Snowquest Review

This is a good, well put-together game.  The writing is quite good and the plot is tightly controlled.  Probably that is the word I’d use for this game:  controlled.  Motions around the map and your inventory are tightly controlled until you solve the puzzle you’re on.

Sometimes I talk about production value.  The production value of this game was quite high.

I had some trouble with the story, and the storytelling decisions.

I like to make these reviews non-spoilery, so I’ll speak here in general terms.  Spoilers later.

In the game, you have several flashbacks and suchlike; we could call the use of flashbacks and discontinuities in the main storytelling line “fractured narrative.”  I dig fractured narrative; its one of my favorite things.

Fractured narrative runs the risk, always, of de-immersing your reader.  It takes time for a reader to warm up to a text.  If you go into a flashback too soon, before your readers are emotionally committed to the existing situation, then you’re just taking the pot off before it has a chance to boil, and swapping it for another one.

Also, in IF especially, flashbacks are risky, because the player is told by the form, “this doesn’t matter–you can’t influence it.”

Beyond flashbacks, there is a certain things-are-not-as-they-seem theme threaded through this tale.  In my opinion, too much remains unrevealed until the end.  I’ve mentioned before that, if what’s going on is important in the story, the player should be able to develop a basic understanding of the situation very early in the story.

As readers, we can accept not having the One Crucial Piece Of Information until the end, but not the basic premises of the story.  So the Big Revelation should change what the known information means, more than give new information.

Also, there’s a rule in fractured narrative:  it is always better to know the truth.  But I went through, I believe, all the possible endings to _Snow Quest_, and knowing and acting on the truth will prevent you from getting the winning ending.

Actually, knowing the truth in one case can get you killed — because it’s incomplete truth.  There’s something really interesting in _Snow Quest_, where there are two dimesions of truth.  One has to do with human realities, and the other with physical reality.

But having a true understanding of the entire situation leads you to play the game in such a way that you don’t win.  That’s particularly a problem in a game with a fractured narrative strategy, because (traditionally) fractured narratives are about coming to terms with the truth and “waking up.”

Finally, I have some completely spoilery complaints that I’ll hide in the color code.


For one thing, speaking as a hypnotist, I’m obliged to object to the stereotypes of evil hypnotists we find in the media.  In reality, evil hypnotists very rarely spend their time stealing weather-control devices.  There’s more money in motivational speaking.

But look:

If he has successfully hypnotized the PC, even just enough to confuse her, why does he then exit the situation, leaving her a note that she might not find telling her to meet him in a remote location?  (Where he then presumably high-tails it to, there to lurk until she shows up.)

That’s not how people who are interested in controling you behave.  Rather, while the PC was confused, he would lead her, while she was physically with him, to an isolated spot — the parking lot; wherever — where he could bonk her on the head and snatch the goods.

But for that matter, why didn’t he just snatch the package while she was staring into the crystal?

And, c’mon, if you have a magic hypnosis mind-control crystal, why do you need a weather-altering gizmo?

And why was the weather-altering circuit-board important?  Was it a coincidence that delivery of said circuit-board was impeeded by a storm?

Mentally continuing the story after the medium ending, where I go home with what’s either a package of cocaine or a weather-control device, I had questions:  Do I just toss the thing on the table, pour a glass of Diet Pepsi, and turn on the tube?  Does Mr. Wolf come knocking on my door?  Does Stephen call wondering where his box of coke, err, circuit board is?  Do I finally open the package, snort the circuit board, and magically control the weather?  The narrative’s not stable at that point.

The stakes didn’t work for me.  I was on a snow quest to save everyone I new; then I was dithering around an airport, and I couldn’t get to the good solution if I didn’t dither enough; then I was trusting one of those seedy hypnotist types (ha!) enough to meet him in a remote location — couldn’t meet him if I didn’t trust him — then I wasn’t trusting him again — I know I’m playing a woman here, but too much with the dithering.

Some of the thematic stuff is pretty interesting — the link between the weather and a woman’s temperment is a commonplace (see the opening scene of _Groundhog Day_), and here we had the unicorn turn into the PC’s dream-self, and later appear on the weather-control lable.  But I was left with questions:

Why was the fact that I was playing a female concealed throughout the snow-quest?  A female’s fantasy, to be unsexed?  — There are things that seem not thoroughly worked-out:  Does the main character really think of herself as a unicorn, or does the author think of her as one?

For me, this game didn’t gel emotionally.  Nevertheless, it is a well-programmed game, written in a very good style, and interesting thematically.

Published in: on October 24, 2009 at 6:40 pm  Leave a Comment  
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