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Photopia

by Adam Cadre profile

Slice of life
1998

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5 star:
(244)
4 star:
(160)
3 star:
(53)
2 star:
(20)
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Number of Reviews: 36
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Inspirational, January 28, 2020
This is one of the first adventure games I played, and soon I understood the potential of the genre. How he plays with colour, voices, time... it's inspirational.

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
I guess this was groundbreaking?, December 3, 2019
Photopia is fun to read, but it's not a masterpiece or anything. Apparently in 1998 the idea that we could use a text-based medium to tell a story was a huge deal, and that "wow" moment is what got the game on so many "greatest of all time" lists. Coming into it from my perspective, though, one where IF as ebook with some stray interactive elements is just as common as IF as game or puzzle, this is basically just, yeah, one more IF as ebook. Pretty good. Not amazing.

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
I may have played this game too late..., November 14, 2019
Over the next couple of days I intend to write on IFDB reviews of some IF games I have fond memories of. I am hopeful that recentness of play is not mandated on this site, since I will be reviewing from memory games I played years or decades ago.

Photopia, even when I played it back around 2000 or thereabouts, was already incredibly lionized as a masterpiece. Thus even back then I was given reason to be somewhat sceptical of it. I never had the immediacy of response to this game that I did to, say, So Far by Plotkin, or even Cadre's own Varicella. In effect, the ultimate "spoiler" was merely this game's reputation. Besides, by the time I decided to give Photopia a try I was already familiar with the fact that IF could be literary and immersive. I was somewhat beyond being surprised.

Photopia is entirely literary; it is effectively IF as pure literature. Therefore it stands and falls simply on its literary merit. Now, most negative reviewers of Photopia seem to accuse it of being written in the style of a teenage geek of the era. Without knowing anything of Mr Cadre's background, I agree that there is an aspect of immaturity of vision in the writing. This I noticed even though I was a teenager myself when I played it. I am still not sure the extent to which this damages the tale from a literary standpoint. It could be argued that the main character (Spoiler - click to show) is dead throughout the entire game and is merely reflecting back on her short life; since she died as a teenager, some teenage narcissism, immaturity and morbidity is perhaps to be expected.

I never particularly admired that aspect of the game - Ally herself, I mean. However, I was always intrigued by the final scene of the game. Most reviews on this game seem to complain that there is no ending. But there is an ending; and it still intrigues me thinking back on it later; the dreadful and haunting image of the(Spoiler - click to show) infant Ally being introduced to the photopia in the first place. There is something so creepy about this ending that I sometimes reflect on it even now. Clearly the photopia (Spoiler - click to show) has affected the child Ally deeply, to a degree that she presumably has no conscious memory of when she grows up. Yet those coloured lights contaminate every aspect of the story; showing that in some way Ally is changed by something that is beyond her conscious memory. This aspect alone - the idea that our soul may be built on long-forgotten foundations in early childhood, is fascinating enough. But I would go further.

Indeed, similarly to the bizarre ending of Shade by Andrew Plotkin, I always interpreted the ending of Photopia as follows. (Spoiler - click to show)The parents, in providing the photopia to the infant Ally, have unwittingly created a kind of Tibetan Book Of The Dead for the girl. That is, through the entire story Ally is already dead and waiting to be reincarnated. She is reflecting back on her own life through the prism of the photopia as best she can. This requires seeing everything that has happened in the multiple coloured lights of the device.

For example, I interpret the famous "crystal maze" as(Spoiler - click to show) the dead Ally reflecting on the windscreen shattering across her face. Indeed, the infant Ally is a dead soul dreaming of her short life and awaiting rebirth.

This one aspect of the story is enough, in my opinion, to forgive all manner of shortcomings in characterisation and possible immaturity of tone. I think that many people have fundamentally misunderstood the point of the story, to which there are enough clues in the cryptic ending.

Despite the above, I honestly couldn't say that I loved this game as much as other IF. As I say, I was probably less impressed than I might have been had I played this game first.

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Interactive fiction only, lacks replayability, October 27, 2019
When this game first came out, it was the first "html-style" text adventure game I had ever played; with the exception of Eric the Unready's hybrid of graphics and text-input, I had never played a text adventure game which involved anything more than inputting text and certainly had never seen a text-only input game use color changes on screen as in Photopia. I remember being favorably impressed at the time, especially since the colors changes are influenced by the story itself.

However, the novelty fades on replaying - even 20 years later, when some of the details of the story had faded from my memory: I am underwhelmed by a game which requires next to no interaction from me. Personally, I enjoy leisurely text adventures with perhaps several different endings and the opportunity to explore, fail, ferret out solutions, and interact with the fictional world. In other words, I like to partake in a story and have an investment in its outcome.

Photopia affords none of this whatsoever. There is no adventure to this story, and there is nothing the end user can do to alter the outcome. The end user is steadily pushed through from scene to scene, with the only choice being a handful of conversation topics, all of which lead to the same certain conclusion. There are few things to actually 'do.' This is much like reading a Choose Your Own Adventure book... but all the pages to which you turn ultimately take you to the same endgame/red light.

Photopia's publication seemed, at least to me, to begin a trend in departure from text adventure to a true "interactive fiction" genre, where the author has a story to tell and is determined to have you read it. In retrospect to my first-time playthrough and in combination with my recent replaying, I am confident in saying that while this worked for a one-time storytelling, Photopia does not hold up to repeated replaying.

Extra star given for its discussion of precious metals.

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Generational, May 27, 2019
by deathbytroggles (Minneapolis, MN)
I just finished Photopia for the second time, almost twenty years after my first playthrough. I worried that time or perspective would change my opinion, and while that did indeed happen, it remains a treasure I will still recommend to anyone who delves into the world of interactive fiction.

When I first played I was about 20 years old and was mostly moved by the big dramatic moments. Like others have mentioned, time has led me to find these somewhat manipulative, lacking depth. The character of Alley in particular doesn't move me any longer, though I reject that she is a Mary-Sue. We don't see her flaws, though I believe this is because we only see her through the eyes of others who have no reason to highlight her flaws. On this playthrough then I was moved by the characters around Alley, her parents especially (perhaps being the parent of a daughter now helps that). The best parts of Photopia are the ones that don't move the story, where you learn more about everyone through the conversation system or by examining the world around you. The only part I actively disliked was the scene from Alley's suitor, who is nothing but a trope here.

Beyond the characters, I am still amazed at the technical skills on display. The dynamic maps during the bedtime story sections are amazing. Cadre also does a wonderful job of pushing the player through the game at the perfect pace in order to tell his story. While this could have worked as static fiction, I believe the medium improves immersion.

Even with its now recognizable flaws, I remain very fond of this work and will hopefully play it with my children when they are old enough.

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
This game is like a Russian doll, May 15, 2019
by suchamazingdoge (Austin, Texas)
Basically, this game is a bunch of stories that tie into each other, and work to make one single story. A story within a story, like a Russian doll.

A must-play for anyone into IF, October 22, 2018
First off, is this the greatest piece of IF of all time as it was ranked so a few years ago? I don't know about that. Currently I'm only giving it 4 stars (though that may change with another play-through), and since I have at least one other game already rated as 5 stars I guess I don't consider it the best of all time. That said this is a truly great work and something that everyone should play-through at least once. There really aren't any game aspects to it, you are just walking yourself through a story. But the story is so immersive and the way the interactivity is used really draws you in. And there are a few magical moments that just wouldn't have been the same without the interactive part, that wouldn't have felt the same just reading it. It really did open up new possibilities in IF and really lives out its own classic line: "Let's tell a story together."

I'd recommend playing the Glulx version to allow the author's use of color to enhance the story.

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Good., April 21, 2018
by ChristopherTheSinner (Illinois )
Related reviews: Hint
I'm still working on finishing the game, but so far i felt there were a couple things to mention. The game is pretty fun, can be a little confusing at times though. The main thing i want to say here though, for the people struggling on the maze- and i know you are -the walk-through is wrong for that part. this isn't really a spoiler, but i'll hide it as a spoiler. it's more of a hint if you cant figure out the maze. (Spoiler - click to show) you cannot go up twice and down twice. I don't want to give a spoiler for the solution, but lets just say you don't actually WALK OUT of the maze. I like to think of it as more of a dream like moment- though i can't say if it is a dream or if it's something that's happening, i just prefer to think of it as a dream-like situation -Don't assume all you can do is walk out of the maze. what would you do if it was your dream? how would you get out? I hope that helps the people struggling with the maze. Besides that, I found the game intriguing and fun to piece together, though the ending was sort of bland and disappointing. It felt as if it should have had at least one or two more scenes, though i wont go into detail because i don't want to spoil the game.

3 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
sentimental drivel, poor writing, but brilliant use of the medium, October 24, 2017
I really wanted to enjoy this. As far as I understand it, the game was fairly groundbreaking use of the medium at the time. As it stands now, I would not recommend this piece to anyone I would want to get interested in interactive fiction. The writing is genuinely bad, the overall theme of the story feels like someone beating you over the head with cheap emotional shots, and it isn't very interactive at all- text heavy and slow to move into anything resembling action. I have trouble understanding why so many have resonated with this piece, why there's a sense of reverence around it. I have a feeling it's related to timing on my part-and I don't wish to slam anyone who related to or was moved by the piece--I just can't see it.

The interwoven nature of the game is brilliant. I'm sure it is, because everyone has said so. But in my opinion, this is a really good example of telling, not showing.

Cadre's other works are breathtaking, so I will say that I feel I must be missing something-- the rave reviews regarding this work make me want to understand the appeal.

4 of 7 people found the following review helpful:
Thoroughly disappointing, July 11, 2017
At the beginning of the game, there is a sense of intrigue: shifting perspectives are used to spiral around a single character, building up hype for a grand conclusion. The story's direction and pacing is held on a tighter leash than in your average IF game. At first, this was exciting. However, it soon became clear that the plot was headed nowhere.

While the story was outright bad, the storytelling just failed to live up to its potential. Exploration was frustrating. Although the puzzles are easy, when I couldn't figure out what to do, it became maddening very quickly due to the bleak, dull and unresponsive environments. However, these worlds were still the most interesting part of the game.

The game can be ultimately seen as a character study. The main character is a pretty, creative, nice, mysterious, hardworking, middle-class girl with a nice family who is loved by everyone around her, and faces no meaningful challenges. She is also not only smart, but a genius. I hated this character. I could not believe in her struggle. Throughout every scene with her I inwardly pleaded the writer to give her some dialogue or trait that I could actually connect with, but this never happened -- almost everyone else in the story existed to further highlight how wonderful she is. Parts of her life read like a bad teen movie. Since the whole game revolves around such a nondescript, almost mythical figure, I couldn't bring myself to like the game.

Nonetheless, I would have appreciated it in hindsight if it went somewhere thematically. But sadly, (Spoiler - click to show)I predicted the story's ending very near to the start -- which made everything tedious. I resented the lazy attempts at emotion, I resented the (Spoiler - click to show)fact that Ally died in a car crash of all things -- the most cliche and unimaginative sort of death, and not even the most likely, as if good people can only die in random car crashes -- and I resented the characterization of Rob as a textbook villain, as this took the away any philosophical meaning that could have been gleaned from the event. The (Spoiler - click to show)lack of an ending was the final nail in the coffin for me.

To be fair, this game is technically fine. I would have dismissed it as "decent" had I played it at the time of its release, with lowered expectations. But playing it today, I oscillated between feeling bored and irritated, curious and let down. You might like it if you are an absolute beginner to the medium, or if you are easily moved by sob stories, but otherwise, don't get your hopes up.


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