review: The Blue Death (by Otto Grimwald / in Ramus)

A nifty little game I’ve played through a few times. It’s puzzling, in the way CYOAs often are. Parsered IF tends to force the game to focus on a specific scenario, and therefore situational coherence is to some degree enforced. Not so with CYOA, as we all remember from the old playbooks: go through one door and the aliens of UFO 52-40 are traveling in time, choose another and they are heading to another planet.

The Blue Death does not change the factual basis of the story with which door you walk through, but the story does have that drifting quality. It is not a story driven by cause and effect, nor a situationally-bound series of events. The story is intentionally CYOA-like, with choices and sections unnecessarily designated by numbers. Early choices may lead to death, or may circuitously lead around to the city in which the game is mostly set. Cheating is almost endorsed, with the user prompted to roll a die and click on “I am lucky” or “I am not lucky”, with the computer able to generate a random number if desired.

Lite spoilers in this paragraph.

You navigate the city, seeking a job, perhaps in one sub-plot trying to seduce a woman, or getting embroiled in a pattern of inexplicable intrigue surrounding the shadowy Indigo Love Cult. You’re a monkish character, who prays in (untranslated) Latin and whose idea of seduction is…

I tell her about beauty, about the will, about ascetism and humility.

(This does not work.)

What’s interesting to me is the way that a CYOA has the ability to back up and allow the player to make broader decisions, to tell the story of a time period. It’s an effect I’ve noticed before, and it’s a difficult one to get in parser-driven IF. I read a Tolstoy story last summer that I wanted to adapt to IF, but it would have been impossible: it tells a highly biographic story of a judge who leads a life of petty self-indulgence, thoroughly negligent of his responsibilities, and in his finest hour, at the height of his career, is afflicted with a malady that sends him to an agonizing death. A true story, by all indications: modern doctors can identify the malady.

The final scenes of convalescence could be done. The rest would have to be handled with a series of flashbacks. But this would not really capture the narrative effect, which relies on highly summarizing storytelling leading up to the senseless twist of fate. CYOA can do this, but it is a kind of storytelling that does not televise, and therefore goes against our modern editorial tastes.

The Blue Death can, in fact, be solved. It has the oddly sprawling structure of classic CYOA, but it has a point to it. It is getting at something. It’s a difficult form to get right; I suggest keeping at TBD until you find the right solution. You’ll know it when you find it.

Published in: on April 18, 2012 at 1:50 pm  Leave a Comment  
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