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About the StoryWhen a derided author vanishes from his home, his incriminated wife hires a prodigious young detective to investigate.
Entrant, Back Garden - Spring Thing 2015
Emily Short's Interactive Storytelling
The game identifies itself as fantasy, but most of what we see in the setup is set in the real world. This appears to be a portal story in which a character has gone missing in an alternate fantasy universe, but it’s told from the points of view of those looking for him, namely his wife and the young detective she’s hired. The game starts out in the detective’s view, then switches to the wife’s and retells the same events (some of which depend on what the player did the first time around) with an alternate perspective.
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I applaud the author for one ingenious decision: choosing a youthful protagonist set many years in the past who would likely view modern fantasy fiction (without the backdrop of the jaw-dropping imagery of modern cinema) as filled with completely alien concepts, and would not leap to the sorts of conclusions (like time-travel, multiple dimensions or even multiple personality disorder) that even the most unlearned citizen of the Internet would immediately ponder when faced with a similarly odd set of circumstances.
This story appeals to my personal taste in IF because I enjoy fantasy in all its forms, but I disdain puzzles and "unlocking mechanisms" in interactive fiction. Thankfully Missing Since 77' is devoid of hyper-linked puzzles and instead presents the type of mystery that encourages a pen and paper approach, with characters whose reactions are the norm for an unusual situation, requiring you to remember clues and hints or perhaps (as the protagonist often does) jot down your own notes and piece things together later.
The prose is light, yet evocative. There is enough description to lend a good sense of realness. The plot doesn't hesitate to move quickly forward, and yet there isn't much to say about the story itself because it is very far from finished. If this were a novel, I would literally call it a prologue set before the first chapter. One of the last questions towards the end of the story appears in an endless loop:
(Spoiler - click to show)"Do you think I killed him?" [Answering "No" or "Yes" will lead to a feedback loop].
Regarding its technical handling: the transition from one viewpoint to another can be jarring, but less so after the first time we jump into the head space of another character, with the scene repeating itself but still skillfully weaving our own decisions into a slightly different but more detailed narrative.
I can forecast this viewpoint-switching feature being used for delightful effect as we come across a more eclectic range of characters. It's sort of like looking through the eyes of another person as they size you up based on how you look and what you've just said. It's a strange feeling, window-peeping into the mind of another person. I do hope that's the intended effect as it may prove to be an invaluable way of dropping hints for the player. It may backfire too by preempting that sense of wonderment of "what was this character thinking when she said this?", to "this is what I was thinking when I said this, I hope I didn't let on too much."
I encourage the author to take this story to its conclusion and (while I'm just postulating) the author has two distinct routes to take: the first is a fantasy of the mind (giving us a somewhat novel psychological thriller) and the second is a portal into the fantastic, limited only by imagination and wit. Whichever direction the author intends to take will probably depend on his own tastes and literary pedigree.
So far the story seems to take on a fantastical tone mixed in with the hyper-real to give us a slight fear of the uncanny, but that fear is quickly washed away by the protagonist's complete lack of hesitation. I understand that IF encourages us to insert our thoughts into the protagonist as if we're the ones driving the story. But a young detective has to at least think like one. I know I would be tossing around wild speculations in my head, so why is the young detective literally thoughtless? While he does occasionally reminisce, he does not ever say to himself: "This is some weird stuff I'm hearing. Maybe this lady's gone over the edge?"
I think I've made my point :)
I haven't rated this IF piece yet because I prefer to wait until its done and give it a 5* instead of giving it a 3* in its incomplete form.
Well written and somewhat promising. Worth a quick read even in its nascent form. Cheers!
Best of luck to the author!!! -- Sincerely, Zakyrie --
**Please note that thoughts/speech are not always italicized/written in speech bubbles. Hence when a character whose point of view you have just assumed is thinking and speaking to the protagonist in indistinguishable text, it becomes easy to confuse thoughts with speech. And this will likely be important later down the line because what the protagonist actually knows should contrast with what the other characters really believe. So I ask the author to kindly stick to those conventions to further aid the reader when switching between perspectives.
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This is version 3 of this page, edited by Emily Short on 7 June 2015 at 1:31pm. - View Update History - Edit This Page - Add a News Item