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Pytho's Mask

by Emily Short profile


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Number of Reviews: 7
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Excellent mid-length conversation game. Shakespearean plot in modern terms, February 3, 2016
This is one of Emily Short's best plots, which is saying a lot. You are a daring member of a secret group infiltrating a party, with a vibe like the Scarlet Pimpernel and plot with pleasant similarities to Shakespeare (masked figures, cross dressing women, court intrigue, etc.)

The game features a menu-driven conversation system where you can change the topic using 'TOPIC [SOMETHING]'.

I found the many characters interesting and intriguing. It took me a while to warm up to Short's typical character types in her games, but it's hard not to be a fan when you play so many very-high-quality games by the author.

Everyone mentioned some hiccups. I had to peek at a walkthrough once to get through a confusing area. But I find that highly polished, perfect games are often less enjoyable than the raw games where an author pushed boundaries (like this game) or poured out their heart (like Worlds Apart). Not that these aren't polished, but they contain some flaws. Great literature is similar; the long, boring setup in an Agatha Christie novel is what sets up the great conclusion, and often the boring part is where the best conversations and set pieces are.

Delightful romp through the Court of the Sun King, January 19, 2015
Pytho's Mask succeeds effortlessly in painting a picture of a Court of an 18th Century that never was. A place of intrigue and courtiers, of Ministers prone to idle musings. A heroine with wit and resolve who seeks to strike at the heart of the malaise afflicting the kingdom. A Man in Black. Comets, androgynes, a grotto…

It's all done quite delightfully. The plot is strong and the conversational system is cleverly put together. I was able to get stuck at one point, but that was a one-off. The underlying mechanics are well implemented.

If you succeed, the ending is as it should be. If you fail, the unfortunate results are encapsulated pithily. A model example of romantic IF in a strong game setting.

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Great short game, November 30, 2013
by streever (America)
This is a great short game set in a different world.

You are a capable fighter and swordswoman who belongs to a secret order pledged to protect the King. A mysterious man has invited you to a ball celebrating the once a year passage of a comet that brings great upheaval and change to the Kingdom.

Intrigue abounds, and there are no real puzzles. The conversation is a hybrid topical system, with a few conversations being unlocked by giving/showing items.

This is an excellent romantic fantasy. The romance aspect is downplayed in favor of the intrigue and mystery.

As usual, a few bits of prose here and there create a more fully realized world. There is some over-done descriptive phrasing, but mercifully little. It is slightly more verbose than some of Short's work, but still wonderfully written.

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
Brilliant from start to finish, November 21, 2010
by Aintelligence (Canada)
Related reviews: spy, romance, pytho, Talk
I thoroughly enjoyed this adventure from Emily Short. She sets up the adventure and myths very well, creating a world which is mysterious and spectacular. The adventure is very linear, with few puzzles, but the mystery and suspense keeps you on edge the whole time you play it.
Characters in this story are sure to please most readers as they did to me. I found half way through that I was attached to some of the characters while others I frowned when they were in the room. That was really a great attraction to me because many other adventures have bland 2d characters. The story included a lot of talking to other characters which developed them nicely. The short romance also added a nice new plane in the story Which was well done.
The mythical sense was also well thought out, but I would have preferred it to be a little further in front.
All in all a fabulous story

6 of 9 people found the following review helpful:
Loved this game!!!, October 8, 2009
I'm new to IF - played one or two back in my college days and then promptly forgot about them. As a matter if fact, I was only reminded of the pleasures of IF again because of Frotz on my iPhone (kudos to whoever came up with that idea)! This game is by far my favorite so far of the 5 or 6 games I've played. The plot is excellent (couldn't put my phone away!) and the flow was nice. I'm not too sure what all the non-main characters are there for, but the development of the main characters was adequate. I liked that the navigation was simple in this game - I hate games with mazes. And I was grateful that there was much more story and conversation which serve to flesh out the plot than frustrating puzzles that block you from progressing in the game. All in all, a fun experience!

19 of 21 people found the following review helpful:
Not without its flaws, but quite the romantic charmer all the same, January 30, 2009
by Jimmy Maher (Oslo, Norway)
It strikes me that Emily Short came to IF implementation by the wrong way round entirely. Infocom began by meticulously implementing static environments, and only gradually began to include dynamic NPCs in their games, albeit never entirely successfully, as the disastor that was their one totally NPC-centric game, Shogun, will demonstrate. Ms. Short, meanwhile, dived in at the deep end with Galatea, and only as her career progressed gradually began to pay as much attention to her environments and her gameplay as she did to her characters.

Pytho's Mask is one of her earlier efforts, and so is very much conversation-focused, often at the expense of its world-model. A few simple puzzles aside, its scenery is obviously not Ms. Short's first priority -- in fact, it's downright underimplemented, something we will never see in one of her recent games. At the same time, though, it outshines most of her early games by having a fairly compelling plot on which to hang all the meticulously implemented conversation. While, say, Galatea or Best of Three can often feel like dialog in search of a narrative -- like amorphous talking heads suspended in a sort of gray soup chattering about nothing that really matters in the end -- Pytho's Mask has a narrative thrust that serves it well, and that makes it perhaps my favorite of her early games.

The game has the flavor of a romantic fantasy of the sort generally targeted toward teenaged girls and sold in the Young Adult area of the bookstore. There are plots and machinations aplenty; the protagonist is a young woman not only capable but also beautiful; and her potential love interests are either charming rogues or emotionally troubled Good Guys who of course also have the looks of a model. There is sexual tension aplenty, but the prospect of actual sex is only hinted at. It's a genre exercise, certainly, but an extremely well done one, filled with Ms. Short's usual gossamer prose and memorable imagery. (And I'm certainly not opposed to genre exercises in IF; it seems to me that given the current limitations of the form a well-done genre exercise is about the most we can reasonably hope for, and striving for more often leads to the worst kinds of tedious pretension. But I digress...)

You, the aforementioned beautiful and capable young woman, are actually a member of a secret order assigned to protect the King from some people who hope to harm him at a special party that takes place just once every hundred years in honor of the arrival of a certain comet in the sky. You will spend the vast majority of your time wandering about the party, observing and conversing with the attendees and trying to sort out who the bad guys are. While things can veer dangerously close to Amorphous Talking Head Territory at times, the plot machinery is generally tight enough and the conversations generally brief enough to make you feel like you are participating in a genuine narrative rather than an experiment in IF conversation systems.

But speaking of conversation systems, Ms. Short has of course tried out many of them over the course of her career. This time out we have a hybrid of an ASK/TELL and a menu-based system. Basically, you the player get to select what topic you would like to discuss. Upon doing so, you are are presented with a menu of from one to four specific phrases to choose from -- or, more disconcertingly, you are sometimes presented with a completely blank menu. But I don't think that's really supposed to happen. It's just one of this one's fair number of notable implementation flaws.

Conversations are quite dynamic, varying with the state of the game and your knowledge of the storyworld -- although things don't always work quite right here either. During my conversations I was greeted with quite a lot of non-sequiters, some jarring and inappropriate shifts in tone and mood, and even the occasional opportunity to speak knowingly about things my character as of yet knew nothing about. And sometimes the whole thing can be downright infuriating. You are instructed at the beginning of the game to seek out the King's physician and speak to him about the King. Typing "TOPIC KING" when conversing with him, however, just leads to a conversation menu that is all about... the Prince! And trying to navigate through the conversation system to explain what needs to be done to avert disastor can be almost as difficult as figuring out what needs to be done in the first place, as your PC stubbornly refuses to say what she urgently needs to say to prevent the King from meeting an unhappy fate indeed. The system is, in short (ha!), a good idea that works pretty well in the abstract, but falls down quite a lot in this particular implementation.

Still, what Ms. Short was attempting to do here is damnably difficult even today, and this game lacked the benefit of many years of experimentation and discussion, having been made just at the time when post-commercial era IF (driven largely by Ms. Short's own interests and experiments) was first beginning to seriously grapple with issues of dynamic NPCs and conversation. For those reasons, and because there is so much here -- the prose and the atmosphere it conveys especially -- that works so well, I'm willing to cut this game quite a lot of slack in this area. You should be prepared for a bit of frustration and an occasional lack of polish that you might find surprising in an Emily Short game if you tackle this one. Still, its strengths far outweigh its faults. I actually prefer this one to some of her more well-known works. Maybe I'm just a sucker for a giddy and innocent teenage romance.

(I re-played this recently using the Z-Code version that was still on my harddrive. If any of my complaints would have been alleviated by playing with the Glulx re-release that I just saw is available, my apologies.)

13 of 15 people found the following review helpful:
Cliche But Somehow Still Original, January 23, 2008
by Rose (New Zealand)
I've always liked a good fantasy romance, but I did dither before playing Pytho's Mask. I wish now that I'd played it earlier. It has all the important (some would say cliche) elements of the genre -- the masked hero, the evil villian, the unsuspecting kingdom needing rescuing. And, of course, the enterprising heroine.

If you like puzzly IF, I'll tell you now -- this game has almost no puzzles. Almost all information to be gathered comes from conversation; and much of the game is spent talking to various NPCs. Conversation is menu-based, but with a topic command -- handy for hiding spoilery options, but it can lead to the occasional game of 'guess-the-noun'. The game doesn't railroad you into any particular attitude towards any of the NPCs -- (Spoiler - click to show)it's even possible to refuse the proposal of the hero at the end.

The fantasy setting was captivating and well-written, but I was let down to earth with a bump once or twice when a interesting-sounding piece of scenery wasn't implemented. It's the setting and connected mythology that saves this game from the realm of predictability, actually. I had no navigation problems, and normally I get lost within the first five minutes of beginning a game.

Overall, I throroughly enjoyed Pytho's Mask, despite one or two guess-the-verb hiccups and getting stuck at the end. If you like swashbuckling romance stories, you'll enjoy this game.

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