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Author: Andy Green

Writer of Sci Fi and Fantasy.

Review: Kevin Gold & Choice of Games’ Choice of Robots

Review: Kevin Gold & Choice of Games’ Choice of Robots

Choice of Robots Screenshot

Choice of Robots
by Kevin Gold and Choice of Games
2015
Text Adventure Game / Multiple Choice Game (ChoiceScript)


Choice of Robots is an extensive piece of sci-fi interactive fiction (IF) which draws heavily upon the genre. It borders on the edge of being cliché, but Kevin Gold was able to create something that is, well, gold. It’s almost a love letter to the genre and stays reminiscent of Isaac Asimov’s Robot Series.

It plays like most other IF games of choosing a series of three to five options, furthering the narrative with a few paragraphs and you repeat the process. Robots is also a solely text experience, having no images or sounds to accompany it.

The only visuals are bar graphs in the “Stats” page to help understand your relationships with characters. Other games may use sounds and images as aids to help support themselves, but Robots’ text is able to evoke the imagery and emotions just as well, or, even better than those with the extra bells and whistles.

It stands to reason, then, that the story has nothing to hide behind. It’s good news that the narrative within Robots is one of the best written pieces of IF that I have played. Robots boasts that it has over 300,000 words; that’s 100,000 more words than Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. This makes sense considering its many drifting path and avenues to actively go down or accidentally stumble into.

Whilst yes, the game draws upon science fiction clichés such as robots taking over the planet (to name one scenario), these stories focus more on the individuals and personal stories than the overarching narrative of the world ‘you’ inhabit.

In all, it’s a hard piece to summarise. It’s a game where player choice and actions all have meaning, creating a plethora of different narrative paths and so much replayability. That one time you snubbed a character off can very well come back to bite you. And that’s where that replayability comes from. It is a very character driven story, no matter what story you weave with your choices.

There are eight characters in this story and your relationship with them is measured in percentages. These bars hidden in a side bar with other stats, and are the only visual aids that Robots has. Throughout the game, which can take up to two hours, you will meet most of these figures but depending on how you play, you may not meet half. They come in and out of your life, either for the better or worse and each and every one of these characters feel real. As every good story should be, it’s driven by these characters.

As I mentioned at the start, Choice of Robots is a hard game. Its story can be so different from the last time you played that it feels like another game. It’s that fact, though, that makes this a must have for any lover of IF and science fiction.

Choice of Robots is available on Steam, App Store, Google Play and Amazon for £5.99.

Review: The Domovoi by Kevin Snow

Review: The Domovoi by Kevin Snow

The Domovoi by Kevin Snow
Twine game / Hypertext
2014


The Domovoi is one of two games created by Kevin Snow and available on his Bravemule website, with a third being created and funded by Kickstarter. The Domovoi draws its inspiration from a mythical creature of Slavic origins. Whilst at first jarring, what came from subsequent playthroughs was a deeper understanding and interest in this myth, undoubtedly Snow’s aim.

Upon opening the game, the first noticeable thing is the atmosphere. The Domovoi employs minimalistic illustrations and ambient sounds to create a cold, lifeless world. Couple this with Snow’s bleak narrative style, The Domovoi can end up being a dark affair. It is a rich and bitter piece that cannot help but immerse you in its world, even if it is relatively short.

Sitting down and playing this story to see all it has to offer takes just under an hour. Each subsequent playthrough remained fresh in my mind and made it easy to remember what choices I had previously chosen; the work returns you to exactly where you started – a small candle lit paragraph giving some exposition to the narrative and myth.

You are a traveller who has been offered sanctuary at the house of a storyteller and, to pass the time, you help them craft a new yarn. This yarn is the tale of a domovoi: a fantasy Slavic creature that tends to the house of its master. The storyteller offers you choices for the domovoi to make and this leads down a narrow narrative path. Whether this limitation is intentional or not, it helps develop the feeling that the storyteller has their own agenda for this tale.

You can choose, however, to weave your own story. At a few places, you can derail it and inject your own ideas, causing some aggravation from the storyteller. These little moments add some comedic relief from the sombre tone of the narrative. If you derail the story too much, it ends in the player being kicked out of the storyteller’s house, becoming one of three possible endings.

Perhaps The Domovoi’s biggest shortcoming is its length. The piece works well as an introduction to this Slavic myth, but an introduction it remains. Snow had the opportunity to delve into a rich area of mythology and serve as a piece to not only entertain, but to also educate those unfamiliar. Furthermore, the interesting dynamic between you, the player, and the character who you are helping create a tale could have been explored further, but it is left relatively under-developed.

All in all, The Domovoi has the potential to be something more by exploring Slavic mythology and player/narrator relationship more. That being said, however, it remains an intriguing and brilliantly bleak short story – whichever way you decide to play it – that is worth your time to visit.

You can find The Domovoi and Kevin Snow’s other projects on the Bravemule website where you can play for free, or pay what you want.

Review: 80 Days by Inkle

Review: 80 Days by Inkle

"80 Days" by Inkle

80 Days
by Inkle
Digital Fiction – App & Steam Game
​2014


80 Days is loosely based on Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days as it has us take the role of Passepartout escorting his master, Monsieur Phileas Fogg, around a very steampunky 1872. It plays out like an interactive novel come board game and is available on iOS, Android and Steam.

I have never read the original text from what this game is based upon, but that doesn’t take away from the charm of the piece. The game features a very stylised, silhouette graphic style, accompanied by a beautiful score and atmospheric sound effects to indulge you in this fantastical adventure.

The game, much like the premise of the book, is focussed on Fogg’s bet: an eighty-day journey to circle the globe. This bet, then, requires a strict itinerary, budget, managing your master’s health and the ability to manage one’s time. Whilst it is not the most complex of systems to understand, it can be unforgiving. On one occasion, I was forced to beg on the streets in South America due to mismanaging money and resulted in four days wasted which added to the ninety-eight-day journey.

All the style and management mechanics accompany a wide and varied narrative with a quality of writing akin to its visuals and sound design. No one playthrough is wholly the same as the last, for the number of branching paths (visualised as actual roads to different cities) is astounding. In one playthrough I found myself leading a mutiny on a ship and in the next rugby tackling Jesse James to the floor of a train after he stole £3000 from my person.

Meg Jaynath’s writing has you assume the role of Passepartout. He is front and centre of the narrative as the story is told through his memoir-like writings which make for a charming and witty read. During the text aspects of the game, you are often given the choice of two or three musings and Passepartout will then ‘write’ further.

Meg’s writing also allows you to play him how you see fit: a proud Frenchman devoted to the service of his master, a wary traveller who despises the company of Fogg – just to name two avenues of ‘playing’ your Passepartout. In turn, this adds to the replayability of the game by giving you different types of person to assume along with the different routes of travel.

Each trip around the world takes around two hours and not once was I left feeling that it was wasted time as I explored new and varied narrative paths. Trip after trip, the world seems to flesh itself out more. Different interactions with different individuals will add new details, conflicting ideologies or confirmation of what you previously understood about the 80 Days world. The game’s addictive nature for another adventure, and the way that it is written negate the need for extensive exposition dumps which 80 Days could have easily fallen into.

This addictive narrative and gameplay has led me on four journeys thus far, and I have yet to truly ‘complete’ this piece. In these four journeys, the closest I have come to winning the bet was eighty-two days. This frustration, and eagerness to ‘win’, drive me to start the thing all over again, resulting in another fresh experience.

This piece of digital fiction is the age-old idiom of “It’s the journey that matters and not the destination” personified. There is the possibility that you will never win the bet but the journey around the world and the stories that unfurl are the real prize. This is the strength of 80 Days and why I recommend it so highly.