Transparent, by Hanon Ondricek, is a parser-based game written in Inform. You can download it from the comp website. You can also play it online here, but the author doesn’t recommend it – the game incorporates sound and a few graphics, which aren’t supported by the online player.
Spoilers behind the cut.
In Transparent, you play a photographer for a ghost-hunter television program. You show up at Thorne Manor at dusk to take some photographs, but the other crew members never arrive. Nevertheless, you head on into the house to get to work. It seems, however, like you might not be alone after all…
As far as premises go, the wander-around-a-haunted-house one isn’t really very original. Ondricek does an excellent job with the atmosphere, though. My husband is away this weekend, so I was in my house alone at night as I played – I almost quit partway through because I was getting too jumpy. The sound effects were very, well, effective – for example, the cacophony of crickets emphasizing my alone-ness outside the house, or strange moaning noises that accompanied something strange appearing. (The sound is optional, however – turning it off adds descriptions of sounds to the text instead.) I felt genuine trepidation as I explored the house, especially when I first found myself in a dark room.
The game was also solid technically. Along with the integration of the sound files, I was also impressed by the implementation of the camera. I was able to take photographs of everything and review them later – sometimes revealing things that hadn’t appeared to the naked eye. Similarly, some room descriptions changed when the rooms were revisited, revealing frightening changes. I had more than one moment of “OH GOD WHAT WAIT THAT WASN’T THERE BEFORE”
Ultimately, though, the game didn’t fully live up to its promise for me. The atmosphere didn’t really coalesce into a solid plotline. After the initial terrified exploration of all the rooms, I was left feeling uncertain what my goal was. This wasn’t a game that focused on the character of the PC, and I didn’t seem to have much of a motivation aside from “photograph stuff” and “don’t get killed by a scary ghost.” I was never trapped in the house, though, so while I-Elizabeth was scared, I felt that if I-photographer had gotten too scared I could have just hopped in my van and called it a day.
I kept wandering around and uncovered most of the backstory of the ghostly family, though some of it I never figured out. Even with the walkthrough, I didn’t reach an ending (aside from “just leaving”) before my two hours were up. As a result, while I had had an “interactive exploration,” as the author described it, it didn’t feel like the story I had hoped it would become. This morning, after rating the game, I went back and spent a bit more time with the walkthrough and found a more ending-ish ending – but the steps needed to get there involved finding an object I would not have found on my own, as there were no in-game hints that it was there.
A smaller issue: There was a little too much fiddling about with objects in the game. I do respect implementing some realism into inventory management, and I thought the mechanic of having my camera battery die and need recharging gave a feeling of urgency to my explorations. However, some slight tweaks could have saved these from annoying me. First, increasing the number of objects I could hold in my hands to two (in real life, I can hold even more than two keys, for example) or at least auto-dropping whatever I’m currently holding when I try to pick something up, would have prevented this exchange, which I had multiple times:
>get main battery
You're carrying too many things already.
>put key in pocket
(the property key in the coat pocket)
You put the property key into the coat pocket.
>get main battery
>get spare battery
You’re carrying too many things already.
>put main battery in bag
You put the main battery into your equipment bag.
>get spare battery
>put spare battery in camera
You put the spare battery into the compartment.
Secondly, waiting around for my camera batteries to charge, while realistic, was a drag – especially because there was a chance that halfway through the ghost would come turn out the lights, steal the batteries, and hide them in another room.
Overall, however, an enjoyable game. This is one where I’ll send my transcript to the author in hopes that it might be useful for tweaking the game for a future release – there’s a lot of talent here, and I think if the player were guided a bit more towards certain discoveries, the plot could come through more.
I recommend you play Transparent at night, alone, with the sound up but the lights low.