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Author: Eric Mayer
Reviewed by Duncan Stevens
Making emotional content plausible in IF ain't easy. Getting a player to feel what the protagonist is supposed to be feeling requires subtlety (more than "you're feeling angry now"), good writing (at least, good enough that the player doesn't notice it and get pulled out of the flow), and, most of all, time -- a story that's long enough for the player to settle into the protagonist's skin before any serious emotion-imputing begins. Eric Mayer's Lost is a highly emotional game, and while it does passably well on the first two counts, it's simply not long enough, in my book, to achieve the desired effect.
It seems that the protagonist is upset about all manner of things, primarily the decaying states of his marriage and his job, and he heads for a walk in the woods. As he wanders and examines things, thoughts run through his mind (in different colored text lest he miss their significance), and the forest setting, while nicely rendered, is of course merely a backdrop for the stuff going on in his head. He solves one fairly simple puzzle (rendered more complicated only by the unfriendliness of the ADRIFT parser), and a few sounds and apparitions later, the protagonist has a choice of sorts. One of two different endings ensues.
Not to belabor the point, but it must be belabored: the protagonist can reach this ending point inside of 30 moves if he's pretty direct about it, and isn't likely to take more than 60-70 even if he stops to smell all the roses he can find. His ruminations about his past, however, start right away and come relatively thick and fast. If you, the player, don't decide to identify with the protagonist right away, you may just miss your chance entirely. Now, there may be some for whom losing a marriage and a job simultaneously strikes an instant chord of recognition, and if you're one of those, I sympathize and recommend Lost -- but the rest of us need some more prompting before we can identify with the protagonist. Perhaps, with more exploration of his personality, we might see ourselves, or someone we know, in this character. But the protagonist's personality is almost wholly absent from Lost: we know what he feels, but not who he is. As such, he had my sympathy, but I was a spectator.
The backdrop, for what it's worth, is fine -- the woods are well rendered, with attention to detail. There are some glitches in the writing (e.g., "A few tough, spikes which used to be limbs, protrude"), and the style tends toward the choppy ("Here and there grassy hillocks are interspersed with dead trees. At the edge, cattails rattle in the breeze. There is a wooden post here. The swamp is impassable."), but there are some nice spots as well: "The lingering twilight floods the top of the reentrant with a rusty glow." There are occasional fuzzy pictures (which feel the need to reappear, necessitating window-closing, every time you return to the location in question), which don't enhance things much, but as a walk-in-the-woods game this is okay. (There are occasional sidelights about orienteering, which could have used some more explanation -- not everyone knows about orienteering, or even that the term refers to a sport, if that's the right thing to call it -- but as with publicity, there's almost no such thing as bad background detail.)
When it comes to the internal strife, Lost isn't awful, but the game doesn't exactly have the lightest touch. The principle of "show, don't tell" is observed only haphazardly; one example, when examining a pine tree:
You're reminded of the fragrant, prickly needled Christmas trees you used to bring home. How long since you switched to the plastic one? You just snap the limbs on and spray it with pine scent. From a distance it looks alive. Not unlike you marriage.
Even aside from the "you marriage," the last sentence ruins what was, up to then, a nice little aside -- it conveys the protagonist's associations, and that's all it really has to do. The player can draw the contrasts, given that much: it's not hard to put the "those were happy times, unlike now" pieces together, nor are the plastic-instead-of-real-tree dots difficult to connect. The paragraph could easily have been stopped after four sentences, or three, or (perhaps best of all) two. As it is, the last sentence seems to assume the player isn't bright enough to draw any conclusions -- not wholly unfair, as the player may be no more than five moves into the game at that point (and no more than 25 moves from the end), but the answer to that is more game, not signal-flare writing. Similar is this passage:
Everything here seems still, sheltered from the wind, quiet. It seems to you a soothing place, beyond the reach of the world. Ridiculous of course, since the highway is a few minutes walk.
The first sentence is really all that's needed -- the second sentence, setting out what the protagonist feels, can just as well be inferred, and the player should know that the highway is within a few minutes' walk if he or she's been paying attention. The author can clearly write -- the writing here is always passable (typos and such aside) and sometimes good. It's just that he often seems to write one or two sentences too many.
Picky and grumpy, that's me, but I'd like to think there's a good reason here. Writing IF whose success hinges on evoking emotion is a hit-or-miss matter; if you don't succeed, you're likely to end up sounding kind of mawkish. The player is tempted to snicker, which is never a good thing. (A puzzle game that doesn't work may leave the player frustrated or baffled, but usually not condescendingly amused.) No one likes feeling manipulated, and the nature of the string-pulling in Lost is such that it's easy to feel that way. And yet it seems to me that all that really needs to change here (aside from some writing stuff) is that the ratio of scenery/exploration to emotionalizing needs to increase substantially -- there needs to be more going on, such that the setting feels like a part of the game rather than an stimulus to get the protagonist's mental wheels turning. Give me enough of it so that it gets *my* mental wheels turning -- sufficiently so that you can tell the story without spelling everything out so, er, blatantly -- and you'll really have something.
Lost has its heart in the right place, but it's trying to accomplish something very difficult while devoting minimal resources to the job. Good try, say I, but not quite.
Reviewed by DuoDave
Compared to many of the find & retrieve items games, or the spooky house games, "Lost" is very refreshing. It is obvious Eric brings his writing skills to IF, his descriptions are impressive.
I also liked his usage of graphics, presenting the player with unusual imagery based on the author's own skills at photography. Excellent example of how to combine multiple real-life interests into creating IF.
Reviewed by Hombre
Good for a first game
I enjoyed this when it first came out. It wasn't one of my favorites but I still found it enjoyable. I see great improvement with Xycanthus and look forward to this author's next release.
Reviews should be considered copyrighted by their respective authors.
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