So I thought I was going to be a quiet little hostess, and sit on the sidelines, and not say anything. But Rob (J. Robinson Wheeler, if you prefer) insists that since I made other people do reviews, I should at least give some feedback of my own. I'm not sure the logic of this is entirely sound; I am sure, however, that this is a more interesting task than grading Latin exams, so here we go. This is just a kind of general overview to my thoughts and reactions to various games; anything spoily I will reserve for another time.
1981. Anything really spoily I will reserve for another time, I said, so that leaves me without much to say here, other than that I personally found it more funny than horrific. I don't know what that says about me, and I fully recognize that there are other people who might feel differently, so there you are. My response was, ha! A dark, sour, twisty laugh, but a laugh nonetheless. Whether it really qualifies as being about love or romance is another question, but I figured that if the author thought it did, I'd let that decision ride.
August. Peter Berman likes to talk about how he loves Detective in spite of (or perhaps because of) its flaws as a game, because (I guess) of some wacky untried innocence. August is not so incompetent a production as Detective, but it is plagued with the sorts of flaws that ordinarily make me roll my eyes and quit -- spelling, punctuation, line spacing errors, incorrectly listed exits, a relentless turgidity and purplitude of prose. And my first response was, "Damn, this is going to get panned. Damn."
Because, you see, I loved it unjustifiably. Unpolished in the extreme, lacking in many basic respects, but what it missed in craft it made up -- for me, in the moment that I played it -- in its passionate enthusiasm. There were glimpses, between the shoddy pasteboard backdrops the set, of some grand vistas of fantasy: deep-rooted trees, an old and terrible city, strong sorrows, great revenge. And the end pleased and grieved me, and so did the characters -- not the actual NPCs who moved about in shadow, hardly to be interacted with, but the characters they represented, of whom they were recognizable avatars the same way that a plastic spork is recognizably descended of the Platonic spoon.
Do I wax silly? Yes. Does this game invite that? Yes. Generally I am in favor of some refinement of programming skill and some self-restraint in the writing, but it's possible to go way way the other way and come with something curiously pleasing nonetheless.
Now, Matt: go thou and fix the bugs, 'kay?
Bantam. Well, this one was all surface. Amusing, frothy, and I could've stood for it to be about half as long as the minimally short form. I was wondering why there was no toaster, though.
Dead of Winter. My feelings on this one are recorded elsewhere, in another thread, but to elaborate: regardless of the author's success or failure in doing what the author set out to do, I think the game would have benefited from some fleshing out. The fairy-tale vagueness of the setting failed to grab me. I felt neither awe nor fear, and considering the story, I certainly should have done. Had I cared more about my boyfriend, perhaps the options would have seemed more significant to me. As it was, he felt like a placeholder to me.
Second Honeymoon. I didn't finish this -- I mean to, and I will, but I got stuck at some point and quit and didn't return to it, as it has been a busy couple of weeks. I was thrown off at the very beginning by the fact that I could neither kiss nor communicate with Jessica -- and also by a setting that felt like That Old Apartment Game, only grown up and moved out to the 'burbs. Not only do I not want to play out my own everyday life in IF form, I also don't want to play out my parents'.
Sparrow's Song. This failed for me, I think, for reasons that amount almost to a philosophical difference: the love here is presented as a force that descends on you externally, compelling and irresistable, and the game keeps telling you that you feel it, but it conveys little of the reality of that.
There are, you note, two prongs to this complaint. One is a matter of IF technique: be really careful if you're going to tell me what I feel, and in particular if you're going to make those imposed feelings the central motivation of the game, because I-the-player may not share the knee-weakened swoonery of the player character, especially when it's directed at an NPC with whom I've never had a chance to interact.
Two is more a question of the nature of the beast -- romantic feeling, love, the elusive quality that was supposed to be the uniting feature of these games. We got a number of takes on it: 1981's nasty obsession, Bantam's retrospective longing, a sort of playful desire in the Kissing Bandit, etc. One of the reasons, I think, that August worked well for me is that it centers upon the real adjustment of your feelings about a real person, and thus for all the difficulties of implementation it gets at the core of something important and affecting. Change is usually more interesting than static states, and coming to terms with someone on a deep level more interesting than running after them on a shallow one.
So I guess what I'm getting at here is that I don't believe in the kind of love shown in Sparrow, the kind that falls on you like an anvil from heaven and leaves you without history or choices or motives. I was more interested in the PC's former girlfriend than in his new love -- she was there, there was some tension, I wanted to know what had happened with her -- and in the light of the essential mutual ignorance of the PC and his beloved, I found the ending not entirely satisfactory.
The Tale of the Kissing Bandit. So I've been accused of all but coercing the author to finish this (which I did not!!) -- but, well, inasmuch as it was done because I asked for it -- thank you. I found it a delight to play. The inventory list alone made me laugh; and then there were the ifmud injokes, and the wonderfully over-the-top narration, and the parody... It was entertaining, and charming, and the sort of thing I think I originally had in mind when I wrote the competition guidelines.
Voices. Well. This game posed a problem for me, because I played it when it came in, and sat there feeling vaguely punched in the gut, and then couldn't discuss it with anyone because no one else was able to play it yet. It owes, as another reviewer noted, an unmistakeable debt to Photopia, both in the structure (nonlinear event sequence, shifting perspectives) and in the theme (inevitable outcome, innocent protagonist one would like to protect.) And like Photopia it is manipulative in ways that I feel and resent as a player, that make me disengage slightly. Manipulative or not, though, I did, in spite of myself, find much to care about, which is a tribute to the skill of the author and the humanity of the characters as revealed in their conversation.
Having raised that comparison, I'm now going to ignore it. Photopia is perhaps the most widely-reverenced work of IF in existence, and I'm not interested in trying to determine whether Voices approaches it in quality; the power here is almost entirely subjective, so I can't know whether other people will respond to it as I did. Instead I'd like to address it on the terms that the author raised: is it acceptable, interesting, workable, as a piece of propaganda?
I'm biased, naturally, being Christian; one is bound to have certain reactions to a game that rails openly against a Christian God. At the same time, I found it less offensive than I did Jarod's Journey, which in my opinion reduced and belittled the deity and his agents, making Jesus someone to be addressed in formulaic forms and his angels little glowing critters in unwrinkled robes -- a kind of cross between the Sylvania Light Bulb Man and a spokesbeing of Tide With Bleach. Where was the spectacle, the wonder, the glory, the terrible wings and eyes?
Voices came closer, I thought, to respecting the content of my religion -- by trying to address it seriously and directly -- than JJ did by trying to make it into something advertiseable and shallow. Yes, Voices railed against God-- but railing against God is often done. Cf. Jonah, and Job, and Jacob wrestling with the angel; Abraham bargaining for Sodom and Gomorrah; Peter with his failures, Thomas with his doubts, Jesus himself asking to be spared what he knows is coming. I could see something like this being written by a Christian author, in fact.
To all this, I thought, the romance aspect was almost tangential. The matter of the game is Love, yes, but it's divine love and protective love and the desire to spare what cannot be spared. So the plot rang false for me, finally; but maybe this is because I have other answers for Aris' questions than the ones he settled on. Believing what I believe, I would make the story differently; which I guess returns us to the question of whether a story can or should be inherently evangelical. I would've made Tapestry differently, too.
Ultimately, I guess, I thought the theological questions raised were ones that have already (at least for me) been adequately answered, though people will, of course, go on poking at them for as many generations as religion itself endures; to postulate a just god in an unjust world is always problematic. It was a problem for the Greeks before Christianity existed -- what to do with this Zeus character, who was supposed to be a force for justice but who kept handing out bad things to decent people, and (on top of that) in all of these stories did assorted nefarious things? The explanations there are complicated and sometimes half-hearted (Zeus is bound by Fate, eg; there's nothing he can do about what Must Be. Or: Zeus is in favor of justice, but he doesn't care very much about individual humans.) Christian arguments about free will are much more interesting to me, and effective, but I am, as noted, biased.
All that said -- I wasn't persuaded, I wasn't even really all that challenged in the terms of my belief, but I do think that this is more the way to go than some other efforts we have seen. If you want to convey something, then writing a story that conveys it as part of the soul of the story is a good way. Perhaps even better would be to allow for some interplay, create an NPC (or someone) who plays the Devil's Advocate (God's Advocate?). But still. Intriguing.