly travel to another time, meet new people and assume an entirely new role, all within the space of one page and one illustration. Of course this isn't literally what happens in Rogue, but it generates a similar sensation. And this is not an inappropriate final sensation for a game whose story structure and interests have hardly been traditional beginning, middle and end. The game feels more like a window onto the amusing and chaotic adventures of a rather put-upon individual, adventures which were probably just as strange before the game began and will continue to be as strange after the game ends. The title could almost be a joke, or at least ironic. Or it could be the po-faced earnest assessment of the main character's view of him or herself.

The game's peculiar turns felt weird while I was playing it, but they evoked a small portion of universe held together by wonky chance rather than sense. It was the vision of that wonky universe which stayed with me after I completed this well written and executed adventure.




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