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So Far

by Andrew Plotkin profile


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Number of Reviews: 5
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1-5 of 5

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Simple and enjoyable., April 30, 2017
This was the first IF game I've played by this author. All in all, it was a good experience, and it took 6 days for me to complete.
It wasn't too terribly 'verbose' in its descriptions--but I see the advantage to that--the best images are created by the mind of the reader. For the most part, the descriptions were 'good enough'. But one reason I gave it only 4 stars was because in some places the author could have been more clear. For example, (Spoiler - click to show)no matter how hard I tried to look at it, I just could not understand how the huge gate in the 'autumn' area worked, but maybe I missed something about it. Also, I think he could have tightened up the grammar in some places, though I know programmers aren't necessarily professional writers. Plus I understand that the author was in his mid 20s(as I was) when this game came out in 1996.
Perhaps like a number of others, I thought this game was going to be a cinch when I first started playing it. Not quite. The first problems were simple, but soon after, I got stuck. One hint--it really helps to take a step back and take in WHERE you ARE. There is plenty of teleportation, and though it seems that you remain on the same planet, the many places you visit are different. The problems are varied and interesting, and I know it's a good game when I get obsessed about solving them.
Warning, however---there are also plenty of red herrings. Locked doors, paths and entrances that seem to admit you, objects that seem like they could be used for SOMETHING, but turn out to be non-essential. At one point, I thought I might be able to make out a pattern to solve what I thought was a problem, but it was like reading tea-leaves--the problem wasn't what I thought it was. Also, there are one or two loose ends, event-wise, but, as they say, that's life. At any rate, I follow the old IF rule, 'If you can take an object, keep it.'

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Puzzle-heavy surreal game. Like Porpentine before Porpentine, February 3, 2016
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 2-10 hours
I played "So far" years ago, made it to the bird-animal farm, and never got any further. It was just overwhelming. I don't like games that are so extremely open-ended that you have no idea if what you are doing is helpful or game ending. That's not to say that I dislike non-linear games; a lot of non-linear games have items that suggest what you need to do, and then you find a way to do it.

In "So Far", you are utterly clueless most of the time. So I just gave in after a few years, grabbed a walkthrough, and checked out the game. The worlds I found were fascinating and alien, like many of Porpentine's games.

I was surprised that many of the worlds were connected with abstraction and metaphor; the first two worlds put me off by making me think they would all be well-established alien worlds without any explanation.

Having gone through with a walkthrough once, I plan on playing again, relying on my memory of the last attempt but not referring to the walkthrough. Hopefully, this will let me explore more, and have fun with some puzzles whose solution I didn't understand or can't remember.

For those who want a taste of the abstract worlds, there is a world where (Spoiler - click to show)everything is dark and everything is sound.

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
Myst meets Trinity meets The Twilight Zone, March 14, 2014
It's like Myst in the sense that you act as a sort of sci-fi anthropologist while figuring out strange mechanisms and cultures, I was reminded of Trinity by the scene-hopping and overall structure, and I'm mentioning The Twilight Zone because I have no better shorthand to describe this game's surreal nature and general weirdness. But make no mistake--So Far is much darker than all three, and one thing I would never call it is derivative.

The going gets weird soon after the (frankly overwrought) introduction, with two moons hanging in the sky and funny things going on with the lighting. Then we're off to dreamland, or wherever it is that the rest of the game takes place. Plotkin's writing can be a bit stiff and doesn't read snappily, but there is no shortage of atmosphere or imagination in these environments. At the outset, things aren't too freaky, since it's hardly the first game to feature lonely ruins and mysterious structures. In turns, however, the places you visit become more dangerous, eerie, unsettling, and perhaps even nightmarish, depending on your phobias. The details are there if you slow down and focus--by reading carefully, I was able to visualize these places in a way that really stuck with me. Much more so than Plotkin's later work Shade, I think So Far truly captures the feeling of a disquieting dream. A recurring one, at that, because the effect is increased by the game's cruelty. The worlds themselves are often unkind, if not outright hostile, and whenever I was stuck on an obstacle I found myself stumbling around as scenes played out over and over, reset either by me or the game itself.

The cruelty in general is something that caught me off guard. Yes, I know the game advertises itself as such, and I am no stranger to the dead ends and deathtraps in old-school titles. What I was not prepared for was all the gosh-darn red herrings. Extraneous detail that suggests a world beyond the scope of the playable area? Fine. Red herring objects to avoid "find the door that matches this key" syndrome? Fine. Red herring objects that would clearly be, in any other game, crucial or even plot-related items? Not fine. A puzzle consisting of nothing but red herrings? Not fine. (Though, having played System's Twilight, perhaps I should have expected the last of these. Fool me twice, shame on me.)

In the beginning, it's not too bad. There are only so many obstacles to push up against, and you keep trying on the ones that seem to have the best chance of giving. Fair enough. I made it a little past the halfway point before my determination started to waver. Part of the problem is that many small details are not extraneous, with a fair amount of noun-hunting required in the room and object descriptions. Too many loose ends--too many potential loose ends--meant the fog was more than I could navigate, so I caved and went to the hints. In a sense I actually wished the game was crueler. Trinity, for example, only gives you one chance to visit various parts of the game, which narrows the range of possibilities. You know you don't have to do any hopping back and forth with different items at different times, and that helps you sort out the order in which to tackle things. Now, So Far is certainly not as big and broad as the massive dungeon crawls of the past. For what it's worth, I never had to make a map. But I still feel that there is an intentional nastiness to the design here that was not often present in the cruel games of old--a sense that Mr. Plotkin was a little too pleased with himself at the traps he had laid.

That's a lot of whining for a game I'm giving four stars, but I try to have some humility about these things. For anything specific I might point out, I'm sure someone out there can say, "Oh, I figured that out right away." My frustrations only partially diminish the game's other strengths, especially considering it came out in 1996. There are several puzzles I would say are very well done, unreservedly, and some scenes have an impressive amount of stuff going on around the player. Aside from the evocative writing, on a technical level I was hard-pressed to find obvious cracks in the simulation. I even liked the occasionally chiding tone in the deaths and refusal messages. Probably the most praiseworthy statement I can make about So Far is simply that it's memorable. A gentler design would have been nice, sure, but there is something to say for leaving things unexplained, for planting a haunting image in the player's mind, and So Far does this many times over.

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
Jung on Myst, April 24, 2012
by Rymbeld (Greensboro, NC)
Well, I don’t know how to start writing about this game. Really I don’t. I know that I liked it, so I’ll start there. I liked it far more than Plotkin’s previous game, A Change in the Weather, by a wide margin. It was immediately engrossing: the writing was luxurious and invited me to read the game as text in a way that the previous games I’d encountered had not. The game opens with the protagonist at a play, worried about Aessa, presumably your girlfriend. She’s stood you up. And the game strongly implies (by way of the play which you’re watching, and the hints near the end of the game) that she is actually having an affair.

So Far seems like a representation of one man’s internal coming to grips with this awareness of betrayal, loss, and loneliness. Sure, one could read the various worlds you traverse as literal—that the game is a fantastic world-hopping adventure—but Plotkin put too much detail and care for us to legitimately come to that conclusion. For instance, each world is keyed to some environmental markers: “autumn, cool, smoky” or “bright, bitter wind.” The game opens in “hot, sticky,” which mirrors the protagonist’s mood: “Damn the crowd, in truth: your mood was hot, foul, and dark when you came in.” The pathetic fallacy runs rampant in So Far, to such an extent that it is hard for me to believe that the various worlds you end up exploring exist “out there” at all. Then environments become increasingly bleak, dark, and shapeless, mirroring various stages of acceptance. And the end of the game--oh, the end.

Cracks show up a lot, too. Keep an eye out for them. Cracks in walls, in the earth, etc. Seems like a blatant symbol of the rupture in the protagonist’s relationship. The cracks are often associated with water (yonic?). There’s even a puzzle that involves (Spoiler - click to show)trying to rupture a crack in order to cause a glacier landslide, revealing a chill tunnel leading to a cave of light, where “ripples of gold light fall through milky blue veils.” The game begs for a Freudian reading.

Shadows are important in this game, too, another thing hinted at right at the game’s outset. The game opens with the final act of a play, and Plotkin deftly wove in all the major themes of the game into this scene, which you watch play out before you really can do anything. “Rito has finally found out about Imita's affair, and he stalks the stage, whipping voice and hands about himself. A footfall behind him; he turns, and sees Imita,” the game begins. Rito turns to Imita and berates her: “How come you, harlot? Dare you come this way, / your skin yet dark with Tato's shadow's stain?” “Shadow” here is obviously a marker, since the action of the game involves finding odd shadows and stepping into them.

In fact, this game kept reminding me of Myst. Traveling to different worlds and solving puzzles. However, unlike in Myst, many of the worlds in So Far are populated. On the other hand, the people in those worlds are either hostile to you or indifferent. You typically don’t feel connected to anyone, except the lost boy perhaps—and that boy might even be you, a homunculus trapped in a maze of rusted metal. The puzzle here(Spoiler - click to show)--clanging metal pipes to move around—suggested to me a prelinguistic stage of psychological development, and the boy simply that innocent, bruised self hiding in all of us.

The writing and the way some of these worlds were structured suggested Myst to me, too. The first world you encounter involves a castle and a radioactive power generator. Here’s a sample of the room where you first appear:
(Spoiler - click to show)
Abandoned Road
The sky is almost violet, infinitely distant -- you've never seen such a sky, and without the haze of metallic heat that summer should have. But the wind is sharp and chilly, and the trees nearby are a quilt of orange, red, and gold.

Beneath you the road is old, filled with weeds and ragged moss; dirt shows only in patches. To the south, the track is choked with trees, as it runs into the fringes of an autumn forest. It continues the other way, though, towards an immense stone wall that hems the northern horizon.

The puzzles are generally not too hard, but not too easy, either. There is some trial and error to go through, of course; and the logic of the worlds doesn’t always make sense, especially as you progress through the game and the worlds become more abstract and strange: in one, you wander a desolated landscape, manipulating platonic solids. And then there is the darkness and the shadows and the shades of the happy couple you and Aessa once were. This protagonist is an awfully cerebral individual who works out his issues by plumbing deep into his psyche.

Is there anything wrong with this game? It’s puzzle-heavy, which isn’t to my taste, but on the other hand, they are mostly woven into the theme pretty well, though Plotkin’s writing. There are a few that are fairly silly and don’t fit, though. And some of the more tedious ones take you out of the world completely, in terms of player immersion. That is, you’re reminded that you’re just playing a game and you forget all about this cool world you’re in.

But I think the major failure of the game is that it is written in the second person. I know that’s a convention of text adventures, but in this case the prose would be more compelling, I think, if Plotkin had experimented with the first person. Especially in a game like this, which could easily be read as taking place within the protagonist’s head in a surrealist psychological drama. The standard game engine response of “I don’t understand that verb” when the player fails to guess the right verb, or makes a typo, felt particularly jarring after I began to understand the game in this way. Granted, the second person is the standard convention in IF, but I look forward to playing some games which break this rule.

Taken together with A Change in the Weather, it seems that one consistent theme between the two Plotkin games I’ve played so far is isolation or loneliness. In the previous game, the protagonist wandered away from his friends in search of some solitude; in So Far the protagonist is dealing with a breakup, or perhaps infidelity. Text adventure games are typically solitary affairs by their very nature, so it’s nice to see Plotkin incorporating this into the plot of the game.

(re-posted from my blog, gentle hart desire)

12 of 16 people found the following review helpful:
Horribly unfair, hauntingly beautiful, March 29, 2008
by jingold (UK)
There are very few bits of IF that have stayed with me and will do forever. So Far is one of them, which in a way is a terrible shame, because it's almost impossible to share with anyone else. The game is famously difficult and cruel (it's the only game I can think of that actively encourages players to do self-destructive things) and to say I got through it without hints would be a lie, lie, lie. But it was a beautiful thing, finely wrought, casting shadows across itself like a spinning sundial. It made me feel horribly jealous not to have written it and deeply privileged to have played it. Sigh -- those were the days...

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