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Shards of Memory Reviews
Author: David Whyld
Date: 2004

Reviewed by DIY Games (May 2004)

Shards of Memory is one of the best ADRIFT games I've seen this year. The language is very verbose, the grammar is excellent, and the story is very engaging. The game is large enough for the player to spend several days of light playing to solve it, and the unique "remember" command makes the title much more interesting than your average interactive fiction game.

Reviewed by Greybear

Initial Impressions
This brief review is based on about two hours of play. I doubt I'm even close to finishing, though I have arrived at a point where I'm stuck and thought it time to share my thoughts with the author.

Did you ever attend a concert or drama by someone whose work you admire or read a book by a favorite author and then realize after the first thirty minutes that the person you came to see or read is coasting? You sit there, hoping for the quality you expected, to be amazed, to be emotionally engaged so that you lose track of time and the world outside. Then it becomes more and more apparent. The performer is coasting; you are getting less than 100 percent. This is my reaction in the early stages of playing Shards of Memory. I believe that David Whyld, an excellent writer and programmer, can do better. So I'm impatient, restless, frustrated, and the magic spell of the imagination evaporates.

Of course, this could be due to my lack of experience and my own biases. I am not a big fan of third-person narratives that masquerade as first-person. The "I" in the story is not really the "me" who reads the story, but a character I become. The "I" makes it very personal. The author should take the time early in the story to make the character engaging. Do I really want to crawl inside this person's skin and see the world through his eyes? Not really in my case, since there is insufficient narrative to ease me behind the mask. I think the story would have been stronger in third person.

I'm not sure about the hybrid menu system for travel either. I felt like I was wandering around in a Hollywood set with nothing behind the fronts. Personally, I prefer either one or the other: either an IF or Choose Your Own Adventure format. When they mixed I could feel the gears of the story grinding.

I suppose I found the story abrasive from its first few scenes. Pit X north wall ' nothing out of the ordinary. (I am in a pit for goodness sake. 
There's nothing "ordinary" there. Provide a visual description.) Tap east wall ' the sound echoes (From tapping on an earthen wall?) Hit east wall... ' Now that isn't very nice. (I'm trapped in a pit and hitting the wall isn't "nice"?) X ground ' I see no such thing. (What? In an earthen pit?)

So I'm stuck in the pit... until I check the Generator to discover I'm supposed to examine the floor. The author could have fixed this problem by simply making "ground" a synonym for floor. Better yet, make "ground" the keyword, not floor. I don't consider the earth at the bottom of a pit a "floor."

Now I know immediately that David is coasting at this point because I am absolutely certain that he already knows these things.

So I continue to read and tap the keyboard, never becoming lost in the story.

I hate to be so critical because I consider davidw as a member of the great trinity of ADRIFT authors who have taught me a lot. I have learned a great deal from him and appreciate his insights on the forum. I also deeply appreciate his willingness to not password protect his stories so they can be examined in the Generator (thanks David!). I hope he finds my comments useful in some way. I eagerly await his next creation. I just hope he takes the time to strut his stuff and demonstrates his potential.

Here are additional comments he might find useful. I think the problems and my suggestions will be obvious.
Road Exit ' I fail to find an exit in that direction. However, I can go north....
S ' Move south on road second time and die. (Seems abrupt for so early in the 
story; player should be warned)
X self ' I see no such thing. (Hmm... maybe I'm a ghost)
Hit figure ' now that isn't very nice. (there should be some consequence)
Ackor Junction
X hawkers ' I see no such thing
X stalls ' same
Temple of vandamma
X door ' I can't see the outline from here!
Forest of the Lost
Path to the se and sw lead deeper...
Se... I can only move north
Sw...I can only move north
Something about the trees...
X trees ' I see no such thing.
Desolate plain
Look down ' I see no such thing
Look up ' I see no such thing
X ground ' I see no such thing

Before the Black gate
X man ' I can't see the men from here

Menu traveling is a significant break in mimesis, loss of special context Fire Swept Path
X hut ' I see no such thing (??) (skeleton of a hut mentioned)
X skeleton of hut ' I can't see the skeletons from here.
X ash ' I see no such thing

Metricles Harbour
"The harbour-master's fort is in while out leads to the map." (confusing)
Duke Faraaz's Palace
"Above you rises ..." Shouldn't that be "Above me rises ..."
Hall of Greeting
X statues ' I see no such thing
Throne room
Hit fallen ' "Now that isn't very nice."
Take jewels ' Take what?
X jewels ' "I see no such thing"
Use lightstone and hit with dagger ' both destroyed (no warning, seems odd to me)
Hint ' no help
STUCK with Fallen (restart from save)
Law chamber
...the stand looks barren. (Not sure "barren" is a good word for empty.)
Judges chambers
X shelves ' I see no such thing.
X tomes ' ... appearance of this books....
X tomes ' It seems strange how decayed... (be more descriptive)
Talk to Cedrik ' three options; choosing #1 results in menu of "1" (suggest no 
menu, put in a pause to continue conversation)
Goodbye ' The "go" command has been disabled for this game.
Hit Cedrik ' Sprints off (interesting effect rule)
Gungador Prison
Force open gates ' I can't open the gates! ("...death for anyone who tries to 
force them open" is in description of gates.
X runes ' I see no such thing.
Gate control
Turn wheel ' (nice description)
Turn wheel (again) ' ... I would be foolish to risk it again. (kill player who 
has been warned)
Close (or open) door ' I can't close (or open) the door! (Why? Do you mean 
doorway, not door?)
Mage Halls
X injuries ' I see no such thing (description of injuries or revise ALR)

Royal Park
Ne ' I fail to find an exit in that direction (mentioned in description of RP)

Hint ' No help seems to be forthcoming. (suggest revising to remove "seems." If there's no help, there is no "seems")

STUCK in a loop (will have to keep trying or examine story in Generator)

Reviewed by Tech

Kept Drawing Me Back In

The Quick Overview 

"Shards of Memory" is a dark fantasy adventure written by Davidw. You as the main character, awaken alone on a beach with very few of your memories intact. What memories you still carry leave you unsettled. From there, you are drawn into the plot through a series of encounters that eventually lead to the restoration of enough "memories" to clearly understand your eventual destination in the story. Many parts of the story appear linear; however, your choices do carry weight on the final outcome. All of the issues that I talk about in the next section are easily removable with more work from the author. 

"Shards" has a difficulty rating of "Hard" due to these issues. However, the great writing and well paced plot make a must choice to play if you appreciate the fantasy genre. Just bring along the walkthrough (www.shadowvault.net - Also maintained by Davidw). 

If Interactive Fiction followed ESRB ratings, then "Shards of Memory" might carry an "M - Mature" with the content descriptors of "Fantasy Violence" and "Blood and Gore". 

The following was written in an attempt to avoid spoilers. However, some might still exist as you recognize situations as you progress through your own experience of "Shards of Memory". 

The In Depth Evaluation 

Introduced to Davidw's writing through his works in the comedy genre, I gave him recognition due to the good writing and dry wit. I had to give him recognition, like others have, due to the sheer number of games he has released. What I didn't see was a lot of change or growth between each piece of IF he produced. This may be due to the fact that the specific pieces of David's that I previously played are all nearly written in the same genre. Recently with the release of "Dead Reckoning" and now "Shard of Memory", Davidw has shown that his writing ability and sense of story works as equally well for him in more serious genres. So much to the point that I care about what steps he takes when putting together the next ADRIFT piece. Also, I sincerely hope that Davidw will consider going back and making a full revision on "Shards of Memory" in order to further 
enjoy the ideas presented within. 

The atmosphere of the game tied in well with the plot device of only remembering critical pieces of your past. An underused/under implemented verb in the game was "remember" that produces interesting results in key areas. It took several times playing through the game to appreciate the nuance of the genuine effort Davidw made on the atmosphere of the locations. Seamless time shifts are at times subtle. Unless you pick up this kind of thing easily, this device gave a satisfying aha to me as a player the first time I revisited a location only to find it in a changed state. It gives a real sense of importance of one's goal to understand what the player is attempting to restore. 

"Shards of Memory" makes use of a conversation tree system of speaking with other characters in the game. This works well and allows the plot to be moved forward at crucial moments. However, there is more depth in the story than there is depth to the conversation tree. As a player, I felt the need to ask more questions of the encountered characters. I needed to ask more questions about my own loss of memories, objects in the game and more crucially, the relationship between themselves and other characters found or mentioned in the game. Though it is apparent that this information is not needed, its lack describes the general feeling acquired while playing through the game. 

The general feeling is that there is so much left untouched as the player is swept through the story. I'll say this again: I know that this taf is already 
weighing in at 116kb. However, I would not be surprised if Davidw couldn't double this to ~250kb by fleshing in more detail. There were several places mentioned and quickly described where I wished to travel to and explore. The atmosphere begged for the time to be taken from the main plot and used in exploration and interaction with the environment. Along with the fantasy genre usually comes a slew of strange names and events. The distinguishing mark of successful fantasy writing is to make those names come alive to the reader. To make them real and believable to the reader even though they contain the elements of the fantastic. Additional detail can also come in the form of additional time shifts within locations to examine what was and what is. 

Davidw's recent releases have forced me into the habit of saving and using the undo command a lot. So I was prepared in this game to restore from several points in the story. I was also looking out for situations that I placed myself in from which there was no recovery. There is no safety mechanism here. You are allowed into hopeless situations without a clue. This is one reason why I assigned the "hard" difficulty rating. Whether the author's choice is to perform some action to keep the player out of these situations is one for the debate forums. However, it is recommended that the author considers giving either clues about the player's predicament, an outright note, or preventing safety measures (possibly implemented in an "easy" setting during game start). 

Another issue that increased the difficulty level of the game was that some of the puzzles were "leap of faith" actions given the descriptions and clues 
previously garnered in the game. Don't get me wrong. They would be normal actions undertaken by the player given additional incentive. One particular object is used to solve three obstacles in the game. The first use of the object goes with ease. However, the second use of the object is near opaque. The reason for this is that the player is presented into the situation, talked to by another character and then cannot examine either the other character or pertinent objects in the room that will give him a clue as to perform this second action with the object. Quickly later in the game, the player ends in a stalemate in the story because no further information can be garnered that would make the player enter this "leap of faith action". This structure makes it feel that there is a invisible veil between the player and his surroundings causing the confusion on which action to take next. Ensuring that examining the environment subtly points to the right area/action and/or repeated periodic prodding would help break down this veil and lower the difficulty of the overall game. In the example given before, the character who initially talked to the character could periodically repeat his requests to the player while the player was in the room. This would lead the player into more interaction with this character once an impasse and no additional forward momentum in the story was reached. Also in this area is a guess the verb issue even outlined in the current walkthrough. 

At one point as I progressed through the story, I knew what my next step was. However, when I took it, the game informed me that I decided against taking that step (entering the forest). On review of the walkthrough, I see that persistence is rewarded. However, I don't see any need to put this kind of obstacle in the path of the player. Initially it works to keep the player from returning along the path he/she came from. However, at this particular point in the story, it only adds to the confusion as to what the next step in the story really is. In this case, it gets worse. The game allowed me to blindly progress beyond this point far deeper into the story. 

All of the important objects in the game are implemented as examinable objects. There are many background objects that are not implemented and produce the "You see no such thing." message. The number increases more as the story progresses so itís a feeling (not fact) that this is due to the volume of writing produced and an effort to bring it all together for release. 

I enjoyed the combat system employed in the game. Rather, combat was actually part of the story and not the random numbers hack and slash of the default combat system. It worked well to invoke a feeling of despair as I attempted various attacks in a situation I soon understood as hopeless. I needed to restart from a former saved game. This also brings up the other bright point, previously written as an issue, that the game allows you to continue as far as you can even if you've missed something vital. 

The Recap 

I have to say that even after all of my discussion on issues that I felt were within the game, I highly recommend to anyone else playing through this game. On top of the writing, it is well paced and has an involving plot. This game delivers on its genre and has the potential to deliver more. I've played through three times (once to completion with the walkthrough) and I would play through a couple more times to see how omitting or inserting various actions affects the outcome. I look forward to the second installment. Overall, I'd give it 7 out of 10. (Potentially an 8 if additional clues are added to the puzzles. Or a 9 if additional background material is added to the game.) 

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