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Varkana

by Maryam Gousheh-Forgeot

Science Fiction
2007

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4 star:
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Number of Ratings: 23
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- ArchDelacy, January 7, 2017

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
An original fantasy world with beast, technology, and magic, February 3, 2016
Varkana is a mid-length fantasy game that was entered in IFComp. It relies heavily on both conversation and searching for items.

Varkana is the name of a small, almost technophobic city-state in a world with both fantastical creatures and advanced technology. One of the advanced civilizations has sent ambassadors to Varkana, and your job is to investigate them.

The setting is quite good, but the implementation is a bit patchy. Apparently the readme text notes that there is a bug where conversation won't work unless you ask about a nonsense topic first.

Conversation plays a large role in this game. Much of the game depends on guessing the right keyword(s) to ASK someone about.

Overall, the setting was fun, but progression was frustrating. I ended up reading it like a novel as I walked through. I'd like to see more original fantasy worlds in IF.

- rec53, June 9, 2012

- Ray, May 8, 2012

Good balance of intrigue and light-hearted adventure, May 8, 2012

by sunny and mild (South Africa)
This game starts by immediately throwing you into an intriguing world of fantasy/mildly sci-fi scenery, in which everything is somehow quaint yet technologically advanced at the same time. The story is set in a sort of “time outside of any time in history”, so “anachronistic” would not really be the word to use.

What I liked about Varkana:
The setting - lush futuristic eastern landscapes, imaginary technology, and beautiful people everywhere you go. Quite a lot of the scenery is examinable, which really adds to the atmosphere - without misleading you into thinking that any non-essential elements are essential for the game. (Spoiler - click to show)The PC, Faranaaz, also undergoes a clothing change, so if you’re interested in random girly details, be sure to “x me” and “x outfit” in the beginning and then later on just for fun.
The conversation system - I happen to enjoy lengthy conversations with NPCs, so this was rather appealling to me. If you simply cannot abide this method of information-getting, then this may not be the game for you.
The unfolding story. At the beginning of this game, you are presented with a stack of information, which can be a bit overwhelming when you are still trying to figure out what your first move is supposed to be. However, this overload recedes a bit, and you’re eased into a series of tasks which take you further into unwrapping the mystery.
Humour - the story is sprinkled with some light-hearted humour, if you know where to look.

What I did not like:
A list of made-up fantasy names which you have to keep referring to (Spoiler - click to show)- for example “ask houtan about ardavaan”, “ask ardavaan about amortaad” etc - , which can get a bit annoying because at times I had to either scroll up to try to find the names which I wanted to refer to, or leave the scene and go back to the scene where the character was, to re-learn the name, then return and continue the conversation.
(Spoiler - click to show)Sudden death! The whole point of this game - well, one of two points it seems - was apparently to retrieve a certain item. But as soon as there was finally a way to retrieve it, my PC was killed and the game ended. I’m not sure what the purpose of this was.
Sudden ending - as I write this, I have completed the game once, but I strongly suspect that this was a premature ending, because: 1. There seemed to be so many loose ends that still needed tying. 2. There seemed to be so much which was still due to happen. 3. There was a lot of information which I had spent the whole game trying to uncover, which was still very covered. 4. (very mild spoiler) (Spoiler - click to show)I had not scored all the points that could be scored.
Also, after I had a look at the in-game map, I began to suspect that there was something I should have done at the very beginning of the game, and my not having done it caused inevitable unwinnability later on - it’s only a suspicion though: I haven’t tested it yet.

That said, the parts of the game which are potentially annoying or a bit frustrating did not really deter me from the game as a whole - it’s a beautiful game to be immersed in, and a very good effort on the part of the author. I fully intend to replay it, and see if any different outcomes may be achieved.

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful:
A lush world, but if you aren't a fan of ASK and TELL, I'd steer clear., February 4, 2012
by Wade Clarke (Sydney, Australia)
Related reviews: Inform, fantasy
Varkana is a tale of arty diplomacy set in an earthy yet glamorous fantasy kingdom which feels like it is populated mostly by women – though empirically speaking there are probably as many male characters as female. The city of the game breathes with interesting life and detail, but it's hard to stay immersed in a story as alternately widespread and wandery as Varkana's when the game doesn't do enough to direct the player towards the ends that are really useful in its conversation system.

In the rawest terms, your progress in this game is heavily dependent on your ability to TELL and ASK the right people about the right things at the right times. If, like me, you don't even like the TELL/ASK system, I would not recommend Varkana to you. And even if you do like lots of conversation, there is a significant bug in Varkana resulting in NPCs ignoring important topics unless you make a nonsense query of them first. This bug is documented by the author in her README, and the game will always be of lesser quality than it could be so long as the bug is there.

In spite of these troubles, I found myself significantly immersed in Varkana's attractive world for about half of the game's duration. The opening backstory tells of ambassadors from another kingdom visiting your native Varkana, and of the political wiggling which ensues. There is a lot to take in, and I had to re-read the intro a few times to make sure I had got it. Then I found myself in the position demonstrated by the game's lush cover art by author Maryam Gousheh-Forgeot: That of being a glamourous bookcrafter woman named Farahnaaz, giving a boost to my equally glamourous friend Nivanen so that she can peek through a window.

We were spying on the new arrivals in town, but I immediately had trouble conversing with Nivanen, not sure what I should be asking her about, or whether I had asked her enough questions before I put her down, and whether I was interacting with a bug at times or whether she just didn't know what I was talking about. I had thought we were on a mission, but pretty quickly after our attempt at spying, all the main characters relaxed, and could be found chilling in the local bathhouse and having their hair done.

So much information had been presented initially that I had the sensation at this point that I might be doing something wrong, or just not know what I was doing… but it turns out that this part of the game is meant to be observational and meandery. There are citizens and a spunky cat wandering around, and exotic props and buildings to check out. The physical environment has its own logic which makes it feel real.

Unfortunately it takes a while to work your way back into the intrigue plot, and the further you get into it, the more you have to ASK and TELL judiciously. Sometimes you have to repeat conversation commands several times in a row just to extract all the information from individual characters. Bumping against the interface and trying to follow the sense of all the politics was arduous for me, and I eventually lost interest. Unfortunately the walk-through did not work transparently for me, so I was unable to complete the game.

Varkana presents the details of a world vividly, but its direction as a game is vague. Whether a player can become involved in its politics or not will depend on how much they like this kind of conversation-based progress in IF and whether they can persist with a less than ideal implementation of such conversation. Also, the backstory is very full before the player even starts the game. This fact could be mitigated for folks whom it might stress out by the hook of the initial spying-over-the-wall scene… but potentially immediately unmitigated if the first command typed in the game produces the first of many failures to communicate, as it did for me.

- Mr. Patient (Saint Paul, Minn.), August 14, 2011

2 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
New Author, Noble Effort, December 14, 2010
by Stickz (Atlanta, Georgia)
Opening scene was interesting although a little unstable. New author. No big deal. As things progressed, I had very little trouble envisioning the world of Varkana--with minimal description. Props to the author.
But, the plot was rough from the beginning and only seemed to get worse as the game went on. I don't remember too often, knowing what I was supposed to be doing next ( I plan to replay to discover if that could have been mostly my own fault ). I finally reached a point where I couldn't further the story, regardless of what I tried, so I broke down and looked at the walkthrough ( I hate having to resort to hints and walkthroughs ). Nevertheless, I was very disappointed as to how things turned out after having started with so much potential. I wish the author would work out the bugs. Could be a really nice piece.

- Justin Morgan, August 1, 2010

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
nice to wander through, weak on plot, April 23, 2010
by Sam Kabo Ashwell (Seattle)
The key to this is setting and aesthetics. Most of the gameplay revolves around running errands, finding a cat, meeting your friend for lunch and so on, but you're doing it through sun-dappled vineyards and grand old libraries. It's (somewhat girly) high fantasy, which isn't really my genre, but it was a very pleasant space to inhabit nonetheless.

Plot-wise, the game ends just as the action begins, which is sort of an anticlimax; it feels like the intro to a much larger game. "More please" is hardly excoriating criticism, but as it stands the grand-scale political intrigue and the closing action scene feel like a distraction from what the game's good at.

There are a few pieces of art, which are effective as far as they go; there aren't really enough of them to contribute much to the game proper, though, so it's probably best to think of them as cover art.

- C.E.J. Pacian (England), February 21, 2009

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful:
If you build it, they *might* come., November 26, 2008
by mazirian (Yarmouth, Maine)
Related reviews: fantasy, If Comp 2007, intrigue
This is a romantic fantasy adventure in what I believe to be the style of writers like Mercedes Lackey and Tamora Pierce. The game relies a lot on its world-building, and it is an interesting setting to be sure. As a result, however, there is an initial avalanche of exposition that is overwhelming and causes things to get off to a clumsy start as you have to remember a host of fantasy names to inquire about. The style settles down, though, as you are firmly directed into a series of tasks. The story is mildly engaging, with decent writing and minimal (but a few) typographical errors. The author is forthright about a bug that interferes with the questioning of other characters, but this is only a minor nuisance once you are aware of it. There is a sudden, jarring leap into overdrive near the end of the story that seemed somewhat out of place, but may be good to know about up front if you find the early parts too slow.

N.B.: I play in text mode only, so I cannot comment on the art, but there is a very convenient ASCII map for which I thank the author.

- Timo Saarinen (Finland), August 20, 2008

7 of 11 people found the following review helpful:
I Might Like to Live Here, June 28, 2008
by Ron Newcomb (Seattle)
This was one of my favorite entries in the 2007 I-F Competition, second only to Lord Bellwater's Secret. The writing was the best of all the competition entries I played. The places were described vividly enough to see them, the initial area seemed the kind of place people actually maintain and dwell, and good dialogue is always a gem in I-F. The experience as I begin the game was believable enough that I might like to live here myself. (Fortunately, as an I-F, that isn't necessarily a vain wish.)

The game's opening did a lot of things right. Tone, setting, protagonist, and initial event become known to us before we're asked to make decisions. Being railroaded into leaving the opening scene with the friend is a further gentle introduction to the command prompt and its evil twin, the parser. If the useful commands were mentioned in bold print within the text, then this game would be a great candidate for "intended for I-F beginners".

But I didn't finish the game. There were two reasons for this. One, the more I came to care about the protagonist's problem and her (our) desire to thwart the antagonist, the more disappointed I was to leave this thrumming plot for mundane action with glowglobes or locked cabinets. (I asked the librarian as he should know these things, but he was useless.) The puzzles were both well-implemented and coherent within the gameworld, so I must give the author props for this. But it's just something of a paradox that, in I-F, anything and everything except puzzles are dramatized. So when the author's writing grabs the player, what's the player going to care about? And how is a plot-stopping puzzle then going to be viewed?

Secondly, I get lost easily when walking around. It's another problem only well-written works have: visualizing the map's cardinal connections gets harder as the prose gets better. Workman-like descriptions don't distract from the job at hand, but good writing -- strong imagery, precise details, memorable conversation -- seems to crowd-out my mental map. Perhaps it's rooted in a cognitive dissonance of the left-brain and right-brain trying to dominate at once, or perhaps only us new to the form see it as a problem, I don't know. I just know that the more I enjoyed sightseeing in Varkana, the easier it is to forget how to walk back home.

(Consider the town square: "East leads to the vineyards. The library is to the north. Northwest leads to the town center. The town bazaar is to the west. The school is to the south, and there's a road to an old temple to the southeast." That was just too much information for me, especially as I'm already trying to keep the plot and possible puzzle solutions in my head. A compass rose in the status line would help, but I would prefer a simple GO TO with something like, "Nearby are the vineyards, the library, the town center, the bazaar, the school, and the road to the old temple.". Such a command can always respond with, "You walk northward to the library," if it's important. As it was, I found myself navigating by scrolling back and re-reading my previously-typed compass directions.)

Though I have still not completed this game even after the competition, its locations and events are stuck in my head. I intend to go back and finish it... when I'm feeling patient enough for puzzles and parser nitpickyness. My overall impression of the work is that the author, obviously a writer, was hamstrung by her own tools -- tools which ease supporting I-F conventions, rather than ease what the conventions should be.

- Michael Martin (Mountain View, California), January 27, 2008

- oddgrue (California), December 30, 2007

4 of 8 people found the following review helpful:
Varkana, December 13, 2007
by James Hall (UK)
Despite the relatively bug-free implementation and vividly imagined gaming world, I found I couldn't rate Varkana too highly.

The gameplay itself was rather unfocused and for the most part, left me wandering around wondering what I was supposed to be doing, which is rarely a good thing. The puzzles weren't always obvious (or fair, for that matter) and often required me to duplicate commands (generally considered taboo in modern IF) or perform an unlikely set of tasks.

The general quality of the game seemed to take a dive towards the end, where I suddenly found myself controlling a different character as the plot skidded in a completely incredible direction; most likely the hallmarks of a game completed in a rush.

- Neale Grant (Hove, England), December 6, 2007

- Juhana, November 27, 2007

- Emily Short, November 17, 2007

- Benjamin Sokal (Elysium pod planting enclosure on Mars), November 16, 2007

- Wesley (Iowa City, Iowa), November 11, 2007

- Otto (France), October 23, 2007


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